When the Way You Feel is Not a Valid Point

The feminist movement (not exclusively) has done a lot to legitimize speaking about one’s personal experiences. One of the most positive elements of feminism and feminist community, for me, has been the creation of space in which I can talk about what has happened to me, how I’ve felt about it and how I’ve recovered from it, the ways those experiences are connected to being a woman and the way they influence my inextricably female life. Not to mention the multitude of stories I’ve heard of other women’s lives that make me feel so much less alone, that give me a sense of hope about change and recovery and community and strength, and that help me find words to offer support to others going through experiences I’ve never had or having reactions to them that are different from mine.

The validation of personal experiences and reactions is an extremely powerful tool of feminism. This is one of the basic principles of “the personal is political”.

It does not, however, give carte blanche to make anyone’s “feelings” equally valid. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen/heard someone in a comment thread or conversation defend an indefensible opinion by saying “This is just the way I feel. I can’t help it and you can’t challenge it. Isn’t feminism about validating my feelings??”

In a word, no. Not when those “feelings” consist of statements like “I feel drawn to having children, therefore it is a female biological instinct” or “I feel uncomfortable around black people, but it’s not really racist for me to say that” or “I don’t feel like what you’re describing is really rape. If it happened to me, I wouldn’t feel like you do, so you shouldn’t, either”.  See, because those aren’t feelings. They’re beliefs, opinions, thoughts, rationalizations, generalizations. They’re statements about the way the world works and the way other people think.

Consider this Purtek’s PSA: Just because you use the polysemous term “feel” to talk about your political opinions doesn’t mean they’re actually just your personal feelings. There are plenty of experiences and feelings that you can talk about and with which I would never argue, because there is no rightness or wrongness to them. They just are. They’re yours and what you see in them is all about you. But when you’re adding interpretation and projection and, yes, politics to your statement of “feeling”, then defensively noting “so you can’t question it/argue with it on any front”…you’re out of bounds.


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