You Don’t Need 10,000 Hours to Have a Voice

15 Apr

by Kat Kelley

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers he refers to the “10,000 hour rule,” or the idea that one becomes an expert in their field after 10,000 hours of focus.

I remember watching History Channel documentaries in elementary school in which experts in obscure and specific fields- “1570’s Christian-Inspired Murals in Spanish Trading Posts” would discuss their expertise.

And yesterday I was called an expert and was quite impressed by my accidental fraudulence- how did I swing that title?

Yesterday, Erin Riordan and I led a discussion for The Wandering Minds Society titled “What Is Feminism? Exploring the Movement and Its Role in Today’s Society.” We discussed our backgrounds, what brought us to feminism, our blog, and our reasons for starting the blog.

We were referred to as experts. Experts. And after examining past events hosted by The Wandering Minds Society, we felt inadequate in comparison to the past discussion leaders. We felt quite a sense of “impostor syndrome” – and then of course we considered that maybe we really just need to “lean in” and not question our knowledge because that’s just the patriarchy teaching us to not take ownership of our achievements as women. Right.

And when Georgetown Women’s and Gender Studies Professor Bonnie Morris introduced herself, or made all the most succinct and thoughtful points ever, I became painfully aware that I had never take a Women’s and Gender Studies course, or that I really couldn’t differentiate between the waves of feminism.

But that is my feminism. It isn’t academic, it isn’t a wave, it isn’t perfect, and it definitely doesn’t demand expertise.

I just really think gender equality should be a thing. Is that too much to ask for?

Feminists are merely united by the belief that all genders and sexes are equal, and that we should probably do something about the fact that they aren’t treated as such.

“Feminism” is often called the “f-word.” I frequently hear strong, empowered, women dissociate from the feminist movement, and while there is an external stigma, there is also a failure on behalf of those who self-identify as feminists: a failure to include diverse voices, to make the movement approachable, to listen and ask and answer questions without automatically denouncing those unfamiliar with the rhetoric else as misogynists.

Being a feminist is exhausting. I see injustice everywhere and I am a privileged white heterosexual cis-gendered American at a top-tier education institution. And not everyone has 10,000 hours to spare, not everyone can dedicate their lives to the movement. We must lower the threshold for feminists, if we want to succeed. We must look for creative ways to connect with feminists of all ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, political affiliations, and interests. And we can’t put our expectations for other feminists and other women on pedestals.

I watch Modern Family and I don’t always think about the fact that all of the women are stay-at-home mothers, and that Cam and Mitch are totally perpetuating stereotypes about gay men. You can’t be hyper-vigilant and endlessly cognizant- you’ve got to pick your battles. Not only is it impossible, but no one wants to jump into a conversation when they don’t know what the hell “the gender binary” is or the difference between trans and cis-gendered. Yes, language shapes our world, and yes, I am always demanding more of myself, challenging myself to be a better feminist, but it’s okay to stumble over the terminology, not know who Audre Lorde is, or not read 17 different articles debating whether or not Margaret Thatcher was a feminist icon.

Everyone has a voice, and everyone’s voice is valid. But not all voices are equal. I want to hear more male voices amongst feminist dialogue, but every now and then I do have to pull the gender card and say “no you don’t know what it’s like” because you have not grown up being treated as a woman in our society. And there are plenty of times I have to check my own privilege. As a privileged white heterosexual cis-gendered American- there are a lot of forms of oppression that I really just “don’t know what it’s like.” We must validate all voices, we must listen to others, not merely speak for them. My feminism is not only unique- derived from 21 years of experiences and conversations- but also dynamic and ever changing. My feminism demands and desires a challenge.

I would never call myself an expert on feminism, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have nuanced knowledge and valid thoughts on the topic (even if late night rants were to be included, I wouldn’t have a fraction of those 10,000 hours). I learned so much yesterday- so many participants in the discussion divulged thoughtful musings that I had never considered, or eloquent versions of nebulous thought clouds in my head. I felt that every participant challenged me to further examine and uproot my beliefs and formulate them in a more thoughtful manner.

My feminism isn’t a state or an identity, it’s a process, a way of life, a pledge to challenge myself and to challenge the status quo.

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