There is something that has been bothering me quite a bit lately. Many of my friends on Facebook have been announcing that they “no longer consider myself a feminist” or “don’t want to be associated with social justice warriors” or “don’t use the term atheist to describe myself”. These are people who by all accounts are feminists– people who would agree with every feminist tenet I can think of. People who give their time, money and support to social justice issues and have forced me to change my mind by fighting for what they believe in. People who meet the definition of an “atheist” and who post humanist and atheist ideas.
They are being something, but being reluctant or uninterested in associating themselves with the movement that their words and actions define.
So what the hell is happening here?
I don’t think that leaving a movement is the right course of action. I don’t want feminism left to the hurtful and dismissive- because its goals and ideas are important. I don’t want social justice left to the haughty and divisive- because its aims and concerns are needed. I don’t want atheism left to the hateful and abrasive- because its intention and vision is valuable.
When we abandon a label, we leave that label to people who have alienated people who share a common goal; we leave a movement in the hands of people who want a tribe more than a community. Movements should not have as their goal the separation of people but the unity of people behind a common cause.
When I raise my children, I make a conscious effort to make them care enough about the things that are important to them that they want to be a teacher instead of a disciple. I want them to be people who build communities, advocate for issues, and work to change outcomes. In essence- I don’t want my kids to avoid feminism, social justice, or atheism; I want them to be better feminists, social activists, and atheists. This means that I need to raise kids who are empathetic. This means I need to raise kids who are effective communicators.
We shouldn’t be abandoning movements if we don’t like the way people in the movement are representing it, we should be engaging people in ways that show that we can be both activists and conciliators in the same breath. I don’t want to leave the future of organized social activism to the people who shout the loudest or make the pithiest quips. I don’t want activism to turn into dismissive jokes about privilege and browbeating people whose intentions are good but whose words are wrong. It’s important that not only do we endeavor to be better advocates, but that we also try to create better advocates as well.
Movements are important. They create the voice that makes silent injustices something we talk about and resolve. They create communities where marginalized people feel less alone and where like minded people realize that their voice can be amplified. Movements will attract philosophers, orators, protesters, writers, foot soldiers, team builders, media experts and voices together in one place. Movements will also attract assholes, trolls, misanthropes, and single-issue activists. Movements are umbrella groups, and they are going to be places where voices converge for better and for worse. I want to raise my children to be conscious of the fact that consensus on one issue doesn’t guarantee homogeneity, and that movements need to build bridges on issues that aren’t antithetical to their core ideals. I want to raise my kids to be the kind of people who try to understand the perspective of others and think from both sides of any issue. I want to raise kids who change minds as well as change their own minds. I want to raise children who make a movement better by trying to find allies instead of always hunting for enemies.
I want to raise activists who can talk to guys who believe in the “friend zone” as though they are real people with real feelings. I want to raise activists who call out people who want to use privilege as a weapon to belittle and to silence. I want to raise activists who can speak out against marginalizing without doing the same thing in the very next breath.
I’m not just raising activist children either. I’m introducing a movement to people who are just starting to be interested in an issue. I’m engaging people who disagree now but might take my words as a first step toward seeing things differently. I’m raising people who might be the future of the movement- by the words I speak on this blog, by a Facebook post, by a speech, by a rebuttal, by a single comment. Children or no children we are raising activists, and so very few of us realize it or do so with purpose.
I want to raise better feminists. I want to raise better social activists. I want to raise better atheists.
The fact is that doing this starts with me. It starts with me trying to be better at being an activist.
I’m raising feminist social justice warriors, and I’m doing it by example. And so should you.