A Question of Agency

It has been a month or so since I penned my XOJane article, “Street Harassment Forced Me to Stop Playing Pokémon Go.” I consider it to be a successful article- not because everyone agreed with it (they didn’t), but because it spurred a conversation that I had dabbled with in the past but never really addressed. Scrolling through the comments, I noted some people were upset that I, a self-identified feminist, stopped participating in something I loved because of male harassment.

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My Eevee never had a chance. 

I understand where the frustrations come from. By giving up something I enjoy, am I not relinquishing my agency in deciding what I do and allowing men to pressure me into avoiding it? But for me, it was never about giving up my agency; rather, it was about exercising my agency and recognizing what is best for me.

I’ve talked about my sexual assault and resulting PTSD before. In those terrifying moments of my assault, a male took my agency. I had no choice or role in my assault other than being the person forced to endure it. In the months that followed, as I refused to leave my apartment, jumped at shadows at night, and flashed back to a dark street, I had no control. To me, that is what lack of agency is.

I have worked hard at recovery and remission. I know I could still suffer from flashbacks and panic attacks. I still alter my walking patterns and behaviors to minimize my alone time on the streets because of that restriction of agency. But within that restriction, I also use my remaining agency to take care of my mental health and well-being. Part of that is not choosing to place myself in situations that could harm my remission. The months before I received treatment for my PTSD were filled with dissociative seizures that left me thrashing around in a myriad of bodily fluids. It was a time I don’t want to revisit.

For me, that is my choice. Yes, it stems from an absence of unfettered agency. Yes, it is not ideal and understandably infuriating. And yes, it is my attempt at capturing shreds of agency within a system that perpetuates a lack of agency. But in a time when we are finally beginning to tackle the stigma around mental health, why should we tell women they need to sacrifice their mental health and stability? I support women who choose a different path from me, who despite past experiences and harassment continue to walk alone. I also support women who choose to take others with her so she doesn’t experience crippling attacks that hinder her happiness. For years now, I have sat by and watched as women’s health was deprioritized. I am not going to be one to tell another woman to start deprioritizing her health to fit a narrow idea of a strong feminist.

Everyone’s feminism is different- it is the ultimate goal of equality that unites us. Why can’t the way we channel and strengthen that feminism not also be different? Be you a walker, a writer, an orator, or activist, I hope our feminism and unique platforms help challenge one another and support one another  while creating a universal space where women can happily exist without having to seek agency within an agency vacuum.

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