Feminist Learning & Your Grief as Sacred Transformation
Updated: Feb 15
"There is a great deal at stake when studying knowledges that are systematically disavowed.
Part of what is at stake is what emerges to be felt, and how the feelings might re-shape a life."
That quote is from my dissertation that I am about to defend next month to officially grab those fancy 3 letters to my name.
(It feels like so much more than a dissertation. It's the cumulative work of so much.) Amidst my research in many fields asking many questions, feminist learning for me really comes down to this simple but complicated-to-live idea:
...what emerges to be felt, and how the feelings might re-shape a life.
So many of us learned a system of education that was really about control and indoctrination and disconnection from ourselves and the full range of our feelings. I hope as you take any of my courses, or train with me at workshops, or read my writing, that the process of feminist learning feels very different to the education you have known if your education has resembled what I just described.
I hope your feminist learning feels like an invitation to trust a process of change. I hope your feminist learning is an invitation to remember what you perhaps always knew. I hope it gives you the holding space to then integrate more of what you know and feel more of what you feel.
I don't think listening to feelings that re-shape our lives is an easy journey. The initiation into feminist learning (at all the levels—as we study across all the systems entwined in patriarchy) comes at a cost to those who undertake the journey.
I see all around me a new form of capitalist white-young-thin-privilege feminism being sold at us that might look very glamorous on Instagram photos, but is curated to hide so much of the soul journey.
We are surrounded by these curated images and curated products and curated feminism because these curated images make lots and lots of money within patriarchy and white supremacy.
(See Kelly Diels' fabulous analysis on feminism and marketing if you are interested in thinking more on these intersections.)
Feminism is becoming a new product to buy and sell. But feminism is not a product.
Feminism is an embodied, relational soul journey, a showing up to a change process that sometimes feels good and sensuous. But it ofen feels terrifying because it stretches you to the very edge of yourself as you find your new sense of power, creativity, and clarity.
I think that patriarchy itself is based on selling us a curated fantasy (this is what the entire wedding industry thrives on to make millions), and then makes us feel something is wrong with us when our own life does not match that fantasy (let's not do this with feminism, too). Queer theorist Lauren Berlant calls this norm of patriarchal heterosexuality "cruel optimism"—or, being sold a norm that promises something it is not designed to actually deliver.
But we keep investing in circulating images and narratives of the fantasy, hoping the fantasy can be delivered in our own lives, instead of naming we have all received a historical system of patriarchy that is not going to lead to flourishing intimacy until we dismantle patriarchy. (And Indigenous feminists, as I discuss in Module 10 of the course, would say we cannot dismantle patriarchy without dismantling colonialism and domination of the earth and water.)
Feminist foremothers did not reproduce these curated images that gaslight us.
They were the ones with the courage to be honest about their own experiences so that they could change the world for the next generation.
For example: They didn't want us to inherit a world in which marital rape was legal, so they fought for us for decades to change the law! (Actually, I've read the letters of 19th century suffragists and they wanted to tackle this issue but felt they had a better shot at suffrage, so this has all been a long process.) Amidst 1960s and 1970s feminism, the change started with naming that something was deeply wrong with heterosexuality as experienced at an embodied level in this institution called marriage.
It started with honesty and not being gaslight anymore by the curated images of marriage being sold by patriarchy.
It started with feeling feminist grief.
It started with reaching out and finding community to hold that grief.
And that honesty, grief, and collective support led to collective change that immensely benefits our own lives everyday. We now have language for sexual harrassment and intimate partner violence and date rape. There is lots of work left for us to do here...
But we did inherit words and laws and new consciousness because foremothers felt their feelings of grief and felt their feelings of hope that the world could change.
As a feminist teacher—whose life's work is about holding the texts of feminist history—I know that feminist foremothers absolutely claimed their pleasure and their joy and their creativity, but they also wrote and talked a lot about the deep grief, the hard growth, the costs of resisting the status quo, and the need to build community and not rely on individual models of change (in which only the most privileged women get access to resources).
So if you are amidst this journey and touching down into places in yourself that hold immense challenges—you are doing this journey with self-honesty and integrity. You are close to the grief that powers entire historical change processes. (And that is why Module 8 in the Emotional Self-Defense Course is about honoring our feminist grief labor and trusting its power to unfurl collective power.)
Your grief is there to guide you to be part of transformation. It is sacred.
In hope for the world we are midwifing, Kimberly