This is a guest post from Andrea. Andrea lives in the backwoods of northern Virginia with a small menagerie, where she fritters her life away reading, hiking Civil War battlefields, and surfing the internet when the weather allows her primitive satellite connection to stay up. She’s involved in social justice, battlefield preservation, and is foolish enough to try going to school full time while holding down a full time job that requires a 100 mile daily commute. You can catch her blogging this idyllic life over at the Manor of Mixed Blessings (posts there have no redeeming social value).
For the past two years I’ve struggled with a feeling of being out of place. I thought I could find a home, as it were, in the feminist movement, but the more involved I got with it, the more I read, the more dissatisfied I became. There are deep failures in feminism, entrenched classism, racism, ableism, and an equally deep resistance to even acknowledging these problems, let alone working to fix them. Polite requests to use inclusive language and to caption video content are met with adolescent cries of “It’s too much woooork! I don’t wanna!” with no concern for the fact that the people being excluded by these practices are, in fact, other women, who are supposedly as welcome in feminism as any other woman.
The prescriptive feminism also alienated me. There was always someone standing ready to tell other women that we’re doing it wrong. If we shave our legs, we’re pandering to patriarchal beauty standards. If we don’t shave our legs, we’re pandering to anti-feminists who stereotype all feminists as hairy-legged lesbian man-haters. If we wear revealing clothing, we are reinforcing the rape culture; if we dress modestly (as I do) and cover our hair (as I do), we’re contributing to the rape culture and also oppressed, whether we admit it or not. There is no way to win, no place where feminists can sit down and have a discussion on the nuances of decisions without shouting and vilification coming into it.
Another problem with the social justice world in general, particularly the people who identify as on the left side of the political spectrum, is a deep contempt for the human beings on the right. They are derided using ableist language like “crazy,” discounted as stupid. Their deeply held religious beliefs, a source of comfort and strength to them, are mocked in varying degrees, from then-candidate Obama’s mild comment about people “cling[ing] to guns and religion” to supposedly progressive sites putting up religious music videos specifically to open them to the jeering of the commentariat.
And then we wonder why we can’t get a dialogue going. We wonder why the right reacts to us with fear and hatred, instead of looking for common ground. You’ll see a lot in the media about the rigid, reactionary world views and religious roots of the right, but I have yet to see anyone call out the left: we are as much to blame as anyone else in our refusal to admit that we do not have the only way to live. We are as much to blame as the right, do we really think they don’t hear us when we make cracks about “invisible friends” and call them stupid? We have no moral high ground.
All of these things came together, more and more, as I searched for an ideological and spiritual home. I wanted a movement, an ideology, a spirituality if you will that encouraged and challenged me in my struggle to do better, to overcome my own limitations and privileges, to reach beyond the kyriarchical structures I was raised in. The social justice community and the feminist community in particular were not doing that, instead enabling people to stay in their comfort zones and avoid reaching out to anyone different, even the other people working for social justice.
It was after much reading, thought, and yes, prayer, that I came to the Religious Society of Friends, who most know as the Quakers. It felt like home to me, with an emphasis on community, on acting out of love, on being open, and on stillness and waiting for the small still Voice to speak. It calls on us to recognize that everyone equally has the Light of God within us, and therefore we must treat all people with respect, kindness, compassion, and love. The Quakers have a long history of social justice work across the spectrum; few people realize that the phrase “speaking truth to power” came from the Quakers, but many have appropriated it since.
Here at last I feel like I’ve found a home, a place where I am supported in the assertion that “none of us is free until all of us are free.” Here at last is a place where I feel supported as I try to grow, rather than feeling as if I must actively struggle against the tide to reach out to others. And here, finally, is a reaction to and a cure for the pain I felt at the restrictiveness of prescriptive feminism, in Quakerism’s emphasis on listening to the small, still, Voice and following its leadings, in its acknowledgement that we each of us walk an individual path and what is right for me may not be right at all for you. It made sense of my deep conviction that I needed to dress modestly and to cover my hair, these were leadings to set my feet on the path God wanted me to walk. They are integral to my personal faith, although not to the Quaker faith in general, as they remind me to speak and act with love and openness, to reach out to other human beings no matter their beliefs in humility. It’s difficult, I’ll admit it, I’m no saint and probably never will be. I will stumble sometimes, as we all do, but the important thing is that I pick myself up and go on, and trust that the grace will be given me to do what I am meant to do.
The decision to speak out to the wider world about my convincement was more difficult, because of the reasons I mentioned above. The social justice progressives will forgive you nearly anything except a deeply held religious belief, and heaven forfend you actually practice a religion rather than merely admitting to a vaguely held belief system. I knew that it would make me even more unwelcome in certain leftie circles, that it would open me to the sting of the gratuitous and cruel mockery that happens when religion gets brought up. But it was the way I was led, and so here I am in my long skirts and with my head covered, to tell you that I have finally come home.