The Wednesday Weigh-In: Coping with grief and trauma

a young girl mourns in Norway after the deadly shooting

A woman mourns after a deadly terrorist attack in Norway.

This week’s Wednesday weigh-in deals with grief, trauma, and how to cope.

76 are dead and dozens more injured after a devastating terrorist massacre took place in Norway on Friday. These numbers are hard for me to comprehend. The loss of life, the violence, the ensuing shock and fear, can feel pretty unbearable, especially when details have emerged demonstrating that the Norway killer hated women.

For this reason and more, this episode has struck a raw nerve with many feminists. As Jill pointed out on Feministe, he uses a lot of the same tropes as Men’s Rights Activists. Nona Willis Aronowitz has written a great piece for Good Magazine about when anti-woman rhetoric and violence hits home.

It seems like an appropriate time to examine the relationship between feminism and grief.

A few months ago blogger TopHat wrote an excellent post about feminism and grief:

Where do the angry feminists come from?

…Angry feminists exist because we have experienced a loss in our worldview and are grieving. We can deny the sexism in our culture for only so long. Then we are hit with pain and fear: and we get angry. Yes, I was angry last week, last month, last year, but sometimes anger comes back because I haven’t finished grieving and I need to cycle through it again.

I love the idea of leaving room in feminism for a grieving process that occurs after an awakening of consciousness. It’s useful for me to think of feminism as a kind of coping mechanism for the pain of living in an unjust or unequal society. With these thoughts in mind, this week’s Wednesday weigh in question is:

What role does grief play in your feminism? What do you do to cope with grief inspired by personal or public tragedy?

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • Kait Mauro

    “I love the idea of leaving room in feminism for a grieving process that occurs after an awakening of consciousness. It’s useful for me to think of feminism as a kind of coping mechanism for the pain of living in an unjust or unequal society.”

    I think that was beautifully put and sums up my anger when it comes to feminist issues well.

  • Chavez

    It really does dishearted me to the fullest extend when people use tragadies like this to dismiss other movements while at the sametime promoting their own. You are giving this guy way too much analysis and attention then he ever deserved (the fact that one of the blogs has a link to his 1500 page manifesto highlights my point). You know who does deserve all the attention, HIS VICTIMS!!! If you are going to take the ramblings of what a deranged madman wrote in some blog then i’m sorry but you need to do some serious growing up. This was not about feminism, misogyny or anything like that, it was about FEAR & PANIC. That is what terrorism has always been about.

    Using an event like this to smear other movements is a cheap, tacky, underhanded technique but more then that it is extremely disprespectful to the people who died. So i ask you please let us put aside the ‘political blame game’ and let us remember those who losted everything is this dark time.

    • natasha

      You’re upset that feminists are against misogyny? Forgive me if I misunderstand, but that’s what it sounds like you’re saying.

      And while I agree that the media should give attention to the victims and families, it does also matter why this person was violent. He was misogynist and racist. Women, Muslims, and people of color really need to talk about the reasons behind anti-women, anti-Muslim, and white supremacist violence. Because it puts us in danger, and it needs to be stopped.

      You call his manifesto the ramblings of a deranged madman, but many misogynists have been saying they agree with everything his manifesto said, and then they go on to say he was driven to violence by a too liberal society. Why is it wrong to call someone out on that? If we can’t talk about these things, why would feminism exist in the first place?

      Hate caused this. And anyone who belongs to the groups of people who are targeted by this hate are probably going to be scared. And they have every right to talk about it.

    • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      “This was not about feminism, misogyny or anything like that, it was about FEAR & PANIC. That is what terrorism has always been about. ”

      Actually, terrorism is about utilizing fear and panic to forcibly further a social/political agenda or ideology. It’s not simply “fear and panic” for their own sakes, which is why when atrocities like this happen, people look to what the terrorists believed, what the were angry about, groups they were affiliated with, etc.

      But it does seem like feminism was but one of many, many things that he was angry about.

      Feminism or not, grieving is always going to be a part of the human experience, for so long as there are death and loss in the world. As a feminist, I hear things about the sufferings of women in different parts of the world that are sources of grief. I don’t know if there is a way to tie the process specifically into feminism or any other ideology though, because it is such a personal thing, that each one of us moves through at our own paces and in our own ways.

  • nazza

    There was a time earlier in life where I stayed consistently angry. Much was wrong with the world and that fact alone was intolerable. Then as I started moving towards age 30, I found I had no inclination or energy towards anger like I used to feel. This isn’t to denigrate what I felt before, just to say that different times are emotionally distinct.

    Grief now is a means of trying to come to terms with the unexplainable. I have been known to cry and ruminate these days. And with what I write or perform, I try to make those outlets a way to process the pain, in a way unresolved anger never did earlier.

  • Christine

    For me, there’s a lot of grief in feminism. When I’m aware of problems I tend to be sad about them. When I was younger, I used to feel grief about the unfairness I experienced. Two years ago in my psychology of women class, the professor drove the point home that rape could happen to anyone. She also made me aware of how common it is. Since learning that, I am sometimes overcome with grief and fear. I haven’t learned what to do about it yet.

  • camer

    why is he deemed a misogynist when a great deal of his writing also focused on male sexualy behavior. he didn’t simply say women were sluts, but that many men he knew were the same way and that was a problem in society as he saw it.

    • natasha

      He blamed women for the behavior of men. As in, the reason men were having too many sex partners was because women were manipulative people using their attractiveness to get everything they want in the world, and that women have too much power. This, according to him, was responsible for the “feminization” of Europe. His solution was to take away the power women have with limits on birth control, an all out ban on abortion, and limits to the amount of education a woman can have. He believed putting women back to traditional gender roles with forced motherhood was the ultimate answer.

  • Emily Sanford

    I’m having a hard time accepting the mixing of “personal tragedy” with “public tragedy” and using “grief” as a term to describe reactions to both. As a feminist, of course I believe the personal is the political and tragedies like the one in Norway were all about politics. The victims were chosen for political reasons. But as someone who’s gone through all the stages of grief quite a few times after having lost several loved ones in a short period of time, I can tell you my anger over that was NOTHING like the feminist anger I have about injustice and inequality.

    When you’re in bereavement, you constantly feel on edge. You want to punch strangers on the subway for going on with their lives and not realizing what an amazing person is now missing from the world. You feel constant guilt whenever you try to do something that doesn’t involve mourning your loved one. Almost everyone including your closest friends says something that hurts you deeply. For the first several months (often up to a year), you can’t go to parties or social situations where people will ask you “What’s new?” because you’re constantly on the brink of tears and anyone’s problem unrelated to loss seems incredibly petty to you. And everyone is ready for you to “move on” and “get over it” way before you are. Grief takes up to two years, and of course, it never completely goes away.

    Is THAT what we as feminists are describing when we talk about anger over injustice? Upset over public tragedies and injusitce is entirely valid, but I’m not using “grief” to describe it.

    • neogaia

      @Emily you seem to be assuming the grief is unique to death and not to trauma.

      I had to deal with immense grief, pain, and PTSD when I was sexually assaulted twice.

      That personal tragedy is inseparable for me from public tragedy. Upon revealing my sexual assault to a few trusted friends I began to discover that I know many friends who had also been raped. From there the extent and numbers of 1 out out of 6 American women being sexually assaulted really hit home. Every time I hear about a rape or misogynistic violence it makes me remember my past grief AND the general situation women survivors (and male and trans survivors) face. The private and public spheres are not as distinct as we often think the are.

      Feminist thought has made me realize the spectrum of misogyny that enables sexual violence. While rape, murder, etc are the worst manifestations of misogyny that mostly works through words and more subtle violation.

      The friends and family of those hurt in those attacks are suffering from the most acute grief clearly. The nature of these attacks reminds us that we and those around us and those in the world are vulnerable to these systems of oppression and for many of us who have been subjected to violence relate to these ideologies it does make us revisit our grief.

      On a side but related note, this guy seemed to know an awful lot about Cultural Studies and blames EVERYTHING that is wrong with Western society on my tiny little section of the academy. When I skimmed through the table of contents of his manifesto and the first section was about Cultural Studies, it scared the shit out of me. I was as horrified as anyone else that he killed innocent people and of the Misogyny, White Supremacy, Islamophobia, etc. Basically he was saying that while he hated all these groups that as he calls them improperly “Cultural Marxists” he accuses them of being THE ultimate corruptors of society that enable all the other things he hates. It was very hard to read that violent white supremacists want our tiny little corner of ideology dead more than anything else and it is natural for us to take it personally and grieve if you find out that someone who killed a bunch of people made it clear they would kill you if they had the chance.