The Journey of a Young, Developing Feminist

By: Kortney Ondayko – Student

I have written, re-written, deleted and written again a first sentence to this blog post. My thoughts are jumbled and my feelings intense. I encountered a situation today that compelled me to write this post. I want to address a challenge that I have only heard of and sympathized with other feminists and Women & Gender Studies (WGS) majors about until today.

This challenge is the one of not being taken seriously, belittled and bullied for feminist beliefs or simply being a WGS major. It’s the challenge on how to respond to people who say hurtful, offensive and sometimes plainly ignorant things about being a feminist.  It is the question of how to handle and communicate to individuals that are anti-feminist, perhaps not educated on feminism or think feminism is sexist.

I tweeted today, “There is nothing I love more than my Foundations of Feminism class with Weekley. I am obsessed with my major and everything about it!”

I was walking out of my Foundations of Feminism class when I tweeted this. I could not stop smiling because our class session was humorous, intellectual, and analytical. The atmosphere in that class is fun, safe and upbeat. Our class, once again, reminded me why I work so hard at school, why I love my major and why I am excited for my future in the field.

i heart feminism

While working at the Women’s Center about an hour later, I noticed a tweet in reply to mine about class. It was one of my best friends’ boyfriend who tweeted back to me, “It still really irks me that GVSU doesn’t have a masculinity and gender studies major #sexist.”

I was taken aback when I read the tweet. I racked my brain for the appropriate thing to say. Do I tell him to fuck off? Do I tell him to try reading any sort of academic literature for once in his life? Do I blow it off as a joke? Or do I not answer at all?

I did not know what the right answer was but I knew saying nothing felt wrong. Not responding felt like I wasn’t educated enough to come up with something ‘smart enough’ to say back. It felt like defeat and it felt like it would go against my feminist ideals.

I stared at my phone for what felt like an hour and then I hit the send button with a tweet that read “I Know right? L So Sexist. #mensrights #menneedequalitytoo #dontforgetaboutthepenis #powertothepenis” This was my attempt to be funny, brief and basically blow him off.

However, he replied with a smart remark, and then ANOTHER man jumped in and stated that they were ‘siding’ with the person who originally replied to me. Some other twitter users were favoriting his tweet.

WHAT was going on? Siding?! Who made sides in this conversation? I felt attacked, angered and so over social media. I quickly responded in the heat of the moment, “Well you know what irks me? That women make 77 cents to a man’s dollar and that domestic violence and rape are still even a thing, ya know?”

One of the males in the conversation replied that the “77 cent thing is actually false” and gave two links to the most non-credible sources I have actually ever encountered.

I did not respond. The other male responded “lol looks like Kortney isn’t responding anymore.” I did not respond.

I was with my boyfriend after a few tweets went back and forth. I asked him what he thought about the situation and he told me that he thought the guys’ tweets were uncalled for. I told him what I said back and how frustrated I was. My boyfriend stated that I “should have never even responded” and that “he would have looked like the asshole” if I didn’t say something smart back. Essentially, if I had said nothing, it wouldn’t have been a problem.

My boyfriend is the most supporting, caring and understanding man possibly in this world. I knew he meant those words in my best interest, but they hit me like bricks. I fast walked up the stairs to my apartment, threw down my things and tried to hold back tears. “Why am I the one that needs to shut up? Why am I the one that should be silent?” was all I could think. I was in shock. I had never felt like my voice wasn’t worth using.

I hate crying over debates like these because it makes me feel weak and that I cannot defend my position without being overcome with a ton of emotions. I take things that people say personally. I think about all the women, children and other marginalized people who have suffered, died and are currently suffering and dying from oppression.  I am so passionate about my beliefs and wanting to help educate and prevent marginalization that I become so upset I cannot think straight. I cannot verbalize any scholarly text I have ever read, or any argument or author I have ever learned about. I become frustrated with myself because I cannot accurately portray my thoughts and knowledge on feminism on such a short, heated notice.

After talking with my boyfriend, letting myself cry and then thinking about what had happened, I realized there were two significant things about this situation:

  1. That this “shut up” and “you’re a stupid feminist” accusation had never happened to me before and
  2. It made me think what the best answer would have been.

What is the best way to handle a situation where someone scrutinizes your beliefs about feminism – or rather just your plain excitement about taking a WGS class?!

This is my first experience being criticized for my feminist beliefs and I know there will be many more. However, just as Rebecca Walker used her rage to write Becoming the Third Wave, I am writing this blog post to share my feelings, my hurt but mostly my POWER.

I take power in this situation in analyzing and thinking critically about what I as a feminist can learn from this. I take power finding a solution to this problem.  I take power in NOT shutting up.

I now identify with all of the feminist and WGS majors who have struggled for acceptance, or who have been demeaned for their beliefs. However, I feel my feminist core is stronger than ever, and my beliefs strengthened by this experience.

I want to leave this post with a few questions for readers to ponder, because I will be pondering them too.

Let me know if you come up with something. And know that we, as feminists, will encounter these situations, but I have learned it is better to actually let them make you upset, cry about it, but then go do something MEANINGFUL about it.

Questions to ponder: Will there ever be a right way to dealing with these kinds of people? Is it better to just say nothing? How do you not take these attacks on feminism personally? What is the answer to the claim that feminism is sexist?  Should I be appalled that people act this way? Or should I let them be entitled to their own beliefs? Do you belittle that person back? How does feminism gain more traction and credibility with a population that is the reason why feminism exists?

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