I don't mean that flippantly, nor do I mean it lightly. I am actively a feminist. I expend a great deal of activity in the promotion of feminism, even when that expenditure conflicts with the events and needs in my personal life, even when the cost of that activism is my personal health. I do this not because I expect thanks or fame, nor do I do this out of a desire for self-harm. I am regularly, rigorously active for feminist causes because I am, by the very fact of my gender, my disability, my weight, and my sexual orientation, all in.
I live in a state where, if I am made pregnant by a rapist, the state has the legal right to rape me again before I can access a legal medical procedure to end that pregnancy. I live in a country that passes more anti-choice legislature every year in a concerted campaign to deny reproductive agency to women like me.
I work at a company where I have been personally discriminated against for my poor health and adverse medical conditions. I receive health care from doctors who provide me with substandard healthcare because of my weight and appearance. I live in a society that shames me for being an aggressive bitch if I assert my views and my needs, yet chastises me as self-undermining if I try to present my beliefs as personal and innocuous.
I live in a culture where women who share my sexuality are routinely objectified as fantastical sexual objects and villified as insincere untrustworthy liars. I exist in a culture where gun deaths are projected to soon exceed vehicle deaths, yet the right to own a deadly weapon is considered by many to be more important than the right for two lovers to marry, and to be less deadly than my favorite recreational pastime.
These are not things that I care about from afar. They are not 'special issues' for me to place on a shelf in my mind, to be taken down and dusted off when bored. They affect me, and the people I love, on a daily basis and in ways that are both painfully real and deeply heartbreaking. And so I am an activist -- I am active -- in an attempt to raise awareness, in a hope that I may help effect some small change in the people and culture around me.
I perform this activism by sharing the manner in which I look at the world. I take something specific, something small and easy to hold and examine, and I project from that specific-and-approachable thing to a larger cultural trend around me. I identify patterns, and I illustrate them through example.
Bella's clumsiness becomes a leaping off point for the ways we treat people with disabilities in society. Caspian's unconcern for his subjects becomes a staging ground for a discussion of the ways in which privilege inures us from caring about people more marginalized than us. An example of a "chivalric" rape in the 14th century is a means by which I talk about rape culture and how choice isn't choice when it's not respected. A passage that Others the historical, cultural, and regional entirety of north-western Europe is a means by which I can speak about cultural appropriation and othering -- the same appropriation and othering that makes it easier for my country to conduct a "war on terror" against various "others" that has cost countless innocent civilian lives.
That is my activism. It's what I spend, literally, large chunks of my life on. Not because I have nothing more pleasing to do, but because I care.
And because I care, part of my activism is to nurture a safe space here. I've been on unmoderated feminist boards before, and I inevitably found the experience left me anxious, fearful, and frustrated that so many supposed allies could routinely fail so spectacularly at privilege-checking, and that they could spend months or years reading the feminist posts on the board and still fail to "get it" when it came to matters that affect me, literally, in life and death ways. And because of that, and because of my own needs, I expect -- I require -- a safe space here, where marginalized people can be safe from further marginalization, and where privileged people are expected to check their privilege before posting.
Part of that safe space for everyone means that this space must also be safe for me and the other contributors here. Yet in the past few months, the safety of this space has been increasingly hard to maintain, both for other members of the community and for myself.
And I need to be very clear about this: This is a feminist activist board.
This is not a Feminism 101 board for newbie education in the comment threads, even newbie education on facets of feminism which some people are less familiar with, such as Fat Acceptance or Cultural Appropriation.
This is not a literature board where I want every word in every post scoured for perfection and accuracy with regards to the world-building of whatever book is under discussion.
This is not a history board where discussions of historical trends are an invitation to argue which place in which time period was the most objectively worst for women.
This is not a board for arguing the basic tenets of feminism whenever someone claims to be personally unconvinced of the seriousness of those topics, or whether or not they are actually life-and-death matters for people on this very board.
This is not a board for assuming that the contributors and community members aren't already deeply familiar with marginalization, nor for educating us about how bad it really is out there as if we don't already know.
This is a board where I point out patterns in the culture around us using specific examples of popular media. Patterns that are, more often than not, harmful and worthy of examination and redress. And I expect comment threads to be respectful of the purpose of my activism, and to discuss these larger patterns rather than avoiding such weighty discussion in favor of light-hearted quibbling and nitpicking over whether or not -- in everyone's personal subjective opinion -- I am being 100% completely fair in my selection of whatever popular culture example was used to introduce the feminist topic. Because if enough people can be found to say that the FedEx arrow doesn't exist, then my post examining a larger cultural trend doesn't count.
I also expect commenters to not respond to obviously rhetorical questions, to not quibble over innocuous word-choices based on personal preference, and to not demand clarification on the minute details of the popular media under discussion which are not related to the larger topic at hand. I expect commenters to not become defensive or verbally aggressive when I use a favored piece of popular culture as a jumping off point for my activism, and I expect commenters to not treat the comment threads on this board as their own personal search engine for the popular media under discussion.
In other words, I expect activist threads to contain activist discussions.
One of the things I love about the community here is the propensity for spontaneous generation of what I call "fix-fic", or derivative fiction intended to fix issues highlighted in the popular media I discuss. I adore these fix-fics because they serve as a vivid demonstration that my words and my ideas are being accurately communicated. Chris the Cynic's "Edith and Ben" posts are amazing deconstructions of how to portray disability respectfully and how to write romance without misogynistic control dynamics. Fix-fic establishing Aunt Alberta's vegetarianism as a moral decision (as opposed to being automatically faddish) tell me that the point has been made, and clearly, that judging people on their eating habits is wrong. Ursula Vernon's theory that Eustace's 'whining' is a clever and courageous strategy to save his cousins brings to light the reality that there are many different forms of bravery, and that there are a myriad of acceptable ways to be a good person, and a good protagonist.
These fix-fic posts show me, clearly and without question, that the activism I perform on this board is resonating with readers. But apparently somehow my endorsement of these fix-fics have lead to a mistaken impression that I would like every Narnia post, every Twilight post, every post I write, period, closely scoured for accuracy in case I didn't somehow -- in the midst of an activist post on serious topics such as rape culture or slavery or cultural appropriation -- accidentally mix up the Red Queen with the Queen of Hearts on one point of action.
I do not want, desire, or require this sort of auditing in the comments. Bluntly put, I feel demoralized and undermined when I use popular media to discuss feminism only to have a thread immediately devolve into accusations that I have erred, or that I am perceived to have erred, in some minor and utterly unrelated-to-the-larger-point aspect of world-building, or intense and pointed debates about whether or not the literature in question is even "important enough" or "influential enough" to be worthy of deconstruction, or fevered accusations that I myself am not good enough -- smart enough, skilled enough, educated enough, experienced enough, etc. -- to hold an opinion about the popular media under discussion.
The choice to ignore my activist message in order to engage in this unhelpful and off-topic natter demoralizes me. I am demoralized. Nor do I enjoy having to repeatedly explain why this sort of constant auditing of me, of my choices of examples, and of the style of my message rather than serious consideration of the substance of my message is dehumanizing to me as an activist.
I do think that the majority of these comments are made in good faith and with the best of intentions, but that does not make them any less harmful or demoralizing. I attribute these impulses to the dissociation culture of the internet, where words typed in a Disqus comment form are treated as undirected stream-of-consciousness thoughts tossed into the ether rather than as communication that is directed at a real person in the real world. But the fact remains that this false belief that comments here are directed at a void instead of a person is no less harmful, regardless of intent.
I am not a content-generating machine that pieces words together in a void and then divorces myself emotionally from the material. I am a person, and comments which treat me like a construct to be picked apart and examined -- Why did you use this word and not that one? Why did you say something this way and not another way? Why do you think thisly and not thusly? -- and as more interesting and worthy of discussion than the serious topics I chose to deconstruct, dehumanize me into an object rather than a person.
I require that this space be safe not just for the commenters, but for myself and the other contributors here.
Kristy has recently joined our team, and contributes to this space her own brand of feminist activism. She spends a great deal of time and effort producing thoughtful and beautiful open threads for discussion, in an attempt to balance community desire for "chatty" spaces against my own need for serious activist threads. To date, we have not been successful in conveying to the community the distinction between the deconstruction threads and the open threads, and the difference in expected behavior and topics therein.
This post is intended to reiterate that deconstruction threads are expected to remain conscientiously on-topic, and to deal with the activist topics raised in that post and/or fix-fics intended to deliberately address the unfortunate implications and harmful privilege exercised in the material under discussion. Anything else -- polls, open questions, off-topic tangents, world-building questions based in fan appreciation of a work rather than a dedicated discussion of the feminist issues associated with same, questions about wording from a feminist perspective -- is to be proactively taken by the commenters to the open threads.
I ask this not because of some arbitrary distinction between post types, but because I ask -- I expect -- the community here to respect the activism of Kristy and myself. I write posts about serious topics, and I expect those posts to stay on topic; she crafts welcoming spaces for discussions which do not otherwise fit in the deconstruction posts. I expect members of the community to honor her work by using those spaces as they are intended rather than just when they happen to be the most recent post on the board. Only posting in the open threads when there's not a "better" thread available to post in is not respectful to Kristy's work and it is not respectful to mine.
We are all responsible for the safety of this blog. We are all responsible for our words and actions in this space. It does no good for me, or anyone else, to write a post that upholds the ideals of this space and addresses feminist activism if the comment thread is going to immediately derail into careless displays of privilege and flippant off-topic remarks which undermine the fact that these topics are deeply, meaningfully serious to myself and many of the other contributors. All In means all of us.
I, and the other contributors here, am posting this in order to call on everyone here to:
- Think before you speak, and examine your comments in light of the Ramblings comment policy, as well as the concept of this place as a safe space.
- Do not expect the contributors here to constantly educate you. Respect the activism here enough to take the time and energy to educate yourself.
- Check your privilege before you speak, and proactively take off-topic discussions away from the deconstruction threads -- where the topic is Feminist Activism, not Random Narnia Trivia -- and into the open threads.
- Respond un-defensively to corrections of privilege and to requests to move off-topic discussions to the open threads so that serious discussion can continue unimpeded in the deconstruction threads.
- Treat the contributors to this space with the respect that they deserve, considering the time and energy they sink into providing content for and maintaining this space.
- Be all in. Understand that feminism is not a game or a hobby to the community here. If you're not here looking for activism, then you're in the wrong space.
This blog cannot continue if the larger community will not own their behavior, check their privilege, watch their words, and make a conscientious effort to separate the silly from the serious, the nitpickery from the necessary, and the flippant from the feminism. And that statement -- that the survival of this blog depends on the actions of this community -- is not a threat. It's just a statement of fact, of my own physical and mental limitations. I physically and emotionally cannot nurture, moderate, maintain, and create content for a community in the face of the disrespect and dehumanization that comes from continually seeing my style treated with more interest than my substance.
I am an activist with a message. Whether or not that message continues depends in part on whether or not the community here can be as all in as I must be.
Note: I and the other contributors are taking the week off. New content will resume on Monday, February 18th. This comment thread will remain open for people to express their commitment to being all in, should they so desire.
What this comment thread is not for is criticism of this blog policy or recommendations for how to run things differently. This is not a solicitation for suggestions; it is an assertion of needs and boundaries, which I expect the community to respect if they care about the content here and the people who provide it. Nor do the members of the community who require a safe space need to be subjected to yet another debate about whether the right to marginalize people is more important than the right to be safe on the internet. That argument can be hosted elsewhere.