I’ve recently found myself defending a set of ideologies that don’t need defense; for instance, Feminism or Socialism. The critiques leveled against these ideologies are a classic case of incomplete understanding of labels. Of course, no individual who claims to care about the world will oppose the core values that drive these solidly powerful movements- equality, freedom and dignity for all. But all hell breaks loose when you give it a label. The moment you do so; the “failures” of these movements come to define them. You might give me many reasons as to why this is so, but I say it’s just this- privilege and ignorance.
I’ve found myself in situations of late where me being feminist is assumed to mean more than it does. Somehow, when I proudly proclaim myself to be feminist; I am not just a believer in social justice but I am also automatically attributed a set of personality traits. I am intolerant, I am not humorous, I am head strong and I always want to be right. Scores of feminists have screamed their throats dry by telling the world that defaming feminism is a direct consequence of Patriarchy and that Feminism is actually about tolerance and love and yes, the right amount of directional anger; but never about hate or intolerance.
The challenge for feminism is always to defend itself. To constantly reiterate “Hey look, you’ve got this wrong; we actually are NOT intolerant. We actually just want people to live with dignity”. But some conversations, take us a step back. I have found myself in situations where I have said, “yes your criticism is warranted but ….” just so that I have a common language to express myself. This automatically puts my glorious movement to shame. This automatically puts all that scores of women across history have achieved to shame.
Here’s the truth I am learning: it’s fine to search for a common ground to talk about ideologies that preach equality but are misunderstood. It’s also important to acknowledge criticism. However, to truly capture what movements stand for; I have to begin my defense by not defending at all. I have to begin my defense by celebrating it.
Tell them that the women’s right to vote is because of the feminist movement. Tell them that the reason I can step out of my house at night is because of the feminist movement. Tell them the reason we have laws against sexual assault is because of the feminist movement. Tell them that workers’ rights exist because of the socialist movement. Tell them that the reason I put myself first in a relationship is because of feminism. Tell them that it’s what saved you when nothing else could. Then ask them if they still think the movement is irrelevant. Their critique will then be one that is actually worthy of paying attention to and introspecting on.
We begin these conversations by searching for a common language. Let’s just admit once and for all that social justice movements have a different vocabulary altogether. One that isn’t hard to understand; but just different. That’s what ensured their successes in the first place. We’ve been on the back foot for far too long. Let’s reclaim these conversations on the offensive.