This year, a new student from San Antonio, Texas moved to my overcrowded, underfunded high school. Let’s call her Carrie. The first day Carrie walked into second-period Honors English class, she dropped her Michael Kors purse on the carpet, plucked a stray mahogany curl from her flower crown, looked around the room, sighed, and slumped in her desk. She wouldn’t look up from her iPhone that period.
The purpose of our English unit that semester was to explore different societal roles and engage in discussions of how societal roles shape our intrapersonal and interpersonal perceptions. On a particular Wednesday morning, the class deliberated gender roles. The teacher would display a large statement in big block letters on a flickering projector and we would stand up if we agreed and sit down if we disagreed.
“Women should be expected and encouraged to take on a traditional homemaker role”
The boy next to me scoffs and stands up. Chairs squeak as more people rise. I am used to this, Idaho has historically been very conservative. However, through the expanding curtain of legs, and skirts, and jeans, I spot Carrie. She is firmly planted in her seat and she looks furious.
Suddenly she shoots upwards.
“WHY ARE ALL YOU IDAHOANS SO WHITE AND UNCULTURED?!”
For weeks, people were livid. Her outburst only seemed to pour gasoline on the fires of intolerance. Most of the boys in my class made it a point to talk loudly about their bigoted opinions in front of the “triggered feminist.”
Carrie’s approach not only failed, it escalated the behaviors she wanted to curb. However, Carrie’s situation is sadly non-unique. Feminists often find themselves alienating the very audiences they wish to persuade.
There is a very simple reason for this and it lies in our mindsets.
All movements exist to uphold some sort of sociopolitical abstract: equality, freedom, and social welfare, to name a few. I like to think Feminist movements have two broad purposes: equality and education.
Here is where it gets difficult. Ideas such as equality and education don’t exist in the physical world. I can’t measure or hold or touch equality. The Feminist movement is meant to reap equality, but since equality is such an abstract concept, it is much easier to uphold Feminism in the name of a more understandable, personal, concept. Too often, this concept is the ego. There is nothing more personal and easier to grasp than pleasure. The result is that Feminism is co-opted for selfish interests. The logic goes like this:
“I like Feminism because it was created to equalize people. Equalizing people makes me feel good about myself. I can’t wrap my brain around the concept of physical activism translating to some sociopolitical value, so I’m just going to cut out the middle man. I like Feminism just because it makes me feel good about myself.”
No one is at fault for this behavior; humans are naturally selfish and we like inflating our own egos, however it is deadly. We see this phenomenon in Carrie’s outburst. Had Carrie truly wanted to educated the class about why a statement such as “Women should be expected and encouraged to take on a traditional homemaker role,” is harmful, she would have just explained so and perhaps changed a few people’s minds. Instead, she took a counterproductive approach that spited and provoked the class in order to satisfy some sort of superiority complex (“I’m better than those uncultured Idahoans and I need them to know it!”).
This is not to say that angry activism is always harmful. There are instances where anger and unrestrained passion are necessary when done with good intentions. However, when the intent is to educate, Feminists must be careful to avoid losing their audience’s interest with a callous remark. Feminists who participate in activism simply to seem “edgy,” or “smart,” damage the movement. They often react to situations in which equality is compromised with a dizzying amount of immaturity (think Facebook wars) in an attempt to pass off attention-seeking behavior as activism.
When our values become corrupt, it effects our skews our activism in the most negative ways, and ultimately harms everyone. It is imperative we remind ourselves of the true intentions of Feminism: equality and education. Otherwise, our activism becomes watered down and distorted. Selfish thoughts breed selfish actions as seen in Carrie’s situation. This is not to say that Feminism shouldn’t make you feel accomplished. Think of Feminism as a porcelain plate: equality is a cake and having fun is the frosting. Its ok to have a little bit of frosting, but if you’re just having frosting with no cake, that’s disgusting.