Popping The Bubble
My story of coming into feminism is honestly not a pleasant one. There isn’t a universal coming into feminism story, and I wanted to share my own experience, which is full of ugly mistakes, prejudice, and ignorance.
A lot of people today complain how “social justice warriors” are living inside their own bubble, implying that they’re the ignorant ones. But, in reality, conservatives, centrists, and extremists also live in their own bubbles of what they believe to be an already “perfect and equal world.” It’s not until you pop the bubble that you’re able to come into feminism, social justice, and other intersectional -isms. It’s a challenge for that bubble to be popped, because it’s not as fragile as soap bubbles. It’s like an “indestructible” bubble that’s marketed in As Seen on TV commercials. That type of strong bubble is what prevented me from coming in to feminism in the first place.
While in my bubble, I was blindsided by my privilege and unquestioning Pollyanna optimism. I believed that there was no wrong in the world and there was no need for change. If I was ever challenged with questions about people who were marginalized, I would double down in denial, due to myths of the neoliberal bootstrap that were heavily reinforced by my friends, classes and me as well. When I was challenged about sexism and feminism, the same thing happened again. I doubled down in my defensiveness and unfortunate pervasive myths that all women were already equal. And I didn’t want to emulate the stereotypical trope of feminists who hated men. It didn’t help that my only reference for feminism was through skewed and shallowly written versions you see in television shows and movies. I initially thought that feminists wanted to “ruin” what was already a “perfect and equal world” and make things harder for everybody.
Although the commercials said the bubble was “practically indestructible,” it wasn’t. My privileged view of my bubble world wouldn’t last, but it also didn’t instantly burst in one try — I poked at that “indestructible” bubble with a straw to slowly deflate it. The voice in my head that questioned whether something was wrong with how I viewed the world gave me the straws to poke at my own ignorant bubble and helped me come into feminism. Deflating my bubble took years — with me becoming more self-aware of how we treat ourselves and others when we needed the most help, and having access to feminist resources.
The first straw to poke my bubble was when I first encountered depression and anxiety and was in need of help. It was my senior year of high school, and I noticed that no matter how much I tried to look on the bright side of things, my depression would weigh me down even further. I noticed things were wrong, and I wanted to go get help, but I didn’t in fear that my friends and family would say stigmatizing myths about mental health.
“You don’t have anxiety or depression, you’re just sad.”
“You should be able to go to your mother and save hundreds of dollars from a ‘quack’ doctor.”
“You just need to look on the bright side and be optimistic. That’s how you get happy.”
“To have depression and anxiety and being sad is just being selfish and immature.”
And for a while, I thought those harmful lies to be true. I tried the “be happy” strategy and noticed nothing was working. Then, a voice inside my head started to ask questions.
“Why was this happening?”
“Was I really meant to suffer through this? Is it my fate to suffer like this?”
“Maybe all those ‘be happy/look on the bright side’ strategies are wrong and unhelpful.”
“What kind of world or supernatural being would allow this suffering to go on for so long?”
I felt in my gut that something was wrong with stigmatizing mental health. I held on for a good long while and was able to get access to a great therapist. I felt validated and learned how to live with my depression and anxiety. It made me realize that mental health was a different monster that required a better strategy to deal with.
The second hole in my bubble happened after I left my hometown and moved to the other side of the country and saw how others needed help. I lived in an area where I met marginalized people of color. We became friends, bonded, and shared our stories and struggles. Some were living from paycheck to paycheck. One was a high school student who took a part-time job picking fruit at night in order to pay for their sibling’s school supplies. They did that while balancing high school, AP classes, dual enrollment at a community college, and working as a tutor on the side.
As uplifting and admirable as they were, and how much of an inspiration porn their story would be to others, I also felt bad that they didn’t get the fun, carefree high school life I had, which was common and normalized by stories told in movies and on television. I realized something was definitely wrong with the world, that it didn’t work out for everyone. And the voice returned.
“They’re doing their best, and it still isn’t enough?”
“This shouldn’t happen, so why is this happening?”
“Why aren’t there programs or things to help their family?”
“What kind of world or country would allow this kind of suffering to happen and go on for so long?”
I saw that no matter how much they and others who were marginalized pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, it wasn’t enough. They’d been doing this for years, and yet nothing changed. I felt in my gut something was wrong. I helped them out whenever I could, and still, see that wasn’t enough.
I remember being told, “The world isn’t fair. Get used to it.”
I accepted it as truth for a long time. Everything was meant to be. Everything that happens is fate or karma, but at the time it didn’t sit well with me. The voice returned with a rebuttal.
“Why not make the world a fair and equal place?”
“Why don’t we help the people who are the most marginalized?”
“How did these bootstrap myths come about, and why do we keep perpetuating them?”
At this time, I knew if I went any further with this line of thinking, my bubble that “protected” me from the sad and scary reality of the world would pop. And to keep up with my Pollyanna ignorance would mean that I would be ignoring people who needed the most help. I decided it would be better to know the truth behind why and how these harmful myths were perpetuated instead of staying ignorant.
I took the last straw and destroyed my bubble. I wanted to know more about the world that I knew so little about. I turned to feminist YouTubers and learn from them. I learned how the world had unfair systems fueled by racism, sexism, classism, and other oppressive -isms that affect people who are in the margins. I satisfied the voice in my head with intersectional feminist and queer knowledge, but it wasn’t enough. The voice kept saying:
“There’s a word for this, so I’m not crazy or over-sensitive for thinking something was wrong with this neoliberal/sexist/oppressive thinking/microaggressions.”
“I shouldn’t have to accept this oppressive thinking/action as normal.”
“More, more, I want to learn more.”
“I need to learn more if I want to make this world a better place.”
I sought out more content. Then, when I saw how feminism intersected with a lot of my favorite television shows, movies, video games, and anime, it became a gateway for me to finally fully come into feminism.
In college, I decided to switch from my STEM major to feminist studies. I had a hunger for learning everything I could about gender and sexuality, and I felt euphoric learning from feminist and social science scholars. I found like-minded peers and friends who wanted to fight for equality and social justice. Even in my geeky subculture, I noticed a feminist space was forming, and I started to find more people who wanted to make our hobbies even better. Coming into feminism helped me find a supportive community and ideologies I wanted to emulate.
When your bubble is popped, it comes at the cost of a few things: It gets a bit sad, stressful, and exhaustive when you realize that the world isn’t fair and equal, and you can’t hold onto the ignorant idealism that everything just works out. I’m slowly losing old friends who still live in their bubbles. And my relationships with my friends and family have changed since I’ve come into feminism and developed values that didn’t always align with theirs. I’ve made attempts to talk to them and try to poke their bubbles, which are unfortunately indestructible and make our relationships a tad bit shallow.
While that was the price, it was worth it. I didn’t want to stay an ignorant Pollyanna. I wanted to reflexively analyze the exoticizing and sexist macro- and microaggressions in my youth. I wanted to understand how those oppressive aggressions influenced me and why I accepted them without question for so long. I also wanted to atone for the harm, both micro and macro, I did in my past. I wanted to make this world better and not have people suffer anymore. It’s not fate or people’s choices to suffer; there are complicated systems that are almost always out of our control, which means something needs to be done about them. And I wanted to stand with the feminist political movement dedicated to tackling that. Despite the bleak and unequal reality of the world, feminism has given me the tools to create hope for me and others to hold on for a better world.
About Nicole T.
Nicole T. is a Filipinx freelance writer who uses her feminist analysis skills for critiquing geek culture and hobbies, which include but are not limited to anime, manga, video games, television, and film. She indulges in these geeky hobbies, along with cosplay in her spare time. In the future, she aspires to research video games and geek subculture — on how fans consume media, interact with each other, and the importance of creating spaces to talk about feminist, queer, and intersectional critiques of media. You can find more of her work on her blog or follow her on Twitter at @kitsunemischief.