How to Fuck Up Like a Feminist
Feminist perspectives part 5
by Dana Neily
I’ve self-identified as a feminist since I was nine years old. I am a queer, neuroatypical woman who is careful to use inclusive language, be sex positive, and tries to be mindful of other people’s triggers. I incorporate my feminist attitudes into my interactions with others, my internal and external behaviour, and how I view my identity. Nonetheless, I still crossed a boundary and hurt someone I really care about.
In university I had a close group of friends. By close, I mean both in the figurative and the literal sense. We all hugged each other when we came together and when we left. At parties we would create cuddle piles; it was our way of showing affection, support, and encouraging stress relief. Within this environment of casual intimacy, I developed a habit of crawling onto people’s laps. In my mind, I was seeking attention, comfort and delivering a non-verbal proclamation of my friendship. I did this to one guy whom I considered a close friend and he was made uncomfortable through my actions. He told me to stop; words that in that context I interpreted as “I’m busy, don’t bother me right now,” and not “that makes me uncomfortable, please never do that again,” and so I did it several more times over the next few weeks. It was only recently, after a long period of distance in our relationship, that he told me the true extent of his discomfort that arose from my actions.
From his perspective my behaviour was unwanted and it violated a boundary. He felt he could no longer trust me physically or emotionally. It damaged our friendship in a way that I still do not know if we can rebuild.
I had to examine why his discomfort did not occur to me. I have female friends who, because of various reasons, have difficulties around physical affection and I am always very careful to obtain full consent from them before engaging in any contact, just as I am careful to ask permission to obtain hugs from strangers. So why this error this time? I arrived at the answer: because this is a friend who presents as male. I live and breathe and work and play in a society littered with rules and roles for outdated gender models. I am sexist despite my long history with feminism. I am sexist despite my careful consideration of others. I still live in a world which tells me that people, men in particular, always want intimacy and that as a woman, my ability to give or be given intimacy is the most important ability I have. My feminist title does not give me immunity to making false assumptions nor does it give me an excuse to ignore it when I do.
In this era of social media, it is all too easy to jump down people’s throats, to call them hypocrites when they make a mistake, and this too was the attitude I held towards myself when I realised I had violated someone’s consent. I called a friend, herself an abuse survivor, because I felt that she should know the truth of the insensitive monster whom she was associating with. She told me two things that helped greatly:
1) That if I was truly a terrible person, I wouldn’t have been this upset
2) That tearing myself up wasn’t helping anyone.
Then I went to see my psychologist.
In all steps of this process, the values I learned from feminism influenced my actions. I gave a full apology and I kept my upset feelings away from the one I had hurt because I knew that as the transgressor, his feelings took priority in our exchange. What I learned is that as a feminist I must give myself and others the courtesy deserved by those who are continuously growing and defining what it means to cultivate a culture of consent and equality. What I learned is that I did not stop being a feminist when I made a grievous mistake.
I fucked up. I will fuck up again in many different ways. Each time, I will learn and I will do better.