I have decided it has been entirely too long since I wrote a giant-ass series. (Yes, people in the back, I can hear you groaning.) In short, I now think it is time for a giant-ass series about my premises and ideas on social justice and gender egalitarianism. Part One: The Kyriarchy!

The kyriarchy used to be called the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”, but that sounds kind of silly, and people remembered there were other oppressions and it would end up being “white supremacist colonialist ableist ageist lookist sex-negative heteronormative cissexist capitalist patriarchy,” and that is just too damn long. So kyriarchy it is.

Essentially, the kyriarchy is the set of all ways society can oppress people. For instance:

  • Senior citizens face age discrimination in employment.
  • People with physical disabilities have to endure a bunch of patronizing people being all “you’re so strong! And inspirational!”
  • Black people in the US are more likely to be pulled over by police when driving than white people are.
  • Fat people have their health problems ignored because doctors assume it must be because of their fat.
  • Queer teens may be bullied.
  • People with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of violence than people without mental health issues.
  • People in developing countries may be enslaved to produce the tantalum in your smart phone, or the beans in your coffee.

Nearly every one of these oppressions can be broken down into several different kinds of suboppressions. For instance, racism includes colorism, the way that society tends to favor light-skinned people of color. The privilege of people in developed countries includes Americanocentrism, the way Americans tend to wander into every discussion (especially in the social justice world) and make it all about us. Transphobia includes binarism, the way that binary trans people are considered “realer” than those of us with weird-ass pronouns.

Sometimes the kyriarchy oppresses people of a certain group in really big ways, like it still being legal to fire people because they fall in love with people of the same gender or were assigned an incorrect gender at birth. Sometimes the kyriarchy oppresses people in really little ways, like Cosmo saying a woman’s sexual fantasies about another woman is a sign she should ask for more gentle, romantic sex from her boyfriend as opposed to being a sign she might want to try that most excellent sport of muff-diving. However, even the little things reinforce the whole crappy social structure.

One of the things people most want to do when they first discover the concept of kyriarchy is argue about who’s the oppressedest and therefore gets a shiny prize. This is stupid for a lot of reasons. First, it’s kind of hard to quantify. Is it better to be unable to shop in most stores because they won’t provide accomodations for your disability (ableism), or to have some asshole criticize you for using food stamps to buy your child a birthday cake (classism)? I don’t even know where you’d begin to quantify that. Second, it’s completely meaningless. Your bloody nose doesn’t hurt less just because I have a broken leg.

Third, a lot of issues are linked to each other. This whole idea that men are men, women are women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri are small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri causes not just sexism but a lot of homophobia and transphobia. Bodily autonomy, or the right for people to make their own decisions about their own bodies, is an issue that crosscuts race (the drug war), gender (reproductive rights, slut and virgin shaming), class (drug war again, policing poor people’s dietary habits), appearance (fatphobia), ability (criticizing people who stim), etc. It’s really stupid to compete who’s hurting the worse when we’re all fighting the same damn enemy.

Fourth, you know, people can be members of multiple marginalized groups at once. Liberating people of color and not anyone else doesn’t liberate people of color: it only liberates straight, upper-class, abled, cis, conventionally attractive, gender-conforming, developed-country-dwelling, etc. people of color. This is a very small percentage of people of color!

In fact, each person experiences their oppressions differently depending on which marginalized groups they’re a part of. (This is called intersectionality and is big with modern feminism in theory– less so in practice.) A self-harming or suicidal teenager will probably be told zie is “just looking for attention” or “an emo kid” or “just going through a phase.” A poor queer person not only can’t get married but might not be able to afford the forms to create even a facsimile of marriage.

Someone might notice that, when I talk about kyriarchy, the passive voice happens a lot. “People with disabilities are denied accommodations.” “Queer people are made to feel weird and outcast.” “People of color are sometimes asked to speak for their entire race.”

Sometimes it’s not passive voice. Sometimes I use “society” or “cultural narratives” or “the kyriarchy,” which are, if you think about it, basically passive voice too. I mean, someone has to be doing the accomodation-denying and the queer-making-feel-weird and so on. It’s not like it just happens. There is a person behind all this kyriarchy nonsense!

Indeed there is! And NSWATM can exclusively reveal the identity of the kyriarch.

There’s this one dude, okay, and he has a Hitler mustache and a really nice hat, and he lives in an orbital satellite and shoots death lasers at people, and one day he woke up and was like “I know! It’s a good idea to oppress everyone on the entire planet! Muahahahahahaha! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

Unfortunately, a depressing number of people think of the world this way.

Instead of saying it’s one dude with a death laser, however, they say it’s “white cis able-bodied straight men.” Or it’s “feminists.” Or it’s “Democrats.” Or it’s “Republicans.” Depressingly commonly, it’s “the Jews.” That group of people have decided to fuck over everyone on the planet purely for the lulz! Gasp at the enormity of their malice!

If you’re going to be arguing that, you might as well just argue in favor of the existence of Death Laser Guy. At least Death Laser Guy is cool.

“Evil” is an entirely meaningless term, psychologically. Inside a person’s head, evil looks like “making the hard decisions for the greater good,” or like “defending yourself and your way of life from attackers,” or like “not wanting to know about this bad stuff going on,” or like “fighting Group X, which by the way is evil and caused all these problems,” or like “being realistic,” or like “doing a little thing that won’t make that much worse anyway,” or like “following orders,” or like “not knowing that X could cause harm,” or like… well, a lot of things. But very few people’s actions are motivated by the desire to cause harm, and those people almost never manage to accumulate sufficient followers to cause damage.

In the real world, there is no Sauron.

“Hey, wait a minute, Ozy,” some random dude says. “You’re saying no one is evil. But you just postulated the existence of this really terrible social system, the kyriarchy. How could the kyriarchy exist if there aren’t any evil people propping it up?”

Well, there are people propping it up. Everyone is propping it up.

People are surprised when they hear about, say, circumcised women taking their daughters in for circumcision against the wishes of the father of the child. That should not be surprising! The women are part of the same culture and got the same messages about the relative worth of circumcised and uncircumcised girls, and then they pass along the same messages to their children and friends. In fact, if you take a minute to think, instead of falling into a Hollywoodized Evil Oppressor/Saintly Oppressed dynamic, the opposite would be even more bizarre: as if a societal message could only trickle down to half a population!

And don’t even get me started on people who think that being a member of one oppressed group keeps you from being shitty to members of other oppressed groups. Black people can be homophobic. Black people can be racist against Asians or Hispanics or Native Americans. Being oppressed does not give you some kind of magic Get Out of Being An Oppressor Free Card.

I hold up the kyriarchy. I buy a shirt from a corporation with abusive labor practices, or a phone components of which were mined by slave labor. I listen to misogynistic metal music. I call things lame. I say awful things without entirely meaning to about people with mental health issues other than mine. I fuck up other people’s pronouns. I think people are stupid when they can’t use apostrophes correctly. There is not a single day in which I don’t do a single thing that isn’t kyriarchal, and I have been a member of the Social Justice League since before I had motherfucking tits. What hope do well-meaning other people have?

Everyone is an agent of the kyriarchy, and it’s only when we begin to recognize that that we can start to change. It doesn’t mean you’re bad or wrong or evil; it means you grew up in a kyriarchy, and you naturally perpetrate the memes you were born with. The question is not whether you believe fucked-up things, but whether you work to overcome them.

“Hey, wait a minute, fuckass,” some of you might be thinking right now. “So we all are a part of the kyriarchy. But the kyriarchy as a social system doesn’t work well for anyone!  Okay, maybe there’s an upper-class cis straight white gender-conforming abled conventionally attractive Protestant couple in Ohio somewhere for whom the whole system works really well, but under the kyriarchy about 99.99% of humanity is oppressed! Why the hell do we all participate in it?”

The Typical Mind Fallacy

It should not be a surprise to anyone that human beings are really, really bad at figuring out what those other people who are not like us are going on about. For instance, I remain continually puzzled that other people seem to legitimately prefer getting drunk on Friday night to gaming. I mean, there’s Arkham Horror! And Magic: the Gathering! And Illuminati! Why the hell would you willingly choose to go to parties instead? I mean, there are costumes sometimes, those are fun, and dancing, but some people don’t dance or wear costumes and they still prefer the whole getting drunk thing. I do not understand it.

My confusion over people’s lack of interest in Arkham Horror has pretty negligible effects on the world. Unfortunately, this stops some people from realizing that members of marginalized groups are even marginalized. My favorite example comes from when I was in high school. A friend of mine got a Lexus for his birthday. I said I was jealous of how rich he was. He said, “Oh, my family’s not rich. I got a used Lexus.”

It’s not like my friend was a bad person. It’s just that he was rich, and all his friends were rich, and the only times he really talked to poor people is when they asked him to move so they could vacuum under where he was sitting. Poor people were strictly theoretical for him.

…Which worked out really well when he decided that homeless shelters coddled homeless people, who ought to just all get jobs, dammit.

Ignorance is an extremely common cause of kyriarchal shit. No one means to make the meeting inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. They just had the meeting up two flights of stairs without ramps and, well, it never occurred to them that some people might have problems with that. Why would it? They’re not in wheelchairs, it’s never been an issue for them.


Human beings are social animals. We like creating groups. In fact, literally assigning people to random groups is enough to get them to (a) create opposing in-groups and (b) make them hate each other.

So I am a member of Group White. The subconscious parts of my brain want me to advance Group White at the expense of the various People of Color Groups, because they are “like me” and part of my group. (My brain also wants me to advance Group Upper-Middle-Class, Group Able-bodied, Group Mental Health Issues, Group Queer, Group Gender Egalitarian, Group Geek and Group Manboobz Regular.) I don’t necessarily intend to; it’s not like I woke up one morning and said “hey, I’m going to help out the white people today, for lo, my skin is white.” I just feel more comfortable around them. They’re “like me.” They’re “my kind of people.”

If I, say, preferentially hire Group Geek, that’s unlikely to be a social-justice issue, because someone else is preferentially hiring Group Jock over there and it evens out. However, Group White has historically been in charge of all the things, so if I preferentially hire members of Group White, who are like me, then suddenly members of Group Black and Group Asian and Group Hispanic will find themselves less likely to be hired. And that is a serious problem.

Power Corrupts

The old cliche is that power corrupts. The kyriarchy gives a large number of fallible human beings power over other human beings. One can imagine that this is not going to end well.

Which is to say: it ends in people arguing about why they ought to have the power, and how those other groups are just inherently less awesome than they are, and they don’t have that much power anyway, and you ought to give them some more power because they clearly know what to do with it.


A heuristic is a quick shortcut to thinking. For instance, if you say “the aliens from the planet Googolplex are controlling my brain,” my heuristic suggests that that’s absurd so I shan’t examine it further. On the other hand, heuristics can go wrong– for instance, if I decide your statement that humans evolved from monkeys is absurd so I shan’t examine it further. Stereotypes are a subtype of heuristic– the assumption that people in Group X all have Trait Y.

Stereotypes are not bad. If you stereotype geeks as mostly Star Wars fans, or Dirty Hippie College students as mostly pot-smoking liberals, it’s just a cognitive shortcut that makes it easier to predict the behavior of a random geek or Dirty Hippie College student. Problems happen when your stereotype heuristic suggests, upon seeing a Muslim person, that said Muslim person is probably a terrorist.

Stereotypes can go wrong lots of ways. There’s the availability heuristic: because you can think of more Muslim terrorists than you can think of Muslim non-terrorists, you assume Muslims are mostly terrorists, even though this is not actually the case. There’s confirmation bias: once you think Muslims are terrorists, you look for more information that supports the idea that Muslims are terrorists; the Christian who blows up a building is an extremist, the Muslim who blows up a building is proof. There’s stereotypes that don’t carve reality at its joints: a stereotype about “black people” includes a recent immigrant to America from Haiti, an African American who is mostly white by ancestry, a Brazilian who doesn’t even identify as black, an urbanized Kenyan, a Somali pirate and a South African farmer; it is very difficult to figure out what all these groups have in common beyond some quantity of melanin. And so on and so forth; a full list of the ways human beings are irrational would fill up several books.

These inaccurate stereotypes can lead to a lot of really awful behavior. For instance, profiling all Muslims at airports would be a sensible countermeasure if Muslims were Always Chaotic Evil like orcs; since they aren’t, it’s Islamophobic. The overwhelming likelihood is that the nice Muslim family who moved in down the street are not al-Qaeda members, so you shouldn’t treat them like al-Qaeda members.

There’s also the way stereotypes influence the behavior of people actually in the group, but this post has gone on for long enough and that plays a huge enough role in gender (remember? What this blog is actually about?) that I think it is deserving of its own post.

(Digression: some people have complained the kyriarchy’s definition is too broad. How does “the set of all ways some groups sapient lifeforms are unjustly harmed specifically because of their membership in a particular group” sound as a definition? Lots of worthy causes are mostly unrelated to the kyriarchy, such as environmentalism, civil liberties, fighting corruption in government and ending Nickelback’s musical career.)

(Sorry for the giant break in this series… life happened!)

People are often seriously confused about social construction.

Socially constructed things are not less real than non-socially-constructed things. Money is a social construct: if everyone woke up one morning and decided that those little pieces of green paper were completely worthless, dollars would rapidly become only useful for ass-wiping purposes. However, if you decide that because money is a social construction you should be able to take as many items from stores as you like, the government (itself a social construction!) would probably send some nice people with guns after you.

Second, postmodernists and strawman versions of postmodernists, “reality is socially constructed” does not mean that trees only exist because everyone collectively agrees that trees exist. That is stupid. If everyone was adendronist, the trees would still exist happily photosynthesizing away. However, if a culture didn’t view “trees” as a meaningful concept, but classified “evergreens” and “non-evergreens” as separate categories, then for that culture trees do not exist, even though woody plants with secondary branches and a trunk do.

To understand how social construction works, imagine a man with some degree of attraction to men and women. In ancient Greece, he would have conceived of himself as an erastes, a lover of young boys who took the active, dominant and penetrating role. In Elizabethan England, he would have conceived of himself as a sodomite, a person who chose to commit the sin of male/male sex. Today, depending on his social group, he might think of himself as bisexual, pansexual, struggling with same-sex attraction, gay (by the “one drop” rule of homosexuality), homoflexible or simply queer.

Each of these different labels causes different behavior. A man who identifies as gay will probably not have sex with women, while a man who identifies as bisexual probably will. A man who identifies as pansexual or queer is more likely to be okay with dating people of a wide variety of gender presentations, performances or identities than a man who doesn’t. A man who sees himself as struggling with same-sex attraction might be celibate or seek out an ex-gay ministry. The erastes would have viewed teenage boys as the ultimate in desirability and would have almost certainly married a woman regardless of his actual preferences.

The attraction is the same; the behavior, mediated through social ideas, is not the same.

And now it’s time to mention, for the first time in this giantass series for a gender egalitarian blog, gender.

It is pretty clear that there are some aspects of gender that are biological, and some aspects of gender that are socially constructed. The “pink is for girls” thing, for instance, is socially constructed; however, men being taller than women is biological. However, a lot of other issues are far thornier.

Women and men have different brain structures. The hormonal arrangement of men and women is different; anecdotally, some trans people have reported personality changes once taking hormones. It seems implausible in the extreme that these would have absolutely no effect on men or women whatsoever.

On the other hand, we do know that some things about gender are cultural. For instance, some traits are different cross-culturally: in American culture, we have the Myth of Men Not Being Hot, while the Wodaabe have beauty contests for their men.

Besides, it would be simply bizarre to think the massive amount of gendered shit people go through for their entire lives has no effect on their personality. Gender role socialization begins at birth— parents will literally rate their children as littler, softer and finer-featured if they are female than if they are male, even when the children show no difference on objective scales.

As they grow older, children often become more insistent about their gender around preschool age (although whether that’s natural or a product of gender socialization who knows– and even many cis children may go through a period of insisting they are another gender and/or Batman) and may adopt more stereotypically gendered traits.  Children of one gender may not realize that the toys or games of another gender is even an option. In addition, standard operant conditioning takes place: if you get parental and peer approval for playing football and bullied and shunned for playing with dolls, you will probably end up disliking dolls.

And that’s not even getting into complicated stuff like stereotype threat.

So by the time someone is ten years old, they’ve had years and years of gender shit in their heads.

At this point, I’m a gender differences agnostic, because I feel that is the most intellectually honest position. I figure that it’s probably not all biological, and it’s probably not all social, but which any particular trait is I will find out when the neuroscience comes in. Nevertheless, I still believe in reducing gender socialization as much as possible for one reason.

Regardless of the origin of the differences– men and women are far more alike than they are different.

Consider upper-body strength. It’s a bit hard to figure out how men could have been socialized into having more upper body strength, so that’s clearly primarily biological. However, there are female Olympic athletes and male couch potatoes, and we can clearly agree that a woman who can lift three times her body weight is a “real” woman, the same way that a man who only lifts the tortilla chip bag is still a “real” man. And if we decided that couch potato dude should have to carry the table when we move because men are stronger than women…


A lot of gender differences in our society are couch-carrying differences. Men might be more aggressive than women, but that doesn’t mean we should pressure men who are not aggressive into being more so. Women might have lower sex drives than men, but that doesn’t make slut shaming okay. These bell curves overlap one hell of a lot, and I disapprove of anything that makes life more miserable for a bunch of people for no reason.

Also, I’m kinda pissed because I never got action figures as a kid, and I would have totally loved Hulk fists with Real! Punching! ACTION!!!!

The kyriarchy is like the Matrix.

(This was totally my metaphor first, and then Sinfest stole it and made it into a comic, and now hopefully it has been long enough that everyone forgot. Except, uh, I just mentioned Sinfest. Oops.)

This is the source of one of the most common disagreements between social-justice-y people and non-social-justice-y people. Non-social-justice-y people notice social-justice-y people getting mad at all sorts of things they don’t get mad at, and assume that the social-justice-y people are just looking for stuff to get mad at, presumably because they enjoy getting angry a lot.

But from the social-justice-y person’s perspective, on the other hand, it’s the exact opposite. The world is full of things to get mad about. At this very moment, I’m typing on a computer with parts almost certainly made by slave labor, listening to a misogynistic punk band. My other tab is full of news about the deficit of good jobs even as the American economy recovers, the increase in world population to seven billion and riots at Occupy Oakland. In a bit I’m going to go call my mom, who doesn’t want to hear about my girlfriend because she thinks polyamory is morally wrong.

I… can’t get mad at all that.

I can’t.

I mean, I could say it’s about activist burnout and self-care and all that jazz, but honestly? It’s because I don’t want to. I don’t want to spend all my time thinking about injustice and making the world a better place; I’m not that good a utilitarian. I want to write my Nano novel and eat bagels with guacamole and snuggle with my girlfriend. I don’t even want to give up all offensive media. I like the Lonely Island, and even if their songs sometimes make me cringe, a life without ever getting to sing “the boat engine make NOISE motherfucker” ever again is a life I do not want.

So I cheat. I shut up when someone I’m gaming with says something horrifically racist. I don’t look up the human rights records of the companies that make the shit I buy. I claim to be vegan but still eat sushi and Auntie Anne’s cinnamon-sugar pretzels. Because I can’t fight everything that deserves to be fought as hard as it deserves to be fought.

I don’t think anyone can. Everyone is complicit in this dirty rotten system.

If you aren’t a hypocrite, your moral standards aren’t high enough.

But that’s okay. Because we merry band of hypocrites and whiners are winning.

If you look at it, at the wide span of history– since the Enlightenment, we have ended every century freer and more equal than we started out. It used to be that poor people couldn’t vote. It used to be that people of color couldn’t sit in the same train car as white people in the South. It used to be that the Roman Catholic Church Church was allowed to ban books by Descartes and Defoe, Galileo and Voltaire. It used to be that it was legal to rape your wife in most of the world. It used to be that disabled people were regularly exhibited in freakshows, and non-neurotypicals placed in lunatic asylums. It used to be that being queer was always a crime.

This isn’t saying that classism and racism and sexism and ableism and all the rest don’t exist anymore. God no. And it’s not saying that we can just sit back and allow the grand scheme of history to carry us forward into utopia. All of these victories were the responsibility of millions of men and women who sacrificed their prestige, their friendships, their free time, their jobs, their physical safety, even their lives. If a better world is going to happen, it is only going to happen because lots of people work their asses off for it.

But I think it’s good to look at the past and realize that victory is possible. Victory has happened. Is happening.

Not everyone can do everything. If you left me in charge of organizing a march, I would vomit from fear; if you told me to write about racism, the taste of feet would never manage to get itself out of my mouth. But I can blog about masculism (and sex-positivity) okay, and I flatter myself that I’ve done a little bit to make the lives of some men and the sex lives of some people better.

So… educate yourself about the oppressions you’re less familar with. Stop doing really awful privileged shit, as much as you can (I am talking to you, Pocahottie). Question your assumptions. Give money to a highly leveraged charity (GiveWell can help you decide which). Write letters to your congresspeople. Wave signs at marches. Organize marches. Volunteer– at a homeless shelter, a crisis hotline, a political campaign. Hell, run for office. Create media that shows voices that are rarely shown. Provide health care without shaming people for their sexualities, genders or body types. Find ways to make your job more inclusive, if you can. Point out to people if they say kyriarchal shit that they’re saying kyriarchal shit. Raise awesome children. Support and accept your friends.

And love yourself. Loving yourself is, I think, a radical act. The kyriarchy is doing its best to make sure that everyone hates themselves– or at least, everyone who isn’t that conventionally attractive, able-bodied, neurotypical, from-a-functional-family, rich, white, vanilla, monogamous, cis, straight, Protestant couple from Ohio. Therefore, by accepting yourself and working to be the best you you can be– not what the kyriarchy thinks you ought to be, but what would actually make you happiest– you are saying a giant “fuck off” to the Matrix.

And that’s way cooler than not being allowed to listen to the Lonely Island.

So this is basically just a roundup of common mistakes people make while out Social-Justice-ing, which I am listing out in the hopes that people will avoid doing that shit.

The Lipstick Argument. I call this the “lipstick argument” because the first time I ever saw it was in a radical feminist essay about lipstick. (Sadly, it was an Internet essay, and I’ve since lost the link.) The radical feminist in question explained in great detail that lipstick was self-objectification that led men to think of women as only important for their beauty and encouraged the sexualization of women’s bodies. For the sake of the sisterhood, the essay concluded, it was necessary to give up lipstick; if a woman wore it, she was clearly colluding with the patriarchy.

It left me wondering… but what about the women who like wearing lipstick?

It is shitty to make people do things they don’t want to do because of their identity. That is literally the whole point of social justice. It is equally shitty to make people wear lipstick if they don’t want to and not wear lipstick if they do.

Let me be clear. It’s okay to critique masculinity and femininity. There’s nothing wrong with “high heels cause damage to women’s feet” or “football causes dangerous concussions in young men”; there’s not even anything wrong with “high heels encourage the equation of femininity with weakness and sexualization” or “football culture links masculinity and violence.” There is a problem when you say “therefore no one should wear high heels or watch football,” because the goal of all these critiques is not a world free of football or high heels (how crappy would that be?). The goal is a world where people can play football or wear high heels as they please, without anyone giving them shit about it because of their gender identity.

Subversivism. That’s saying that genders which fuck the patriarchy are better than genders that don’t fuck the patriarchy: genderqueers are better than binary trans people, who are better than gender-non-conforming cis people, who are better than gender-conforming cis people. I hope I don’t have to explain why this sucks, right? This sucks.

Judean People’s Front.

When I was in Catholic high school, I got into quite a lot of arguments with my theology teachers. They absolutely hated me, because I was young and angry and fresh off a Richard Dawkins/Sam Harris/PZ Myers/Greta Christina kick, and thus prone to writing twenty-page papers about how God didn’t exist. However! My school also organized regular food drives for migrant farmworkers.

You could say, as a principled atheist, that I should refuse to be involved in any charity drives run by the Roman Catholic Church. But here’s the problem: if I took that point of view, it would have no appreciable difference on the views of my theology teachers, and the migrant farmworkers still wouldn’t get fed. I don’t know about you, but I care more about farmworkers having full bellies than I do about ideological purity.

In Internet Social Justice Land there’s this habit of balkanizing ourselves into these little groups that all agree with each other about everything, and then anyone who disagrees is stupid and oppressive and probably a Nazi. In the real world, people who agree with you about everything are rare and hard to locate, and people tend to be fairly attached to their ideas and don’t want to be argued out of them. Only wanting to do stuff with people who agree with you, a lot of times, means not doing anything at all.

Note: this post is about beliefs, not actions. If my school was requiring people to pray before giving them the food, I’d be quite right to oppose that. But as long as they’re only doing things I support, I should support them.

People Can Say Bad Things And Not Be THE WORST PEOPLE EVER. Humans have particular difficulty with this concept– it’s called the “halo effect” in psychology. In general, if you see someone who tells a rape joke, you’re going to assume they’re stupid and sexist and mean and probably smell funny; it’s just how brains work.

However, in the real world, someone can tell a rape joke because they honestly don’t know that it’s problematic, and yelling at him that he’s stupid and sexist and mean and probably smells funny will leave him still telling rape jokes and convinced you are a man-hating feminist. This is a non-optimal solution.

Now, there’s no moral duty to call out kyriarchal shit. If you can’t deal with it without screaming… you don’t have to. It doesn’t make you a bad person. But if you decide to call someone out, take a deep breath and call them out without calling them a sexist bastard.

The same “says bad things, not the worst person ever” principle also applies to social-justice-y writers. With the possible exception of bell hooks, there is not a single feminist writer who hasn’t ever said a fucked-up thing; some of the most fucked-up people are the ones who come up with the most important theory (Dworkin was hugely inspirational to Susie Bright, among other early sex-positive feminists). Take the bits that are useful, discard the bits that are not useful.

Call-outs. That whole “people can say bad things and not be THE WORST PEOPLE EVER?” thing? It applies to you too. In fact, I can 100% guarantee that as a member of the Social Justice League you will say something problematic about twelve times a week. I certainly do. (Hey, guys, my class privilege was totally showing in the World AIDS Day post. Turns out not everyone can afford retrovirals! Oops.)

The important thing is to learn to respond to callouts with grace. Your first reaction, at least if you’re anything like me, will be to explain in a fit of righteous rage that you are not wrong, in fact you are the best ally Group X has ever had, they are getting offended at nothing, and how were you supposed to know that anyway? This is not productive. Take a deep breath, thank the person for bringing it to your attention and stop doing the shitty thing. Or read up on it and, after carefully considering the other person’s point of view, decide that actually the person was mistaken. That’s okay too. The keyword here is polite.