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Being an Ally

16 Apr

an_injury_to_one_is_an_injury_to_all

Source: http://openclipart.org/detail/152659/an-injury-to-one-is-an-injury-to-all-by-worker

I’ve been  trying to answer for myself the question of what makes a good ally,  defining ally as someone who actively supports the rights of an underprivileged group of which they are not a member. I occupy a reasonably privileged place in society and I often feel like in an ineffective advocate for equality. In the name of self-improvement, below is a list of all the key points I could articulate. If anyone reading this has ideas for additions, I’d love to hear them.

1. Be informed. Know the history, know the current politics, talk to people in the underprivileged group about their needs

2. Do advocate – when someone says or does something messed up, call them out even if it’s awkward and even if it wasn’t directed at you. Don’t let your PC decency paralyze you. As in, don’t be too afraid of saying something wrong or being an outsider to get involved. Also don’t assume that your work is already done and that the battle is already won.

3. Don’t ‘white knight’. It’s okay to be, say, offended by a racist comment when you’re the caucasian in the room. But don’t try to speak for an individual in the underprivileged community when they’re there and can speak for themselves unless they have told you they would appreciate this.

4. Do listen. Make sure to actually listen to members of the underprivileged group and to add your voice as a secondary  support to theirs. Signal-boost. Pass the message on. Also, they will tell you who they are, how they feel, and how they’re going to act. None of those are things you should be telling them.

5. Don’t appropriate. An ally does not a member make. You don’t have to claim an identity that isn’t yours to be one of the good guys. This is one of the best bits of ally-writing I’ve ever read. It makes trans equality a personal issue for the author, without ever veering into appropriative, self-congratulatory territory.

6. Don’t use being an ally to offload privilege-guilt. That’s something you need to deal with on your own. No one can magically make your privilege go away, including you. Having privilege doesn’t make you a bad person, but it is something you’re going to have to be aware of. Your good intentions won’t make you immune to saying and doing problematic things.

7. Apologize where it’s called for. If you mess up, ‘fess up (I’m sorry, I wanted to rhyme -alliterate? whatever – so bad). So many people get defensive about how they’re not a racist/misogynist/etc, therefore they can’t have said something screwed up about race or gender. They didn’t mean it like that and that should have been obvious, etc. Don’t explain yourself. A sincere apology and examining your words does more to defend your enlightened reputation. Good people screw up sometimes.

8. Remember the underprivileged group is not a homogeneous block. They will not all have the same opinions and identities. They will not all be ‘model minorities’. They will not all be – and do not have any obligation to be – activists. Also, you are not obliged to totally agree with any given individual in the underprivileged group, as long as you are respectful of their opinions and watch your own privilege.

9. Do  self-examine. Sort of a corollary to #7  – just because you want to be enlightened and decent, doesn’t mean you automatically will be every time. Try and think about the -ist things you might be doing subconsciously or carelessly. Notice where you’re privileged or reinforcing privilege.

Thoughts? Additions? Criticisms?

I Should Print Business Cards

5 Apr

What do you think? Too wordy for a business card? I need to get the design down pat before I have a hundred printed.

Business Card Star - Make Business Cards

Or what about something more multi-purpose? Don’t want to pigeonhole myself.

Businesscard 2

Or maybe brevity is the key here.

businesscard 3

Feminism and the Chill Girl

2 Apr

This one is for you, Chill Girl. I have been you. I understand that makeup and women’s magazines bore and embarrass you, that so many women’s preoccupation with pleasing men and objectifying themselves makes you ill, and that you desperately want to be holding up a sign saying that you care about the things that really matter. That not all girls are Cosmo girls, that Cosmo girls aren’t even real girls. That you are not squeamish, not slutty, not narcissistic, not sensitive. I get it, I really do. I have felt unwelcome in all-girl spaces and been disgusted with women who seem to be intent on confirming every stereotype about them.

But laughing along with jokes about slutty, stereotypical women is Not Helping.

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with being (ethically) slutty or liking makeup. That’s a big conversation, but I’m just going to say it, black box it, and move on. * I think a lot of Chill Girls, in addition to just trying to be one of the guys, are embarrassed by women who they feel are ‘holding the gender back’. They’ve fallen into the trap of thinking every woman is standing in for Women and therefore it is each woman’s duty to be a model minority. But women are people and people are sometimes dumb, selfish, affectionate, slutty, witty, generous, narcissistic, strong, and prudish and they each have every right to pursue that as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. They don’t speak for you and you don’t speak for them.

There’s no reason a woman should be more responsible for how her behavior made you feel than a man. The girl whose revealing dress you’re discussing may have made a legitimate personal choice you don’t understand – or she may be doing something stupid. It probably was incorrect office-wear.  It’s not like being a feminist means you can never say something bad about a woman ever again.

But it holds the gender back when you assume stupidity before choice.

It holds the gender back even more when you blame her for not having anticipated the reaction men would have to her clothing.

You don’t have to be extra-harsh to prove you’re not part of the dreaded underclass. The girl could be dumb as a rock and make poorly thought out sexual decisions daily – you, had you met her, could hold whatever opinion of her you wanted to as a person – and that still shouldn’t make it open season to comment on her body. ** Her dress was unprofessional and you’re allowed to say that without losing your feminism club card, but so was your boyfriend’s stained South Park t-shirt and that didn’t get nearly as many laughs.

Mr. Geek Feminist Lite, don’t get me started on you today. Since Chill Girl is not actually an avatar of Women, she does not have the power to hand out get out of saying-crap-about-women-jail-free cards. It’s not secret!not-sexist because your girlfriend laughed.

For god’s sake, tell me a funny story about how she couldn’t stuff envelopes right and I’ll laugh. I’m not a saint, I haven’t  had my sense of humor surgically removed. Incompetence stories are funny and we tell them all the time. But don’t tell me about how much of her boobies you saw and how it was great in the same breath that you tell me how you embarrassed her for it. If you like seeing boobs, try treating their owners respectfully even when they’re in view.

Ladies, gentlemen, in-between folk, your house is made of glass. Everybody’s house is made of glass. There are a thousand things about you that are laughable and embarrassing. Think about them before you speak unkindly about someone else.

And Chill Girl. You don’t need to like someone to stand up for them and you don’t need to throw anyone under the bus to feel secure. Or maybe you do, and that’s part of the problem.

* There are many more eloquent people on the internet to un-black box it. I’d advise reading all the Pervocracy ever, for instance. A Practical Wedding and Offbeat Bride/Family/Home also have a lot of little essays on why judging women for liking girly and/or impractical things is bullshit.

** In case someone’s an obtuse reader – I’m not saying this girl was dumb or slutty or that being ‘slutty’ is a bad thing. My point is that for the purposes of this conversation, it shouldn’t matter.

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