Being an activist can really suck. Let me show you how.
I’m engaged with anti-bullying efforts for a bunch of reasons. This includes the fact that I was severely bullied as a kid, as a teen, during university, and periodically as an adult on the wonder that is the Internet; that I find working on anti-bullying initiatives healing; and that I believe my way with words and openness can help the cause.
But at core, the reason I want to stop bullying is so that people who are awesome have the space to do awesome stuff. It’s hard to make art, do research, be an awesome friend, teach kids, help animals, strive for political reform, provide awesome customer service or do whatever it is you do if you’re being bullied and recovering from being bullied. The best reason to support anti-bullying is so that more people have the space to be the most awesome versions of themselves they can be.
The thing is, when I spend all my time talking about stopping bullying or anti-gay harassment or sexism or transphobia or whatever thing I feel its critical to speak out about (and feel capable of speaking out about — there are lots of issues I support where it’s probably better for me to let other people speak while I keep learning), I don’t have time to do my awesome stuff. And then it’s a little bit like the bullies have won, because they’ve forced me to abandon my agenda and will for the purpose of responding to their actions and arguments.
This really sucks. And it’s emblematic of something I think most activists face at various times. From feminist advocacy to fighting poverty to stopping racism — when you have to be an activist all the time, it’s easy to lose the benefits you’re supposed to enjoy from that activism helping to make the world better. Balance is key, but, in a cruel world, pretty hard to come by.
Which is why I really want to stop talking about the Buffy thing (here, have a summary from someone who was there and isn’t me), because I feel that particular activism trap closing in around me. But, that said, there are a few remaining things I do want to address.
First, thank you for keeping it civil. While a few comments here have made me angry or upset, and while I disagree with some opinions I’ve seen expressed, no one really crossed the line in discourse here. That’s awesome, and I totally appreciate it.
Next, about that argument where you say, “Well, I want to take this person at her word, but she sounds awfully emotional, and therefore I can’t.” — That argument is a misogynistic rhetorical device that often gets pulled out against women who are upset and not against men who are angry. It’s happened in various branches of this discussion (which is now happening across Whedonesque, several blogs, and Livejournal). It’s an effective rhetorical device due to the way we treat women in this world, but it’s not actually good argumentation. It’s also angry-making. Please knock it off.
Additionally, I am really trying to avoid making a post about the whole “toughen up” thing and why it’s so problematic, as, again, I don’t want to get sucked into the negative self-impact activism trap I described in the opening of this post. However, it’s important to me that you understand the following things: First, there is no universal standard of appropriate emotional feeling; just as the Goblin King asks Sarah in Labyrinth what her basis of comparison is when she declares, “It’s not fair,” I would ask you what yours is when you say someone is over-sensitive. Second, it is my sensitivity that allows me to do what I do for a living — writing stories, examining pop-culture, performing, and eroding the artificial boundaries we’ve set up between scholarship and sentimentality. (A theoretical excess of) feeling, just like anything else, can be a tool, an advantage, and a weapon; it’s certainly one of mine. Trying to stamp it out or devalue it, isn’t just nasty, it’s illogical.
Finally, stop with the “free speech” and “censorship” noises. I’m a trained journalist. I give to the ACLU, and I am, like Rachel Maddow, an absolutist about free speech in the legal sense. Wanting to have as little government regulation of speech as possible is not, however, inconsistent with wanting people not to be egregious to each other; encouraging people to be civil in public; telling people to knock it off when I’m offended; and using the tools I have available to me to manage speech in the online venues that I host. Arguments to the contrary are disingenuous, and beyond this statement, I will not engage them.
What would I love to see going forward? I’d love to see more discussion, in general. Just hearing all these viewpoints (which are not split into two camps, but run a wide gamut) is, I think, valuable to everyone. I’d also like to see, as Chip from Two-minute Time Lord and I discussed late one night at this year’s Gally, con panels that have historically been about fans behaving badly branch out into discussions of how we can make things better.
I would also like to see discussion from activists of all stripes talk on how we can work hard, avoid burnout, and reap the benefits of the change we are trying to create in the world while continuing to be activists. It’s hard stuff, and we’re all still learning.
Now I’m going back to explaining why Sarah Jane Smith’s status as a journalist proves that the Doctor is real.