Back in university, I managed to become the president of the feminism society. I’ve told people about it so much since then it feels like a meme, but in reality I was mega-stoked. It was one of my proudest moments, I felt relevant, I felt empowered, I felt challenged.
Flash forward to today. It’s 4 years later. My university events and “debates” we organised feel like distant irrelevant memories. At the time we were so proud of ourselves, making feminism bigger on campus, meeting with the Student Union to talk about fighting Lad Culture by reaching out to the sports teams, pre-emptively.
Then I left. I worked in retail, then mental health. My feminist empowerment days appear to be over now, left for the young people, the people with the time and the energy and the freedom to follow their interests.
In retail, no one has time to discuss gendered clothing, or unhealthy body expectations. You can try to wind it into conversation, but shit, it’s too late, they noticed you haven’t shaved your armpits! All must halt until we work out if you are one of “those” feminists…
Spoiler alert: Kinda, yeah. Cue downtime discussions about simple basic repetitive grade-one style feminist issues. Enough “but aren’t there differences for a reason though?” and “I don’t hate men :)” for the matchsticks to snap from the strain.
Facing the Music
My complex web of sociological knowledge was wiped away, paled into insignificance against the stock targets for this week. I hadn’t realised until I left how much of an echo chamber and a bubble I’d been afforded in university, just by being outside of the work environment.
I still didn’t want to leave it all behind. I wanted to build on what I knew, stay woke, stay in the loop. Didn’t want to become right-wing, bigoted, lazy, small-minded like people believe is natural as you mature, because I knew I didn’t have to be.
I started this blog. I still had so much to say about the basics, about current affairs, I wanted to get it out there in an accessible no-nonsense way, to more people than my bored semi-curious co-workers.
Reality, I was adding to the same echo chamber, and not even on a large scale. The information is out there, for people who need it or want it, there are entire blogs about the smallest part of feminism or racism or ableism. Speaking up is important, yes, but was it my job?
“Feminist” is not a job. When you’re young, like I was, and looking for direction, like I was, it can seem like it. You can see into the matrix at last, and now it feels like you can escape it:
Yet, when you care, you can’t just switch it off. It feels like a double life, a shit superhero. Activism gets called out for being either inaccessible, or ineffective, or both, because it is. My university activism was tiny, but felt huge, because my university world was small. Tweets are tiny, but easy, and can make a difference if enough people join in, but mostly you’re shouting into the void.
The Liberal Elite?
Activism is inaccessible because it needs money, or to be able-bodied, or to be neuro-typical, or to have time off work. It’s ineffective because the media doesn’t report on it, or because people write you off as a loony before you even speak.
Activism is only a tiny portion of the Real World TM. It’s hard to get your head around when your world has only just expanded from school to a university campus and almost unlimited free time; you feel almighty, unbeatable. Education feels like the way forward, debates are a regularity, everyone thinks you are the future.
Like-minded, educated, soft. The definition of the Liberal Elite TM. The irony being that “elite” implies actual power; not just an insular illusion. Some graduates go on to be powerful and influential, most don’t, by the law of averages. Not everyone is in a pipeline to government, most people are there just to get degrees and then jobs. There’s more liberalism than the general public, but there’s plenty of outrageous right-wingers too. At my university liberals utterly dominated the student union; the right wingers simply didn’t bother with it. Perhaps the union seemed too cuddly and cloying for their take, or perhaps they were outnumbered.
Coming Down From The Ivory Tower
Real world politics is different. There are actual stakes, not just a debate about union policies, but people’s jobs, homes, safety, wellbeing, towns and communities. Real world politics is a houseful of people with mental illness, all living off benefits, almost none of whom believe in voting. Real world politics is working a job that doesn’t mean anything except numbers in a foreign bank account and cheap clothing on people’s backs.
You can’t access real world politics from the ivory tower, no. Once you are forcibly ejected from the tower, you can’t scramble back up and continue to pretend the world is simple and misinformed. In the dirt, you have to find a way to be relevant again.
Perhaps you will be relevant by starting a realistic blog about issues which will be written off with all the other lefty online nonsense (and adds nothing original to the topic anyway). Perhaps you will be relevant by using your role to encourage education and liberalism; in a role not built for that. Perhaps you will work in your community, to recreate that little ivory tower of hopes and dreams and equality, and make a difference to some peoples’ realities.
The real issue with student Social Justice Warriors is where they go afterwards. That keyboard warrior you battled for months, the opinionated youtuber, that bizarre blog with a fixation on manspreading. People who are against SJW’s worry about what we will do, but it’s time we do too. We need to worry about where we go from our ideals. How do we drag our ideals into reality?
People believe that the judgemental SJW they laughed at once is a one-off, lamentable, ridiculous. Sometimes, that’s true. Sometimes, it really is a phase, and real life gets that person down off their high horse. Or maybe it’s an anxiety condition, and that person really does need to chill out and stop. Or maybe its genuine belief that the world can be a better place. If that last one is true, we need to commit. Take action that doesn’t reinforce the echo chamber, action that engages the public, doesn’t just create shock value or alienate ourselves from society.
To be a social justice warrior but not make it your job, to weave it into your action. What does that mean? I don’t know yet, but I hope I will. I no longer often call myself a social justice warrior. I climbed down off the high horse and gave up on the endless internet debates, and realistically, at the ripe old age of 24 I’m too old now to legitimately embrace the identity…I’m not even sure if anyone else does at this point. Perhaps by now I need to go by political label; socialist, communist, leftist, etc. I’ll get around to reading Marx at some point, but until then, labels feel too small and counter productive.
If social justice is deluded from reality, perhaps the answer lies in reality; in being kind and being fair and standing up for people’s rights in the real world. That’s not as easy as it sounds. It isn’t always achieved by blurting facts and stats at people, but by whisteblowing, using the law on your side, by being brave. This kind of activism is what stops atrocities or enables them, what reminds us of our humanity and dignity, or doesn’t. The decisions being made in the UK around welfare are being made by people, who just need to get their jobs done to make the UK a better place. Why do they make evil choices with awful results? That’s where we need to look.
I’m going to try and update more regularly now, talking about reality. I work in mental health and I live in the UK, so I’m going to write more about the reality of this, and the ethical issues at play, and moral responsibilities to handle.
Stay safe and thank you for reading. I’m not going to release the second half of diet culture yet, because I want to focus on this realistic blogging future instead for now. Thanks. ^_^