It is usually after a more heated discussion on a political or social issue that I find myself asking, “Is it worth it?”
Not speaking up in a general sense- I realize that is important. But sometimes I question whether or not the challenge is worthwhile, especially since all these challenges seem to lead to is me irritating someone.
Take for example recently: I have gotten into a few disputes about sexism. Most of these conversations occur online, be it Facebook, my blog, or, oddly enough, Twitter. They are far and few between because most of the people on these sites are people who share a similar ideology to my own. This isn’t terribly surprising- people willing to friend me or follow me are going to know me, at least in passing, and I am not very quiet about my social or political leanings. I try not to be rude or too abrasive about it, but I am a big fan of wearing my “Women Belong in the White House” tank top. (Isn’t she a beaut?!)
So of course, most of the people who will see a heated conversation about whatever –ism or –ist I am talking about probably already somewhat agree with me or will just give it a passing glance. Occasionally a friend provides more nuance or poses a question that gets us all thinking. Largely there is no heated disagreement, though.
It was not until my latest exchange regarding trends in institutional sexism that I realized challenging others does provide a benefit. After the disagreement concluded, my Facebook inbox was pinging with messages from several different women. In all of these messages, I found others who, like me, have experienced rampant sexism from acquaintances, former friends, or complete strangers online. One woman, Sarah, sent me a litany of messages and comments from a complete stranger who spent a good twenty lines mansplaining to her, only to aggressively laugh off her pointing out his sexism. Another woman told me how the man I had argued with had dismissively called her a slut throughout high school. As the stories and messages kept coming, I remembered why it is important to push back against the people willing to brush off their comments. Because of the conversations and arguments I have, others felt comfortable reaching out to me and using me as a sounding board- which was pretty cool considering that is how I found the confidence to start speaking up. I am playing a role in the support system that helped me get to where I am today.
And that kind of support system is vital. With things like institutional sexism or racism or homophobia or transphobia or any of the other prejudices, it can sometimes be difficult to find allies. We are so accustomed to behaving or responding in certain ways that we may not always actively grasp the implications of those behaviors or responses. When those implications are pointed out, a knee-jerk response is often, “Well, that is not what I mean.” I know this because I have unfortunately given and received that answer, and while it may be true, that does not make the action any less capable of prejudice or offense.
Now I do not say all this to imply dialogue and questioning cannot or should not happen; rather, those should go hand in hand with respect and understanding your side of privilege (something I sometimes neglect to remember). As a person who has served as both ally and opponent, these exchanges often help me grow, develop, and become conscious of how I can be more aware of issues beyond just me. I now comprehend that these exchanges and challenges help others find access to a support system that can seem hard to come by. I hope this access and support can give others the voice it gave me. So I will keep writing, arguing, providing perspective, and inevitably irritating – because even on my days of self-pity, it is worth it.