Thank God Rachel Maddow Is Depressed

The fact that Rachel Maddow recently admitted to suffering from depression makes her an even more likeable and better-suited cheerleader for today’s feminist cause, says Lynn Beisner.

I know that this makes me a bad person, but the best news of my week was that Rachel Maddow suffers from depression. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rachel, and I think she is doing some of the most important work of our time. In fact, she is one of my biggest heroes. Five days a week, for at least 50 weeks a year, she shows up and calls us to be better citizens all while exuding a geeky perkiness that is the exact opposite of the “angry feminist” stereotype.

Her relentless, dogged pursuit of social justice day in and day out makes me exhausted just to watch. Often at the end of her show I think, “See, if I were covering that subject, all viewers would have seen is a middle-aged woman screaming incoherently, foaming at the mouth, and repeatedly banging her head on the desk.” In other words, it would be the feminist version of the Glenn Beck show. Yes, I would probably at some point take off my glasses, wipe tears from my eyes, and descend into paranoid ramblings.

For me, Rachel Maddow was the equivalent of the size zero model who claims to eat whatever she wants and never exercise. With her as my hero, I had created this unrealistic model of what a social justice advocate could and should be: smart, informed, ever optimistic, and relentlessly cheerful. Knowing that she battles depression is like getting to see a model without makeup or airbrushing who eats like a human being. Rachel’s humanity gives me permission to stop hating myself for my imperfection.

More importantly, Rachel’s depression should open an important conversation in liberal circles. The truth is that being a feminist or any kind of advocate for social justice is exhausting and demoralizing. It is true that Conservatives are happier, and for good reason. They are not troubled by social injustice. Those of us who are can either sink into cynical despair or we can find within ourselves some source of renewable energy.

When Sarah Palin famously said, “How’s that hopey, changey thing workin’ out for ya” I wanted to stuff her Naughty Monkey shoes down her throat. I wasn’t infuriated because she was being a smart-ass; I respect smart-ass. I was infuriated because she hit a nerve. That “hopey changey” thing, which we like to call liberalism or the fight for human rights, is heart-breaking.

Nora Ephron said something that has really stuck with me. In an interview with Bill Maher she said that it is more difficult to be a liberal than a conservative because liberals live on hope with a touch of romanticism. And we just keep getting our hearts broken, day after day, politician after politician, legislation after legislation.

There is an old joke that if you scratch the surface of most conservatives you will find a wounded liberal. Perhaps this is why the generation that gave us the Summer of Love now forms the base of the No Birth Control for Sluts Party. They got tired, brokenhearted and eventually so jaded that selfishness seemed more virtuous than social justice.

So how do we stop ourselves from going the way of the Baby Boomers? To be honest, I don’t know. But I suspect that it begins with more of us admitting that we are depressed, that the healthcare reform battle made us weary, and that it is a toss-up to see who will break our hearts worse: the Tea Party or the Democrats. We have to acknowledge that hope does not necessarily spring eternal. In fact, “hope deferred maketh the heart sick.”

I will toss out one really crazy idea: Perhaps this is where the Christian Right has it right. (Please, God, don’t ever make me use those words again.) They see their work as missional—as part of some larger purpose. They believe with all of their hearts that even huge set-backs are nothing more than plot-twists in a story that has an inevitable triumphal ending. And through every conceivable media, they remind each other of that mission, and encourage each other.  

While feminists and other liberals are not united by a common religious ideology we do have a common central purpose: to make the world a more just and peaceful place. That is our hope and the change that we seek and it is no less noble or inspiring than any religious mission.

We are living in one of the greatest times of history: the information revolution. The Industrial Revolution and the Agricultural Revolution millennia before gave us a surplus in things. This revolution is bringing us a surplus of ideas and knowledge. There has never been a time in history when it was as possible to create social justice as it is today. We have to remember that when we see our fight as having lasted millennia, not decades, we are so close to the finishing line we should be able to taste the victory.

It seems the one thing we are sorely missing is mutual encouragement. As I read liberal and feminist online journals, I read of one place after another where we are losing ground or barely holding on by our fingernails. This is as it should be; we need to disseminate this information and call for change. But somehow, we need to include a cheerleading section. At the very least, we need an anthem, something inspirational and maybe even a little perky. I wonder if Rachel Maddow has any musical training?

Lynn Beisner is the pseudonym for a mother, a writer, a feminist, and an academic living somewhere East of the Mississippi. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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