Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice

Feature image via Shutterstock

There is a particularly aggressive strand of social justice activism weaving in and out of my Seattle community that has troubled me, silenced my loved ones, and turned away potential allies. I believe in justice. I believe in liberation. I believe it is our duty to obliterate white supremacy, anti-blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, ableism, capitalism, and imperialism. And I also believe there should be openness around the tactics we use and ways our commitments are manifested over time. Beliefs and actions are too often conflated with each other, yet questioning the latter should not renege the former. As a Cultural Studies scholar, I am interested in the ways that culture does the work of power. What then, is the culture of activism, and in what ways are activists restrained by it? To be clear, I’m only one person who is trying to figure things out, and I’m open to revisions and learning. But as someone who has spent the last decade recovering from a forced conversion to evangelical Christianity, I’m seeing a disturbing parallel between religion and activism in the presence of dogma:

1. Seeking purity

There is an underlying current of fear in my activist communities, and it is separate from the daily fear of police brutality, eviction, discrimination, and street harassment. It is the fear of appearing impure. Social death follows when being labeled a “bad activist” or simply “problematic” enough times. I’ve had countless hushed conversations with friends about this anxiety, and how it has led us to refrain from participation in activist events, conversations, and spaces because we feel inadequately radical. I actually don’t prefer to call myself an activist, because I don’t fit the traditional mold of the public figure marching in the streets and interrupting business as usual. When I was a Christian, all I could think about was being good, showing goodness, and proving to my parents and my spiritual leaders that I was on the right path to God. All the while, I believed I would never be good enough, so I had to strain for the rest of my life towards an impossible destination of perfection.

I feel compelled to do the same things as an activist a decade later. I self-police what I say in activist spaces. I stopped commenting on social media with questions or pushback on leftist opinions for fear of being called out. I am always ready to apologize for anything I do that a community member deems wrong, oppressive, or inappropriate- no questions asked. The amount of energy I spend demonstrating purity in order to stay in the good graces of fast-moving activist community is enormous. Activists are some of the judgiest people I’ve ever met, myself included. There’s so much wrongdoing in the world that we work to expose. And yet, grace and forgiveness are hard to come by in these circles. At times, I have found myself performing activism more than doing activism. I’m exhausted, and I’m not even doing the real work I am committed to do. It is a terrible thing to be afraid of my own community members, and know they’re probably just as afraid of me. Ultimately, the quest for political purity is a treacherous distraction for well-intentioned activists.

2. Reproducing colonialist logics

Postcolonialist black Caribbean philosopher Frantz Fanon in his 1961 book Wretched of the Earth writes about the volatile relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, and the conditions of decolonization. In it, he sharply warns the colonized against reproducing and maintaining the oppressive systems of colonization by replacing those at top by those previously at the bottom after a successful revolution.

As a QTPOC (queer, trans person of color), I have experienced discrimination and rejection due to who I am. I have sought out QTPOC-only spaces to heal, find others like me, and celebrate our differences. Those spaces and relationships have saved me from despair time and time again. And yet, I reject QTPOC supremacy, the idea that QTPOCs or any other marginalized groups deserve to dominate society. The experiences of oppression do not grant supremacy, in the same way that being a powerful colonizer does not. Justice will never look like supremacy. I wish for a new societal order that does not revolve around relations of power and domination.

3. Preaching/Punishments

Telling people what to do and how to live out their lives is endemic to dogmatic religion and activism. It’s not that my comrades are the bosses of me, but that dogmatic activism creates an environment that encourages people to tell other people what to do. This is especially prominent on Facebook. Scrolling through my news feed sometimes feels Iike sliding into a pew to be blasted by a fragmented, frenzied sermon. I know that much of the media posted there means to discipline me to be a better activist and community member. But when dictates aren’t followed, a common procedure of punishment ensues. Punishments for saying/doing/believing the wrong thing include shaming, scolding, calling out, isolating, or eviscerating someone’s social standing. Discipline and punishment has been used for all of history to control and destroy people. Why is it being used in movements meant to liberate all of us? We all have made serious mistakes and hurt other people, intentionally or not. We get a chance to learn from them when those around us respond with kindness and patience. Where is our humility when examining the mistakes of others? Why do we position ourselves as morally superior to the un-woke? Who of us came into the world fully awake?

4. Sacred texts

There are also some online publications of dogmatic activism that could be considered sacred texts. For example, the intersectional site Everyday Feminism receives millions of views a month. It features more than 40 talented writers who pen essays on a wide range of anti-oppression topics, zeroing in on ones that haven’t yet broached larger activist conversations online. When Everyday Feminism articles are shared among my friends, I feel both grateful that the conversation is sparking and also very belittled. Nearly all of their articles follow a standard structure: an instructive title, list of problematic or suggested behaviors, and a final statement of hard opinion. The titles, the educational tone, and the prescriptive checklists contribute to creating the idea that there is only one way to think about and do activism. And it’s a swiftly moving target that is always just out of reach. In trying to liberate readers from the legitimately oppressive structures, I worry that sites like Everyday Feminism are replacing them with equally restrictive orthodoxy on the other end of the political spectrum.

Have I extricated myself from a church to find myself confined in another?

At this year’s Allied Media Conference, BLM co-founder Alicia Garza gave an explosive speech to a theatre full of brilliant and passionate organizers. She urged us to set aside our distrust and critique of newer activists and accept that they will hurt and disappoint us. Don’t shut them out because their politics are outdated or they don’t wield the same language. If we are interested in building the mass movements needed to destroy mass oppression, our movements must include people not like us, people with whom we will never fully agree, and people with whom we have conflict. That’s a much higher calling than railing at people from a distance and labeling them as wrong. Ultimately, according to Garza, building a movement is about restoring humanity to all of us, even to those of us who have been inhumane. Movements are where people are called to be transformed in service of liberation of themselves and others.

I want to spend less time antagonizing and more time crafting alternative futures where we don’t have to fight each other for resources and care. For an introvert like me, that may look like shifting my activism towards small scale projects and recognizing personal relationships as locations of mutual transformation. It might mean carefully choosing whether I want to be part of public disruptions or protests, and giving myself full permission to refrain at times. It may mean drawing attention to the ways in which other people outside of movements have been living out activism, even if no one has ever called it that. It might mean checking in with myself about how I have let my heart grow hard. It may mean admitting that speaking my truth isn’t justification for being mean. It might mean directly dealing with my religious hangups so that I can come to a place where the resonant aspects of theology or spirituality become part of my toolkit. It means cultivating long-term relationships with those outside my (not that) safe and exclusive community, understanding I will learn so much from them. It means ceasing to “other” people and leave them behind. It means honoring their humanity, in spite of their hurtful political beliefs and violent actions. It means seeing them as individuals, not ideologies or systems. It means acknowledging their agency to act justly. It means inviting them to be with us in love, and pushing through repeated rejection. Otherwise, I’m not sure how I can sustain this work for the rest of my life.

Originally published on catalystwedco.com. Republished with permission. 

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Frances Lee

Frances is a designer, a thinker, and a perpetual beginner. They are pursuing a masters of arts in Cultural Studies at the University of Washington at Bothell. Frances recently coordinated the creation of the 2017 King County Trans Resource & Referral Guide. You can see more of their work at their website.

Frances has written 1 article for us.


  1. I just read this essay this morning. So happy to see it republished on autostraddle!

    “Ultimately, according to Garza, building a movement is about restoring humanity to all of us, even to those of us who have been inhumane… I want to spend less time antagonizing and more time crafting alternative futures where we don’t have to fight each other for resources and care.” Yes, this.

    Thanks so much for writing this and for sharing it with us.

    • Also I just want share a strategy I’ve started using to help avoid escalating intra-community purity fights on the internet: Before getting into an argument online with someone I don’t know well or with a stranger, I ask that we do some sort of super small positive political action together like calling our senators about something we both feel is important or making a small donation to an organization we both support.

      I’ve tried this for Bernie v. Hillary fights and intra-queer women’s community discourse. So far no one has taken me up on the offer so idk if it would actually work, but, in theory, it would be a reminder that we’re on the same side fighting for a better world and that we can disagree and still respect each other and work with each other. (It would also mean that something good comes out of a intra-community internet fight which would be rare and cool!)

  2. This feels almost spooky- my partner and I were literally just talking about feeling unsafe in activist spaces for not being radical enough, and then we stumbled across this as I got up to make dinner. Thank you so much for writing it, and for giving a concrete, thoughtful and constructive voice to so many important ideas.

    • (Also, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t much care for Everyday Feminism. I used to read them every day, but then the tone of their articles got really aggressively preachy and belittling, and in the end I just nope’d out.)

    • what’s funny is the number of conversations i’ve had about this issue privately with friends, family, partners, a-campers (hundreds) and how many i’ve had about this publicly on the internet (zero) (well, one if you include me publishing that sarah schulman interview, which TOUCHED on some of this stuff but not entirely)

      • Yeah, I guess it’s an easier conversation to have offline maybe, with people you know and trust and who are less likely to see you as an anonymous person who they might assume to be acting in bad faith. I’m really glad you published both pieces though, hopefully they’ll get this conversation going in internet spaces/on a large scale, because it badly needs to be had.

  3. adrienne maree brown’s new book, Emergent Strategy, (also part of AMC) is a really important resource for me
    in plotting a path forward. Highly recommend to others seeking loving, flexible, healing steps forward –
    https://www.alliedmedia.org/esii/resources. The book collects the resources and insights that guide brown’s work as a facilitator and healer (and other roles) in AMC, Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity, in the Detroit community that grew up around James and Grace Lee Boggs, and related spaces.

    • The book is big on “recognizing personal relationships as locations of mutual transformation,” “may mean drawing attention to the ways in which other people outside of movements have been living out activism, even if no one has ever called it that,” and “inviting them to be with us in love, and pushing through repeated rejection.” Thank you Frances for writing from ‘I’ and for the vision at the end of this piece.

  4. This rings true in SO many aspects of my experience
    in real life and online. Even in the Autostraddle comment section I often mute myself bc of this fear. English is not my strong suit and because of this I stop from submitting or comenting.

    • Yeah I’ve definitely typed out then deleted comments without posting numerous times before because I worry about saying the wrong thing on Autostraddle – and its not even my real name! It would just cause so much anxiety its not worth it.

  5. Another thing this reminded me of was that people are spending SO MUCH ENERGY on social justice related debates online, on facebook, in comment sections — which are spaces ripe for miscommunication, where some are anonymous and some aren’t, everybody has something different at stake, and it’s really difficult to have a wonderful productive conversation about complicated nuanced issues. It’s rarely a fair fight, and words are often taken out of context and spread elsewhere, etc.

    Then there’s no energy left over for in-person conversations about important issues with our friends or family, which are the conversations that are most likely to actually lead to deeper understanding or evolution.

    • EXACTLY! This is why if things are starting to get heated online, I am like, “Can we go to coffee and talk? I miss you and would like to catch up”. Solves the problem every time.

    • I wholeheartedly agree! The learning curve in the age of social media is so steep it leaves no room for growth. My “OMG the world is not what I think it is!!!” moment began as a college undergrad, pre-smartphone and when social media was in its infancy. I can only imagine how different the experience would have been had all of the thoughts/ideas/beliefs I had at the time had been forever preserved and broadcast and debated across the internet instead of sloppily (although sincerely) hashed out in the safety of a classroom with an established set of “community rules” and actual human conversation.

  6. I concur wholeheartedly with all of this. Even Autostraddle, which I love and which is run by some very grounded people, sometimes veers into that puris -ish hyper-radical territory. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially for those of us who have left radical religion, cults, or other extreme social groups.

  7. A word!!! This so clearly articulates an anxiety I haven’t been able to describe. Thank you. I will definitely have more coherent thoughts after work.

    • So, just wanted to add how much I appreciate this nuance as someone who’s been on both sides of the equation. I grew up a QWOC in the Midwest — so, yeah, I have plenty of experience with microaggressions, othering, tokenism, “nice” racism, and plenty of other forms of personal and systematic discrimination that add up to death by a thousand cuts.

      But, I grew up a QWOC in the Midwest — which means I didn’t know much of anything about anything that wasn’t conservative white Christian culture. I always thought of myself as an enlightened person, but the ignorance that was exposed in me once I moved to NYC was astounding. I had no experience with non-English speakers, or even non-Standard American English dialects. I got days off for Jewish holidays I’d never even heard of. My understanding of gender and sexuality, including my own, blew wide open. I’d been out before, but now I was *out*.

      For over twenty years, I’d had to be the patient one. Now, there were people who had to be patient with me. I am forever grateful that they were. I’ve learned a lot. It’s every individual’s responsibility to educate themselves as best they can, but sometimes you simply don’t know what you don’t know.

      None of which is to say we should waste energy arguing with trolls, or that we shouldn’t call out openly offensive behavior. But we do need to be able to recognize the difference between the people who mean us harm and the people who who made an honest mistake. It’s the only way any of us ever get better.

  8. The war i grew up with was declared 1973, but i was sheltered from it far away until late 90s. It hurt to see my welcoming, lovely, radicalism-free gay underground behind iron curtain finally starting to read your books – and when i went away on a years long holy quest, to find the cyborg Grail and complete the blood rite of imagoformation/adulthood, i said a final farewell, i knew i had can never go back, as the lesbian community i knew would soon be radicalised, duped into unfocusing gayness and focusing your quasireligion. So they were discarded, others equally radicalised but with appropriate (absence of) information clearance took their place.

    All in all you are just another layer of establisment to coexist with and to be wary of, no different from corps or mainstream in that most are ok people, but there is always some tribalist schoolboy/schoolgirl club or cult pulling the strings. And i hated school and still hate it 30 years later, i don’t need more of it.

  9. I picked up Sarah Schulman’s “Conflict Is Not Abuse” because it was reviewed well here on Autostraddle, and this article reminds me of a lot of it. We do have to find ways that are loving and productive to solve conflict in our own spaces or we won’t succeed.

    • This is what worries me most about even my local LGBT community. We can’t even agree on small things within group meetings — how are we going to fry the bigger fish?

  10. I am so happy to see this published here, and I’d like to add another parallel: the rejection / vilification of pleasure, which in social justice circles translates into the idea that if you derive any feelings of personal gratification or satisfaction from the work you do helping others, that work must be questionable, compromised, and you must be some kind of morally inferior person. I’ve been thinking for a long time about how this completely defies everything we know about how human psychology works, and how it limits the ally pool to the very very small percentage of people who are actually willing to do tireless and selfless work on behalf of others with no apparent benefit to themselves.

    • For this reason I’m a big fan of the Emma Goldman quote, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

  11. Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you.

  12. <3 Thank you!! This is so great!
    Reminds a bit of some of the ideas from a book I just finished recently called Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment by Leticia Nieto (and others). So good!

  13. This piece really resonates with me on a number of planes.

    I am aging, among other things. 50 looms large on my horizon. On the one hand I worry that I’m falling into

    • Urg touchscreens

      …Is that of becoming more conservative as I age and not understanding what’s going on as well as I should. On the other hand I’ve been some kind of activist for thirty years and I feel like I still have a lot to offer but I don’t feel comfortable offering it.

      It’s hard. I think continuing to learn is critical and I feel like there’s this current of orthodoxy that sometimes prevents that from happening.

      I don’t know what the remedy is.

      • One of the things that bothers me most about this trend of dogmatism is that the most “radical” are usually under 30 and are actively attacking older activists and marginalized people who aren’t saying the right things or keeping up with the constantly moving goalposts of correct terminology. We’re losing out on the input of good people with valuable lived experience, and dehumanizing them in the process.

        • Yeah the ideological purity that enables people to, on the basis of one problematic element or belief, discount and silence entire books, movies, historical figures, PEOPLE, GENERATIONS, has got to stop

  14. I love the nuanced way you wrote this article. Just came back to add that in my personal life, I float between different groups of people who are complex AF. I am a QWOC and so many other things which do not (along with my people) fit neatly into the Social Justice Church. This makes me sad because it’s such an awesome community and has done so many amazing things for humanity. Ever since the US election, I’ve seen the kind of conversations I want to have to help heal the pain in this country but my goodness, I feel it would get a lot of side-eye from the social justice community.

    The kind of conversations that I want to have rather than *always* flat out calling someone out on their bullshit. I also try to remember that I could be the racist, the murderer, the sexual assaulter. Just because I make different choices in my life, doesn’t make me better. And I don’t expect others to think like me because we are all on our own journey.

    OnBeing did a wonderful thing called the Civil Conversations project.

    I apologize for the messiness of this comment. This article has released the cracken in me and is making me think about how I want to show up in the world rather than gaining external approval…

    • I also loved the Civil Conversations project! It was so positive and uplifting, thank you for reminding me it’s a thing.

  15. I needed this so badly. I’m so burned out on social justice culture, and modern internet culture in general, that I’m pretty much leaving most of the internet and focusing on concrete actions I can take in my activism that don’t involve any of this. The purity thing is something that really messes with my head. I’m a writer, and I haven’t been able to write fiction for a year or two now because this got so much into my head that I felt like I couldn’t write anything that people would think was “pure” or “good” and that nothing I could do would be good enough for them. I write queer YA fiction so teens can see themselves reflected in their books, but I’ve been paralyzed by the fear of not being perfect and being torn down and excommunicated.

    It’s concerning to me that I’m seeing the same purity thing in the LGBT community, especially around ace discourse, defining trans identities, and gate keeping. Again, I’m so tired of it that I’m getting off the internet and disconnecting from internet culture. I can’t do it anymore and I just want to be around people who can just *be* without it being defined to death and vilified if it doesn’t fit a certain mold. Like, that’s what being queer is supposed to be. I’m so glad that Autostraddle isn’t falling into that trap.

    • Addendum: Autostraddle is my saving grace and this is pretty much the only website I’m sticking with.

      • “I write queer YA fiction so teens can see themselves reflected in their books, but I’ve been paralyzed by the fear of not being perfect and being torn down and excommunicated.”

        This is literally me though!! Glad I’m not alone!

    • I think we must be following people in the same writer circles on Twitter because I think I have seen the same things. For my writing, I slashed apart the entire gender, marriage, friendship, and family systems available and rebuilt them from scratch because I am writing 50,000+ years in the future. One of the things that makes me anxious is its reception by queer activists because the approach is not in line with the highly-specific terminologies our communities have developed — also, as a polytheist who is also white, I have worries that people will not understand that the polytheism in my work is a far-future #ownvoices.

      I haven’t stopped writing, though. That, to me, is the most terrifying thing about your comment, and I want to give you a lot of hugs and also soundtracks of ambient typing noise for inspiration. What I tend to rely on is my religious dedication to my work and trance instrumental electronica and also Freedom.to — it keeps me off of social media for hours at a time so I can get things done.

      • Thank you so much. I’m getting back to it little by little, and having this encouragement is so helpful. <3 Also, your writing sounds fantastic! I'd love to read it someday.

    • Same so much! I’ve found that actively cutting back on social media usage helps, because I’m less likely to filter my thoughts through a lens of ‘but what if x person hates it???’ (while still trying my best to keep good representation in mind, ofc. But like, no one story can be everything to everyone, and I figure it’s better to show one facet of a particular queer/religious experience and have at least one person out there feel a little bit less alone than to be terrified of the people who won’t relate/will react badly, y’know?)

      (Which isn’t to say that I’ve finished anything yet, or published anything. Baby steps. I feel you, basically.)

  16. I almost never comment on things I read (apparently I am the 65%), but I just had to. Thank you so much for posting this. I agree with you. A lot. I barely ever speak up or work proactively in these situations anymore, just out of fear of being attacked by the very people I agree with and want to support. Activism and social justice is supposed to be about creation and collaboration. We have enough fear and marginalization in the rest of the world. We should support each other, accept differences, and work constructively instead of tearing each other down and attacking those who don’t 100% agree with us. Even though I already know this in my head, reading this makes me feel it in my heart. Its good to see this.

  17. “It may mean admitting that speaking my truth isn’t justification for being mean.”

    THIS. I am very bothered by the just plain meanness that is flowing like a poison through the community that I love.

  18. “I self-police what I say in activist spaces. I stopped commenting on social media with questions or pushback on leftist opinions for fear of being called out. I am always ready to apologize for anything I do that a community member deems wrong, oppressive, or inappropriate- no questions asked. The amount of energy I spend demonstrating purity in order to stay in the good graces of fast-moving activist community is enormous”

    I can just feel the hurt from here in reading these words. No one should have to hide what they think or believe to feel accepted by others – especially when our well being depends on inclusion.

    I, for one, refuse. There are ways to stand up for what you believe and still show compassion/understanding towards others. I have spoken in front of city hall, on my YouTube channel, and at various LGBT support groups. And naturally, I am not well liked by many local groups here because of that, who feel what I say is “radical” and “not in line with the transgender message”. I could care less. Just because I am trans, does not mean I am the trans spokesperson for my community. Every trans person is different. Our experiences are different.

    I understand the fear the trans community has in saying “the wrong thing”. And yet, a message that silences and alienates so many in order to push for universal transgender rights does not sit well with me.

  19. This articulates well something I’ve been feeling for a long time. My main concern is that people who act the most judgemental don’t even recognise that in themselves and therefore don’t self reflect on these things. Or maybe everyone thinks its someone else!

  20. Yes, thank you! The urge for purity is deeply destructive for any community, but humans keep doing it. The Russian revolutionaries did it, religious communities do it, and every generation of feminists has done it. One thing I decided years ago was that I don’t fight with strangers on the internet. It’s either face to face or I don’t engage, which saves me a lot of emotional energy. I also refuse Facebook.

    • This really sums up a lot of what I’ve wanted to say in some form or another on this site for a very long time. That too often your too afraid to come into a community situation looking for ways to make yourself better informed for fear of getting so much hostility that it hardly seems worth it. It’s one thing to not have the right answers. How can you get anywhere is attack someone for asking the “wrong questions?”
      I especially liked that Frances Lee worked the word “church” into this. To often social justice movements fall apart when they operate more like a religious body. Especially one that works more to route our heretics than win converts.
      In an earlier article I responded to the issue of why some women don’t want to be called feminist. I said there are so many schools of feminism and so much misinformation about their differences that may fear all feminists think alike. I think someone responded that people aren’t likely to resist on identifying as Catholic even thought not all the churches think alike.
      What I wish I’d said at the time is that while feminism isn’t a hierarchy like the Vatican, a lot of people think it is. They think you have to agree on every position and theory rather that just be familiar with most of them. It’s the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. And it’s easier to believe this when there are so many trying to oppose rules about who gets to be called a “proper” feminist and why. Sure there are going to be some things in any movement for justice we should all agree upon, but there has to be some room for varying points of view. Even if that means confronting some deep-seated misconception and prejudices from all corners.

      • Reading your comment has me thinking about how I find myself identifying less and less as a feminist b/c I see people using “feminist” in so many ways that it’s kinda lost meaning for me. It isn’t tying me to people with common beliefs, and it does add to the stress around needing to prove how pure and progressive one is.

        • Hmm. Yes, but a large, global political movemet is always going to have conflicting sub-groups. Like, Bernie Sanders is leftist but so was Fidel Castro? Probably there’s a lot of conflicting ideology there and somehow this hasn’t made “leftism” lose meaning. Why is feminism different?

          (Lol @ how I almost did not submit this comment because I was afraid that someone would think that I think that Sanders=Castro but was unable to make a more eloquent phrasing because this is not my first language and I was afraid some American leftist would shout at me)

          • LOL indeed you kind of highlighted why this so difficult. Guilt by association is a favorite political tactic. (Hitler ate sugar!) So seem might think were suggestion guilt by association just mentioning similarities and connections at all.

            Yes leftism and rightism are also filled with conflict sub-groups. And I’ve found Wikipedia has articles of conservative feminism and libertarian feminism so there are a lot of ways movements can intersect as well. The problem is any kind of collective group thinks makes it easier to treat you movement as exclusive in some way and brand anything else as that “other.” I think leftism really has lost it’s meaning for some people. And liberal shess…I think America any way that’s just becoming a buzzword for anyone certain people don’t like for a whole slew of reasons. Is feminism all that different? I’m not sure.

            Here’s a challenging question I’ve wonder about for sometime: Why many people working on just this site consider for example anyone working with Feminist for Life (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminists_for_Life) to be true feminists or would they automatically be rejected? I’m not saying whether I agree with their main positions or that I think someones right or wrong for working with them.

          • Only would it be said there not “proper feminists and we wouldn’t them representing us. We’ve already seen recently similar arguments about Gal Gadot and whether her politics even should be considered controversial.

      • To follow on from your point, Mike – there are people out there who are nominally Christian but don’t label or self-identify as “Christian”, usually because they don’t want to be associated or affiliated with a group they increasingly see as problematic.

        I was one, when I was a Christian. The same happened to me with feminism about six years ago, for the similarities I felt between attitudes in play within feminism and within Christianity.

  21. I needed this. My opinions actually come out of a few schools of thought. I’m often over-cautious of what I’m saying, who’s listening, how I look etc.
    I also needed this here. Yeah that’s me being pedantic but I watch a certain YouTube channel & they’ve started saying ‘we need to stop being so pc as liberals’ then listing words we shouldn’t say because such words confuse ppl. I don’t listen to that as that’s censorship in itself & that channel isn’t pc/sjw in the first place. I know AS will always have the backs of those who are marginalised. They’ll use/allow for words like cis which make trans ppl (like me) feel included, but in a context where it’s clear what it means & allowing for new ppl to say ‘I’m not trans and dont really understand it so I want to find out more’.
    I’m also finding a lot of the discussion pretty American which makes sense on predominantly American sites but I need to stop feeling guilty for not thinking like an American liberal. I need to quit reading every ‘you’ as me.
    I applied this advice to non-american beliefs I grew up w & still hold tonight & found my beliefs are the same as before but my knowledge of certain opinions I don’t agree w was made richer & more human/nuanced. I watched a documentary I otherwise wouldn’t have. So this article works well in different ideologies & countries, just the general headings etc w switched examples. It’s important to challenge ideas we hold to see if they’re strengthened or weakened by listening to others & to learn new things.
    I’m also fed up of giving ppl a pass to be annoying or screw up in apolitical stuff because they have less privilege then me. Is this just me that does this?
    I’m aspie and I’m human. I’m bound to slip up from time to time in what I say & I’m fed up of silencing myself over it.
    Tldr: my opinions are in different camps on different things & I’m fed up of not saying things in case someone disagrees.

    • GOD THE US-CENTRISM. This is where me and a lot of SJ communities fall apart: my experience of race has been very different (since I grew up in the Global South but as an immigrant) and the ways Americans, including and especially American POC, dominate the race conversation has been deeply unhelpful. Especially when they start claiming that us in the “Homelands” just “don’t get it” (as if we’ve never had our own dealings with White supremacy…) or erase Eastern diaspora altogether.

      • YES I had the same feeling wrt the discussion about police at Pride at my country. People copied the American discourse while the police and the whole societal context are vastly different here.

    • Oh gosh, me too on the US-centrism front. It’s so incredibly frustrating to have non-American experiences so constantly marginalised, and then be talked down to by American activists who assume I’m automatically in a better position for not being American (including one who tried to tell me I had never experienced true homophobia while I was living in small-town Russia right after the whole ‘gay propaganda’ thing blew up).

      Also I get your frustration on people using a less-privileged position to be shitty. I had to unfollow several people recently for saying really bigoted, awful things about people they took to be ‘more privileged’ than them. I feel like there’s been a particular trend recently of insulting people’s appearances? Idk, tumblr is getting increasingly toxic, and I’m increasingly tempted to just drop it altogether.

    • Thank you for bringing this up. I’m guilty as charged for the “US centric” rhetoric. Also, I’ve been known to say that being an American (also: Western) is it’s own kind of privilege. Needless to say, that gets a lot of side-eye.

      Anyway, I would love to read/hear more non-American viewpoints on social justice represented in blogs and social media in general. If anyone has any reccs for good places to start….

  22. There is a lot more I could say about this (and I’m sure so will maybe others), but for now…well even though it’s been said many times now I really need to say it too.

    Thank You. I’ve been needing this.

  23. Thank you for this post. I have often been burned out by the shouting on social media. What I tend to see are conversations that are just feedback loops of anger, and I suspected that many people were getting burnt out by them. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to be pluralistic as opposed to homogenous as communities who engage in activism.

    Personally, I’ve been having a lot of feelings and internal monologue rants about how Twitter queer writer activists are enshrining 21st century American understandings of gender, affection, and sexual orientation as gold standards that need to be explicitly referenced in fiction to be “good enough.” It’s one of those things that makes gold-star activism out of alignment with one of my personal concerns about pluralism, cultural diversity, and [American] colonialism. Echoing the scholar Sujata Moorti (who has written in scholarly articles about the decontexutalization of the hijra in feminist classrooms), I worry that these positional statements impose a globalized queerness on those of us trying to write effective queer rep in fiction. If a sci-fi culture 8000 years from now has the same gender, affection, and sexual orientation terminology/classifications as 21st century American queer spaces, the worldbuilding is not where it could be.

    (Note: when I say “affection,” I mean the Meaning of Friendship and associated topics.)

  24. I feel like I’ve been needing this article for years. Beautifully articulated, thank you.

  25. I am a little bit in shock. I have spent years thinking that I was the only one who felt this way… Thank you for writing this.

  26. Snowball the pig said it best. All animals are equal, some more equal then others.

    George Orwell has never been wrong.

  27. Thank you. I feel like this is definitely a reminder a lot of us need, especially those who are fairly young and have been learning about social justice mostly in recent years when this has been a huge problem. For a lot of us who have just started learning about this, extreme radicalism and lots of in-community policing feels like the only “right” way to go about things, and it is very easy to fall into the trap of perpetuating such logic. I’ve been trying to tone down or revamp the way I talk about social justice to my family (especially to be gentler and less accusatory) because most of the rhetoric I’ve learned is getting me nowhere; I really appreciate that not everyone sees this as a step backwards.

  28. Here to add to the chorus of thank you’s. We all need to hear this. Thank you, thank you for saying it.

  29. This is such a complex issue to discuss in this day and age. I understand why people are defensive about this conversation. There are countless people writing think pieces about how political correctness has robbed white men of their right to free speech etc. The ‘PC is out of control’ talking point is a great tool to shut down legitimate dissent. And at the other end of the spectrum people accuse others of making them unsafe for making relatively small mistakes or for invented ill intent. Let’s not forget that Heather Hogan is a Nazi out to destroy us all and Autostraddle manages to erase bisexuals AND lesbians AND femmes AND butches all at the same time (your evil agenda is without parallel, fyi).

    It’s hard because humans are not perfect and we say things that are unintentionally hurtful or obnoxious, and I really do want people around me with marginalized experiences that I don’t share to feel comfortable voicing their feelings. I also don’t want to be shamed because everything I do/say/like/feel is problematic. And know that I have been the one giving someone a lecture about something trivial at some point after several beers, or judging someone harshly online. Because I have come to see that as the way to express solidarity. Because the internet is a polarizing hell hole. Because it’s easy for me to snap when a clueless comment reminds me of awful things people said to me in childhood when I didn’t have the skills to defend myself. I have gotten better over the last couple years, but sometimes purity politics feels like quicksand that I can’t escape from, and I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t want to spend my life assuming the worst of people and pretending that being offended or condescending to people is political activism.

    • right, the “PC is out of control” discourse is out of control, and at the same time, sometimes the PC is out of control! and we’re not equipping people to be functional in the real world, we’re equipping them to be parodies of themselves. and i think a lot of us hide from each other the actual truths of our lives and probably a lot of things that we let fly in mixed company because it’s just not realistic.

      criticizing someone aggressively is a great way to get that person to be defensive, but it’s not a great way to get them to see your point of view unless that person is already inclined to be flexible — like for autostraddle we are always wanting to be open to criticism and change so we’re a receptive audience to attacks that are logical as well as ones that are bonkers, but like, your co-worker or second cousin has no horse in this race and will just check out unless you also make an effort to connect.

      (also in your list of things autostraddle is guilty of i think you forgot to mention that we advocate for the murder of sex workers, that we’re a site just for trans people and also that we hate trans people)

  30. This resonates so much for me as a QPOC introvert who has been trying to stop having Facebook debates and enter QPOC activist spaces.

    It used to be “Am I queer enough?” to enter a space, and now it is often “Am I radical enough?”

  31. So well put. Thank you for refocusing the conversation on what’s actually important here.

  32. This is so good it makes me want to post on Facebook for the first time in a year. Random thoughts:

    – I have noticed that some of my (queer) friends have stopped identifying as feminists because they “don’t know enough” or “don’t know the right words” or “don’t know what feminism means anymore”. Some of these friends have master’s degrees in humanities etc.

    – The specificity of correct linguistics around social justice is a great way to shut out non-native speakers.

    – Leftism and queer & radical activism are surrounded by identity politics that can alienate people who do not share the “correct” lifestyle. I work in finance and I really struggle with calling myself leftist because I know I would never be welcomed in the local chapter of the leftist party. Not because of my politics but because my “unpure” job sector. (Also problematic in some contexts: butch-femme or “straight” relationships, owning instead of renting your apartment, liking wrong pop culture or literature…) The right-wing groups will welcome pretty much any profession or income level. I feel like this is one of the main reasons for the troubles of leftist parties around the Western world.

    – Even fictional characters are required to be perfect. An entire tv show can be deemed unwatchable if it doesn’t follow the most recent textbook rules of correct feminist discourse.

    – Calling anything “emotional abuse” or “structural violence” is an efficient way to shut down a discussion. These are valid terms, but probably not suitable for every situation that make you uncomfortable?

    – Have any of you noticed that political correctness and sex negative feminism are used by straight feminists to police queer language and sexualities? Acknowledging the existence, fashion and identities of other queer people is “rude” or “putting your nose in other people’s private business”, expressions of lesbian and/or female sexuality in art or pop culture are “sexualizing women” etc…

    • ‘– The specificity of correct linguistics around social justice is a great way to shut out non-native speakers.’

      Yes! Also working class people and the oldest/youngest members of our communities who haven’t necessarily had access to the spaces (online and off) or educational systems where this language developed. Like, if you sit and talk with older activists, they may say a lot of things that would be quite controversial in modern-day radical spaces- but that doesn’t mean that their voices aren’t important, or that their experiences should go unheard.

      (On a slightly unrelated tangent, I wish late 20s-early 30s activists would stop calling themselves ‘elders’ and using their relative age as a position of power, or leveraging it to make themselves look like a great source of knowledge + thus A Person Who Should Be Listened To, often at the exclusion of other voices.)

      • Yes, this! Not all ignorance is willful. It’s a privilege to have access to higher education, internet, and diverse cultural experiences.

        • And even those with the education and access have trouble. My mother (who has a graduate degree in philosophy), is making a serious effort to educate herself about many of these issues, in large part to support my brother’s non-binary partner. She finally confided, rather despairingly, that many of the articles and blogs she encountered seemed to take Humpty-Dumpty’s approach to language (“When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.”). And if you get it wrong, you’re a pariah. Throw a different native language into the mix and you have a recipe for almost complete exclusion.

    • I had a nice experience where a new person to the group used what I considered a verrrrrry outdated word that people have fought hard to get out of general vocab, and someone just waited til they were done, said ‘yes, and here let’s use the word ‘cis’ to refer to people who are not trans and now I am responding the substance of what you said’ and the conversation moved on. It was so nice.

    • There’s social science research that backs up what you said about the right being more willing to take everyone in who are willing to do the work and the left only letting people who pass certain political tests in.

      “This has historically been one of the differences between the left and the right,” he said, “and it’s one of the things the left can learn from the right. What my research has found is that the right has far fewer ideological purity tests for activism than the left does. So they’re taking all comers and they’re converting people in action. Just come, and just do it. By contrast, there’s a whole language you need to know from some of the left groups — your ability to be involved often depends on already having a healthy résumé of doing other lefty things. I think that that basically makes it a kind of echo chamber, and it doesn’t allow you to bring in new blood.” The right, he said, has historically been more inclusive. “The anti-abortion folks are the ones that I know the best, but the right, they set up internships and they have summer programs and they organize these campaigns, and anyone who shows up they just take. And you’ll either be turned off and leave or you’ll become one of them.”


      (Obviously having some sort of standards for the people you want to associate with and work with is reasonable and healthy. But we have got to be aware of the downsides of being exclusive.)

      • and i think it’s also about picking our battles because a lot of them seem absurd to literally everybody outside of radical liberal bubbles. language policing like that using the word “crazy” in a non-mental-illness context promotes ableism or that “poly” can’t be short for more than one word i think can make moderate folks just shake their heads and walk away and in the direction of spaces that are a lot more fucked up than this one.

        and i don’t know what the right answers are to debates we have around language but it really should be okay for people to have different opinions on it! there’s just this defaulting to whatever is the most restrictive, radical and politically correct = the best. and where was this decided? and who decided it?

        • @Riese my mentally ill (as in has been hospitalised more than once for mental health issues) working class middle aged dad is the person I know who uses ‘nutter’ more than anyone else to say behaviour done by someone is very bad/violent.
          I choose not to use that language myself but I have access to this discourse, a wider vocab & a fouler mouth (he finds swearing wrong and i dont) I guess I could say ‘thugs’ around him, never really sure what word to use.

    • “Even fictional characters are required to be perfect. An entire tv show can be deemed unwatchable if it doesn’t follow the most recent textbook rules of correct feminist discourse.”

      I was once totally chewed out by friends because I knew an answer to a bar trivia question about “How I Met Your Mother.” They couldn’t believe I watched something so “problematic” and I got a lecture about it, right then and there. We were at bar trivia, and I knew an answer to a question about a wildly popular show that ran for several years and it somehow became an attack on my character. It makes me afraid to open my mouth sometimes, even over something innocent like that.

    • @monae

      “The right-wing groups will welcome pretty much any profession or income level. I feel like this is one of the main reasons for the troubles of leftist parties around the Western world.”

      I tried joining the UK Labour party a while back, only to have my application bounced because apparently I’d offended someone on social media. No context was given, only some dates, and if I haven’t offended someone on social media before breakfast I’m clearly not conducting myself properly.

      I spoke to my conservative friend (something else which probably prohibits me joining a leftist party these days) who was also a member of the Tory party about it and she said, with some confusion, “Don’t you just pay your dues and become a member?” Ideological purity seems to be a recurring problem for the left in ways that it doesn’t seem to for the right, but perhaps I’m wrong.

  33. Thank you. So much. For saying this. I have a vivid memory of talking with a friend at a bar last year and whispering, “I just feel like the movement is really lacking grace.” In that moment, I felt like someone was going to jump out of the shadows and take away my good-activist card. It’s a horrible feeling, and not one that’s conducive to inviting more people into the conversation. There is a balance, obviously, between widening the circle and not compromising on core values, but we seem to be consistently missing the mark. Don’t even get me started on Everyday Feminism–the titles START by telling readers how wrong and bad they are. No matter how useful the content, how can I share that kind of article with friends and family without immediately turning them off?

    P.S. Bernice Johnson Reagon’s “Coalition Politics” is a dated but excellent text for those resonating with this piece: http://web.colby.edu/ed332/files/2010/08/Coalition-Politics.pdf

  34. THANK YOU so much for saying this. I’m so glad someone is. <3 All the love and support to you.

  35. Really interesting topic. I hear many people have had those experiences of fear and exclusion (I had a very interesting talk about a particularly bad experience with a friend the other day) but I have to admit that personally I have never felt that pressure. I still think it is a thing that happens far too much in our communities, I just have never personally encountered it. That may be bc my circle of friends is very open-minded, but may also be related to the fact that I live in my queer activist bubble and we very rarely disagree. I hope it’s not that people are afraid to disagree with me. I know that I can be kind of harsh in discussions, while I appreciate them a lot. I may lose patience very easily, but also, I love explaining things. I hope I’m not one of those who imposes that pressure on others. I also think, maybe this is a very American thing?? all that talk about kind of religious social justice activism just doesn’t sound familiar to my activist surroundings in Germany, and when it happens, it seems to be a very specific thing? It seems like social justice culture has not yet arrived here in that sense and many of the identity politics conflicts and other stuff that is discussed in such groups tend to be very specifically American problems? I see the issue that lots of American societal structural problems are kind of projected onto other countries (I live in Germany) too, where some things function in very different ways and/or need to be addressed taking other factors into account. Do you feel similarly?
    Love, M.

    • I think the reason our spheres might look different in Europe is because they are the same in many ways.

      Like, despite superficially inclusive codifiers, our communities are often tied to specific groups or interests. Our urban/progressive areas are less concentrated, so our communities don’t grow as much and tend to revolve among some core interest.

      In turn LGBT people don’t seek to be part of a community because they don’t share a specific interest (art, aethetics, specific causes). So our communities are not as preachy on the surface, but they’re not more inclusive either.

      • Thanks for the great article! I also have been thinking about and discussing these questions a lot.

        Regarding German Queer Activists: I really feel it depends on where you go. But I think, it is a real problem here in Germany as well, that so often we get completely lost in fights about who is the most correct and the most aware when we should try to find solutions for the actual, common issues. An acquaintance of mine recently published a (quite controversial) book on this topic called “Beißreflexe. Kritik an queerem Aktivismus, autoritären Sehnsüchten, Sprechverboten.” (by Patsy L’Amour laLove), if you are interested. I disagree with them on many, many things, but it does show how much our queer discussion policy here in Germany can escalate and get really unproductive.

  36. another important thing: policing language can be very ableist to people dealing with developmental disabilities for example. But also (maybe on another note) I think it’s important to address when a disabled person says something problematic due to their disability. I recently led a queer poetry workshop and a person with a developmental and/or learning disability said something that could be considered racist, while simultaneously defending themselves from such accusations. The other people involved were non-disabled and were really uncomfortable, they just did not address it at all bc they didn’t want to be ableist. I am disabled (cerebral palsy and possibly autistic) and have my share of experience with lots of disabled people. It is ableist not to say anything in such a situation. So I just went in and calmly explained why that thing he said was racist and harmful. He apologized and explained that due to his disability he often does not realize when something is harmful. I’m just writing that down bc I think we should have that kind of patience and non-judgmental attitude towards everyone in social justice circles who is willing to learn. That does not mean we should excuse unacceptable behaviour. It just means that when expecting everyone to be ‘pure’, we exclude tons of people, some of them disabled ones, thus being ableist. A non-judgmental environment, where everyone is heard and can learn, would be beneficial for everyone.

  37. I think my biggest concern is the whole issue of tone policing, which is a real and valid bad thing that happens!! , also gets used as an excuse to call out people in really hostile ways??

    Like we always SAY that, if you’re called out for doing something (xyz), you shouldn’t get defensive: you can do or say something that’s shitty without being a shitty person. Don’t Make It About You, etc. Just apologize, thank the person for Showing You The Way, etc.

    But then at the same time, celebrities who fuck up are “trash” or “garbage”, and call outs are frequently done in ways that denigrate the person making the mistake. This flies in the face of the “its not personal” ethos. But! If you say as such, you are tone policing, and therefor Bad.

    It’s not the job of marginalized people to protect (dominant groups) feelings but also if all you feel is bridge burning rage, maybe a place intended to build bridges isn’t the place to express that?? I DONT KNOW

  38. I’ll be the 2309823457th person to say this is so so so good, and thank you for sharing it.

  39. I never comment anymore, but I logged in again just to express my unequivocal support for this article and this set of concepts. Thank you, Frances, for thinking these thoughts and talking about them publicly. Thank you, Autostraddle, for being willing to publish them. This is the reason why I don’t do much social justice advocacy through more “official”/organized channels, and what I do I do quietly in small groups with like-minded people. I believe very strongly and to the depths of my soul two things: 1) that the core concepts of social justice are vital and worthwhile; and 2) that many of the methods by which they’re being executed are so deeply toxic that I’m honestly not convinced full success by those methods won’t bring us a world that’s just as bad as the one we currently live in. I believe those methods are some of the mechanisms by which discrimination and hatred for the ‘other’ is generated in the first place. I believe our social justice needs to be shot through with listening, understanding, and compassion or it will be poisoned before it’s fully grown. I am extremely interested in hearing about any opportunities there might be to organize with others having similar goals and thoughts.

  40. Thank you so much for writing this. I have often struggled with these feelings but have felt unable to to voice them for exactly the reasons described here. To me radical spaces have often felt shallow, lacking the flexibility and humility necessary to actually provide a place for us to listen and learn from each other. We all have unique and complex life experiences and we all make mistakes from time to time. I feel that the brittle and condescending nature of a lot of activist spaces is really due to a fear of not being good enough and of failing, especially when the stakes are so high. I have had a lot of mental health issues in my life and over the last few years I have finally begun to unravel what feeds a lot of it. I am white and middle-class, and I have absorbed the message that my privilege comes at the expense of everything I care about. For decades I hated myself for embodying and representing the very social and cultural history and structures that I so desperately want to change.. and unconsciously I was holding myself directly accountable for it all, fueled by the language of activist spaces that certain feelings weren’t valuable or relevant and that I wasn’t doing enough to atone for my privilege. I’ve come to a place now where I recognise that there is always work to be done in untangling racism and privilege, but I have to be gentle with myself and love myself through the process and hope to provide that gentleness and compassion to others too. It’s not about letting ourselves off the hook, it’s about not punishing ourselves for being less than perfect.

  41. While recognizing that the social justice creed and movement are dogmatic, authoritarian, religious and even oppressive, you suggest that you’ll remain in this movement and work for reform. That’s like realign that a Scientology member realizing that she’s part of dangerous cult, and deciding to stick around to see if things might be improved. Social justice activism has no emancipatory potential, at all. It’s utterly religious. Its technical elements (self-criiticism, dog-piling, shaming, etc.) are derived from the Maoist Cultural Revolution. Its epistemologies are based on postmodernist insanity. Staying around that sect is like asking to be ruined for life. The only response is to get out.

    • Correction:
      While recognizing that the social justice creed and movement are dogmatic, authoritarian, religious and even oppressive, you suggest that you’ll remain in this movement and work for reform. That’s like a Scientology member realizing that she’s part of dangerous cult, and deciding to stick around to see if things might be improved. Social justice activism has no emancipatory potential, at all. It’s utterly religious. Its technical elements (self-criiticism, dog-piling, shaming, etc.) are derived from the Maoist Cultural Revolution. Its epistemologies are based on postmodernist insanity. Staying around that sect is like asking to be ruined for life. The only response is to get out.

        • Irony is the other side have similar problems. I know because I’ve dated two guys into it who were wrapped up in it.
          At least the sjw movement at its heart is about achieving equality for a whole host of ppl who need it.
          I think the answer is sometimes to get breaks from politics and go do something else. And especially from the Internet. It can’t be healthy that so many ppl are in a constant loop of online news from sources they already agree with.

  42. Thank you for writing this. It’s lots to think about, especially as another person in Seattle.

    I ponder how there can be a “Both and”–bringing compassion into spaces while also a building up one’s stamina for “accountability”, especially if one isn’t used to thinking about needs that may be different from one’s own. Pushing for a non-punitive/punishing culture may help, one that promotes coaching rather than coercion. As long as we’re still willing to ask ourselves (and really sit with) the “hard” questions though. Like about race, or disability access, or trans-phobia. I don’t think there’s an easy way to be kind and to carry those weights, because they are really heavy, and there’s a heavy cultural tide that encourages us to overlook them, or say, as a disabled person, that you don’t have value enough to expect better.

    I also ponder the challenge of being compassionate, but not compliant, since we still often have to “irritate” the system–like with marches, sit-ins, town halls, boycotts, court cases, etc, that push enough for change to happen.

  43. I just came to say that Everyday Feminism is…Not Good. And I say that as someone who has written two articles for them too. Their style is insufferable to read and even more painful to write tbh. Plus they Do Not Pay Enough for the amount of labour they require from writers.

  44. NOT surprised that the Author is NON-white…He simply could have started the article with “racist snowflakes”…There are way too many people with delusions of grandeur, and Dunning Kruger effects…Best to stick to few people who share some of your ideas

  45. Obligatory preface to this comment that this is my first time commenting on AS but I felt compelled to voice my agreement with this article. I’ve found in the past year I’ve had to drop out of all my online wider social circles (including all but one website comment section and my university feminist society facebook group) because I found the attitudes predominantly displayed on them, the tone policing, the shutting down of debate and the ‘if you don’t believe X or agree with Y then your opinion is worthless’ were really difficult to read on a daily basis. I even had to stop reading AS comment sections after the comments on one particular article,where a number of commenters were determined to criticise a public figure without taking the time to understand the full story or its context before they jumped on their vitriolic, US-centric high horse, left me with a particularly sour taste in my mouth. It drives me up the wall because these behaviours leave the social justice movement without any room for nuance, and are off putting to many potential newcomers, as well as giving the political right fodder to throw at us. When I was at University, our feminist society was well recognised by most, including those who identified as feminists, as being a radical, difficult to engage with far leftist group with little bearing on reality, even though their principles and many of the things they fought for were shared by many. But when people would use them to throw criticism at feminists or the left, it was harder to fight those claims when the ‘spokespeople’ for feminism on campus were doing the exact behaviours (silencing all critiques, banning members for making mistakes like using ‘un-pc’ language, shouting down rather than educating, the occasional bit of anti-semitism) that feminists in general were being criticised for.

    I’ve actually gone off on a bit of a tangent, what I was mainly commenting to say was that I was so glad to read your criticism of everydayfeminism. I’ve long felt very uncomfortable with the preachy and condescending tone of their articles. I’m sure I used to really enjoy their articles, but the way in which they now are more like instructions on how to live your life the woke way, without allowing for the plurality of people and experiences, I find nothing short of harmful. However, I have only ever managed to find criticism of them on sites from the far other end of the spectrum, who use them to decry the feminist movement as a whole. To read actual, non-sensationalising criticism is a relief because I have been anxious for a long while about the direction of that site, and what it meant that it made me uncomfortable.

    Thank you for writing this, you have gone some way to renewing my faith in AS, in the social justice movement, and in online comment sections. It has been so good for my soul to read such a measured thread that hasn’t descended into outrage, condascension and one-up-manship of wokeness.

  46. Good article! I agree with the overall sentiment. One small note, though:

    “Postcolonialist black Caribbean philosopher Frantz Fanon” will turn heads among scholars. For future reference, Fanon was not writing in a postcolonial context, he was writing in an actively anti-colonial context (there’s an important difference!) Also, he was writing in French Algeria, NOT the Caribbean. Major difference. The equivalent of saying “Karl Marx, the French anarchist philosopher” Just a tip to get you through your Master’s program.

  47. The thing I see happening with the sub-forty crowd, something which in another thirty years may well strike us as having been one of our defining traits, is that our inexperience with organized religion, especially our inexperience with having to find our way out of it, has robbed us of one of the best ways to cultivate skeptical habits of mind. It seems to me that we as a group have an attitude towards the marketplace of ideas that is more casual than becomes our unprecedented access to information, as if the absence of classically religious worldviews among our set has lulled us into letting our guard down.

    Religious belief is sometimes likened to a mind virus, and while that remains a good metaphor, it can also make us forget that religion per se isn’t the problem; the real problem is the constellation of quirks about human psychology that make us susceptible to religion in the first place. Religion is so universal in human culture, it must start with something deeper in us. This deeper problem is that we are all too willing to believe doubtful claims if they also flatter us and inflate our importance, or emphasize our election, i.e. our membership in a special group, or if they titillate our imaginations and promise us meaning beyond the mundane. The situation is made even worse when these claims are in the service of a wonderfully moral picture of what our future can be, like one without prejudice or poverty, as this ends up short circuiting our skepticism outright by making us less likely to risk questioning it: who wants to sound like he opposes such a just world?

    So let me say this to you, my Millennial and post-Millennial brethren: don’t keep the faith. Keep the doubt. Keep criticism alive. Just because we don’t have as many vocal cheerleaders of traditional religion among us as earlier generations did, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own less institutional, more grassroots ideological conformity and group-think to be wary of. If your worldview is asking of you that you be an ally first, an unquestioning listener second, and a free thinker last or not at all, your worldview is manipulating you. And if your worldview is telling you that some group, like the Jews, or the patriarchy, or the Bilderberg Rothschild Draco-reptilian Illuminati, is secretly pulling the strings of this terrestrial puppet show and that this gnostic insight gives you cause to disregard the reports of the media or the scientific establishment, your worldview is manipulating you.

    There will always be popular falsehoods to keep an eye out for, and it is perfectly irrelevant what their provenance is, whether they come ex cathedra or not. There may not be a church near you or in your life, but there will always be woo woo. Then as now, friends, caveat creditor.

    • That’s an interesting theory about organized religion, although given that the current strain of more radical than thou politics comes from the US, where evangelism is still very present in many people’s lives (and many leftists/queers have escaped from religious communities), I wonder if some of us are also mirroring what we grew up with. There are quite a few parallels between concepts of privilege/fucking up and concepts of sinning. It almost seems like an effort to turn the tables and redefine ‘sin’ instead of doing away with that concept altogether.

      • I first encountered radical feminists when I came out in the mid-80s, and every single one of the more earnest ones (the ones who loved “challenging” those of their own community) came from a significantly religious background, from either a Calvinist or Catholic bent. More so than the general run of queers.

        I couldn’t decide whether it was about liking rules, enjoying feeling superior to others, a fixation on moral purity… It all seems to come into it, depending on the person.

        Given the pervasiveness of religion in the US, I’m not surprised that there is still a healthy helping of TERFs and the like who are not boomers. While we have some of those in the antipodes, they tend to be of the older generation.

        I was alerted to these opinions persisting in younger women pretty recently when a few kindly dropped into an old LJ of mine where I talk about shagging men (very rarely in my life) to inform me I’m “really” bi. I thought we were done with prescribing someone else’s sexuality by the mid-90s. A really sad moment. I should have asked if the more vehement ones had a religious background they’d recently broken away from (they hadn’t been out that long – a few years, maybe).

  48. What the article really points out is the fallacy of intersectional theory. It claims to be 3 dimensional but neglects the 3 dimensionality of the complications at each point (intersection). Intersectionality attempts to utilize a matrix model and then fails all the rules of matrix theory. It’s not just useless its damaging.

    • No, it’s pointing out how people can behave like arseholes when they feel they are more pure/morally rigorous than others.

      It was a feature of second-wave feminism as well, I can tell you. And in fact any leftie movement I can think of.

      The term PC itself was originally invented as a joke to point out how “bad” we were at following the rules at the time. “My GF and just got a strap on – I love going hands-free! What WILL the sisterhood say about this terribly unPC phallocentric phucking!”

      (Almost a direct quote.)

  49. May as well be straight about this up front – regarding social justice, consider me an anti. As for my background, I’ll avoid the specifics, but safe to nickname me Privilegy McPrivilegeface.

    This piece was linked on a small discord group where there are a few feminists and antis in discussion, and I liked what I saw. This piece resonated with me, in part because it was dynamics such as the ones listed here within feminism that turned me off it and led to me considering myself actively opposed to contemporary social justice rather than a mere outsider.

    We have the same goals, let’s be clear about that. I differ on the means and what equality actually entails, but we have that in common. I feel for those who feel that the social justice movement is necessary, but feel trapped within the dynamics Frances described in her piece. One could indeed say that my privilege enables me to say that, and perhaps you’d be right, but what use is a movement that is wholescale trapping so many people in this way? As per #4, perhaps there is a different way of doing things.

    There is only so much of this sort of thing one can take before one decides “Fuck it”, and ditches the lot. Mine was six years ago, ironically as a result of a clash between nonfeminist and feminist atheists. Part of the reason this debate is so fraught for me is because it is as Frances says so often about people trying to dictate to others what must be done. Atheism and my rejection of Christianity were such a sea change to me because it became insufficient (and still isn’t) to tell me I should do something. Convince me I need to do it, or I won’t do it. No-one is going to tell me what I must or must not do, or think, or enjoy, or say again.

    But for those choosing to remain within the movement – as an anti, I would say one of the primary things you could do (and I’m happy to tackle these people too, naturally) is to get rid of the people in leadership roles who behave as described in this piece. From a credibility standpoint, it is rather hard to believe that the movement isn’t dogmatic when so many in leadership roles are.

    (Btw, I appreciate most of you probably feel the same about the antis – noone has to like me or my side either! Most of what I am saying about your side applies to mine too – we all have our dogmatism, our thought-terminating clichés etc. For example I have a problem with the tradcons in the anti side as well as those who claim to be antiauthoritarian yet do silly authoritarian things like vote for Trump)

    I think this piece has done a fine job outlining the overlap between contemporary social justice and Christian dynamics – I’d personally argue it doesn’t go far enough in some respects, point #5 for me would be that despite what people claim it is defined as, “privilege” as it is often used may as well be Original Sin 2.0 which is going to turn off former Christians for one.

    However this piece hits all the right notes – it is very refreshing indeed to me to see a pro-social justice space print a point like Frantz Fanon’s one about the chance of the colonised becoming the oppressor. I have felt this to be true for a long time (I got my take on it from X-men, not quite so intellectually swish!) but I don’t think you guys realise how rare to people outside your community and within the anti community it is to see that sort of point being made.

    I don’t expect I’ll contribute much outside of this piece, this clearly isn’t a space for someone like me. But I did like this piece, I have Frantz Fanon’s book and the Sarah Schulman book someone mentioned above to add to the reading list – and I’m sure some more interesting pieces here will wend my way too.

    Peace out x

    • I am glad this article resonated with you and hope that even if this isn’t a space for someone like you, you will tell people about Frances and Autostraddle.

      I understand the urge to simply remove dogmatic people from leadership positions, but I don’t think that’s actually the ideal solution. Those people may just move to different cities and recreate the same problems there. And we also can’t simply dispose of people; it continues the same cycle that has left our movements with the problems we have now.

      Personally, I don’t dispose of straight white men who say ‘un-PC’ things to me; I talk to them whenever possible, and look for common goals/experiences. When I think of radicals I know whose ideological purity etc has alienated me, I want to extend them that same courtesy. I want to understand how they got to the point of embracing this style of politics (people bring a hell of a lot of trauma and baggage to the table) and hopefully appeal to their better nature, so that at the end of the day we may still collaborate or at least coexist peacefully. I think it’s also important to note that many people who enact purity politics may actually want an out, but have come to perceive purity politics as the only way of being a leftist, especially if they are under 25 and developed their analysis of racism/homophobia etc on the internet. What we have now is a backlash against purity politics that runs the risk of repeating the same cycle of condemnation and disposal, with the sin now being ‘PC’ politics. What if we turned a page and resolved this differently?

      • Hello there! ^_^

        The problematic types might move, but also the problem with dogmatism is it’s hard to reason people out of it. Oh, I’m all for challenging it rhetorically, but that will involve quite a lot of hard home truths to be told, repeatedly, and personally IME the social justice community is quite bad at that when it comes to self-critique, never mind critique from outside from someone like myself.

        Worth doing nonetheless, IMO. From the responses to this piece it’s obvious people within social justice are crying out for voices like Frances, so with more people like her(? – sorry if I’m assuming wrongly) speaking up the support of the problematic types can be bled away.

        To continue the Christianity analogy, I used to debate creationism/evolution on the evolution side of things (first as a Christian, then as an atheist). I would quite happily spend a lot of time debating and discussing against a creationist in order to break through some of their dogma. When the creationist in question is the head of school board about to ruin a county’s science education – I don’t think there are time for the niceties, and you have to take active steps to disempower and isolate people like that.

        This isn’t to say that you can’t have radicalism within your movements – the problem isn’t the radicalism per se (though I would say that dynamic #1 that Frances listed means there is a race to the bottom in terms of who can be the most radical), the problem is that everyone must be similarly radical to each other.

        An optimistic take on the problem may be that there is not really any one ringleader / set of ringleaders here – maybe everyone has come to believe that you have to be as radical as the next person and call out dissent from that norm, while everyone is really not feeling that way at heart and is utterly miserable.

        It reminds me of that viral story about a bunch of guys who had planned to go to a strip club for a bachelor party and then when they got talking, they realised that none of them actually wanted to go to a strip club. They had just assumed everyone else wanted to do that and would judge them if they didn’t.

        So look, like I said, this isn’t really my sort of place. I like spitballing ideas with people with different views as you do, but let’s bring it back to the essentials. The simplest solution that I think we can find some common ground on is that people like yourself and Frances need to keep doing what you’re already doing. It seems to be quite effective :)

        • Thanks for the reply. As a point of info, Frances uses they/them pronouns according to the wee bio at the bottom of the article.

          I agree that various leftist/radical communities will not see change come from outsiders’ intervention, and I appreciate that you recognize that the shift needs to come from people like Frances and folks at Autostraddle. I also think that outsiders have a role to play in refusing to buy into conservative backlash and encouraging their peers not to use negative encounters with ‘social justice warriors’ as an excuse to promote Fox news style understandings of racism/homophobia etc. That polarization makes it harder for those of us who do have potential to dismantle dogma to do our work.

      • Hi mel.

        Anti, as in I’m in opposition to the social justice movement. To me, it’s not egalitarian. I would prefer to pursue alternatives. The problem is the sort of attitudes described by Frances have a tendency to obstruct that process up a bit (as well being reasons why social justice isn’t equality, in my opinion).

  50. I needed this!! Thank you for writing! I think progressives lose many potential allies because of the purity test. Count me in as one who wants to be part of inclusive discourse…

  51. I needed this!! Thank you for writing! I think progressives lose many potential allies because of the purity test. Count me in as one who wants to be part of inclusive discourse…

  52. I’ve never even heard of this site before, but a friend of mine suggested that I read this and I Google searched the title and found it. This is a great article and more people need to speak out against an activist culture that can ruthlessly demand conformity. It’s also important to note that Frances isn’t alone in pointing out this phenomenon- two other examples are “Exiting the Vampire Castle” by the (sadly deceased) Mark Fisher (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11299) and “Everything is Problematic” by Trent Eady (http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/everything-problematic/). Unfortunately, Frances will not be the last to note this and point it out. Not by a longshot.

    For what it’s worth, I believe that Everyday Feminism is a terrible website for teaching social justice concepts. Many of the articles I’ve read there feel like they’re scolding you, and if you want to build a movement, forcing guilt is among the worst ways to do it. Among my friends, Jacobin is a commonly-shared website. I think it’s a very good site when it comes to analysis of political movements and trends, both right- and left-wing and all across the world. When they stray out of that territory, though, it gets pretty dicey- the worst example of such are the Pokemon Go articles they wrote around this time last year.

    A healthy dose of cynicism is your best friend in activism.

  53. In this culture you really have to pair down what the circle of people is whose opinions you really give a shit about. Relying on approval from the internet or large groups of people is crazy-making. It’s amazing to have a group of people who are fighting together for justice, who you know will have your back no matter what, and who LOVE you for who you are. They call you in when you’re doing something hurtful to others or damaging to the group or bigger fight. There isn’t a fear that you’ll be driven out just because you don’t say the right thing. There are social justice spaces like this and we have to work to create them and make a better cultural norm. There are too many folks who think we’ll win by saying the right things and performing wokeness and they are very very wrong–we’re going to win by sharing the same goals and fighting like hell for them, creating a loving community in the process. That’s something I love about autostraddle, the emphasis on building a supportive community.

  54. I wanted to say this piece resonated with me as an ally. I silently sit by hoping things will get better but keep out of it as it really isn’t my place to comment on the social justice movement.

  55. Thank you for posting this. I’m also in Cultural Studies, I’m a non-trad parenting graduate of UCLA and I felt isolated on that campus bc I didn’t want to go out protesting and then partying in the same space. I can’t go out and stand on a street corner yelling at some foolio, knowing that a few feet away a homeless person is suffering without food or a place to live, or to hide from the cops.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t say it enough but thank you. I’ve gone insane lately feeling like I’m not doing enough, like a weak person bc I can’t handle the ostracization from the people im supposed to be organizing with and not against. Im tired of having been pigeon-holed for not reciting the same rhetoric. Im sorry for having had the capacity to think beyond the coded messages. Now I’ll be able to sleep at night.

  56. Some of the meanness surrounding differing opinions is amazing. I saw one instance in which a woman tried to apologize for her insensitivity within 5 minutes of stereotyping someone– Her apology was refused, and she was turned into a national scapegoat though a series of viral videos, starting with one published in The New York Times. I can’t imagine that she wasn’t deeply humiliated, shamed and traumatized. Her treatment was flat-out cruel.

    Even more difficult– What about incidents in which a bad person does something good? You know, the stock market is doing great. And that doesn’t just benefit the rich. Plenty of the middle class (if not most of the middle class) are heavily invested in 401k’s, IRAs and pension plans. Yes, dangerously shortsighted deregulation and regressive tax policies are likely at the heart of the market boom. But that doesn’t obviate the benefits of a thriving market. Just because the benefits aren’t worth their cost, doesn’t mean they aren’t beneficial.

    Obviously, progressives shouldn’t become a bunch of climate change deniers. But perhaps we should do a line-by-line review of OSHA regulations. I’m not specifically suggesting that we target OSHA. I am, however, suggesting that progressives be rigorous, even when it’s complicated.

    I’m also suggesting that we offer credit where it is due. However insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things, Trump’s intermittent softening on policies and rhetoric are good things. We should credit him for them (before we impeach him). It might motivate him to continue to modify his policies. As well, we want our enemies to recognize our strengths and successes— we deserve it, and it’s the only way they’ll come over to our side. We should practice The Golden Rule, even when it is difficult.

  57. MLK pointed this out in his 1963 sermon the Transformed Nonconformist: http://www.transformingcenter.org/2016/01/transformed-nonconformist/

    Someone has said, “I love reforms but I hate reformers.” A reformer may be an untransformed nonconformist whose rebellion against the evils of society has left him annoyingly rigid and unreasonably impatient.

    Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit. The transformed nonconformist, moreover, never yields to the passive sort of patience that is an excuse to do nothing. And this very transformation saves him from speaking irresponsible words that estrange without reconciling and from making hasty judgments that are blind to the necessity of social progress. He recognizes that social change will not come overnight, yet he works as though it is an imminent possibility.

  58. Since the topic of Everyday Feminism has come up, I think it’s important to point out their incredibly sketchy history when it comes to the subject of sex work, and what that says about the performativeness of their politics. (I know this post is starting out as a bit of a call-out, but I think it’s ultimately related to the topic of the article.)

    Basically, Everyday Feminism was founded by a married couple, Sandra Kim and Derek Ellerman. Ellerman also happens to be one of the founders of Polaris Project, and Kim used to work for that organization as well. Polaris Project is an “anti-trafficking” organization that is a major lobbyist for the criminalization of sex work (even though claiming to not want to punish sex workers themselves) and is one of the architects of punitive “End Demand” politics in the US. Ellerman sat on the board of Polaris until around 2013, well after he and Kim had started Everyday Feminism.

    Many sex worker activists have pointed this out and have had big problems with EF because of that.

    So how does EF respond, given this history and given that the criminalization/”Nordic model” stance on sex work isn’t very popular in social justice circles? Pretty much with dead silence around the issue the whole time Ellerman is sitting on the board of Polaris! Then more recently, they turn around and claim they’ve always supported sex workers, and throw shade on a sex worker activist and blogger who’s been critical of them:

    http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/11/myths-people-sex-industry/ (see especially, “editors note”)
    http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/08/myths-about-everyday-feminism/ (EF lashes out at their critics more generally)

    Getting back to the topic of this article, I think the sheer hypocrisy and lying we see at work here is a by-product of toxic SJ culture. Rather than owning the fact that they used to be prohibitionists (and not just any prohibitionists, but among the architects of current increasingly carceral policies towards sex work), but now they’ve had a change of heart (which could actually have strong argumentative value with people who are on the fence on this issue). But rather than deal with this in an honest and transparent way, EF tries to rewrite history and claim that they’ve always been pro-sex worker, with the additionally abusive dynamic of calling the sex worker who pointed it out their contradictions a liar.

    In a social justice culture that values purity above political effectiveness, it’s not surprising that to see it lead to ugliness like the above in a sad attempt to save face.

    • I don’t know. I have no opinion on this issue or on Everday Feminism except that like the author I find it pretty sanctimonious. It sounds like this is a topic ripe for discussion, and I respect your perfectly valid opinion on EF and sex workers. However to me this comment feels just like what the article is talking about: a harsh callout of someone or something with a strong SJ identity, done in a way that’s meant to discredit the person or thing, and not particularly on-topic (or you would have seen the irony).

      Like I said I don’t personally happen to love EF either, but whether or not I find it annoying or you find its stance on sex work fucked up….like, we’re on the same side. When “they” come for you and me they’re going to come for EF too.

      • I think if you’d read through my comment carefully, you would have seen that it is fact related to the topic. The statement is harsh – EF has clearly been caught in a lie – but there’s really no other way of putting it.

        I think this is clearly symptomatic of SJ culture. If EF was part of a political culture which allowed for mistakes, and allowed people to change their mind, and is not so obsessed with ideology as a status symbol, they could have been open about their ideological evolution. But in the existing culture, they need to claim some kind of purity and that they’ve always taken the favored view on this issue. That can very easily turn into things like bold-face lying, trying to shifting blame onto the critic, and the like. EF is just a particularly eggregious example of a larger problem.

  59. I created an account, which I hate doing, just to thank the author for this article. Thank you!!!!!!!! Recently in a FB group I saw someone scold someone else and admonish them to “do better.” While not unusual, it just took my breath away. There’s a reason we don’t talk to each other that way IRL.

  60. I can’t tell you how many times I typed a disagreeing comment and the proceeded to delete it because of reasons listed here so thank you.

  61. To those who are a student of history, they will find that Stalin’s behavior was not much different then those who seek power today.

  62. You know I would like to know something from all the commenters. For those who have been victims of this aggressive pc is out of control behavior by leaders or other activists, how many had it online? How many had it in a newspaper? How many actually had someone have the courage to say it to their faces?

    This kind of behavior if found more so online or in a newspaper may find the online effect seizing hold of society.

  63. Yes. We’re all in this together. Everyone deserves compassion but not everyone can be allowed to discharge their need to hate as they seek to. Addressing this need to hate can be a goal of activism. And offering people the promise of being cared for and valued and accepted when they choose to change. They are never rejected, but their behavior is disallowed. Never closing the door to them. All of this on the assumption that we are more hard-wired to get along than to fight, because this is how we best survive. I find ample support for my assumption in anthropology, evolutionary psychology and sociology. For about five thousand years (only!) of our two hundred millennia of being at the top of the food chain, social structure has produced pathology that must now be addressed. I have no doubt that it can be and will be. Survival instinct still trumps denial and the avoidance of challenge, at least for our young.

  64. GOOD READ!! I can totally identify.

    I have been an adoption activist for nearly 40 years, authored 2 books and over 175 articles on the subject and recently have been made to feel a not good enough as an activist or ally because I’m not adopted. My bad…..

    I have most definitely run into one-upmanship among my vegan/veggie friends and felt far lesser for not growing my own organic veggies and making everything from scratch….or heaven forbid “cheating.”

    And forget about feminism! I believe in motherhood and in actually BEING a mother – especially for at least the first year – which makes me a total pariah among most feminists.

    Of course, like the author, I too am guilty of playing the one-up game. I have called out my share of people who identify as vegetarian but eat fish or those who identify as “liberal” buy voted for Hillary. Why do we have to stratify? Good, better, best….

    And…now the hot new liberal/feminist/LBGTQ lexicon is “intersectional.” That means – I think – as I hear it used…if you focus on one main area of activism you are not doing enough for all the other areas that intersect with it! So we all have to be all things to all people and all causes!!!

    (BTW, it’s also interesting that some very liberal circles you are expected to be an atheist – even spirituality is looked at suspiciously. In other liberal circles, Paganism is cool.)

    What ever happened to ACCEPTANCE, Coexistence: the hallmarks of being progressive? If we cannot even accept and allow for different thoughts and opinions within our “own” tribe, how can we accept to be the change we want to see?


    • Intersectionality doesn’t mean being all things to all people. It means recognizing that many people embody more than one marginalized identity at the same time, making space for those people in our movements, and not drawing false parallels or contrasts between those identities (for example, whether gay people, women, people of colour etc. are more oppressed than each other – because many people are more than one of those things). It’s about building awareness of the complexity that individuals bring to the table in justice communities, and not reducing people to one identity or the other.

      Of course it is impossible to always recognize all marginalized identities at all times in every single thing we say and do, and sometimes the pressure to do so does become overwhelming. But intersectionality itself is a very important idea and I don’t think it should be dragged into the fray along with purity policing, etc.

      • See…there you go. calling me out on not being “right”! Thanks for exemplifying with I think this article and the whole issue is all about.

        I understand that intersectionality is about overlapping issues. Being a person of color and also a woman for instance. But it starts to mean – to some – that if you don’t equally support every issue which overlaps even in the most tangental way then you are not being a good activist.

        We are ALL interconnected and all issues are interconnected. But not all of us have the time and emotional strength to support every issue just because it intersects with one we are involved with.

        Intersectionality, the way I have heard it used is just another form of intellectual and activist snobbery.

        For instance, I have many friends who are vegetarians but not animal rights activists and vice versa. Or environmentalists who do not “get” that vegetarianism is an environmental issue.

        Should we be educating? Yes, of course! But it needs to be done gently and with acceptance of each person’s level of involvement or evolvement. Not in ways that discriminate or sound judgmental or turn people off.

        I’d rather see someone go on meatless on Mondays than not at all! But as soon as someone does something like that they too often get BOMBARDED with dogma and dragged to documentaries with the veracity of the most religious zealot proselytizing!

        This, I think is the point the author is making, or at least what I take from it.

        • …I wasn’t calling you out in any way though? I was offering a different viewpoint and an explanation of what intersectionality means. I wasn’t calling you problematic, or preaching at you or punishing you or any of the things described in this article, and I think it’s quite unfair of you to compare my very neutral and civil words to that kind of behaviour. Curtailing extreme forms of social censure isn’t the same as never expressing any disagreement with each other.

      • See…there you go. calling me out on not being “right”! Thanks for exemplifying with I think this article and the whole issue is all about.

        I understand that intersectionality is about overlapping issues. Being a person of color and also a woman for instance. But it starts to mean – to some – that if you don’t equally support every issue which overlaps even in the most tangential way then you are not being a good activist.

        We are ALL interconnected and all issues are interconnected. But not all of us have the time and emotional strength to support every issue just because it intersects with one we are involved with.

        Intersectionality, the way I have heard it used is just another form of intellectual and activist snobbery.

        For instance, I have many friends who are vegetarians but not animal rights activists and vice versa. Or environmentalists who do not “get” that vegetarianism is an environmental issue.

        Should we be educating? Yes, of course! But it needs to be done gently and with acceptance of each person’s level of involvement or evolvement. Not in ways that discriminate or sound judgmental or turn people off.

        I’d rather see someone go on meatless on Mondays than not at all! But as soon as someone does something like that they too often get BOMBARDED with dogma and dragged to documentaries with the veracity of the most religious zealot proselytizing!

        This, I think is the point the author is making, or at least what I take from it.

        • To be clear Mirah, I don’t think you’re wrong, and your experience with the term ‘intersectional’ speaks to the way its current use is alienating people who might actually identify with aspects of it. Like Chandra I think the concept has a lot of value, but your experience with it speaks to the way it has come to be identified with activist snobbery, and that’s something that people who want to build less toxic social movements ought to be thinking about.

          I am in total agreement regarding meatless Mondays. :)

        • Mirah, I’m sorry you’ve experienced people using the term intersectionality in that way, but it IS a concept created by a woman of color. I don’t think we should throw out words or concepts because some people misrepresent them. I’m not about to stop calling myself a feminist because some women who identify as such are also problematic.

          I think you’re right we don’t all have the time and energy to carry every issue, but that isn’t what intersectionality is about either. Awareness is important. Being a “good” activity is obviously very subjective. It’s often a very loaded phrase (as you know) that can be used to exclude others through privilege.

          I haven’t really taken a dive into these comments yet because I’m extremely worried about semantic debates. Honestly, I’m not even sure if I disagree with anything you’re saying or what people who have replied to you are saying. I’m looking at all the words and wondering if it’s just semantics!

    • One of the consequences of the nasty/counterproductive sides of second wave feminism was that people decided that if a second wave feminist was an asshole etc, that actually meant that there was no such thing as patriarchy or misogyny etc and we should just do away with feminism altogether.

      I am seeing an unfortunately similar trend with intersectional theory, wherein people who use it behave like assholes, and then people associate it with those assholes and decide that intersectionality itself is the problem. It’s like the equivalent of deciding that free speech is a bad idea because right wing bigots have decided to monopolize that term.

      The ironic thing is that many of the critiques of call out culture, purity policing, etc are actually appeals for radicals to think more intersectionally in terms of how those practices exclude people who lack a very specific educational background, live outside the United States/the English speaking world, came of age in a completely different political context etc.

  65. I am 40 years old and I don’t care what others think about me. You know why, because what they think about me doesn’t matter. It is what I do as person that matters. So if you are tired of people calling you out for not being something or not being enough of something or liking something who cares. Who cares what they say. Talk is cheap, talk is cheap.

  66. Thank you for this. I feel like this culture is so pervasive that I even feel a bit guilty for this article and it’s validation of so many of my thoughts and feelings.

    I’m a high school teacher who is committed to social justice ms anti-racism both in examining myself and how I move in the world and in my classroom as well. Most of my social justice work happens with 30 kids in a classroom – it’s an intimate space that almost no one ever gets to experience or see, except for my VP occasionally. Therefore I consistently feel inadequate when it comes to more visible activism. I have many teacher friends who are visibly “out there” doing highly visible organizing and protest work…but they are also burned out and constantly paranoid that they are not doing enough and struggle to balance their personal lives.

    I need to remind myself that sometimes stepping back and evaluating what works for me, my life and my students and how I personally can best contribute isn’t making excuses.

  67. — You are not the only person trying to figure this out.

    2. The communal debates and questions being answered or pushed closer to being answered are a normal convention of mass movement building. I recommend reading the first chapter of Sifu’s biography. Before every mass there is a homogenizing of ideology.

    — You are non Black so you can’t decided how we attain our autonomy. In reference to your call for sustainable activism and community, confederations work best, not assimilation and social death.

    – Supremacy is a far-right mechanism of mobilizing, not a “Leftist” tactic. However decolonization requires preference of non-white literature and theory since dead white men like Marx dominate our activist communities. tldr everyone knows marx and muh communism.

    – Calls to unity overstep the autonomy of entire population’s of people. That’s not consensual.

    • Marx, at least, was a Jew. It’s not entirely the same. Not that I’m disagreeing with you. It’s still an important distinction.

    • I really like your phrase “confederations work best, not assimilation”! I haven’t heard it framed that way before

  68. I am rather shocked to read an article in a publication which has done nothing other than run nonsensical SJW pieces, one after another. This is the height of hypocrisy.

  69. Your essay was so liberating to read. I’ve been struggling for months now, feeling like I am an outsider to my own community. I was feeling loss and guilt, especially because I relied on my fellow activists for a lot of my caring and support. After having “the wrong opinion” I was as you said “excommunicated”. The hardest part was that I understood exactly what was happening the whole time… because I had done the same things to others. I started to name that behavior as zealotry. Now as I read this, I’m so glad to see someone else who shares my feelings. The relief of that sharing has rejuvenated me and allowed me to recenter around the things I loved about my community: caring, healing, support, and mutual healing. Thank you so much!

  70. Thanks for this. It echos stuff I’ve been saying forever, and it’s always nice to hear the same from others.

    I especially liked the allusion to your religious upbringing. I too was indoctrinated into a virulent Evangelical christianity, with all the abusive childhood that goes along with it. But despite years of pointing out these ways resistance movements get corrupted, I never thought to view it through the lens of my religious upbringing before. Lots to unpack there

  71. It is *not* a new phenomenon, I have seen similar behaviours in the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s and 2010s.

    The content changes (what is considered pc etc) and can even take a 180° turn, for example PorNo activists turned into aggressively sex-positive activists. Anti-trans rad-fems turned into Butlerians (or trans men) etc.
    The content changes, but the way it is acted out stays the same:

    A lot of the behaviours and rules remind me of the usual female socialisation that you find in (patriarchal) societies, but they never get challenged as such:

    importance of (correct/pure) language in general
    social control
    body control (including clothes, food, hair style etc)
    bonding or social status through victimhood but not through shared strength
    envy of priviledges
    fashions and fads that everbody imitates and if you don’t you’re an outcast

    This could refer to all-female (and female-socialised) spaces such as a room full of office workers or women at a store, or a tumblr full of activists.
    And I’m saying that not out of malice but because I’m worried about it. It makes feminism and social justice ineffective and often toxic.

  72. Ask yourself, is the cause you are supporting look like organized religion or a chaotic cult all must adhere too?
    If it looks like a cult then its bad news. if it looks more like an organized religion where everyone is accepted then that is good news.

  73. Excellent read, very thought provoking and would love to hear more on this perspective.

  74. I respect this blog and appreciate the point of view. However, I am a conservative. I did graduate from Union Theological Seminary in NYC. It was an eye opening experience for me. I found out that that liberation theology and “social justice” are just as oppressive as the conservative right. There has to be a middle ground. When I am silenced because I am a “straight white male” and that I have been oppressive for thousands of years, that is BS. I have nothing to do with that and am trying my hardest to learn otherwise. Being called automatically a bigot for my identity is just as as bad as the liberal bigot who calls me that. I want us all to get along. You are not sinners. You can get married and join the rest of us in our misery. I hope to see the right stop their tirades against gays and lesbians with the Bible as proof because it just doesn’t equate and I hope the left stops their characterization of all conservatives as anti-gay bigots. It’s ridiculous. It needs to stop.

  75. I know you just spent an entire article criticizing zealous activists who persecute each other like Pharisees, but I actually find this whole conversation very encouraging because it has been anything but that. Everyone seems really supportive of each other.

    Articles and comment threads like this are evidence that justice-oriented movements ARE capable of critical self-reflection and compassionate listening, and aren’t seeking to throw all the bad people under the bus.

    I grew up in religion too so I relate to that aspect of what you’re saying. Every movement is vulnerable to puritanical tendencies. As long as there are questions, there is hope.

    Someone above made a really smart comment about how younger people who’ve grown up without religion perhaps have a blind spot and can’t recognize the patterns of dogmaticism. I highly recommend The True Believer to anyone who is interested in the ways fundamentalism can grip any movement. Perspective is everything.

  76. I think you HAVE found the same problem within your former modern christian community and modern academic leftism- the complete inability to accept that you and your loved ones will fail to live up to goals of perfection.

    The bible is a pretty well-worn cultural guide to compassion- and at its core is a pretty simple message about accepting the inherently human fact of ‘sinning’, or failing to live up to your ideals. In your examples, it seems everyone is more focused on APPEARING perfect than actually striving forward and risking failing.

    It seems like most people care much more about seeming the best than about making amends- and it seems most people let themselves be cowed from speaking truth by fear of bruising their ego or fucking up- when they come up wrong, when they have to apologize, and when they have to learn a lesson.

    Justice is not a popularity contest. Why compromise yourself for ‘friends’?
    It seems like most folk don’t want to work at justice they want to pretend where they are at is well-as.

  77. I can’t say I fully agree with this article as there are two sides of the coin, but in favorite of it:

    1. The social justice community do have ground rules that are solid and when it works, it’s an amazing community. But the problem is that it’s become so controlling, it’s the same issue I have with the pro-black community, like for example if I was to date outside of my race then I am no longer “pro black”. I joined to be free from shackles, not aquire new ones.

    2. I honestly could care less about people outside of our circle, but I do think we could afford a bit of kindness for the people within our circle. When we make a mistake, that’s it. We can’t question certain things nor can we disagree. I found myself being performative a lot in my friends’ space. Its like those who felt the most pain could speak. It’s gotten to the point to where I had to use my own personal pain like a badge of honor and that’s shitty.

    3. We’re disorganized, I believe both peaceful and radcialism serve a purpose. If you have the patience and you want to educate then cool, if you want to take to the streets with a weapon and fight against white supremacists that come into our neighrborhoods and hurt us, awesome. The Civil Rights Movement needed both peaceful and violent demonstrations for it to work.

    4. We dig up peoples’ past and use it against each other, on top of that. We could be very abusive and controlling, I have been there more times than I am ashamed to admit. I took a lot of aggression on my more privileged friends. Being on the bottom of the totem pole doesn’t mean we should abuse each other.

    5. We need solutions, none of us are truly working toward that. We come from different backgrounds, but we share the same thing in common in the fact that our parents and their parents before them fucked up and we have to fix it. Working towards that is the hardest thing I have ever done cause I have to battle family and white supremacy. We know the pain is there, we know the injustices are here but what do we do to fight it? That lies with dismantling capitalism not with supremacy which continues the system with new overlords.

    Points against the article?

    1. I think the white people in the comments underestimate just how much we distrust each other. How do my black ass know that one of you won’t pull a Laci Green and backstab us? It happens quite frequently and you have white people who are famous because of social justice that profit off of our pain, get paid for it and refuse to use that money to assist with our communities. You’re asking us to hold white peoples’ hand and be nice, but we have to get over our own and honestly, rightful distrust of you. We have to make ourselves vulnerable to our oppressors and that’s not an easy thing to do.

    2. Again with the comments, you could walk away from this whole thing and either form your own groups away from us or just work with white supremacy. The Alt Right is our enemy, but it has some progressive policies, there are a lot of gay white men and women who are white that’s willing to work against their best interest in order to fight for white supremacy, you could walk away from this fight and work with the system that will at least protect you based on your whiteness meanwhile I can’t even shop without getting anxiety because I don’t know if I will make tomorrow’s hashtag or not. It’s a little hard for me to care about your feelings getting hurt on social media as opposed of that, hell I’ll take a bruise ego than submissiveness out of fear.

    3. You tend to be a little naive, me too if it helps. I want to live in a world where violence won’t be the option where I can nod and smile to an officer cause he’s protecting us from the bad guys where I could chill with anyone regardless of what race they are, where I could tell someone their behavior hurts and they will have the common fucking deceny to chill, but that isn’t reality. I have to wake up then figure which identity will kill me, my identity as a cis black male or my identity as a bisexual((still figuring that one out)) with unsupportive family to boot. I think you guys tend to forget that we’re in a war, there will come a time where we will no longer be debating our worth to our oppressors and we will have to actually get physical for those rights. America would happily see me go to the gas chambers, hell you guys probably would too.

    I think we need to be more united than ever and build those bridges that are broken, it’s do or die. Things are changing, it’s because of our efforts. We have to push by any means nessecary. Those bridges could be the key to connecting us to our new futures, but don’t forget we didn’t fucking break them. We’re living in the mess the oppressors left for us. So uh duh, there is going to be hostility.

    • Sorry for the TLDR, this is an interesting subject that matter and I hope my response has sparked some dialogue.

  78. This is something that has driven me nuts about the left since the 90s (and I’m sure it was going on before that). The holier-than-thou-ness, the one-upping one another in terms of rightenousness, the forced adherence to an orthodoxy, the proving you aren’t racist by relentlessly pointing out and shaming others for slipping, etc. The internet has only exacerbated these tendencies. It’s also been interesting to see how the concept of intersectionality, ie not throwing other people under the bus, has been weaponized to basically mean that unless you are all things to all people, you are worthless as an advocate. As if there is only one way to think, or as if none of us are ever hypocrites.

  79. Judge not lest ye be judged. It’s still good advice.

    Also, maybe don’t be friends with people you are afraid of.

    And, you know, honestly, nobody listens to activists who never shut up.

    If you never stop crying outrage, then you just get tuned out.

    And then you turn your anger inward, to the only people who listen.

    And you don’t inspire anyone, you just hurt yourselves.

    If you really want to inspire other people, live your beliefs.

    Fight the fights in the actual courts. Not the court of public opinion.

    Appeal to people’s goodness in the court of public opinion.

    Shaming and judging people never works in the long run.

    Trump won in a backlash to resentment over public shaming and condemnation by the left.

    Hillary lost in large part because she was caught calling half of Trump voters deplorable.

    The other large reason she lost was because she was judged not pure enough by the left.

    This country and the world doesn’t need to be judged and condemned and shamed. It needs to be inspired by goodness.

    That’s my 2 cents to people trying to make the world better.

Comments are closed.