Sarah Beaulieu is ready to have a conversation about why there is so much hate against feminism.
Like many humans with a Twitter account, I’ve spent the last few weeks watching various firestorms emerge around hashtags like #YesAllWomen and #WomenAgainstFeminism. And since I’m still nursing a baby, I was able to follow the insights and insults pretty much around the clock. The issues of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and gender equality are incredibly important to me, yet I have been grappling with how to engage in the discussion — if you can call it that — in a productive way.
It’s really hard to winnow down one’s perspective on gender dynamics, sexual violence, or intimate violence to a single 800-word blog post, let alone 140 characters. We need to be patient with people as they explain themselves, their intentions and their experiences.
Stephen A. Smith used the word “provocation” when talking about how much he was against domestic violence. Instead of giving him a chance to unpack his thoughts and reflect on how they might be interpreted, the internets attacked him. People do not and will not always say the right thing at the right time. It doesn’t mean they are a rape apologist or any other kind of apologist.
It’s so much easier to be righteous than it is to be open and vulnerable. But if you are feeling righteous, chances are you aren’t listening, and maybe we could all try to get a little bit better at that. You can be right without making someone else wrong. Sure, you may not get as many clicks or retweets, but maybe we can all start to make some progress. I’m tired of making others the enemy and want some more friends in making the world a better place.
Finally, let’s stop arguing about who is and who isn’t a feminist. If there is a feminist membership card, I seem to have lost mine. Apparently, it didn’t come with my women’s studies degree or maybe I lost it when I wrote about not being angry anymore. There are lots of different kinds of feminists – male and female. And there are a lot of people — male and female — who reject the feminist label, while embracing broader terms around gender equality. There are lots of different opinions and perspectives on the causes of sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and different gender dynamics. Therefore, it’s equally impossible to be for OR against feminism or feminists with respect to these issues.
But if we aren’t fighting, what could we be doing instead? What can all these passionate hashtaggers put their energy behind? What if we focused on some things that we might all agree on? It’s not that hard to imagine what these ideas and hashtags might be:
• Do you think it’s wrong to hit the man or woman you are dating? Awesome! Let’s talk about how to prevent that from happening, how to intervene if a friend is in a dangerous situation, and how to get out if it’s happening to you. #HittingIsWrong
• Do you think it’s wrong to perpetrate sexual violence against men and women? Wonderful! Let’s talk about how we can make sure we’re all on the same page about what consent it, what kind of things might trip people up, and how to recognize someone at risk of not taking no for an answer. #DontRapePeople
• Do you believe that male and female survivors of violence should have access to healing and justice? Sweet! Let’s make sure all survivors feel safe to share their experiences, create a balanced justice system, and support organizations that provide services to help survivors heal. #TogetherforHealing
• Do you think it’s important to know what works to prevent sexual violence and intimate partner violence whether perpetrated by men or by women? Me too! Let’s invest in evidence-based practices and learn more about what actually works in communities across the country. #WhatWorks
Can you see the possibilities? When we focus on the outcomes we wish to achieve and set aside different opinions on causation, it’s easier to collaborate. Sure, it might require us to adjust our stance a bit, but I think it’s worth it. If saying “male and female perpetrators” or “male and female victims” brings more allies to the table, why not just say it? It’s pretty exhausting to keep “calling people out” on their language, their word choice, and their intentions — especially when we barely even know each other. I’d rather use my energy to understand where others are coming from and engage them towards shared goals to make the world a better place.
Real change is going to require all of us at the table. This means we have to create space to allow for difficult conversations about topics that matter to all of us. If you can’t bring yourself to be in the same room as someone who is a proud feminist (of any kind) or you can’t hold yourself back from judging someone who rejects or questions the feminist label, you may want to explore whether your beliefs are holding you back from achieving change you wish to see in the world.
It’s time to have the real conversation. I’m ready. Are you?
Photo credit: Thomas Rousing/flickr