Maybe it's because I was first introduced to feminism by famous figures like Jessica Valenti and Gloria Steinem, but ever since I was a 16-year-old sitting in study hall reading feminist manifestos, I've been preoccupied by the feminist industrial-complex seems to be ruled by the popular girls.
When I became an activist myself, I realized that this notion I'd had wasn't just paranoia, but was based on this real hierarchy that no one wanted to talk about. In order to be acknowledged (read: followed on social media, befriended and having your work shared) by the feminist community, you needed to somehow fit in. It's like you had to audition and your credentials were based on how often you were featured in the media or how many widely read publications you were writing for.
At first, I wanted to be amongst the popular girls -- those feminists that everyone knows and says are really great and who usually make their living in one-way or another off of spouting their philosophies. They've probably published books and given TED talks; you've also probably seen them on CNN and MSNBC. I thought that was what it mean to be a good feminist and that obviously people would recognize you if you were doing it right. After all, people are attracted to those who are saying and doing good things, right?
Well, I learned that it wasn't that simple. It turns out that popularity doesn't have a formula and a lot of it comes down to luck and having the IT factor. As I began freelancing for feminist websites and publications, I was confused as to why I was getting great feedback from readers, but not any praise from the feminists that I wanted so badly to impress. Even those that I conversed with or had some sort of professional or acquaintance-type relationship with didn't seem to feel enthused about me. It was like I couldn't make a good impression, no matter how much I tried.
There was also the friendship aspect -- a lot of people who run in the same feminism circles professionally are also friendly on a personal level. I began to see the lines drawn in the sand that you might not really notice on the outside. Basically, there are a ton of cliques and internal hierarchies within the movement. There are groups of people who have befriended each other and help one another out in getting gigs, landing jobs and finding media contacts. Now I'm not saying that this sort of dynamic doesn't exist elsewhere or is even inherently bad, but there just seems to be no room to break in. By nature, cliques are exclusive, so I can tell you from experience that it's really, really hard to break in. Instead of seeking out new voices to uplift or bring into new opportunities, feminists tend to look within their circles.
This was really frustrating to me, as I wasn't sure what the secret was, since I genuinely liked a lot of these women, but didn't feel the reciprocation. It was awkward because you can't acknowledge the fact that this is happening, because you'll either be met with resistance or be ignored entirely.
The biggest problem with this is the hypocrisy -- the entire premise of feminist activism is to bring down the oppressive structures that reinforce certain people (those who are white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, upper-class, able-bodied) having automatic entitlement over others. But these same people are creating a hierarchy of whose voices matter the most and who deserves to be recognized for their work. It's not a coincidence that most of them are white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, and upper-class themselves.
I've actually felt stigmatized within the feminist community for having a neurological disorder. That's why I haven't really talked about it within my work thus far, because people do treat you differently once they know. When I was working for a feminist company, during a meeting it was revealed that one of our most enthusiastic followers had Aspergers Syndrome -- someone that many of my co-workers would mock (but in a very subtle way that didn't seem ablest) and that was sort of the running joke within the workplace. However, I have Aspergers and wasn't "out" to them and this experience made me stay quiet, because I knew there would be nothing stopping them from making fun of me in the same way. I know this type of thing isn't isolated and happens all the time, which is exactly why I haven't revealed it.
As time went on and I failed to connect with many popular feminists in an authentic way (and had a few messy run-ins), I started to reconsider my place within the movement. I realized that I didn't want to be in a position where I was unwelcome or unwanted and that feminism had taken over my life too much. So I backed off from a lot of my work and projects and instead started to focus on my other passions, like fitness, cooking, fashion, and psychology. I felt renewed and realized that I could strike a balance; I didn't have to leave completely but I could focus on projects that were my own, where I didn't have to impress people, and simply not give a fuck anymore.
No, I don't live in New York; I'm not competing for press; I'm not trying to be the most liked or endorsed. Sure, I still have moments of frustration, but I'm focused on me. And I can honestly say I've never felt more comfortable in my skin.