Originally published on Medium and republished here with the author’s permission.
You’re on Facebook, minding your own business, enjoying some videos of river otters cuddling and baby photos of your new niece and another article about why no one in their right mind should’ve voted for Trump, when a friend of color posts something about the ways white feminism is hurtful to them.
Is that you she’s talking about? You’re white! You’re a feminist! I bet you majored in this stuff. Maybe you marched at NOW rallies before she was even born.
So you jump on that thread like a bank-robbing cowboy mounts his horse in the movies, and as you furiously one-finger-type your tome of a comment, you feel it rising up inside you: The But-But-But.
The But-But-But is the part of us that needs love and affirmation and belonging so badly, we’ll put its needs above everyone else’s.
It’s the part of us that screams “But not me!” and “#NotAllWhiteFeminists!”
It’s a basic human instinct that should be treated the way one treats a toddler having a meltdown: Kiss its forehead, give it a cookie, and tell it to go sit in its time-out chair (if you believe in such a thing).
But that’s not what you did. You let The But-But-But do the typing, and that’s what ultimately got you called out. For derailing the conversation. For not listening. For making it about you.
And then comes The Sting.
Depending on the situation, The Sting is somewhere between a tetanus shot sting, and a your-entire-sense-of-yourself-as-a-good-feminist-being-swiftly-dismantled sting. It can last minutes, hours – maybe even weeks.
Side effects include heat around the neck, a desire to unfriend people, dramatic status updates proclaiming your intention to “take a break from social media,” and a strong inclination to eat an entire box of microwavable cheese sticks. (That last one may have been specific to me only.)
Look. I’ve been there.
The natural human reaction to things that hurt is fight or flight. And they’re useful instincts; they’re how we’ve managed to stick around on earth for so long.
If a masked Jason Voorhees is chasing you through the woods at night: Run! If a saber-toothed tiger is chewing on your foot , punch that fucking tiger in the face (just for self-defense – animal abuse isn’t cool, y’all).
But, wait! A marginalized person on Facebook – even if they’re really angry with you – is most likely not a threat to life or limb.
The only thing being threatened here is your sense of self, packed as tightly as a plastic-wrapped pillow from IKEA.
But let’s unpack that (our concept of self, not the pillow): What is a “self” anyway? Isn’t it resilient and dynamic and always in flux? Does it even exist if it’s not static? (Yeah, I see that Pema Chödrön book on your bookshelf, fellow white feminist.)
So why are you punching, then? Stop punching.
- Put down your smartphone.
- Take that break from social media (without exit fanfare).
- Watch Stranger Things. It’s awesome.
- Brew a cup of kava tea.
- Hang wallpaper on one wall. It’s called an “accent wall,” and it’s totally a thing right now.
- Let The Sting wash over you until it subsides, because actually feeling things can be good and healthy.
- Masturbate, maybe? I dunno.
- Call an intersectional white feminist friend who will help you unpack what you’re feeling (I’m here for you!).
- Defend yourself. Remember: Not Jason Voorhees or a saber-toothed tiger!
- Respond to being called out with anything other than, “I hear you. I’m listening.” And maybe, “Thank you.” (If you respond at all.)
- Call up a non-intersectional white feminist friend to commiserate about how ridiculous feminism has become since The Millennials with their trigger warnings got all touchy about everything.
- Private message your black (brown, queer, disabled, immigrant, etc.) friend, insisting that they defend you, explain themselves to you, educate you, help you unpack your feelings, or do any unpaid emotional labor for you.
When a marginalized person uses social media to express sadness/anger/fear about The State of Things, they’re already carrying a heavy load. Don’t add to it! You may think you’re “continuing the conversation in private,” but what you’re really doing is asking them to alleviate The Sting for you.
You can do this! I believe in you, fellow white feminist. You’ve already done so much for women and non-binary people (and even men); I know you’ve got the guts for some next-level shit.
The Sting is temporary, I promise. It goes away, and good things await you on the other side of it, including a deeper relationship with your friend (and probably humanity).
The Self is a work in progress anyway, which means a challenge to it is no big deal, right? I mean, look! You’re still there! And all the awesome work you’ve done to make the world a better place is still there, too. The only thing that’s changed here is you, for the better.
To practice feminism that is intersectional – which, frankly, is the only feminism we should be practicing – is to willingly enter into a space where you’re probably going to make mistakes, because there is literally no way you can know the experience of every disenfranchised person on the planet. (Unless you’re telepathic, in which case, you wouldn’t have stepped in poop on Facebook in the first place.)
And that takes courage. Because who wants to sign up for something knowing they’re probably going to suck at it? Not me.
But that’s what we have to do if we want the world to stop sucking. And we want that.
Screwing up, and subsequently getting called out on it, hurts – especially in a public forum like social media.
But it’s a hurt that subsides. In the world of hurts a human being can experience, it’s pretty manageable. It’s not torture. It’s maybe somewhere between an amicable breakup and whacking your elbow on a hard surface.
Feel it, then get back up and keep moving (because there’s a goddamned war going on, and we don’t have time for this).
You’re a better feminist now than you were before this happened. Hooray!
Every day, you and the world a little bit better than the day before.