Never be the most feminist person you know

We learn by doing, so it makes sense that we’ll get things wrong along the way.

I read an interview with feminist writer, theorist and professor Cynthia Enloe last year where she talked about everything from publishing her ninth book to sexual harassment and the importance of feminist collaboration. I won’t lie, I wasn’t familiar with Enloe’s work before I read Laura Bates’ take on her but the thing that stuck with me was Enloe’s advice to activists: “Never be the most feminist person you know. That’s not going to get you far. You need to have people around you who are differently feminist or more feminist than you are. It’s only depressing if you’re doing it all by yourself.”

It sounds simple and obvious, but it’s a thought that embedded itself in my brain and wouldn’t leave. Not being the most feminist person in the room means you have the support of other feminists. It also provides the opportunity for learning, which can be invaluable. At least it can provide that opportunity, whether specific groups, meetings or organising spaces are open to helping people learn is often difficult to judge.

There was a time when I didn’t consider myself a feminist, which I guess made me the least feminist person in most rooms. I’ve written about changing my mind and finding my way into feminist spaces through my work with pro-choice groups. I haven’t always been pro-choice, so I arrived pretty late to those spaces.

I’m lucky I showed up when I did. Social media was still a place you could ask questions and receive thoughtful answers no matter how feminist 101 your questions were. I was given time and space to grow, which social media isn’t great at these days.

Maybe what I’m trying to say is; I’m tired of the one up-manship associated with being a feminist online. I’m tired of the need for people to get everything right first time. I’m more interested in doing the work and other people who are doing the work because that’s what feminism is, work. We learn by doing, so it makes sense that we’ll get things wrong along the way. I know I have plenty of times. I’m still learning.

I’m not talking about people who refuse to take feedback onboard. If people are gracious with their time, knowledge and experience and someone still doesn’t want to know, that’s a whole other issue. I don’t engage with people whose feminism is transphobic or racist and they have no intention of changing it. I understand the need for getting the head down and organising with people who are all on the same level. I don’t think calling people out for shitty behaviour is infighting, trolling or tearing other women down. I do think calling people in sometimes works better.

How do we balance experienced activists getting things done, knowing when to call in versus call out with inexperienced people getting involved? How do we share the load?

I don’t have the answers, but I’m open to having the conversation. Maybe that’s the best place to start.

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