During the last presidential election, a few of my liberal friends and I were watching the Republican National Convention on TV when someone randomly made the following comment:
“Is it horrible to say that I wish that place would burst in flames and kill them all while they’re under the same roof?”
Uhh, yes. Yes, it is horrible.
And even though I knew that the person who said this was just kidding, his general sentiments still rang loud and clear. And they screamed a disdain for the politically conservative.
And there are a lot of problems with this.
Because while healthy and safe political debate is par for the course in social justice movements, and while frustration with the politics of “the other side” is becoming more and more frequent and polarizing in the United States, hate speech is unacceptable. Always.
So, for those of you out there who identify as feminists or liberals (or both!), I want to make the argument that holding and expressing disdain for the conservative party is wrong – for many reasons. Here are just a few.
1. It’s stereotypical.
Just like individuals within a specific culture or ethnic group don’t all behave the same way and hold the same set of values, the same goes for people who identify as political conservatives.
Like other ideologies, conservatism exists on a spectrum, with a much larger number of moderates in the center and a limited number of extremists on either end – just like liberals.
And contrary to what some liberals believe, not every conservative is an NRA card-holding, God-fearing hate-monger.
To make that assumption not only means that you, yourself, are stereotyping an entire demographic, but you, yourself, are then engaging in stereotypical behavior – which is exactly what liberals (and feminists!) often claim to be against.
2. It’s hypocritical.
We feminists (and liberals, too) pride ourselves on being all-inclusive.
We strive to accept people of all ages, races, orientations, religions, classes, and backgrounds. Or, at least, we say that we do.
So shouldn’t that include conservatives as well?
Just because we don’t understand or agree with someone doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t accept them for who they are. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to understand their perspectives. We can even share some of our own as well.
But engaging in hypocrisy really holds us back from engaging in intelligent and fair discourse.
And if we don’t strive to accept conservatives in the same ways that we try to include and understand other groups, then we’re nothing but hypocrites – only accepting those into our group who agree with us, but no one else.
3. It doesn’t help advance our causes.
This is where the often-used phrase “preaching to the choir” comes into play.
If we refuse to associate with conservatives, we limit our attitudes and beliefs to our own feminist and/or liberal circles, thus reducing the opportunity for others to become enlightened to our causes.
If the only people with whom we’re comfortable engaging are people who think and act just like us, then who are we helping?
No one, really.
Not ourselves, not our friends, and certainly not any of the oppressed groups we’re fighting for.
However, if we take the time to reach out and attempt to understand others who may not hold the same opinions as us, we increase the likelihood of spreading the feminist word.
And isn’t that what we want?
4. The liberal/conservative dichotomy often is based on distorted views on what the opposing party truly believes.
(Warning: Gross overgeneralizations to follow.)
Conservatives think that liberals are unpatriotic.
Liberals think that conservatives are unflinchingly patriotic, to the point of detriment to everything and everyone else.
Conservatives think that liberals hate religion.
Meanwhile, liberals think that conservatives are religious fundamentalists.
Conservatives think that liberals want the government to bail them out of their problems all of the time.
Liberals think that conservatives have no empathy for the poor and others who are disenfranchised.
And on and on. And on.
In reality – as it usually is – the truth is somewhere in the middle.
For the most part, both conservatives and liberals are patriotic. They just have different ideas on what patriotism means.
And neither party entirely “hates” or “loves” religion, although surely there are some people on both sides who hold both of those sentiments. Rather, they just hold different views on how much religion affects our daily lives and how it should interact with state and public laws.
The same goes for government intervention. The issue isn’t about the love or disdain of those in need, but rather the opposing beliefs on when and how often government should get involved in our lives.
And everyone is entitled to those personal politics.
So when we pull back the curtain on our own prejudices, we are more able to see the truth for what it is, rather than be influenced by our own biases.
5. People believe what they believe based on their life experiences and what they’ve been taught.
Recently I read a great article by an ex-conservative who said that because he grew up the way he did (wealthy, white, male), he had a limited perspective on what people of other races, classes, and backgrounds went through. So, naturally, he supported the political party that best represented his value system and what it would do for him.
It wasn’t until he was forced outside of his comfort zone and into a third-world country that he gained some perspective and began to empathize with what disenfranchised people had to go through, especially financially.
We’re quick to criticize others for not being open to the oppressions of others, but we forget to remember that we, too, had to be taught to see the world in that light. Even those of us who are marginalized had to, at some point or another, recognize that marginalization in order to fight against it.
So before we criticize, we should remember that some people just haven’t been taught to see things a certain way.
And others may never see things a different way, regardless of what they go through. And that’s okay. (Unless it’s extreme and hateful, of course).
6. It limits our potential to nurture current relationships and develop new ones.
I live in the Midwest in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
In other words, I’m surrounded by conservatives.
If I vehemently disliked all of them, I would have very few friends.
If we assume that just because someone is a conservative, they aren’t worth getting to know, then we limit the possibility of great relationships.
The truth is, I know politically conservative people who have amazing qualities, and I know politically liberal people whom I can’t stand being around for more than ten minutes at a time.
A person’s political affiliation does not directly relate to their qualities as a human being.
That is: Everyone is different, and their ideology shouldn’t make or break who they are as people.
So before you judge someone based on their politics, take the time to get to know them. It just might be worth it.
It’s okay to disagree with people. It’s even okay to hold disdain for other people’s politics. But when we cross over into personal attacks, we’ve gone too far. Not only are we being rude, we’re also being unfair.
And we’re robbing ourselves of the opportunity to broaden our own horizons, as well as those of others.
So the next time you find yourself criticizing conservatives, remind yourself that what you’re critical of is their belief system – not the people themselves.
Remind yourself that you’re a feminist (and/or aliberal) because you accept everyone for who they are.
And if we don’t, we’re only guilty of doing of the stereotyping, judging, and hypocrisy to which we claim to be opposed.
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Shannon Ridgway is a Contributing Writer to Everyday Feminism from the great flyover state of South Dakota (the one with the monument of presidential heads). In her free time, Shannon enjoys reading, writing, jamming out to ’80s music and Zumba, and she will go to great lengths to find the perfect enchilada. Follow her on Twitter@sridgway1980. Read her articles here.