School hasn’t started for me yet. I’m at home until Sunday, then classes start on September 10. Even though all of my friends from my hometown are back at school already, in a way, starting school so late is good for me. To be honest, I just need a break.
This summer I had a research fellowship that allowed me to conduct research of my choosing for ten weeks. I was studying the impact that images in advertisements aimed at women had on their purchasing behavior, and it was a lot of work, and at times it was incredibly stressful. Because of this, I decided to cut out reading blogs and news websites to limit the amount of stress that necessarily comes from being aware of world events. I also took a break from blogging. Despite these precautions, several difficult situations arose in my personal life that pushed me over an edge. I struggled to finish my research – it often felt like I was clawing my way to the finish line, but I made it there.
I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time I finished my research. I was somewhat alarmed by how much of a toll the events of this summer had taken on me, and I decided to go home for a few weeks before school started up to try to recover. Since I’ve been at home, I have continued to avoid news media, but I did start blogging again about some personal topics.
Last week I found out about Senator Ted Kennedy’s passing, and apparently I was one of the last people to know. I updated my Twitter saying, “Wow, I really have done a good job keeping myself outta the loop while I take some personal time.”
My mom got my update on her phone and called me a few minutes later, asking how I didn’t know. It was rather late at night, and I tried briefly to explain to her how I had been avoiding news media, and she in turn tried to convince me that it couldn’t be possible because the news was everywhere. I didn’t feel like arguing, so I ended the conversation.
I know that my mom meant no harm. I hadn’t told her about my break from “the real world,” and if it had been at any other time, I would have known right away. But this reminded me of a rather upsetting reality of my life: People expect me to constantly be tuned in to current events and taking a break from such things is no longer comprehendible to certain people.*
This trend started in high school and continues to this day. The majority of the students at my high school were either apathetic when it came to politics or held conservative views. When I “came out” as a liberal during my sophomore year, I was constantly being prodded by the more politically-inclined conservative students at my school to do ideological battle with them on any number of hot button issues, whether we were in the lunch room or the classroom. That’s when my news habit began to form. I would watch the news on TV every night, and I started to read some news online so that I was informed about all manner of current events.
By the time I reached college, I had switched to getting my news almost exclusively online, and once I began identifying as a feminist, I added blogs to my daily routine of news and commentary. Identifying as a feminist only seemed to add fuel to the fire for those high school friends that I still kept in touch with. My feminism quickly became the lens through which to criticize my liberal political views, often through the deployment of tired stereotypes and misconceptions. At first I tried to talk to these people about how it was absurd how they were using a misunderstanding of feminism to discredit liberalism, but those discussions rarely got anywhere and after a while I gave up on them.
Still, even today, there are people (mostly my peers) who seem to think that politics and feminism are the only things that occupy my brain and that if I do not want to take part in an argument they try to provoke, or (especially) if I am not aware of the latest breaking news, that I must not be able to defend my position (as a liberal feminist) or that I’m just not dedicated to my cause.
I find it incredibly interesting that when these people found out I was a feminist and that I knew about politics, that I was, at the same time, elevated to the position of a knowledgeable ideological adversary and demoted to the position of some sort of lesser human whose only function is to serve as fodder for the flapping lips of people who disagree with me and know that I will never convince them that I am right. And these same people get frustrated and just don’t get it when I need a break from world events and need to recover for a few weeks. Well, I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m a human, and sometimes, a break is just plain necessary.
* This is not true of my mom. The exchange with her merely reminded me of this.