If you ask Regina, I’m not sure she’d call me a feminist — she might, but with a few asterisks attached. 😉 Even if you ask me I’m not sure I’d call myself a feminist; I despise labels.
Individuals are so complex; it’s unjust to boil down any ideal, philosophy, event, or action to a single word. And that’s just if we’re dealing with the English language. Bring in any other single language — how do you expect to clearly communicate with one word? On a weekend retreat I was learning how to translate and interpret an Aramaic phrase. The entire interpretation turned on the translation of a single preposition. It rocked some people’s worlds.
Like Regina says, words have meaning. The internet gives us the freedom to be… verbose without much responsibility. When it comes to journalism and criticism, it’s important that writers are accurate, well researched, and humble. You can write a stream of unending judgment but have you added any value to the conversation or provoked any change?
When I do analysis (‘reactive’ writing) about what people have written or said it’s because I’ve applied my two mottos:
- Context is king
- No one is pure evil, except Voldemort*
Context is King
Context means you’ve done your research and are not just having a knee jerk reaction. If you have a negative reaction to something, challenge yourself to understand where the other person is coming from as well. No one wants to be defined by a single phrase or moment that a stranger extracts and uses as a label for who they are. I’m evolving. I’m not the same person I was five years ago. I hope I’m not the same person I was five days ago.
It’s unjust to point to a single thing in someone’s past or present and say that’s who they are as a whole, that one thing defines their ideals and perspectives. Everyone’s said and done stupid or ignorant things and most are mortified by it.
Even if you can learn someone’s context, it’s not up to you to judge whether they’re evolving or not. Why? Because you’re evolving. Ten years ago I was not as evolved as I am now. There were things I firmly believed in that were ignorant and thoughtless, and I judged people. I was wrong. Passing judgment is saying you have the corner on truth. No one has that. How do we improve our society, then, if someone isn’t judging?
No One is Pure Evil Except Voldemort
There’s a big difference in saying, “You’re a misogynist,” and, “That’s a misogynist statement.” If someone says something ignorant or offensive, don’t immediately label the person; label the statement. If you want to promote diversity and equality, you can’t do that by stamping a scarlet ‘M’ on people (or ‘S’exist or ‘P’ervert or any other letter). Doing so is the direct opposite of diversity and equality.
How can you go wrong by first assuming someone is a decent person and what they’re saying is not who they are as a whole? There is an endless number of reasons why a person might make a stupid comment and we’ve all experienced them: peer pressure, pain, lost job, abuse, rage, fear, etc. Instead of kicking them, give them a hand. Instead of invalidating them as a person, call them out for what they’ve said, pull them out of negative behavior, and help them dust themselves off.
I had a friend, Brenda**, in high school who was an obsessive straight ‘A’ student. We had a particularly tough biology quiz coming up and I studied extra hard (I was competitive). The day of the quiz, Brenda was really quiet and withdrawn. When I found out Brenda failed the quiz I was stunned. Turns out, the night before, when she was trying to study, her parents had a violent fight right outside her bedroom door. If we had had a substitute teacher the day of the quiz, what would they have thought of Brenda? Lazy? Apathetic? Difficult? Trouble?
These mottos apply one-hundred percent of the time to all people. I find most people are not misogynists or professional assholes. They are just thoughtless about the words they use and ignorant of their meaning. I’d rather give someone the opportunity to explain themselves than falsely accuse them publicly and bring down unjust community criticism on them.
I’ll Give You a Topic
You meet someone new at a party and they are pleasant. You find out they truly believe that the woman’s place is in the home.
The person is a man.
The person is a woman.
Is there such a thing as a universal truth?
*I know there are a lot of pure evil fictional characters but Voldemort gets my point across.
**Not her real name.