I’ve not been writing much lately, have I? In my absence, however, I’ve not really been absent. (That bit will make sense by the end of the post, I promise!) Now, there have been lots of reasons behind my not having written much of late: I moved! And I’ve been working pretty hard! And my computer had to go in for repairs! And I have a rather flaky Internet connection at present! And other things! And I was feeling really rather guilty about not having been around to write for you all. Which was odd, seeing as doing so was pretty near impossible under the circumstances, and, well, this is what I do in my spare time, and I didn’t have any. This got me thinking about obligation, activism, time and space  and, of course, feminism.
I started to think about that feeling of guilt and what it represented. Because with all that other stuff on my plate, who could blame me for slowing down on the blogging a bit? I think that guilt has a part of its foundation in some clearly patriarchal influences. Because we’re told that women should be on top of everything, should be able to handle everything, should have every part of our lives organised in a socially approved sort of way. We should be able to pile on obligation after activity after whatever else comes up, for ourselves, in caring for other people. It’s an expectation that’s not realistic – that’s impossible to uphold – and is used to shame women for just being human all the time. (I’ve written about some of the disability implications of this too, if you want to go read.) That’s the kind of thing I’d internalised, which is pretty sad. When one is approaching feminist activism of all things in such a misogynist way, well, that’s a problem.
But there’s more to it than that, because we are talking about social justice work here. That’s work I believe myself obliged to be doing, and work I’ve had to put to the side. And for a good while now, when I’ve simply been unable to do activism – blog or write letters or whathaveyou – I’ve asked myself, What it does it mean to be an activist when you can’t act? I was having a despairing moment about this very question last year, during a period of illness, when some kind commenters over at my personal blog shared some thoughts. You should click through; there are some great thoughts that really widened my thinking about activism, about the planning stages and caring for ourselves and working out the structures of oppression in ourselves. (I love my commenters.) Because trying to put one’s obligation to the world and one’s obligation to oneself in separate terms is a bit of a false quest: we’re all part of the world, we’re all interconnected, and the ways in which we treat ourselves is both played into by what we pick up in the world and influences what we put back out there. It’s a matter of knowing oneself to be obliged to the world, and recognising oneself as a part of that world.
And I’ve been thinking of the times when I’ve actively chosen to take breaks from the feminist blogosphere, when it has been my choice. Constantly engaging with social justice work – and mod queues, goodness me – is hard work, it’s draining work, it’s work that doesn’t really get recognised. And I love it, and I absolutely feel myself obliged to do it. Which is why it’s so counterintuitive to take breaks. But breaks allow one renewal, and you’re a lot more useful to the world when you’re not burned out! There’s also the matter of taking care of oneself being a feminist act. Again, women (I can’t speak for anyone of any other genders here) are expected to be always doing, always self-sacrificing. In a world where taking care of one’s needs is thought indulgent for a woman, I think taking some time to recognise one’s own needs is a powerful feminist act. Absence and space and time are powerful means of renewal.
I guess one can’t ever really be absent from one’s communities, not really. You can’t not do social justice when you’re committed to social justice work; you’re always analysing the world or even examining internalised attitudes in your own self. You’re always a part of your community, participating even if only in your thoughts, if only in being a member of them, and that is good enough.
So, I’ve not been absent, not really, but it’s good to be back.
Related reading: This is what an activist looks like.
 One thousand points to anyone who thought of Doctor Who when they read that.