I have been thinking about the fact that so many people still recoil when hearing the word feminist. I was thinking about my experiences with patriarchy and my encounters with men. Patriarchy is such an insidious force that I believe I have experienced sexism and discrimination based on my gender far more than I am even aware.
When I try to recall negative experiences I have had with men, it seems as though one thing that was always present was their fear of me. I have been feared for my intelligence, my strength, my power, and the depth of my emotions. I have been feared for my authority and for my irreverence. These things may all be relatively positive attributes but they are considered otherwise purely because I am a female.
So that is why I think people don’t like feminism. It’s because patriarchy and those complicit with its doctrine are afraid of female power and female strength and in all things female that subverts the phobic male gaze.
And on that topic, I have been thinking about the word homophobe and have been wondering why we don’t use the suffix –phobe and –phobic in reference to other forms of prejudice. Just like members of the queer and LGBT communities experience an incredible amount of being feared so do females, people of colour, the disabled and the mentally ill.
Psychology teaches us that we learn how to identify as a self through our experiences with others. Others are the mirrors with which we come to understand ourselves as we are literally reflected back on the faces of those we interact with.
Think about how devastating it is for a person to constantly experience oneself as a self that elicits fear in others. Any practice of self-love or self-belief becomes that much harder and takes that much more courage and perseverance.
Just take racism, for example. I think we should all know by now that racism exists (at least on an individual inter-subjective level) because people feel fear for the ‘other’. In apartheid South Africa, there was specific reference made to this notion and the white population was deliberately fed stories of the swaat gevaar or ‘black danger’ as a way of supporting that criminally evil system of governance. The same has been done in other parts of the world in less obvious and less organized ways.
The suffering experienced by a self who is represented as an object of fear, is extreme. It colours every experience and stains every interaction, marks every relationship. To be feared is to internalize fear in oneself and therefore to want to be different. And that is inevitably going to lead to depression or at the very least fatigue. To overcome these projections and to somehow stand strong in one’s self-acceptance and entitlement to existence is the bravest and most powerful act of resistance and activism there is.
And yet there are so many people who are doing this. I see so many people on my social media news feeds who are standing strong in their sense of themselves as valid and worthy despite the world’s phobic gaze. These acts of bravery fill me with hope and move me deeply.
But if we understand that the ‘hater’ is actually feeling fear, does this help us to feel more empowered or more hopeless?
The thing about fear is that it is part of our human vulnerability and yet those who are phobic are most often not in touch with their vulnerability. We therefore do not see their fear, we see their rage, their violence, their disgust. We see their hate.
They say that the opposite of fear is love but whose job is it to love those that are phobic of people with other genders, races, and sexual orientations? I don’t think it is the job of those who are hated.
I’d like to think that those who are not objects of phobia are the ones that should band together to teach those who are phobic about love.
This post, however, is not about those who are phobic. Today I just want to recognise the pain of those who are feared.
Please use the comments section below or feel free to write to me on social media if you would like to share something about your experiences with the world’s phobic gaze.