So before I left I had a lot of people tell me that I was going to have to learn how to loosen up and be more lax- especially in regards to my feminist ideals. Now if you know me at all, you probably know I’m a major kill joy feminist- meaning I’m quick to call out and address problematic behavior and to be constantly critiquing the world around me- especially when it comes to gender power dynamics and sexual harassment.
So coming to Italy, I was very much aware that I was going to possibly have to abandon my hyper feminist ways to better blend with the culture. And I was aware that I was going to have to constantly face catcalls and aggressive “suitors” for a lack of better wording. However, after a couple weeks of really trying to be lax about the harassment I’ve faced, I’ve learned that there are parts of you that you just can’t reject or compartmentalize.
My first weeks I found myself constantly uncomfortable when I tried to justify the behavior of aggressive and persistent men- especially in a clubbing or street setting. As I anticipated, I had people get handsy and invade my personal space. I’ve had people flat out stare at me while I am just studying at the train-station or at a cafe. And well, I honestly can say I tried really hard to be cool with it. I tried really hard to chock up their behavior to a cultural difference that I have yet to quite understand. But I realized, I was trying to excuse behavior that was “culturally the norm” at the expense of my comfort and my peace of mind.
This got me asking, at what point is it okay to stop making sacrifices, and maintain my cultural difference? At what point am I allowed to say that I don’t understand nor appreciate this aspect of a culture in relation to my own life? Am I ever allowed to, or am I just enforcing my particularly left-wing, radical, social-justice oriented views on a culture that never asked for my thoughts? Am I disrespecting a culture by critiquing it and questioning aspects of it? Am I being patronizing?
In short, I had a long mental debate about this before I finally decided that I wanted to be able to maintain my feminist ideals. And the moment I decided to stay critical and prioritize my agency and comfort was the moment I felt like I had come into my own here. And I honestly do believe I struck the right balance of maintaining a very prominent part of my identity, while also learning to accept that some things are just different here. It’s not my job to impose my beliefs on another culture, but it is also not my duty to sacrifice my ideals in order to respect a culture.
So, though I still am holding myself back from being a feminist killjoy 24/7 I realized- some sacrifices aren’t wroth making. And that’s fine. Being abroad is about growing, and though it has tested me by pushing my limits and encouraging me to morph to the culture around me, it has also shown me that some things are constant about my identity and that I’m better off embracing that than ignoring it.