Never Enough

This is an odd, rather uncomfortable post to be writing.

It’s caused by Patricia Arquette’s comments during her Oscar acceptance speech last night, where she called for wage equality and equal rights for women in America. I thought it was nice that she advocated for this during her time on stage. However, after reading through my Twitter feed for an hour, the point was driven home that her speech was trite, noninclusive, and shitty for not bringing up the fact that women of colour have it even worse than white women when it comes to wage gaps (and pretty much everything else). Also, I’m shitty for liking that she said something at all.

This also happened after Emma Watson’s speech to the UN. While I did find her talk lacking in an actual call to action, I thought it was a rousing speech that invited people to feminism in a friendly 101-level way. Then the Internet told me all the problems with what she said. It focused too much on men. It didn’t take into account the more serious issues faced by women around the world. It came from a rich white girl.

I’m trying to educate myself more about social issues, but the community is not always a friendly one.

If you’re not in the most oppressed group, you should not complain. Don’t bring up some transgression that’s occurred because of your sex or race or economic status, unless you also bring up the transgressions against the people who have it even worse than you. Maybe I’m misunderstanding tone, but I often feel like the message being sent is “if you can’t advocate for everyone at once, you’re terrible and you should shut up.”

I often feel for others who try to get into social issues, or feminism specifically. I’ve seen a lot of backlash against “daddy feminists,” men who have daughters and realize that women should be treated equally and with respect because that’s what they want for their kid. No, it shouldn’t take having a daughter for men to realize that women are people, but I also wouldn’t tell a man he’s terrible because having a daughter is what made him care about women’s issues. There’s this weird, almost gatekeep-y vibe that if you don’t care about everything, if you don’t have the right reasons for starting to care, if you can’t eloquently show support for every issue at all times, you should just stay quiet.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most people care the most about issues which affect them personally. Does this make them terrible? No, I think it just makes them human. There are people out there who have the energy and fortitude to care equally about everything at once but it’s not easy. I try to be aware of social issues but I only have my own experiences to go on so issues that affect me personally are the ones that are at the forefront in my mind.

Intersectionality is the goal, the thing that we should be striving for, but it’s not something everyone can just magically understand and perfectly represent overnight. It’s difficult to continue to try when you’re constantly given the message that you’re not doing enough.

10 responses to “Never Enough

  1. This all generally frustrates me, so I don’t wade too deep. It is almost some sort of oppression hipster-ism. As a middle class, cis-gender, white, male… nothing I say in support will ever matter because it is coming from a position of privilege. I feel like that is precisely the problem… in order to solve inequity you have to have folks that are not “oppressed” to make a change in how they view the world, and use that change to influence others. Otherwise it is a lot of “preaching to the choir” which never really gets anywhere apart from allowing everyone involved to agree that “yup, were oppressed and it sucks”.

    In the meantime… I am going to continue to keep trying to make a difference when I can, and staying the hell out of the community that doesn’t really want me in the first place. Awesome post though, and thanks for writing it.
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    • I agree, you do need the support of people who have power and are in positions of privilege if you expect anything to change. Those people should not be the only voices, but turning them away does more harm than good. There have been times when I see all the shit someone gets for trying to help and think: if I were that person I’d just say fuck it and stop trying.

  2. I often feel for others who try to get into social issues, or feminism specifically.

    It seems like there’s an equivalent to Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, except you need to replace every instance of Bureaucratic Organisation with Social Movement. The results look the same – the creation of an in-crowd who behave territorially over their particular ‘…ism’, even if that means failing to change open minds in the very manner their social movement set out to do. I suppose it should be no surprise that even the socially conscientious suffer from the sort of organisational diseases they find at fault in the establishment.

  3. Great post, thank you for writing it. If everyone was just a little bit nicer and respectful to everyone we’d move the needle miles further than where we are with competing interest groups. I just try to educate myself on issues and be nice to all people, because that is all I can control. I gave up trying to have a voice in the discussion because of the hypocrisy around it all.
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    • That’s basically it, I just want people to be nicer. The easy thing would be to just remain ignorant about these kind of issues. People are trying to educate themselves and others and be better but there’s a constant message, as people are trying to learn, that what they’re doing and saying isn’t good enough. I’m not saying people need a round of applause for every baby step they take, but to just not be constantly derided would be cool.

  4. “If you’re not in the most oppressed group, you should not complain. Don’t bring up some transgression that’s occurred because of your sex or race or economic status, unless you also bring up the transgressions against the people who have it even worse than you. Maybe I’m misunderstanding tone, but I often feel like the message being sent is “if you can’t advocate for everyone at once, you’re terrible and you should shut up.”

    I cannot echo this enough. If all the pain and sadness in the world were one impossibly large bucket, would you shame someone because their attempt at filling the bucket with happiness or comfort hardly covers the bottom? I’d like to think not. The problem with online communities is the way they overreact to people helping or hurting, often ignoring the intent in the process.

    It’s kind of hard to be a movement calling for empathy and the recognition of so many faults, when you can’t step back from yourself and view your own actions in the very same light. The world needs less hate and less shame, especially for those actively trying to make a difference, however big or small it may be.
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  5. In my youth I was an active trade unionists and as a result spent a lot of time traversing the associated political landscape. It is often rife with self-appointed arbiters who seem to think it is their sacred duty to police the particular issue or cause they have adopted, in the manner you’ve described.

    It’s a short sighted, self-defeating mind-set. Dr. King realised that for the civil rights movement to make progress in the US, he had to reach out to the wider community and win them over. If he had adopted such a blinkered approach as this, then things would have been very different.

    This ” People’s Front of Judea” malady seems to manifest itself within any social group once it grows beyond a certain size. Eventually the blinkers slip on and egos take over. I’ve seen it happen from Trade Unions, right the way down to the Church Social Committee.

    However, if you want to speak out on an issue then do so and damn any fool who wants to undermine your positive contribution. The internet is often an echo chamber and should not always been seen as a definitive litmus test. If someone has the gall to say you can’t advocate correctly because you don’t hail from the afflicted community or didn’t sufficiently cross reference your rhetoric, just laugh in their face.
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  6. The ironic thing is, I doubt that there is anyone in any social justice movement who is active on all fronts. There are simply too many issues that need addressing, and each person must pick and choose which battles to fight. Even someone with enormous reach, influence and resources – like Hollywood celebs – have to limit themselves to some issues. That necessarily means that you miss out on fighting, or even mentioning, other battles.

    The accusation that someone “isn’t doing enough” is so ridiculous because it can be levelled at *anyone*. When you see someone advocating, and the first thing you do is point out that they didn’t do enough, then you are part of the problem. Especially when they are risking a backlash by doing so.

    I can definitely understand why you are uncomfortable with this topic. It is the ugly side of social justice movements.
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  7. Urrrrrgh, I’ve been having a tough time with this issue. On the one hand I absolutely have a bunch of privilege that I need to sort out on this topic, but on the other hand … the more I care about homophobia, transphobia, racism, and ableism (marginalized people who are not me), the less I feel I can talk about them at all to any audience, and that’s confusing.

    I’m not gonna tell anyone how they should or should not feel about Arquette’s statements, but I don’t like Callout Culture. Intent is not magic, but it counts for something, and there is value in sorting between people with malicious intent and people whose hearts are firmly in the right place but flubbed the wording.
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    • It’s a very tough issue. I also have a bunch of privilege that I acknowledge, but in trying to learn more about social issues and follow people with perspectives different to my own it’s difficult to see people who mean well getting called out over everything. And it’s not something anyone’s immune to.

      Last night, an author I follow, Roxane Gay asked “Are there any black people in Australia?” Following her mentions for a bit, she got called out for not bothering to inform herself before asking such a thing on Twitter, disrespectful phrasing, being ignorant of Australia, black people and Aboriginal people, and questioned on why she was only concerned with people of African descent and not the Indigenous population.

      I think Twitter is an especially bad place to discuss anything, but having people constantly imposing intent on simple questions or statements when the bad intent just isn’t there is really upsetting and confusing.