“Is it possible to be a feminist without being an activist?” I asked on the last day of a class that I took through the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department. I meant it as a rhetorical question to point out that I could, in fact, hold feminist beliefs while not engaging in activism. What surprised me was that a few classmates responded quite differently, suggesting that all feminists have a duty to live out their beliefs through activism. My classmates seemed surprised that someone as talkative and opinionated as myself could be uninterested in activism. Did I not want to share my beliefs? Did I not want to hold people accountable for their prejudices? Did I not want to stand with those who were facing discrimination?
The answer to these questions was that, while I am interested in sharing my beliefs and holding people (especially myself) accountable for prejudices, I do not consider it a form of activism. I am not comfortable standing behind a bullhorn or even protesting outside. If I had to mount a protest, it would be, at best, a halfhearted affair. There are countless people on this campus who are both more interested in and better equipped to perform that job than me. So where does that leave a feminist non-activist?
I am far more comfortable living my life in the background, while being engaged behind the scenes. I may not shout out my beliefs, but there is a good chance that I am involved in a workshop that discusses them. I would rather tell a friend that they are being sexist than shout it through a megaphone. While my WGSS classmates said that expressing my beliefs, even if only to a few people, was a variety of activism in and of itself, I see it a bit differently. I see it as living life and hoping that society will continue to progress towards greater equality. And if I happen to talk about the necessity of providing resources and support for survivors of sexual assault or creating more inclusive spaces for trans* individuals, to me it isn’t a form of activism, it’s a conversation.
-Hannah Abrahamson, Women’s Center Staff