Getting back into academic writing

Since my decision to get back into my Ph.D. program and finish my dissertation, I’ve felt pretty good. Dare I say it? I also felt a bit confident (that’s a strong word to use in a world where constant doubt is the norm). I am confident in my decision to come back and get the degree. Only a two-week stint in the 9-5 world was enough to show me that I need to teach and, whether I like it or not, my mental illness demands a job where there can be some flexibility (like being able to cancel a class when you’re having a breakdown).

A lot of the confidence I felt when I came back last month has vanished already, as soon as I started writing. It’s almost been a year since I’ve done academic writing and it is NOT an easy thing to get back into. Even when I was writing, I knew that one has to write every day, even if it’s only a paragraph. But still, I’m barely writing a paragraph per day and while it’s still something, there’s still always the feeling of “this isn’t enough.” I know that this is normal. Friends who have finished their degrees tell me that. I’ve seen online articles about different styles and different goals for writing. I’ve tried to apply them and yet I still haven’t found the best formula for me. I feel that I should have figured it out already and maybe that’s the fear: that if I haven’t figured out how to write productively constantly then how can I be an academic?

Not having the best communication with my previous director, I felt that everything I wrote was shit. Obviously, he never said anything close to that, but impostor syndrome is real y’all. Every one needs something different from their advisor. My good friend prefers to rarely speak to her advisor; another friend says he feels like “sunshine and rainbows” after meeting with his advisor and always seeks her advice. I’m somewhere in-between. I want the independence to write, but need a particular type of criticism; my new director, who I worked with at a literary journal and had as a professor, always writes positive notes (“great!” “this is really good!”) along with the criticism of what needs to be improved. This mix really helps with the constant presence of imposter syndrome: you’re good, you’re not great, but you can do this! He did tell me once “You’re not the smartest Ph.D. we’ve had, but you’re good and you need to get your degree.” Maybe it’s weird, but that’s just what I needed to get back into it. Now, if only I can focus on writing the dissertation instead of writing about writing the dissertation.

 

 

 

Feeling Like a Failed Feminist

(originally published on Progress and Tea)

I’m a feminist (gasp, surprise!) and as such there are things I know:

I know my worth as a person is not based on the male gaze.
I know that gender is a construct and has nothing to do with the sexual organs a person was born with.
I know that there are more than two genders.
I know that a person’s sex life—as long as it is consensual—is no one else’s business.
I know that it is important for women—ALL WOMEN—to support each other, be it by coming over with wine and/or chocolate, standing up for each other in public, protesting against the racist, misogynistic president, etc.
I know that equality for all means for all, no matter the person’s race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, etc.
I know that sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault.
I know, and yet…

Yet after being sexually assaulted I kept quiet for ten years and blamed myself.
Yet after trauma therapy, I still blame myself.
Yet my self-esteem went up when a person I thought was very good looking was attracted to me and wanted to have sex with me.
Yet my self-esteem plummeted when that arrangement ended.
Yet while I am proud of my independence, I want to be married and I want a partner.
Yet I’m worried when I get a cat, I’ll be considered a “crazy cat lady.”

It’s hard being a feminist. We have to be critical of the world we live in and ourselves because I believe we can always be better. But that criticism can be exhausting when it’s constantly aimed at ourselves. We can always work to be better humans, better feminists, but I feel like I fail to meet those standards I’ve set myself… I feel like a failed feminist.

While I have these thoughts I’m torn between those emotions—loneliness, shame, self-doubt, self-hatred—and being angry for having them. I feel like a bad feminist because there’s no way I would let any of my friends say these things to themselves. There is the logical and critical side of my mind that says, “You’re a great person. You’re beautiful, even if it’s not the standard. You’re smart. There was nothing you could do without risking more harm.” The problem is the other side, the side that has been raised in the patriarchal society, is louder. It says, “He didn’t like you enough, so you’re not good enough. You’re fat and ugly, and no one is going to want you. Why did you go into the house? You kissed him, thus giving him permission. It was your fault. You let it happen.” When this happens, which has been pretty frequent lately, I feel like a bad feminist. I’ve failed to believe for myself what I believe, and am willing to fight for, for others.

Feminism is a critical way of looking at the world. It demands thought and action. And it starts within ourselves. But we also have to remember that we are human—we have our faults. We have been raised in a society that has told us to think one way and it’s difficult and a lot of work to unlearn all that. My promise to myself is that every day I will work to unlearn what I’ve been taught. When I think “I’m not good enough,” I will remember all that I have accomplished. When my brain says, “It was your fault,” I will talk to myself the way I’ve spoken to the students who have come to tell me about their assault and remind myself that it was not my fault. It’s easier to fight for other people, to want to show them that they are amazing and are loved, than it is to love ourselves. But that’s part of feminism too. To love yourself the way you are, even if that means acknowledging you can do better.