Thursday, October 23, 2014

Effective Feminism, Justified Rage, & Why It's Okay When Things Suck

This post is going to contain a lot of dirty words and phrases. "Anger." "Insensitivity." "Race issues." "Feminism." Chances are, especially if you are a cisgender straight white male, you do not want to talk about these things. You do not want to read what I have to write on these issues, because you have the words "not all men" tattooed on your forehead and, because you have never in your life experienced discrimination based on your race, gender, or sexual orientation, you cannot comprehend that those things have ever presented an issue for anyone else.

(Read: if you just whined--aloud or in your head--that you are totally sensitive to minority issues and gender inequality, you completely missed the point.)


Feminism has become demonized and distorted by those who don't understand it. Men who feel it attacks their rights in some way refer to feminists as "feminazis" - a term so troubling I couldn't possibly delve into its significance in this post. Even some women have begun to campaign on a "why I don't need feminism" ticket, demonstrating a basic of ignorance of what feminism is.


Allow me to explain it for you. The definition, verbatim, is "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men." If you are a man and you feel threatened by feminism, you are a misogynist, and you need to figure out what screwed you up so bad that you don't think women deserve basic human rights. If you are a women and you think you don't need feminism, then I suppose you're satisfied with lacking equality with--not superiority to, we're not trying to get a matriarchy on our hands--men.


However, feminism, while its definition is bright and shiny, is deeply flawed as a movement. Over the course of its storied development--which, again, too much to get into on this post--there have been major issues with its exclusion of ethnic minorities, trans women, and lesbian women. But I'm not here to talk about misandry (the opposite of misogyny, i.e. the dislike of and prejudice against the male sex) or any other perversion of the doctrine that gives us all a bad name. I'm here to advocate for intersectional feminism, or as I like to call it, effective feminism.


Intersectional feminism essentially calls for equal rights across the board--women of color, trans women, lesbians, and, yes, cisgender straight white women too. Feminism is SUCH a great idea, as equality always is. But in order for it to work, it requires everyone, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, to be equal. It's sort of in the term. Equality. For everybody. Okay, moving on.


A lot of people like to throw around the word "angry" as a means of belittling or attacking feminists. They claim that they are blinded by irrational rage and are blowing "small" things out of proportion. To anybody who says that, let me learn you a couple things:

  1. What you call rage, others might call passion. Learn the difference. And more importantly…
  2. Sometimes, we have a right to be angry.
Not to get too political, but when the government tries to legislate what women can and cannot do with our bodies (ESPECIALLY when that government is predominately male), or when women still make less money than men do for the same job (pretty please don't show me laws, because spoiler alert, people do illegal things all the time, including discriminating against women financially and socially in the workplace), or when women are ever considered less than solely based on sex, it's okay to get angry. This is directed at everyone. Men, don't you dare criticize a woman for being angry about something that is rage-inducing. And women, don't be afraid to express your outrage over injustice when it is seriously affecting your quality of life. It's all part of the patriarchal tradition of suppressing women's emotions; when they laugh at you, or they call you a feminazi, or make jokes about burning your bra, or tell you to stop overreacting--don't listen. Keep your head high. Be logical and be rational, but if you're angry, then be angry. You don't have to be "nice." You don't have to be "polite." Not when your rights are being compromised.

And now for my last point. Everything I've said so far is about when gender, sexual orientation, and race interfere with one's quality of life. But when I say that, I do really and truly mean quality of life. If a guy cracks a joke about women making sandwiches, he's an idiot, not a criminal. Just laugh it off.

Don't laugh off the big things. When it's clear that a culture of discrimination is surrounding you, you should feel comfortable taking a stand and trying to change things. If you feel that what you do or who you are is not being taken seriously, you can speak up. But pick your battles. If you scream at everyone who screws up with you, you'll lose your voice.

I am a black woman. Being a black woman, people say insensitive things to me literally every day. When someone tells me I'm "too white" or "too black," it used to really piss me off. Now, it gets an eye roll. Whenever I hear the phrase "not all men" in response to a comment I've made about male privilege, I feel the urge to berate the guy for his insensitivity (and sometimes, I succumb and I do). But we all need to learn to be less sensitive to things like this.

Sometimes people are mean. But remember what they taught us in preschool about sticks and stones?

Most of the time, words cannot hurt you. We all get so caught up in "skinny shaming" and "reverse racism" and even fat-shaming and "regular" racism that we forget about bigger issues. Someone telling me I don't act black is annoying. Michael Brown getting shot to death is a heartbreaking, unjust crime. Someone making a joke about women in the kitchen is dumb. Dozens of women getting shot to death because of a sexually-repressed misogynist is also a heartbreaking, unjust crime.

Discrimination due to things beyond our control happens every day and to varying severity. So if nothing else, here are your takeaways:

  • Feminism, and all equality movements, only work if they are intersectional. Promote effective feminism. Promote effective social justice.
  • If someone is doing you wrong and preventing you from living a fulfilling, happy life based on your gender, race, or sexual orientation, you are totally allowed to get angry.
  • Choose your battles and choose them well. You must fight. But make sure you know what you're fighting for, and why.

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