What Is Dissociative Feminism? Because Women Can't Afford To Buy Into It

If you've ever had a dissociative experience, you might have felt disconnected from your body and surroundings. It might have shown up as emotional numbness, or like you're observing yourself from afar as if peering into someone else's life. Your sense of time might have even felt altered. 

Sometimes dissociation can be part of a serious mental illness. Don't worry though, because WebMD reminds us that it's normal for everyday people to have dissociative experiences throughout life without it rising to the level of a disorder. If you need an actual diagnosis, consult with a therapist or psychiatrist.

A dissociative experience can be a trauma response or a coping mechanism for intense stress. It can come from either taking or weaning off certain medications or as a result of drinking alcohol. For serious cases, the major causes of dissociation are trauma, abuse, or the aftermath of a major accident, assault, war, or disaster. So, at this point, you might be wondering what dissociative feminism is.

Dissociative feminism is a recent term

We can pare down a basic definition of feminism as an unstoppable forward movement to gain full equality across all our identities, whether social, educational, political, or sexual. After the initial gains of first-wave feminism 100 years ago helped white women gain the right to vote, subsequent pushes have demanded equal opportunities for women in the workplace, at home, and in the halls of political power.

It's since expanded to become more inclusive of disabled communities, intersectionality (the inclusion of race, class, gender, and sexual identity), body-positive and body-neutral representations in media, and bold discussions of sexual violence that birthed the #MeToo movement.

Dissociative feminism could be seen as a trauma response, a performance of sorts where younger women seemingly embrace nihilism (anarchy and destructive behavior) as a disengaged way to cope with life.  In 2019, Buzzfeed writer Emmeline Clein put it this way: "We now seem to be interiorizing our existential aches and angst, smirking knowingly at them, and numbing ourselves to maintain our nonchalance. Let's call it dissociation feminism." She had noticed in friends and saw represented on TV, Fleabag and Girls in particular, an urge to give up fighting for feminist ideals and flipping the wellness culture the finger while looking like a broken doll.

Why has dissociative feminism become a thing?

There's no easy answer. In terms of women's rights, the past several years have seen the pendulum of social progress swing forward with the public downfall of powerful sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein, and backward with a systemic attempt to dismantle reproductive rights, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022. To put the long, complicated history of reproductive rights into sharp focus, read these 30 books.

Then the pandemic-era lockdown sucker punched the world's collective mental health. KFF.org, a respected non-profit that acts as an "independent source for health policy research," cites that women's mental health was among the hardest hit.

KFF analyzed data from a U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse survey about the implications of COVID-19. It found that women's anxiety and depression symptoms were reported at 36% compared to 28% in men. The survey also found that adolescent girls felt more hopeless and sad compared to boys their age. One silver lining of the lockdown was that it afforded the world an opportunity to slow down and reflect, but many of us were not prepared for an existential sabbatical. Trust for America's Health reports that 2022 saw a whopping 20% increase in combined alcohol, drug, and suicide-related deaths. Many people still need the tools to climb out.

How do we evolve the conversation?

There's a sense of apathy, blurry eyeliner, and ripped tights in this dissociated feminist cool girl trope and her self-destructive behavior (congruent with the Indie Sleaze resurgence). Emmeline Clein mentioned Belarussian actress and influencer Dasha Nekrasova as an example — she tweets about what she eats by referencing anorexia and not eating.

There's a subtle, yet blatant privilege lurking below this nihilism. Blue-collar women, transgender and gender nonconforming people, women of color, and anyone working three jobs taking care of a houseful of kids don't have time to indulge in a deliberately withdrawn, undernourished, glib, disaffected persona. That's not to undercut the real disturbances and cultural realities informing dissociative feminists. But usually, the key to overcoming dissociation involves straight-up healing techniques alongside reconnecting with a greater sense of purpose or even just allowing ourselves to truly connect with other people, eye-to-eye. 

Allowing in a glimmer of sunlight creates hope that there are other ways to live. As with any movement away from dissociation and toward wholeness, awareness is the first step, followed by a fundamental choice to rejoin life. Use a journal, visualize, or use breathing techniques to feel more grounded. Listen to these mental health podcasts to help you feel less alone. The opposite of dissociation is embodiment and an effective embodiment modality is Somatic Experiencing. Social progress isn't a tidy, linear process; it sometimes falls backward, but it's crucial to hold fast to a vision of total equality. We all deserve it, and so do future generations.