Full‑time feminist, part‑time madwoman … and striker—when and how?

After suffering from a mental merry-go-round, Marta Plaza was able to take part in the feminist strike on March 8 thanks to her support group, her partner, organised resting points, neighbourhood care, and her own efforts. She states, “I feel like a full-time feminist, a part-time madwoman, and a striker according to my possibilities, which aren’t always the same”.


Source >> Pikara Magazine

As always, there are several seeds that germinate when something is born, as was the case for this article. One of the fruits was this reportage published in Pikara Magazine a few days ago: ‘How do Píkaras consider the strike?’. When June shared the article on Facebook she wrote “I’m sure you’ll identify with some”, yet I didn’t really identify with any. Perhaps slightly with Silvia Agüero, who said she required the most care in her family for having a kidney disease, (although she did mention the equal distribution of chores in her home is a daily reality, whilst in mine it rarely is) or with María Unanue, who briefly mentioned that “she does not participate in demonstrations because they give her anxiety”.

If I were to compare it to a standard workday—which I haven’t had in years— I could say I’m a full-time feminist and a part-time madwoman, even though insanity is currently a large part of my identity, a way of reconstructing the ‘ill’ roll in which I placed myself and was placed by others for years and displacing it from a place of passivity and submission to that of conscious rebellion.

Mar García Puig con la pancarta que llevó a la manifestación

In this time of madness and illness, I feel like I did a lot of things in my life: I worked for many years, until the demands and hostility of the labour market expelled me; I had lasting affectionate relationships and meaningful friendships; I also had painful abandonments; laughter, tears, boredom, was overloaded with work…a life in which I could have identified with the collaborators of Píkara. I participated in the 15M, in strikes, in pickets, in mass demonstrations. I learned to speak with ease in assemblies, I was interviewed on the radio a couple of times. Even in the last few years in which being a madwoman, and often defining myself as such, has constituted a central axis to my identity, I am rarely a hundred percent crazy. As colleague of Radio Nikosia, (a radio made by psychiatrised people) used to say, and here I paraphrase, “Why do you always see me as a ‘schizophrenic’, if I only work in such a way 10% of the time, if insanity is merely a 10% of who I am?”. Yes, I have my crises, or the discomforts and their associated symptoms sometimes intensify. To use a more medical language; some of them are very durable and life-threatening, causing big mental confusion and enormous limitations … but up to now, they have ended and I’ve been better afterwards.

The past three months have been one of the most difficult phases. I haven’t felt a bond with the people around me, I am unable to think with what others understand as logic, I have to make an effort sometimes so great for my own survival that it leaves me exhausted for almost everything else (I love how Anne Theriault speaks of this effort to survive that is sometimes so difficult to convey to others in her article ‘When you are suicidal, staying alive is an act of generosity’).

The third seed that germinated into this article is the image that was already spreading through social media last year and has popped up again in 2018. The image created by mental health activist Patricia Rey depicts a hand tied with a strap (as it continues to happen every day in most of the acute units of psychiatry in hospitals, although the belts are no longer made of leather) and read the message “March 8. Stop Torture. We are not all here, the crazy ones are missing”.

All of this lead me to think of several things I wanted to share. March 8 exists on the calendar for insane women too, and for those of us who on top of being crazy are also feminists (which is a path that strongly aids us in learning to live with madness, provides us with tools and explains the source of the suffering we carry inside, as another colleague explains in her text Mental health and feminism), March 8 is an important date. And no, we can’t always go to the demonstrations, perhaps because we have been forcibly or voluntarily admitted, or because the sheer amount of hustle triggers anxiety; the harmful thoughts or voices; because we have not been able to get out of the house for days, or even out of bed; because we have not been able to shower for days and we are ashamed to be seen in such a state; because we tried to leave our homes and as we took two steps outside we were seized by an anguish the surges into the chest and sucks air out of existence; because to go we need a helping hand or a support network that knows our difficulties and chooses to accompany us, and in an individualistic and commercialised society with a lack of community-building opportunities, few of us have these networks…There are many reasons that keep us away from demonstrations.

Going back to my personal experience this March 8, it was important for me to strike but after giving much thought to it, I couldn’t find a way to physically do so. Labour strike? I was expelled from the labour market years ago for its hostility, precariousness, and exploitation, which were completely incompatible not only with my wellbeing but with my survival. Consumer strike? I could do it, but since for the past three months I had been unable to leave my house to participate in consumer culture, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Perhaps a social media strike? I considered it with a feeling of guilt, but if social networking is an important part of my self-care, the way in which (specially in these phases in which physical and presential activity becomes so difficult) I can feel a sort of bond or ‘socialisation’, would it make any sense to cause myself further difficulty by rejecting it?

Care strike? Here I paused. In the more than three months of this last big crisis, I don’t exaggerate if I say that all I have been able contribute at home has been setting the table for two days. From an outside perspective, this is perhaps viewed as laziness, slacking, evidence of having accommodated … I can only once again refer to the article I previously quoted by Anne Theriault. The extent of my caring these days is limited to sending affectionate WhatsApp messages to those who need them. I feel practically one hundred percent receiving of care, and not actively giving, although the people around me sometimes state otherwise. The reality was that undergoing a care strike implied no change, there was already a whole group of people (mostly women) who had been involved in looking after me for the past three months, taking turns to take care and accompany me, dining with me the days my partner ate out, taking me to the doctors… a crises support group in which they are the carers. Hence, I felt that my only contribution could be for them not to take care of me.

At the beginning of the week, my decision on the strike appeared to me as very poor support to this feminist milestone, and that saddened me. I postponed a medical appointment scheduled for the same March 8, my partner and I decided he would strike work to take care of me, and I spread materials on the strike through social media. I knew this year feminist organisations with functional diversities such as FRYDAS were going to make efforts to include other women with special needs by facilitating slow lanes with fewer agglomerations, establishing points of attention to diversity along the route, and planning direct exit routes. But even that didn’t allow me to participate with my current difficulties. Rationalising it, I told myself that for many years, the vast majority, I went out into the street demonstrations, and when I shouted I did it for myself and for all the women who in that moment couldn’t raise their voices. I knew other women would do the same this year, shouting for those of us who couldn’t be on the street for whatever reason. But the rational and the emotional don’t always go together…

One or two days before March 8, several women from my support group told me that since they were striking, they could come eat in my house and then accompany me to the smaller local demonstration. This created in me great internal conflict. Were these cares that I shouldn’t accept in order to stand by my personal strike? Was it sorority? Or mutual support? Are the three concepts interrelated? Are the boundaries between one and the other blurred? Does feminist sisterhood not necessarily imply care and mutual support among us? Does the ideal of being one hundred percent independent and autonomous that I / they sold us (also present in certain feminisms) make sense? Does it do us well? Does it hurt us? I often wish we would value our interdependencies, despite the word including ‘dependence’. Psychiatrists who suffer from the disorder of pathologising everyone who stands in front of them would probably say this is a strategy of my own upheaval in order to avoid facing my dependencies, but are interdependencies, mutual support, sorority, and care, all that distant from each other? And between all these words and concepts and what they imply, by the positive or negative charge that we and our environment give them —sorority, dependence, mutual support, interdependencies, care tasks, family responsibilities … —, where do I place myself? Where do others place me? What part of where they placed me years ago defines where I place myself today? In short, my mind went round and round like a merry-go-round. For the crazy ones, March 8 is also that— a mental merry-go-round.

If it’s not intersectional it’s not feminism. Don’t let our emancipation be at the cost of others. FOR ALL OF US.’ Sign taken to the BIrdeghrl demonstration.

If it’s not intersectional it’s not feminism. Don’t let our emancipation be at the cost of others. FOR ALL OF US.’ Sign taken to the BIrdeghrl demonstration.

After the mind-spinning deliberations, how did my March 8 go? My partner went on labour strike, as I was saying, and I postponed my medical appointment. Two companions from my care group came home early and, together with my man, gave me the strength to get dressed. Another friend, not physically present, was also perhaps unknowingly helping with a song that he sent me weeks ago which helps me move when my body gets rigid with anxiety. We all left home with the idea of doing whatever we could. If we could get to the square where there would be a concentration of people and a manifesto reading at 12 o’clock, perfect; and if I did not feel capable or there were too many people, I could go back with my partner whilst the rest of the group stayed.

We were able to reach the square, where we met more women from my support group and others who aren’t in it but who I met at an assembly and greatly appreciate. I had a hand to squeeze when the screams and slogans sounded too heavy and my brain got confused between the external and internal noise, a fellow companion made us purple flowers to put in our hair, we took pictures with each other and a with a mother who dressed her girl as a superhero, purple face-mask included. I could not scream, I could not sing, I knew that the way I functioned externally was not the ‘normative’ way of functioning, that I spoke with a more childish voice than the one I have when I feel better, and that some of my questions sounded strange. But none of that was serious and nobody made me feel like they were bothered by it.

It didn’t take long for me to get tired but as there were organised planned rest and care points in the neighbourhood (another idea for which I would like to give an immense thank you to the organisation and its volunteers), and although my external functioning was not normative, I did not have a discomfort beyond fatigue. We went to the care point of the neighbourhood, they provided us with a table and chairs, we rested, we drank, and we chatted. Whilst my friends talked about how they would arrange meeting up for the afternoon demonstration, knowing that completely exceeded my capabilities, I talked with my partner about distributing badges against gender violence which we were given amongst our building, and where to put up some purple ribbons. After the meal, we said our goodbyes, walked back home slowly, placed a purple ribbon on the bulletin board of the lobby, another in our mailbox and on our own door, put the badges in others’ mailboxes, and slept and rested for the rest of the afternoon.

From an outside perspective, all this can seem like little. The evening news only covered the historical afternoon demonstrations in which, of course, I had not been. For me it was a lot. I gave the maximum I could give; shared reflections on sisterhood, care, mutual support, interdependencies; I tried to let my neighbours know that if they find themselves in a difficult situation my home is a safe space, I have pictures on my phone that bring me smiles and something new written in my notebook of beautiful things lived in March. I contributed what I could and since to give this little I needed help, there were people who gave it to me. Like the phrase my mother repeated after living in Cuba for years, according to which one had to ask “from each according to his capacity” and give “to each according to his need”.

Today, a few days later, I write this text to further add to my contribution. To say thank you for the introduction of the slow lane for diversities even though I was unable to use it; to say thank you for the neighbourhood help points and the smaller morning demonstrations in which some of us were able to participate. And so that perhaps another March 8 you can be one of those people who I had close to me, who facilitates an acquaintance, friend, workmate, neighbour… so that they can contribute their own little part, as I feel that I have. It might be that for her, as it was for me, it is important.

And to finish off by closing this circle, I feel like a full-time feminist, a part-time madwoman (perhaps working over-time in the past few months), and a striker according to my possibilities, which aren’t always the same. This March 8 I was not as present as I would have liked, but a lot more than I thought I could have been at the start. And where I couldn’t be, as every March 8, I was present in your voices, in your cries, your banners, your strength and your energy. So in a way, the crazy ones (like other women who were not physically there for any other reasons) were there too, in every demonstration, in every city, with all of you, building that new world that we have inside, in our hearts … and in our crazy minds.

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