Social Media & Social Justice
I think it is important that we recognize and acknowledge when and how we choose to speak out about a more socially just world. I understand that this current political moment makes it so that there are a lot of things to care about, which smack you in the face daily. And I understand why you might choose to post “me too” in regards to sexual assault and harassment. It’s because as survivors, we become further empowered by expressing what we have been through. It’s because it feels good to know we are not alone in what has happened to us, to remind ourselves that sexual assault is rampant and widespread, and has likely happened to most women, some men, and many non-binary and gender nonconforming folks as well. Through the sheer number of “me too” posts on Facebook, we can be reminded that sexual assault, in particular assault against women by men but also in other variants of the same power dynamic, is a cultural norm, is a societal problem, is bigger than us as individuals. And that feels important. But I feel very tired because in these moments of solidarity, which are amplified and cultivated by platforms like Facebook, there is so much potential to leverage that feeling towards tangible change. It feels like social justice campaigns such as this one often peter out after a few days without solutions or progress.
Because these conversations often peter out, I struggle to feel sustained community in moments like this one, an important one in which many people are coming forward to divulge something that has happened to them. What I worry about is that awareness about such an issue via reminders about its existence in Facebook posts is not enough. I understand the value and power of such declarations, and I respect and admire those who have come forward. I want it to be clear that it shouldn’t be necessary for folks to expose that they have been assaulted. That is a personal choice and personal information that for some it might be dangerous to divulge. Regardless of the number of folks who have come forward, I think it’s important to acknowledge that exposing this fact about oneself might not necessarily change anything on as grand of a scale as is necessary. Maybe a relative who often diminishes the voices of survivors will see a post in which his niece is coming forward with sexual assault experiences, and he will rethink his position. But doesn’t that just reinforce the overplayed notion that in order to care about the status of women, you have to know one? For hundreds of years, women have been coming forward about sexual assault and harassment, which in and of itself is not an easy thing to do. But both still happen, at and outside of workplaces. I think Eve Ewing sums up the problem with the “me too” phenomenon best:
When I think overall about the relative silence I hear from members of the social group that I’m part of (white, fairly well-off women) in regards to racial justice- the number of trans women of color murdered yearly, the black bodies ravaged by officers, the hyper-sexualization of girls and women of color, etc.- I am sad and I am tired. Social media platforms open up opportunities whereby people can be selective about what they post and when, and what people choose to post and when they choose to post it says a lot about who they are and what they care about.
Care about sexual assault and harassment. Find strength in speaking up about these things, and in hearing that you are not alone. But don’t stop there. Don’t identify with only that which has directly affected you. It isn’t enough to change the society around us, just like it isn’t enough to say that thoughts and prayers are with people who are affected by hurricanes, as if your thoughts and prayers will bring their homes back and will rebuild what are often under-resourced infrastructures. I think that what is “enough” looks different for everyone. But I think that as white people, white women specifically who have fucked up often, we have to take a deep look inside of ourselves and seek to understand experiences that are not our own.
As humans with privilege more generally, we have to find ways to ensure that we are engaging with the multiplicity of social issues that face our world today. The information is hard to engage with. But it’s necessary to engage with if we want the world to be more equitable and just.
→ Learn: read sociology texts (and other texts but I love sociology so much) to gain a language with which you can speak about the culture and society around you, one that shapes your ability to move through the world each day. → Become involved in your political world: understand that the underpinnings of society shape which laws are in existence and which policies are drafted and why. That world can be overwhelming (speaking from experience here) but it’s vital to begin unpacking the extent to which policies shape what happens and who is heard most loudly.
→Use your privilege: consider how to amplify voices that already exist, loudly, but might have less access to platforms through which they’re heard and taken seriously.
I hope that our collective aim is for the world to be better- not just for us as individuals to identify with what we’ve been through, to process it and find solidarity within it, but for us to move beyond that and leverage it toward collective action and change. This is difficult work because it’s hard to get specific in regards to “collective action and change”. Start by asking questions: “What does that mean for me? What can I, specifically, do in my daily life to advance racial, economic, and gender-related justice? How can I build community across difference?” I struggle with these and other questions often because I think big: it never feels like “enough” for me unless I’m out moving mountains and helping liberate the masses from capitalism and oppression. I personally can’t even conceptualize what I mean by that but my actions never feel big enough. Questions like those above, and others, are the only way for us to move closer to liberation, ensuring that it is for and by everyone, inclusive and revolutionary in nature.