How often has this happened to you? You’re having a conversation about some specific incident as it relates to feminist issues. Some new study revealing the violence inherent in the system. Some specific, particular issue that serves to be a bullet point in the ever-expanding list of incidents. You’re having that conversation. You’re exploring it, discussing it, discussing how to identify it, adding your own personal experiences.
When suddenly someone jumps in saying “Why are you picking at this specific example? Don’t you realize this problem is so much bigger than this tiny thing you’re picking at?!”
And they’re sitting there looking at you feeling all
And meanwhile you’re like
Oh really? Yes, please, explain to me how I, in discussing this particular instance of misogyny (or whatever) am missing the big picture of sexism (or whatever). Please, let us talk about how this is actually a bigger problem than just this little dark thing we are shining a light on. Because we have to have every conversation all the time forever.
If you haven’t pieced together for yourself why this kind of statement is both (a) offensive and (b) showing very clearly how much you are missing the point, then please read on.
First of all, here’s why it is offensive: you have entered into someone else’s conversation, of which you were not originally invited to be a part of, and have decided that the direction of this conversation is not to your liking, so you change it into something that is. Perhaps it’s because you felt personally attacked (“gosh geek guys pick on geek girls a lot”) or because you feel like you have to defend a thing you love (“geek culture sure has a lot of racism in it”). You never once attempted to engage the actual conversation. And this philosophy also applies to, say, blog posts. If you jump in the comments with a completely different topic in mind, sheesh, at least own up to it.
If you think picking on a specific subject is not helpful, then start your own, different conversation on that subject. Don’t hijack mine.
And second of all, here’s why it’s showing how badly you’re missing the point.
You’re jumping into a conversation where a woman is talking about sexism, and shouting down her opinion. You’re jumping into a conversation where a black woman is talking about racism and sexism and the intersectionality therein, and shouting down her opinion. You’re jumping into a conversation where a trans* person is discussing transphobia, and shouting down their opinion.
You may think you’re really enlightened when you’re talking about the “big picture” of problems in the world. But in this instance, you yourself are becoming the exact problem you claim to be rallying against.
So, yeah, instead of talking so much
But the thing is, this argument gets held up over and over, demanding people look at the “bigger picture.” And the reason it keeps being held up is, there’s a kernel of truth there. There are in fact bigger problems. This single issue is not the only issue that happens in the entire world. Nor is it the worst.
However, if you don’t understand the need to discuss specific instances of –isms, then I’m not entirely sure you want to hear my opinion of your critical thinking skills.
When you are dealing with someone who doesn’t understand that –isms are a real thing, a really solid way to counter their opinion is to have an arsenal of examples. Some examples are very clear-cut and obvious, but a lot of them are not. In discussing these specific examples, we are able to flesh out exactly what they mean in terms of the –ism(s) they pertain to. For instance, these persistent “fake geek girl” debacles that resurface every few months like a bad rash are simply steeped in misogyny. But it’s like an overstuffed suitcase, filled with layers upon layers of stale-smelling clothes: it requires some unpacking.
The process of unpacking these instances is important in working to fix the bigger issues. You can’t solve a problem if you can’t address the symptoms. By talking about these issues in a more calmly controlled environment, we can fully analyze what’s going on and develop our reasons for why this particular event is problematic. That way, when we’re out in the real world, full of the issues that you as a person of privilege don’t have to deal with, we have the ideas and the words to point out what is and isn’t bullshit. We are prepared, so we don’t just sit there in stunned silence, feeling uncomfortable and threatened and hurt and not able to articulate why.
You might come at us with the argument of needing to look at the bigger picture, but I think perhaps you should be looking at the facts on the ground. We’re both talking about the zombie apocalypse here. Instead of standing there philosophizing about the greater problem of the T-virus and how best to stop it, maybe you should pick up the bat and help us fight the zombies chasing us the hell right now.