There is a revolutionary mantra that goes like this: “ If it’s inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.”
This is absolutely true.
And it is equally true that people doing social justice work need to apply a critical lens to that statement as it applies to our bodies, our time and our labour.
The danger of that statement is that it can make it imperative that we constantly and unrelentingly offer up our personal resources — time, energy, bodies — to The Cause.
If we are required to make ourselves into community resources accessible to anyone who wants or needs us, any time, then we are undermining the surge towards collective justice and personal autonomy and reinforcing the very logic of oppression.
This is what structures of oppression do: appropriate the lives, time and wealth of individual, autonomous humans and convert them into systemic inputs.
Requiring relentless personal sacrifice and the donation of labour, effort and time in order to satisfy a norm is a form of internalized oppression. Even if it’s in the name of justice.
This is how, in many revolutionary movements, women’s bodies get plundered. Women comrades have historically been pressured to offer up their sexuality and even their fertility to their fellow heterosexual male revolutionaries in the name of The Cause.
But it’s not only sexuality that gets converted into community resources. It’s time, labour, effort, financial sustainability.
I, as a woman, am not a community resource. My time, energy, efforts, finances and physical body are not community resources.
The entire history of patriarchy has required women’s bodies and labour to belong to other people and other people’s causes.
So yes, this statement, that our causes cannot be radical if they’re inaccessible to the poor is true. We absolutely need to conspire together to create collective opportunities that are accessible to all, and especially to peoples most marginalized by our current systems of oppression.
But that must be a collective effort. It must not be downloaded onto individuals with the most keenly attuned consciences.
It is unfair and unjust and a function of rape culture that individual people and especially women who care about justice must then offer themselves as community resources accessible to all.
My personal body and the energy that resides inside of it is not a community resource.
And so I do not offer myself as a sacrifice.
I do not sacrifice my humanity. I do not extinguish myself. I contribute.
To become part of the solution, and make my contribution to change, I offer my work. I contribute my ideas, my analyses, even practical marketing tactics and strategies up to the collective. I find ways to offer those insights and learnings for free in collective environments. These scale and can be available to many beyond the bounds of my own time and even my own time on earth.
I offer those tutorials and thought pieces for free without my one-on-one time. Someone who wants to use them, can. But my one-on-one time, I sell. I generate resources from my one-on-one time to sustain myself and my family.
People can use my thinking, my work, the free community I created and my free resources to create abundant livelihoods, thriving companies and strong community organizations.
That’s how I contribute.
But I draw really strong boundaries around my one-on-one time, my energy, my body and my financial well-being. My time and my body and the fruits of my labour are my own. I can choose to contribute them, and I do, but I am not a moral or radical failure when I navigate the existing capitalist landscape and make choices to sustain myself.
We can find ways to contribute and make massive change without extinguishing ourselves. And we must.
I am writing as one of the most privileged of women but this is even more true for women of colour, for queer and trans folks, for disabled people. Black women in North America, for example, have always had their time, labour and even their bodies appropriated to create profit for other people.
This is not justice even if it takes place in the name of justice.
Collective justice does not convert individual bodies into community resources. Collective justice creates collective opportunities for every individual body to thrive.
I am not advocating for a conscience-free, cash-first, neo-liberal feminism. I am advocating for a feminism that does not appropriate the bodies, time and labour of anyone in the name of justice.
My feminism respects the bodies, time, energy and labour of every single person as their own, first.