Turns out there’s a perception that feminism is more a cop-out strategy than anything else. By this, I refer to the idea that feminists are apparently sad and angry at the world for their own shortcomings, which I’ve discovered through various social media posts. Like, perhaps feminists aren’t (conventionally) “pretty”, so they must just be hating on western standards of beauty and try to make “pretty” women feel bad about themselves and shame men for having natural, hyper-sexual instincts.
Perhaps they don’t get cat-called, which must imply those naturally hyper-sexual men don’t find them attractive, so they just rant about other women getting all the [gross and aggressive?] attention on their commute to work.
Perhaps they aren’t sexy enough to get raped, so they draw attention to the possibility of rape culture to uplift their own ego.
[The biggest of N-O’s (and other curse words) to the person who drew my attention to that one. Stay away from google images, friends.]
Perhaps they didn’t get the job in a “man’s field” that they like really, really totally wanted, so they’re just lashing out on men who worked super hard and actually applied for those positions, because otherwise they’d be far more advantageous than a man.
[I can’t make this stuff up. And no.]
Perhaps they make less money than the men in their office because they don’t spend as much time on the golf course making business connections. (Or perhaps it’s because their voice is just a bit too… nasally. Or squeaky. Or manly. Or high-pitched. No, you know what, it’s probably because they just don’t work as late nor as hard. Or maybe it’s because they have kids. Or maybe it’s because they don’t have kids and is actually [whispers] pretty slutty. Actually, no, it’s probably because men are more at risk of dying on the job. So really men just statistically deserve it.)
Perhaps they’re a feminist because making excuses is easier than just sucking it up and working hard to look a certain way, talk a certain way, work a certain way, and simply be a certain way.
I’m really not trying to make bold accusations, but is this what it is? Am I understanding these criticisms correctly? Is feminism perceived as a set of excuses that people use to explain why they are the way they are? Truly, I want to know. Is this what you think when you think of feminism?
Because if so-
Sorry for cursing.
But I mean it. Because I understand more and more each day why some people don’t identify specifically with the term “feminist” [check out a really thoughtful piece that discusses this here, which, in fact, is clearly demonstrated by the aforementioned examples of what feminism supposedly means.] Regardless, when I see or hear the types of statements above, I physically cringe. Feminists – or anyone promoting social justice – aren’t pounding their fists in attempt to validate their shortcomings with “excuses”. They share stories of bull-shit scenarios that have limited their personhood and stripped them of the respect they deserve. And at least for me, feminism provides the space to do that. Feminism isn’t just whining about ______, it’s about empowering your damn self and others’ selves while promoting awareness of situations in which other people (or social systems) are impolite and/or hateful jerk faces.
See, to me, feminisms (and the like) are kinda like snuggling and watching a movie. BUT, when you’re the one under a bony elbow. Its the, “Hey babe, just so you know, you’re elbow is literally puncturing my spleen. Can you please adjust it?” In these scenarios, the other person was clearly comfy and had no reason to understand their partner’s pain before they said anything, solely because IT WASN’T THEIR SPLEEN BEING PUNCTURED. So really, how would they know? Yet, after they hear their snuggle partner’s perspective, they typically respond with a, “Oh! I am so, so sorry. Are you okay? Can I kiss it better? Here, please take my spleen.” [Gag.] Yet, that’s not what typically happens when feminists stand up and talk about gender inequality (sometimes even with their partners). Instead, they get: #NotAllPeopleWithElbows or “I just don’t think this is a problem about elbows. Have you ever considered your spleen being especially sensitive? Have you tried moving it to a different part of your body?” or (the icing on the cake), “You know, real people with spleens are strong and don’t play the victim card. They don’t just blame elbows for all their problems.”
The way I see it, any case of precarity can be seen in two ways. We can frame a person as being empowered or powerless, and we do that through our responses to their narratives of struggle. So when we shut people down for “victimizing themselves” or “making excuses” or “being too emotional”, we strip them of any power they’re trying to create for themselves and others like them. Because that’s what stories do, isn’t it? Stories facilitate the sharing of ideas and perspectives from unique minds that we don’t have access to otherwise. And this is super terrifying to do, but it’s also greatly empowering. Storytelling provides a reflexive space to understand the “stuff” we couldn’t before. Without sharing pieces of ourselves, we can’t empathize with those we don’t share an experience with. But we TRULY can’t empathize with others when we deny or trivialize their experiences altogether. So when I hear that feminists are just conjuring a list of excuses to explain _______, I can’t help but think: Is it really my “excuse” that you have a problem with? Or is this just a way to make up your own excuses and avoid something in your own life? Because as hurtful and hateful as acts of prejudice are, we also have to consider where they’re coming from (and why) in order to make them stop.
This in mind, what is an “excuse”? What is its purpose? And who does it benefit? I understand the term “excuse” as a way to validate someone’s behaviour. But… if feminists were relying on feminism as a crutch to validate their shortcomings or their behaviour, who would that even benefit? What would be the purpose? If it was just an excuse, literally nothing would change for them but their own mindset, which would merely perpetuate a cycle of fulfilling these lousy expectations. So why bother? Why go through all the trouble to speak out against the Patriarchal Rules and Conditions (that most people sign without reading thoroughly) to be treated like you’ve committed social treason. This concept of “excuse making” when it comes to social injustices doesn’t make any sense to me, and it is certainly not what feminism is about. Yet, do some people do this? Probably. Do they also call themselves feminist? Maybe. But don’t lump a movement – or a lifestyle, as my friend would say – into your shallow experiences with excuse-making people who probably have a much deeper story anyway.
Alternatively, when we consider the types of rationale used to shut down feminist antidotes about inequality in the workplace, rape culture, the objectification of the female body, trans discrimination, sexuality legitimization, issues of intersectionality, etc., the purpose of these statements becomes pretty apparent. Feminisms (and the like) are often shut down so people can continue to express their “opinions”, participate in their [bro] “culture”, and practice the right to make “jokes” at “sensitive” people’s expense. (OH, all while protecting their feelings, because #NotAllMen, Sub#Irony.)
Balancing the Social Justice Scale in 2015
Practice Freedom of [Being a Jerk Face] Being Treated like a Person
And again, I know wonderful, progressive, and respectful men exist (exhibit A). But if y’all have to rub it in our faces and demand recognition for being “a nice guy”, we will immediately question you.
To close, I just don’t know why social equality is such a difficult concept to grasp. Have opinions, share them, share your stories if you’re comfortable. But don’t take ownership of other people’s vulnerabilities. I’m not asking for y’all (hereby referring to men, women, and non-binary folk alike) to start shouting from the rooftops that you’re a feminist. I’m not asking you to start reading bell hooks or join a twitter movement or even give me words of optimism. I’m merely asking to stop using the heteronormative power you have (be it whiteness, masculinity, wealth, heterosexuality, or your cisgender) to undermine and degrade the standpoints you could never personally understand. Stop using your social power to perpetually shame others for their size, colour, shape, and choices. I know you didn’t start it. I know prejudice has been more explicit and more violent than what you likely participate in. But in some cases, it’s not, and prejudice still has lethal consequences. [Insert today’s trending headline, Murder/suicide because of Some Jerk, here.] So before you imply that social awareness movements are cop-outs for people to make excuses for being treated a certain way, ask yourself: What is your story? Why do you expect to be treated a certain way? And why is your comfort more important than other people’s pain?