Feminist Grief

First published at The Bee in Your Bonnet, February 2011

I am not a grief counselor or claim any sort of professional understanding of grief. My experience with grief is just that of a human’s: grief is a normal part of life. There’s no way around it: death happens, misfortune happens.

Supposedly there are 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In my experience, denial and bargaining are the most mentally involved: when cognitive dissonance happens, where you try to work through the grief with your brain. Anger and depression are the most physically involved: when you feel your grief in your gut and grief is enacted through your body.

Grief is not a check-off list. You don’t wake up in anger, turn to your notepad and check off “denial.” Denial might come back later. I’ve found that I cycle between mental and physical grief, perhaps because it’s too hard on mind and body to grieve too long with only one of them. And sometimes after bargaining, I visit anger again. For me, anger is easier than depression; I don’t have to confront the real issues in my anger. This past year I read Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenburg, from which I reached the epiphany that my anger comes from a deeper issue: and for myself it is usually pain or fear. Pain from the actions in the past, fear of the future not getting better.

I say all this to answer some questions: Where do the angry feminists come from?

Well, when an angry mommy feminist and an angry daddy feminist love each other very much…

Actually, that’s not where angry feminists come from. Angry feminists exist because we have experienced a loss in our worldview and are grieving. We can deny the sexism in our culture for only so long. Then we are hit with pain and fear: and we get angry. Yes, I was angry last week, last month, last year, but sometimes anger comes back because I haven’t finished grieving and I need to cycle through it again.

I know there are people out there who dismiss the angry feminism of the 60s, but I think it was an important time for the movement. Feminism had to grieve on a large scale, so it needed to be angry on a large scale. But some of us weren’t around for the 60s and we still need to grieve as well. So you feminists who have been around for a while and have worked through your anger, please be patient with us saplings who are going through our own personal 60s. You might be past the anger stage, but grief is something we need to get through on an individual scale as well. We’ll get to the acceptance you have reached, though I think in the case of feminism, you never “accept” sexism, just move on to action.

And to those who are tired of listening about feminism and always associate it with angry feminists: until the inequalities are fixed, there will be people who wake up finding that they need to grieve for the state we find ourselves in. Want angry feminists to “just go away”? Then fix the problems so we don’t have to grieve anymore. And I mean really fix them. Word service is vain. Actions speak louder than words.

But anyway, that’s where angry feminists come from. Now please excuse this bra-less, letter-writing, angry picketing woman. Let her be angry. Her anger isn’t an affront to you; it is the current face of her grief. Underneath, she is fearful, fearful that society won’t change. And sometimes fearful that the people, society, and church around her actually don’t value her and her daughter as much as her husband and son.

TopHat

TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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18 Responses

  1. Whoa-man says:

    I LOVE this. You say it so much clearer that I can and it needs to be said. I feel like I am always trying to hide my anger or pretend I’m not angry because it scares people. But I am. I want to stand up and say: My name is Whoa-man, and I am an angry feminist! I believed in a beautiful paradignm of the world and so the reality infuriates me. It’s my optimism, not my pessimism that fuels my anger at inequality. Fantastic post. Thank you.

  2. Trying feminist anger into grieving makes sense. Part of grieving might be learning to live with loss–for many women this translates into loss of faith in their religion. It would be helpful if male leaders recognized the consequences of treating half the members as unequal.

  3. Jack says:

    I think about all those “baby-boomer” folks who are experiencing depression as a result of never overcoming the grief of abandonment. It’s a sick generation that will abandon it’s own children to an ideology of self-fulfillment. Current feminism has woken up a bit with regard to the toll that earlier feminist ideologies have taken on families — and I applaud that. But let’s not wallow in our own misery while forgetting the misery we have inflicted on others. Our own little woes begin to sound like the wailing of the damned.

    • Beatrice says:

      The healthiest families are the ones that are able to balance the emotional and psychological needs of all of its members. It is unfortunate when children’s needs are sacrificed for parent’s needs, but it also doesn’t do the family any good when the mother completely gives up all her emotional needs for other members of her family. Luckily our current work policies and societal practices make it easier for all the members of the family to have their needs met, although we still have a long way to go. I sympathize with women and men of older generations who had to make unnecessary sacrifices because of the lack of options.

  4. mraynes says:

    I don’t even know where to start with this. I have very little patience for people who blame the destruction of the family on feminism. It’s not like patriarchy has done that great of a job with the institution what with domestic violence, female infanticide, polygamy. Should I go on? Did feminism make some mistakes? Yes, but so has every movement and institution that humans have dreamed up. And further more, that is really not the point of this post.

  5. Jack says:

    Feminism, more than most other movements, has this way of subsuming it’s deficiencies into some grand virtue that covers a multitude of sins. Who’s pretending that the dark side of patriarchy is some how counter-balanced by its virtues? Not many folks nowadays — especially Mormons.

    And with regards to a lack of options in earlier times: That kind of thinking comes from the few elite. Somehow we forget that self-fulfillment via careerism is a pipe dream for the ninety-five percentile. For most folks “career” means “drudgery” — and that at a meager salary.

  6. Emmaline says:

    “Who’s pretending that the dark side of patriarchy is some how counter-balanced by its virtues? Not many folks nowadays — especially Mormons.”

    Really? Can you give me an example of how mainstream Mormonism is abandoning patriarchy because of its “dark side”?

    As a Mormon woman who suffers through sacrament meetings in a rural ward where EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY they teach me that I’m being a negligent mother because I teach at a local university two days a week and it’s my husband (as the family patriarch) who is the one designed to go out and save the world, I have a hard time believing this claim.

  7. Beatrice says:

    “And with regards to a lack of options in earlier times: That kind of thinking comes from the few elite. Somehow we forget that self-fulfillment via careerism is a pipe dream for the ninety-five percentile. For most folks “career” means “drudgery” — and that at a meager salary.”

    I have a different perspective on this. While there are certainly people who slave through jobs they truly hate, I believe that for most people there are both things they like and things they don’t like about their jobs. Similarly, there are things that people like and don’t like about being a stay-at-home parent. Wouldn’t it be better if both parents had the option to share the burdens and the benefits of out-of-home and at-home work? That way, families can come up with their own arrangement of what works best for them and possible maximize the benefits while minimizing the burdens. I don’t believe you benefit families when you give them less options.

  8. Jack says:

    I didn’t say anything about abandoning patriarchy, only that it doesn’t pretend that it’s darker aspects are sanctified by it’s virtues — at least not to the degree that feminist ideologies do. Men in the church are under the constant threat of a brow-beating for not being as loving or sensitive as they should. And with regard to your ward — shame on them if they truly are causing you grief for your personal decisions with regard to family and career. Now if you’re a little quick to be offended (which often seems to be the case with folks who are brave enough to “push the envelope”) then you may need to meet them half way.

    Re: options: Yes, more options are good. I have two daughters at the university and three more that may follow in their footsteps. I’m glad for that. But let’s not forget (while we’re in the throes of western elitism) that most human beings are working in rice fields or the like from sun-up to sun-down — both men and women. But when survival becomes less of a concern we tend to turn to the world for meaning rather than the noblest “professions” — the ones that last forever — and I’m talking about men as well as women here.

    • Beatrice says:

      Yes, good point. It is a different ball-game when you are talking about basic survival vs. using your unique talents and abilities in a given profession. The problem comes when you live in an context where one sex has options that the other does not.

      I assume by “noblest professions” you mean raising children? Clarify if you meant something else. For me, raising children is certainly valuable. However, I also think there is a value in contributing to your community and developing yourself as a person. Sometimes these pursuits can take away from your role as a parent, but sometimes they can enhance your ability to parent. For me, it is all about balancing the different aspects of your life to lead to the best outcome both for you personally and for your family members.

      • mac says:

        Also if the “noblest profession” is raising children then why aren’t fathers encouraged to take a bigger role in this endeavor? Strict gender roles harm men too. My husband is often upset by the suggestion/implication that he can’t be as good of a parent as a woman. Which is absolutely untrue. I really believe he would be much better at parenting than I could be. Strict gender roles ignore the talents and circumstances of individuals.

    • Emmaline says:

      I don’t think that my being frustrated when my Bishop says to me “Now, when are you going to quit working? Letting someone else raise your children really isn’t a good idea” is overreacting. If that’s how far I have to go to “meet them half way,” I’m really unwilling to do it.

      And sure, if you limit “the dark side of patriarchy” to men being insensitive or not loving, Church leaders are absolutely coming down against that. But are they doing anything to remedy the budget discrepancies between what is spent on YM vs YW programs in the average ward, or to correct a culture that (all while verbally extolling how wonderful and valuable women are – see the “Word service is vain. Actions speak louder than words.” part of the OP) implicitly relegates them to a role that is less than men (women don’t ever lead in the Church in the same capacity that men do), and seeks to control the sexuality of young women in a way that can have damaging long-term effects (men in various levels of leadership persisting in the “good girls don’t have sex” and “be careful that you dress in a way that isn’t tempting to the young men or else you’re just turning yourself into walking pornography” types of teaching). That’s what I meant – there are aspects of patriarchy that are damaging to women, and it would be a good thing to get rid of them.

  9. EmilyCC says:

    TopHat, this is beautiful. Too often, feminists are dismissed for showing their anger, which only reinforces the outdated social constructs of gender we work so hard to fight against.

    I never thought about this as grief, but it makes sense for me. These days, I think I’m often in the “acceptance” stage, but I still experience the depression stage or being angry at least once a week from reading something online.

  10. Jessica says:

    I think this was wonderful. I can see myself going through the cycle multiple times in the last decade. Sometimes I just move on until I am stronger and come back and face the issues. But it is very depressing when I think that the world might not value me as much as a man. But at least I know that our Heavenly Parents do value me as an equal. And I think that gives me strength. I can see how my journey with feminism has come in a very important order for my own understanding and growth. Sometimes I wonder how I ever made it this far.

    I think that is was also helpful for my husband who totally agrees with how the church is unequal and how it can be damaging. But has not felt the pain of the questioning his own place in God’s plan. I think this was helpful for him to understand.

  11. Ziff says:

    Stellar post, TopHat!

  12. April says:

    Thank you for this eloquent explanation and defense of anger as part of feminist grief. Sometimes I get angry because I feel like people are trying not to allow me to be angry about sexism!

  13. Gilly says:

    I really appreciated this article and agree with your points. Growing up my mother often experienced feminist anger. I realized several years ago that her anger was based in a real worry and concern that she wasn’t as important in the eyes of God. It makes me sad that she still struggles with that. I remember as a teenager being angry, ( but who wasn’t) but now I am usually ok, just frustrated now and again. I really think the peace I feel is because of my absolute certainty that I am just as important to the Lord and have important work to do and that I have the right and responsibility to get my marching orders from him. I know that that certainty comes from the Lord but is also due in a large part to the parenting and unconditional love that I experienced growing up. I also think it helps that I am an optimist and at the same time try to have low expectations of people – frustration comes when my expectations are not met. My concern now is how to help others navigate those feeling of anger and grief that are built out of the fear that women are not equal in the eyes of the Lord? Because I agree that women should be allowed to be angry but I have seen the anger not be as effective as rational discussion or pointed questioning? Sadly, in our culture, when we get angry we can be easily discounted and that works against change sometimes. It shouldn’t but it does.

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