TL;DR: Women, men, activists, allies. If in your life you’ve never felt afraid, uncomfortable, abuse, harassed. If you’ve never been raped, molested, coerced into something you didn’t want but couldn’t stop. If you’ve never identified with #MeToo or the reckoning that’s going down, know that the movement still needs and wants your voice. If you don’t want to speak up, that’s cool too. But for women everywhere, please reconsider speaking out against the movement, or to at least think about why and what you’re speaking against.
For the sake of all the women who say #MeToo and find the courage to tell their stories as uncomfortable as it is, please, do not silence them/us, or publicly dismiss a movement just because what women around the world continue to struggle with every single day has never happened to you, too.
And What If It Isn’t #YouToo?
I’d first like to acknowledge all the different types of feminists there are today. There are more sub-sections of feminism than ever before, ranging from women who just want equality and proper representation in their careers and in the government to those of us who cannot help but see inequality in almost every aspect of life. (Warning: spending too much time in the former leads straight to the latter.)
Whichever path you’re on, this week has been a busy one for outspoken women all over the world. Beyond the high-level Hollywood calling out of men with #MeToo we’re now talking about something that makes everyone a LOT more uncomfortable: the grey area of uncomfortable, avoidable, consensual sex. When you weren’t 100% in but you never said you didn’t want to, and now you feel awful but you don’t have anyone to blame because remember, you could’ve said stop, but you didn’t. You might’ve said oh…. Or you might’ve said meh. You might the next day say, I really wish that didn’t happen. But you didn’t say stop.
So now we’re at a huge crossroads in the movement, and in the world, about consent, and by the movement I mean the large, growing and scattered movement of people across the globe who say #MeToo or #TimesUp or who have said nothing at all, but appreciate that we’re finally, FINALLY, talking about this.
We’re doing it. We are finally doing what too many of us have waited so fucking long for.
What this conversation has also done is to open a billion doors for further thought, study and dismantling, brilliantly summed up by Jameela Jamil here.
But even as we as individuals, as organisers and as members of a larger cause figure out where we’re going with this, cracks are already starting to show. These cracks have always been there: women who are quick to dismiss feminism like Women Against Feminism and #whyidontneedfeminism both of which are unfortunately actual things.
And now perhaps the most important part of the conversation, the everyday things we accept as ‘normal’, is something fundamentally grey, and as a result way too easy to dismiss and speak out against. It’s disheartening, and it’s downright heartbreaking to see fellow women dismiss the assault so many others have struggled with over so long, a movement that has become so vital to so many.
There aren’t any easy answers, but here’s what I think we should do:
For women who are in this to fight, let’s continue to do all we can in our own communities to right the wrongs that have continued for so long and to change the present and the future for women. Let’s rally together and accept our differences of opinions that exist so strongly in the feminist community. Let’s support each other in the main goal of safety for women and equality for all.
For those who are not on board, let’s at least decide to not to actively dismantle the work of our sisters. To listen, instead of to correct. To try to understand instead of to judge. To make each other better, instead of arguing how we could have handled it better ourselves. Even in the wake of #MeToo it is never easy to speak out. Women have become so conditioned to be cautious about how we talk about this. The first thing a victim of abuse or harassment says, is very unlikely to be the main part of her story. If she doesn’t get to speak, maybe her story will never be told, and never be heard.
Even if we are not inclined to take to the streets and march, or to write blogs about feminism, or to identify as a feminist at all, let’s at least agree not to silence each other.
The most important thing right now is to make the world an equal, safer and more inclusive space for each other. We can make this happen. But none of us can do it on our own.
More writing on feminism:
I was recently at a women’s networking event in Beijing which included a talk followed by a dinner. The first event I’d attend by a network I’ve admired and respected for some time, I was keen to see what a roomful of empowered and inspiring women (many of whom I would get a chance to connect with that evening) would have to share and to discuss.
Enter a young man who pushes past me and a friend as we made our way to our seats. “Gotta make sure I get myself a seat ahead of you all!” he joked. Except he wasn’t, and proceeded to settle himself in a seat right in front of the speaker.
Over the course of the evening, the young man would go on to respond to many of the questions asked with questions, comments, jokes and the occasional wisecrack. It eventually came to a stage where the speaker would look to him for an opinion first— understandably, since he was increasingly vocal and not many of the rest of us were.
But, the resentment of male presence in a community event meant for women is surely contradictory to my strong beliefs of equality. In issues surrounding gender discrimination, men are our biggest allies and potentially powerful spokespeople, in the same way white people’s voices are needed in the quest for racial equality and straight voices are loud in standing up for the LGBT community.
This in turn led me to think about why exactly this young man got under my skin so quickly. Surely I should have been pleased at his enthusiasm and questions, supporting his participation in a women’s community?
And I would have been, except for one underlying fact: Way too often when men (or just the one man) are talking the loudest, women clam up. We’re so used to being talked over, or unheard, or underheard, that many of us slip into “perhaps this isn’t my time to talk” mode. As someone who’s quite capable of talking a lot, I know I do this too, and at an event meant to connect women, it made me even angrier than it usually does. This was supposed to be our space.
Now, this leads me to more discussions that have come up recently. An article I recently read in the New Yorker discusses the exclusivity of activism, among many other things. You wouldn’t understand because you’re not an East Asian immigrant. Unless you’re a woman of colour, this isn’t your battle to fight. Try being a gay black male and then we’ll talk. The list goes on; we’re protective of everything that we are, including how we are discriminated against.
A recent conversation I had on Facebook saw me (an ethnic minority) arguing against the idea that other ethnic minorities had no place in movements like #BlackLivesMatter, only to be put down by other ethnic minorities for suggesting that my voice was valid. I always begin any suggestion of solidarity with the assurance that I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man who has been pulled over for no reason too many times (which is once and above), but I sure do know what it’s like to be treated with scorn, disgust, or hate because of my ethnicity. Surely in this shared discrimination — with the vast difference of their scale in mind, always — we can find solace in each other as fellow recipients and opponents of injustice.
je suis charlie in China
I recently shared these thoughts with a gay friend, and we agreed that allies are essential, as is knowing that the experiences you bring are not comparable to those you stand in support of. I’m not about to say I know what it’s like to be with a gay partner in a place that’s hostile to your love, or to worry about where I can marry, but my own experiences with discrimination of race and gender, if nothing else, allow me a (shadow of an) understanding of those with a struggle far greater than I could ever face.
my multiracial love is a walk in the park
At the women’s talk, there was another man. He sat further to the back, and he participated by listening; he was present, but he never took the spotlight. At LGBT rallies and events, I wear my rainbows with pride and I march along as an LGBT ally. But when there’s a time to talk, I spend most of it listening. And sure, I can tweet the hell out of #BlackLivesMatter and have a better understanding of the issue as a brown woman and co-recipient of racial discrimination. But you won’t find me at the front of the line because I don’t believe this is my podium to stand on. You will find me behind you, as an ally — and as an activist.
Before we jump on the latest activism bandwagon — or before we push anyone off it — let’s stop to think about the role we, as individuals, have to play in any cause, in any protest, or in any fight and decide if our place is as a leader, a supporter, or an ally.
Might we then march together, stronger, with the understanding that perhaps not every battle is ours to fight, but every battle is better fought with one more voice behind it?