On Micro- and Macrofeminism

I have been confronting issues, for which macrofeminist and microfeminist issue alignment, or more precisely, the lack of a means to align these spheres, makes feminists miserable or saps our agency. A classic example of micro- and macro- misalignment is my gripe about feminist men who post anti-sexism memes on Facebook but let their girlfriends, fiancées, wives, or lovers, do all the chores, cook all the meals, and even serve them to them. This is not an example that I pull out of thin air, exactly*. Erm.

Something about this is not quite feminist.

Something about this is not quite feminist.

These terms may be new. Let me explain what I mean by them. I’m borrowing (obviously) the concept from economics, although there are important distinctions. By macrofeminism I mean our thought and discourse about, our belief in or prioritization of, and all the heartshare, that big, systemic issues take up. The hundreds of millions of girls and women who go without basic access to water, sanitation, and education are a macroscale issue to me – I don’t directly touch on their lives, at least right now. As an upper middle class Indian American in a safe neighborhood – for me, Black Lives Matter is also really a macroscale issue, although for another feminist, these issues may touch much closer to home.

In contrast, microfeminism includes, certainly, all the micro-aggressions that affect us personally, but more generally, the feminism of our daily lived experience – how we are disrespected, invalidated, or erased, how we are made recipients of misogyny (and frequently expected to say, “Thank you” in return), and how we are taught to hate and loathe ourselves or see ourselves as “less than.” These issues relate to macrofeminist issues in much the same way that economies are made up of many small transactions, the three dollars you paid the barista and the change you fed in the parking meter, and so on, which, when considered as a whole, become gargantuan. The big distinction from the economic use of microeconomics and macroeconomics is that, because of all the factors outside of sexism or patriarchy**, and because there is no unifying metric of feminism in the way that economists can at least try to convert all effects to some currency unit, what is microfeminist and what is macrofeminist may differ from person to person.

I choose these terms instead of saying something like, “walking the walk” and “talking the talk” for two reasons. First, there are actions associated with the macrofeminist issues – activated macrofeminists make voting decisions, educate and inform others, and sometimes even mobilize others for feminist movement. This is true in Teri’s case. He isn’t just lazily re-sharing memes on Facebook. His thoughts on this – including the ones that prompted this post – are deep and meaningful, and they are not lacking in sincerity. He is therefore walking and talking in alignment – what feels out of alignment is not his words and deeds, but his handling of the global and local applications of his beliefs.

The other reason I want to use these two terms, since I write every blog post I write, every speech or talk I give, not just to teach and share, but to, myself, try to learn, to learn, intersectionally, to not discount my personal experience wholly in favor of systemic issues that often have limited direct impact on me. See, as I share, particularly when I talk about anorexia and the personality traits I have that align with my anorexia experience, one of the most dominant hurtful themes*** of my childhood was learning that my hurt was always overruled by someone else’s hurt. As soon as I opened my mouth to speak my hurt, someone else would interrupt me, telling me theirs was worst. And I believed them / maybe it was. So I closed my mouth. And waited my turn. That never came. Like, ever. This is directly relevant because, all these years later, and through all my exposure to feminism, I know that I am not the only one of us – women, particularly, but also others – who experienced this. And when I look at feminist movement and women’s spaces, I see that they are filled with guilty women. And I get that. Because social butterfly that I am, I view every social interaction as an opportunity to let someone down – Teri, my friends, my team, my parents, acquaintances, strangers – my thoughts overflow, too, with guilt. I learned as I recovered from anorexia to be done with the idea that, because my hurt never measured up, it would never be my turn to hurt. I finally came to understand that this was the root of my lack of self-esteem, and overcoming this belief – allowing myself to hurt authentically – was central to how I came to have some small measure of self-respect****.

These daily micro- aggressions add up, and we should question expecting feminists to table them for the bigger systemic issues. Source: Wikipedia

These daily micro- aggressions add up, and we should question expecting feminists to table them for the bigger systemic issues. Source: Wikipedia

Back to my classic example. I would not be true to my feminism if I ignored this misogyny in my home because all my effort is on macrofeminist issues. I would not be truly feminist if I ignored it everywhere else I experienced it, like, all the time. But I admit that, sometimes, I do, precisely because of this fear that I will detract from my macrofeminist causes. These are trivial, although micro-aggression adds up. It isn’t all trivial. At its most serious extreme, and yet in this exact process, there have been times when women (not me) have been asked, “intersectionally” to overlook their own sexual assaults because their assaulter was perceived as an ally to feminist or progressive movement. Where this happened – the most flagrant, recent, example, was some of the early response to claims of sexual assault at the hands of Bill Cosby (where the intersection of race complicated the issue but did not warrant invalidating the claims of women reporting rape), but another prominent example from recent years was sexual assault at Occupy Wall Street and other similarly styled protest movements – we are not doing feminist movement, nor women either as a political entity nor as individual women, any favors when we whitewash these assaults.

In contrast, in my usage, say an affluent, ethnically non-marginalized feminist women can talk about black lives and the impacts of poverty and lack of access to education, or about curtailment of reproductive freedoms, for sisters who are affected by these issues in ways she is not (and in that way, is not “like her”), but also, on the microfeminist scale, not feel pushed to ignore or overlook all the times when men objectify or make unwanted sexual advances, making whatever-it-is cents on the dollar compared to men of her own ethnicity, or when she feels, say, like a sucker because all the responsibility in her relationships with men is placed on her shoulders*****. Rather than dismissing her feminism as “white” or “faux,” if she is engaged in discourse and movement both at the microfeminist and macrofeminist levels, we can recognize and celebrate this as a more integrative, and thus more intersectional, feminism.

When we do this, we make her stronger, and we make feminism stronger, rather than pitting feminist cause against feminist cause or feminist against feminist. We also empower her to learn to dynamically balance her commitment to discourse and movement on issues at both levels. I do mean dynamic. When she has just been catcalled, or something has just been mansplained to her, or when her microscale issue is something not so micro, we should understand and embrace her anger on her local issue. We should give her a moment, and not expect her to breathlessly return to advocating on a more systemic level without acknowledging her own mistreatment.

Apropos of the dynamic nature of this process, recognizing this as micro- and macrofeminist alignment has the further benefit that it offers us a robust platform on which we can engage in the kind of prioritizing we need to do, if we want our feminism to be intersectional. This prioritization would not work by denying sexism or misogyny, ever, or queuing up some experiences in dead end “slow lanes” like what was done to all my sorrows when I was younger. Rather, it would recognize that no feminist, even we who throw our bodies into the gears, should be sacrificing her own dignity or self-respect as a woman in order to support feminist movement. This is important because, as I’ve said before, it’s time to have some intersectional real talk and get beyond just saying we’re intersectional and then not thinking intersectionally.

So please give this some thought. It’s not so important that these terms take root – but the idea underlying them is different, and I believe it is one component of our pathway out of toxic, faux, and bullshit feminism, and back to empowering and fulfilling feminism.

* Meaning I’ve been calling Teri out on it. Teri is a good sport to let me publicly analyze these issues. Make no mistake, I not only love him with all my being, but I respect him – if I use him as an example it is because our relationship is a highly accessible example-base for me, because I push him to be better and I expect him to push me to be better, and also because this is entirely the point of microfeminism. I am particularly thankful for his willingness to embrace the discomfort my baring myself sometimes causes him, e.g., when I embrace the term “bitch” as a reclamation term for myself, and he cringes, still.

** Here, I use a simple operational definition of patriarchy as the system that sustains, reinforces, and expands the reach of sexism.

*** There were many positive themes, and I have lived a joy-filled life through it all.

**** This is a (life-) long journey. Much as I still see myself as fat, always, and as ugly, nearly always, even if I also am able to somewhat accept the fact that I am not fat by any sensible measure, and to understand that I am perceived as beautiful, and that all the people who use words like stunning, lovely, or gorgeous – words I receive probably somewhere or other every week – that all those people are not simultaneously lying to me.

***** All the way down, she gripes at the airport, to “annoying guy behavior,” like blocking the boarding lane at the airport gate when your number hasn’t been called yet, but you’re right directly in the line, so we have to ask you if you’re boarding (to which you always say no) to let us around you. Seriously, why do you do that?

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