"Because I'm stupid" - How not to be a Feminist

Tuesday, 25 September 2012 16:46

Whew. The past several weeks since my last post have been busy. Good busy, but the kind of busy that makes you feel like you are throwing yourself through each day, just hoping that you land into the next with both feet on the ground and running. There was a heavy client workload, then WorldCon, and then getting the full draft of the Technology as Cure? Representations of Disability together and off to the publisher. I just finished the collection manuscript yesterday…and I’m pretty damn proud about it. I’m entirely confident that the book will be under contract by the year’s end – it looks good. Really good. Each of the 12 essays are excellent and, I dare say, groundbreaking. I have high hopes for this book.

I was planning on writing more about how awesome it is being an independent scholar, but there has been something bothering me for the past month that I think needs to be forced into the light of the internet and hashed out. Here it is: in August, I ran into an old friend from my grad school days. Our lives have amicably diverged paths, so we really haven’t kept in touch the last two years. We briefly chatted about what we were up to, family, work, etc. The usual stuff. When I started talking about editing the book and my motivations for doing so, the words “because I’m stupid” came out. I was a bit taken aback that I said that (since I have been doing great and feeling good about my life). But there it was: Because I am stupid. I tried to cover it up with something that sounded more confident, more self-assured. “Because I am crazy?” I tittered out. Ugh. Total fail.

Because I am stupid

Because I am crazy …

I am not stupid. I am not crazy. I don’t even like using these words to describe other people. But, if I am being honest, they are words that I have used to describe myself. They are old words. They are words that I have been repeating since childhood. If I make an error that I believe should have been preventable, well, I am stupid. If I am feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope with stress, then I am crazy.

These are words that have been used against me all my life, by abusive boyfriends, so-called friends, and sexist and classist colleagues. And though they are not true, I have internalized these words.

Graduate school made me feel stupid and crazy. It does that to a lot of people. I felt stupid because I never managed to receive external funding. I felt crazy for finishing my PhD when I knew that I wasn’t going to continue on to tenure-track job. And there were definitely people – and a professional culture – that encouraged me to feel those ways.

Stupid. Crazy.

As a feminist, I chide myself for falling back on these words when I am feeling low or uncertain. I know that these words are used to keep women quiet, to derail our justifiable complaints, and to undermine our authority and intelligence. And we are also guilty of using them, against other women as well as ourselves. With an ever growing backlash against women’s rights, it is important to avoid using this kind of language to describe ourselves and our actions. And I’m guessing that for most of us, we should just do away with stupid and crazy for good. Those words certainly don’t benefit us as self-descriptors, and they rarely are effective attacks to launch against anyone we don’t like or agree with.

Since that day when I explained away my desire to pursue my intellectual passion with the phrase “because I am stupid,” I made a promise to myself to stop deriding myself and my accomplishments. I’ve begun clearly announcing myself as a Feminist and Independent Scholar (with capital letters and all). Because the truth of the matter is, I love my life right now. I’m doing exactly what I want to do and there is nothing stupid or crazy about it.

 

2 comments

  • Comment Link Kathryn Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:08 posted by Kathryn

    Hi Michelle,
    Thank you so much for leaving a comment - and such a positive one at that! I'm always happy to learn that other people are relating to something that I have written. Little bits of feedback like this keep me going whenever my confidence waivers :-)

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  • Comment Link Michelle Friday, 26 October 2012 19:41 posted by Michelle

    Hey Kathryn. Thanks for writing this one. I know so many people can relate - myself included. As I've said before, this blog, and what you're doing, is inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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