When Your Friends Don't Get Feminism

I recently experienced something deeply upsetting that as fellow feminists I am sure you all can relate to. It was like any other summer evening, a group of my friends (3 guys, 4 girls) were sitting in a circle in my  guy friend's backyard. At some point in the conversation, my good female friend (a bio/chem major) asked me to explain - on a basic level - what exactly women's studies (which is what I'm studying) entails. As I always do when I get asked this question, I took a deep breath and carefully calculated my response. I summed up the major (to my understanding) pretty concisely, or at least I thought, and looked forward to answering any other questions she, or any of my friends, might have. In a matter of minutes, however, the conversation quickly turned from a genuine inquiry to a violent, disorganized, messy attack of 6 against 1.

Suddenly, I was being asked to convince all of my friends that my passion for feminism and women's studies was valid. Naturally, I used examples of pertinent political and social issues that are often discussed in my classes. Then, the conversation became a heated debate over the specific issues I mentioned, like work-life balance and equal pay. After defending myself, and the issues I care so deeply about, for about 30 minutes (and after the speaking turned to yelling) I decided that it was best to simply secede from the conversation. I left my friend's backyard feeling defeated, angry and disappointed.

But it was not the difference in opinions expressed that bothered me so much. I completely believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and it would be irresponsible for me to expect otherwise. What left me feeling so hurt and upset was the very obvious inability to discuss these issues (even just the concept of the women's studies major alone) in a civilized, understanding manner. While the topic of discussion is not new to me, as I have a miniature version of it every time I tell someone I am a Women's Studies major, the nature of the conversation is what bothered me and was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Not only did it become so angry so quickly, but I felt so disappointed in myself for not knowing exactly how to control or handle the situation well enough in order to leave all participants feeling informed and included. I struggled to really "reach" any of my friends, which was incredibly frustrating.

Since that night, I'm struggling to separate the friends I know and love from the uninformed and ignorant things they said. I'm not sure how to move forward. While I do not expect to "convert" anyone to being a feminist, nor do I expect every conversation I have about feminism to be a respectful, understanding one (although that would be ideal), I really would like to be better prepared next time I find myself in a similar situation.

As a Women's Studies student, I have learned a lot, but as of yet, no professor has taught me how to handle inevitable situations like this. Like any other issue faced by those who identify as feminists, this is something that should be discussed and debated. I assume that this is common, and particularly troubling to those of you (like me) who care deeply about women's issues and relevant topics. As I continue my studies, I hope to figure out how to best weather this kind of thing by hearing what my fellow young feminists have done in the past.
If you've experienced something similar, or have any thoughts at all - please leave your comment below!

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Sophia I
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