For months I had been hearing about this friend-of-a-friend. We have so much in common, I was told. She recently finished up two Master’s degrees, one in social work and one in divinity, so we share commitments to social justice and faith. What’s more, during her studies an intense interest in feminist theologies blossomed. After hearing all this, I eagerly awaited our introduction. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure.
"…the trauma I have experienced as a woman."
Right away we began discussing her work, my work, her seminary experience, the plans for my own. And at one point I asked her about the origins of her interest in feminism and faith. I am often perplexed by my own process of coming to a feminist world-view, so this is a question I like to ask others. Like many to whom I’ve posed this question, she mentioned books and eye-opening class work. But then she said something I had never heard before, and something I think I will never forget. Spoken like a true social worker, she explained, “Amid my initial exposure to feminism, I began to consider the trauma I have experienced as a woman.” The more in touch with this trauma she became, the more feminism resonated with her life.
Her words facilitated an “OH-my-goodness-YES!” moment for me. I had never conceived of my feminist awakening in terms of “trauma” before, yet when she phrased her own experience in this way it was as if I had conceived of it a thousand times before. I had simply never articulated it with words.
Like this friend, my gender has led me to encounter certain culturally-gender-specific, disturbing experiences–certain traumas. Feminism has helped me begin to recognize these existential traumas. It has also aided me as I have begun to tend to the wounds created by these traumas: the low self-esteem, the struggles with body image, the desire to please others even to an unhealthy degree, the confusion about female sexuality, the fear for my safety and even my life, the self-doubt…
Even as feminism has helped me to see and heal the gendered traumas of my life, I continuously struggle to articulate them to others–particularly to men. I get defensive. I fear their judgment and misunderstanding as I vulnerably share about the impact of sexism on my life. I want others, men and women alike, to affirm the reality of what I experience as a woman, and I get nervous as I try to share these personal, often abstract, sometimes painful traumas with them.
That makes me all the more grateful for moments like the one I shared with this wise young woman. In spite the brevity of our acquaintance, her words reassured me that she would probably sympathize with some of the very personal things about my life as a woman that I so often struggle to share with others.