Change happens in an instant, in a certain sense. But then again, it can take years for a change to really become a part of who you are.
I think of change as taking me around a circle. When the change is fully integrated, I’m the same person again, but different.
It’s as if I’m traveling around a clock face. I start at 6 and move clockwise through all the numbers until I end up back at 6. When I’m halfway around, at 12, my thoughts, feelings and behavior are very different than when I started out.
High noon is where the poop hits the fan; I’m in the thick of the change.
But when I eventually come around to 6 again, things look pretty similar to when I started out. At least on the outside.
This cries out for an example, don’t you think?
From Serenity to Savagery
Before I understood feminism, I was an anti-feminist. My position was that we women had the right to vote, and what more was there to ask for? People who called themselves feminists just seemed angry to me. I couldn’t identify.
When men whistled at me on the street back then, I either ignored them or smiled, depending on my mood. I wasn’t consciously aware of anything problematic about their behavior, even though I would steel myself when walking past a construction site.
That was my 6 o’clock self, pre-change. What a difference a half-day makes…
Once I started educating myself about feminism — what it meant and didn’t mean, where it came from and why it was important — I got angry.
In my Angry Feminist phase, which lasted a couple of years as I recall, I moved away from nonchalance and into a fierce concern about unearned privilege, gender and power.
I would actively respond to unwanted male attention with angry contempt during this phase. I was mad as hell, and I wasn’t going to take it anymore.
I became, as Joe Friday from Dragnet might say, a “known feminist.” I marched on Washington. I carried a NOW card and a roll of stickers that said, “This insults women.” If you knew anything about me, you knew I was a feminist.
That was me at 12 o’clock — the polar opposite of the pre-change 6 o’clock me. Where I’d been ignorant and easy-going even though I was sometimes uncomfortable, I was now educated, activated and taking control of my own psychological comfort.
But after a while, a funny thing happened.
The Wisdom to Know the Difference
After a couple of years of this, something changed…
I kept the feminism, but lost the anger.
I had the information, but no longer the impulsiveness.
I still hated the sin, but not the sinners.
There was no more need to fight every battle, or to see ignorance as willful, evil, or inexcusable.
I knew I’d gone all the way around the clock face and returned to 6 o’clock when a man whistled at me one day and I smiled at him in response. We shared a nice moment. He seemed like a good guy.
Back here post-change at 6 o’clock again, my behavior generally looks about the same as it did pre-change. Or possibly worse, from a feminist point of view.
Despite the fact that I now like to refer to my female friends from college as “gals” (generally a feminist no-no), I don’t do it in ignorance.
It’s hard to describe, but let’s just say there’s a depth to my thinking about these things that wasn’t there before. I was exposed to feminist thinking, and it changed me permanently; I can’t unlearn those thoughts and ideas that opened my eyes for the first time.
I’m glad I became a feminist. As I said in the beginning, post-change I’m the same person, but different.
Maybe it’s not merely a circle, but a spiral of change. An aerial view shows me at exactly the same point where I started: 6 o’clock. From another angle, though, there’s been a shift.
Nowadays if something insults either men or women as a group, I’ll generally speak up about it. But nobody who met me after the age of 35 would think to label me a feminist — angry or otherwise.
I can think of at least a half-dozen other examples where there seems to be a circle of change, where you head out in a direction that goes a little backwards and away from where you are, pass through a polar opposite set of behaviors and end up back where you started, but wiser.
Have you experienced this in your life, or is it just me?