[TRIGGER WARNING for sexual assault, domestic violence, and bullying.]
Being an activist is hard work even for the healthiest, most well-adjusted soul. Being a feminist activist is especially difficult given the number of threatening, misogynist messages we get on a daily basis from just about everywhere. But being a feminist activist with disabilities? Now that’s a challenge.
I wanted to talk about the Steubenville case in this week’s article, but I’ve hit my threshold for rape, abuse, and victim blaming this week. I love that more people are talking about rape culture and what can be done about it, but it’s just too much for me at the moment. See, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from an abusive relationship I was in. I was blamed for my situation and called the typical names of someone who stands up to misogyny: crazy, liar, bitch, crazy lying bitch, etc. Seeing that kind of thinking played out in such a large way, with outlets like CNN supporting rape culture by bemoaning the future of those poor, beleaguered rapists has been enough for me to hide from almost all discussion of the case due to the memories and pain it stirs up in my head. Add to that seeing my abuser’s victim-blaming sister comment on a very popular feminist site known for safe spaces, and you’ve got PTSD nightmare week. Literally.
Part of being an activist is being exposed to really, really awful things. We’ve got bullying, abuse, rape, torture, murder, and all sorts of horrible things flying at us on a daily basis. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be anything for us to advocate for. That would be wonderful, but that’s not the nature of the work. Activists from all areas deal with unpleasant, difficult material on a daily basis. It’s why self-care is such an important part of activism. Like I said, even the most well adjusted activist faces challenges and is in danger of burnout. For some of us, burnout comes on faster than normal, and our thresholds for the darkness of activism and advocacy are much lower.
There’s a sort of guilt that comes with a lower tolerance for the negativity of activism. I know I’m not the only one who has felt that they aren’t doing enough, even when I do everything that my mind and body will let me. Nothing compares to that defeatist feeling that washes over me when I know that I just can’t take hearing about another rape and the million rape apologists that come with it. When I have to stay home from a march or rally because I’m just so physically and mentally exhausted from a long week of work and school and, well, activism, I can’t help but feel bad. That little voice pops up just to chastise me and call me lazy and crazy. Realistically, I know that I’m doing what’s best for my mind and body. Unrealistically, I feel like I’m letting the movement down.
So what do we do as disabled feminists (or feminists with disabilities, depending on how you identify) when we face these kinds of problems? What do we do when we run out of spoons? We do the best that we realistically can. The movement is important, but not more important than ourselves. We can’t advocate for others when we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Sometimes it takes stepping back and letting others move to the front. For overachievers like myself, that can be very difficult. I’m trying to tell myself that being a good advocate and activist means being able to give my very best effort, but that that effort needs me to be in good form. The best thing to do is assess the situation, assess our own personal needs and limitations, and work out what we can reasonably do. Nothing is too small. Something as simple as signing a petition or liking an article on Facebook is outstanding. It’s more than most people do. Not every action needs to be huge to be meaningful, because you don’t know who youre reaching simply by reposting or retweeting a picture or article. A little bit goes a long way, and nobody, disabilities or no, should feel guilty for not writing an epic blog post or attending a rally. The most important thing is to take care of oneself, because that alone is a feminist act.