Mental Health & Feminism
What is feminism and why is it good for our mental health?
First let’s start by defining what we mean when we use the term feminism. A basic definition of feminism is the advocacy for equality and equity across the gender spectrum. It is important to understand that when we use the term feminism it is from the perspective of intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism takes feminism a step further by being inclusive of other oppressive factors such as race, religion, gender identity, etc. Intersectional feminism is important because oppression often meets at an intersection of sorts, meaning if you are oppressed for your race, your gender identity may also play a role in oppression and so on. However, it would be remiss to not acknowledge that historically feminist movements have not been inclusive of people of color and trans identifying persons. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge without being intersectional it is not true feminism, and we do a disservice to others by being exclusionary.
So, what does feminism have to do with mental health?
Feminism is important to mental health for a number of reasons, including the intersection of oppression that may be present for mental health as well as from an ideological standpoint. Ideologically, feminism allows us the space to process and challenge things we have learned in society and our families of origin that are harmful and toxic to our mental health. For example, boys are often raised with the idea that emotions are a weakness which leads to suppression of emotion. Suppressing emotions has a significant impact not only on our mental health but our physical health as well. Through the lens of feminism, we see that as humans we all have emotions and with the ability to express and process our emotions in a healthy way, we live happier, healthier, and fuller lives. We may have also learned about specific gender roles that are harmful such as women and girls being raised as caretakers. Often, this leads to women who do not take care of themselves unless there is time and there is rarely time. When we are not sharing the burden of the work we suffer as a result and feminism allows us the space to more evenly distribute tasks and caregiving based on equity as opposed to gender.
The fact that feminism benefits women is typically clear in how activists advocate for policy changes and so on to create more equality or equity, but you may not be clear how feminism benefits men or other genders, aside from the example used above. How does feminism benefit men? When we look at men and how societal norms have been damaging for them this includes the pressure to meet certain criteria to “be a man” such as being strong, a breadwinner, intelligent, not emotional, and so on. This may seem harmless but when we look at the physical and mental wellness of men, we see it takes a significant toll. It can be harder for men to seek help when experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health symptoms in addition to emotional disturbances. It is not healthy for anyone to bury or ignore the symptoms, stress, and emotions they experience. When we live in a society where men can be who they want and can seek the help they need whether that be physical, mental, or emotional, men live longer and more fuller lives. Not to mention, when men embrace a feminist perspective this can enhance the relationships they have with friends, family, and partners. Feminism can even improve your sex life! Feminism also benefits those who may identify as gender non-binary or trans. As feminism challenges a lot of policies specific to gender equity this benefits those in the LGBTQIA+ community as there are many rights that are often blocked or stripped from this community specifically.
So how can a feminist perspective, outside of activism and advocacy, improve your mental health?
Because a feminist perspective challenges gender norms, societal norms, and even some religious norms, it can allow us to process our symptoms and traumas through a different lens. Feminism allows us to look at different areas such as physical health, financial health, emotional health, relationship health, mental health, etc. in a way that challenges traditional norms and gives us solutions that may not otherwise be available to us. Not to mention it is common for societal norms to tell us we are not good enough for one reason or another regardless of our gender identity. Feminism gives the space to love the person we are right now and make changes from a place of love instead of trying to make changes from a place of not being good enough. When we take the step to love who we are right now and any change that we make is from a place of love we have more freedom to build sustainable changes that fit our lifestyles instead of focusing on some made up idea of what a person is supposed to be.
Post by Katie Kissel, LISW-S