So I’m going to hold off on my previously planned blog post to address something that is a little more timely and quite frankly,
pisses me off has me quite confuddled. (I just made up that word, it’s a mix between confused and befuddled. You’re welcome, and you may use it.)
If you haven’t checked your Facebook or other social media site yet, TIME magazine released a poll with a list of words to ban for 2015. On it, there are several obvious choices stemming from internet slang and memes, such as “YAAASS” or “Om Nom Nom Nom.” Most of these my friends would say, “Wait, what do these mean?” (Yes, I’m only friends with 80-year-old grandparents.) But to many people’s shock and dismay, they also have another hot-ticket word on the poll, nestled ever so delicately between “disrupt” and “I can’t even,”…
Yes, TIME magazine, ever so relevant and witty, is equating a civil rights movement that is just about 6 years shy of celebrating its centennial birthday, that happens to address gender and the social, political, and economic rights of half of America’s population.
Stay classy, TIME magazine.
I could go into a big, sarcastic, angry tirade, but I want to actually address something bigger – why they felt the need to add that word to their poll. It’s true, as a liberal, intelligent artist who lives in New York, the bulk of my Facebook feed nowadays tends to be posts addressing sociological or political injustices. My queer friends post about trans* phobia. My feminist friends post about slut-shaming. My friends of color post about racism, or exploitation of minorities in the media. A lot of my friends fall into multiple categories, as do I, and they are passionate, well-read, and well-intentioned. I’m very lucky to have such smart, relevant friends. But it can also be overwhelmingly depressing, as I scroll through my daily news source (yes, I’m still talking about Facebook), and see nothing but articles about the offensive, discriminatory, oppressive evil Man keeping us down.
Please be clear, I’m not saying that I disagree with all of these articles or points, but I think we’re all starting to “Devil’s Advocate” ourselves into the ground. In specifically addressing feminism, we are in danger of becoming like those ghosts on Portlandia, and we are going to confuse our movement to death, if we haven’t already. (Yes, the new season is on Netflix, and yes, it’s fine for you to finish reading this later after you go binge watch all of them now.)
Let’s just look at one example:
Recently, Hollaback released a video of a woman walking through the streets of NYC for 10 hours, and recorded secretly the various instances of “catcalling” she experienced. Yeah, you’ve seen it. If you do click on the video link above, don’t read the comments, I don’t want you to have a rage stroke. (Comment boards are where humanity goes to die, but that’s another topic.)
This video has over 35 million views, and countless follow-up parodies and articles dissecting the impact of this video. At its heart, Hollaback’s video had a simple message: women experience catcalling just walking down the street (while wearing plain black clothing) and here is proof. That is a valid point in and of itself. When it first hit the web, I even posted it on my own Facebook, I thought it was great (and I totally liked it before it was cool.)
But now, the masses have spoken, and the video is racist and exclusionary and unfair and rigged. Slate writer Hanna Rosin released an article shortly after the video was released, stating, “the video also unintentionally makes another point: that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break.” While this is a valid point, it seems like the majority of people have latched on to this sentiment while ignoring a very important statement she makes just a paragraph later, “Activism is never perfectly executed. We can just conclude that they caught a small slice of catcallers, and lots of other men do it, too.” While she has a problem that this video does not address its target audience correctly (by excluding white upper/middle class men, they can feel exempt from any wrongdoing seen in this video), she is absolutely right.
Activism is never perfectly executed. Feminism has long been criticized as only for white women and exclusionary to women of color. And for the most part, in America, it is. Absolutely race should always be addressed. And class. And sizeism. And religion. And sexuality. And gender. Wait… wasn’t that what we were talking about?
The thing is, ALL of these issues are connected. You can’t talk about one without the other coming up. Because no one is Just a Girl. (Sorry, Gwen Stefani) And anytime you talk about major social topics, you run into a problematic er… problem. How do you address something so personal, but on a public level? My experience is unique only to myself. Something that offends me might not offend another of my “group” – but – and here’s my issue – something does offend someone, everywhere, all the time, always.
A human rights group posts a video or a blogger writes an article or a TV personality has a hit series – they address the lives and issues of a marginalized group and educate the masses in a way that hasn’t been done before. We all know their intentions are well-placed, and for the most part, they’re effective.
But then comes the concerned, hipster trolls. Well, this video is great, but it stars a White woman, what about Black women? What about Latino women? What about women from the South Pacific? What about Sikh women? What about trans* women? What about lesbians? What about bisexuals? What about Mormons? What about Amish women? What about fat women? You can’t say fat, that’s fat-shaming. No, you should say “fat”, it’s empowering! Stop saying “fat”, you’re just skinny-shaming! This video is slut-shaming! It promotes rape culture! I’M ANGRY!
How the hell can we move forward and make progress as a human race if we keep holding ourselves back to make sure that we don’t step on anyone’s psychological toes? NO ACTIVIST ACT, VIDEO, ARTICLE, etc. is EVER GOING TO BE COMPLETELY INCLUSIVE and COVER ALL GROUND. I don’t mean to yell, but geez louise, we can’t ever win! Humanity and human rights is a complicated, sticky, giant area to discuss and no one thing is ever going to cover all of it. Don’t you see? We’re not helping ourselves by constantly picking each other apart – we’re supposed to be all on the same team! Remember who the real enemy is. (Yes, it’s President Snow.)
Of course, we should always be discussing these issues, it’s amazing that we do and can in the first place. But let’s stop dragging each other down through the politically incorrect muck when we are all trying to achieve the same thing. If you don’t see yourself represented, then YOU release a video, write another article, or whatever. I believe that life usually is better when you just follow the rule of Improv: “Yes, and…” As in, “YES, this addresses an important issue well, AND here’s another take on this issue that should also be discussed.”
And for the love of your god, can we please stop throwing around the “shaming” words? Calvin Klein released photos of their new model, who is gorgeous and a size 10, and now they’re being criticized because Elle (not CK) called the model plus-size and she’s getting flack because she’s not big enough! Why not just celebrate the fact that CK hired a beautiful woman who isn’t a size 0-2? One step at a time, people. They may be fat-shaming, but keep in mind, they are fat-shaming considerably less than they used to with their size 0 models, right? It’s a small victory, right?
And people can criticize Kim Kardashian’s cover on Paper magazine without it being slut-shaming too, people. Yes, using the fact that she is now a mother as a point to why the photos are bad is unfair and frankly, completely beside the point. It’s just really um, gross. It’s distasteful on purely an artistic level (and of course, that’s just my opinion.) But I’m not a bad feminist for thinking so. I hesitate to say this, but not everything is sexist. EDIT: Further research into this Kim Kardashian photo spread (ugh, I know) actually brings up some really important information that I think is actually relevant and quite illuminating. It kind of makes me feel bad for her, poor girl most likely had no idea what she was doing…
As my good friend and writer Taylor Tobin said to me yesterday, “The egregious use of “slut-shaming” irritates me to no end. There is a DIFFERENCE between slut-shaming and saying that someone took a photograph that’s in poor taste. It’s like those high school girls who insist that their school dress codes are SLUT-SHAMING them. if the administration uses gendered terms to explain the dress code, that’s a problem. But if you’re not allowed to wear booty shorts and crop tops to school, SRY BITCHES, THAT’S LIFE.”
But Kate, you might say, how do I know what’s truly sexist and what’s not? Well, that’s complicated, but the magnificent and kickass Caitlin Moran breaks it down pretty well. Like Caitlin, I just ask myself, “Well, are boys doing it? Are men also being affected by this?” And if so, it’s probably just a human issue, not a sexist issue. I’m sure if Kanye West did a photo shoot like Kim did, we’d all be just as disgusted. And I’m sure the school administrations who ban crop tops and booty shorts are also banning boys from wearing them, as well as baggy jeans and wallet chains (we’re still in 1996, right?).
All I’m saying is, we need to keep our eyes on the prize, ladies, and gents, and others. We are letting ourselves get distracted from the real issues. We need to stop crying, “Discrimination!” every 5 seconds and really think – THINK before reacting to something. By saying every little thing is an oppressive injustice, we lessen the actual meaning of those words. They become cheap, overused, and subsequently ignored. Let’s get “feminism” off that stupid poll by using it intelligently. Let’s keep building each other up instead of knocking each other down. Let’s keep saying, “YES, AND!”