Director's Cut: One of the biggest challenges to feminism

Last year, our Director Madeline hosted 'The Weekly' - a weekly blog post pertaining to feminist issues. This year, it is the 'Director's Cut'. Stay tuned for more blogs from our National Director and Founder, Madeline Price

CW: systemic racism, violence, meninists, rape

In 1963, whilst imprisoned in Birmingham Jail, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the following passage;

'I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not… the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’

This passage, from the impassioned civil rights leader, demonstrated his frustrations with the social and political moderates of 1960s America – their emphasis on changing the system from within its inherent and systemic constraints, patience and compromise in the face of injustice. This type of criticism of the moderates of society is evident across a wide array of social movements – from historical civil rights to the current #blacklivesmatter movement, from neo-atheists fighting against religious culture in the USA to environmentalist movements, and more. (A whole blog post alone could be devoted to the sheer number of social movements we have had in the 20th and 21st centuries!).

Within all of these movements is a strong pushback on moderates and their views that action done quietly and peacefully and slowly will create change – these movements do not have time for slow, peaceful and quiet change when their members are being killed by the system moderates want them to work within (if we look at the historical civil rights movement and the modern BLM civil rights movement), or their rights are being restricted by the processes moderates do not care enough about to change (if we look at neo-atheists joining with pro-choice organisations to fight bans on abortion globally), or where the world is being destroyed (#aninconvenienttruth).

It is not that moderates are bad people who do not care. It is simply that moderates either have not (yet) been directly impacted by the problems the social movement wants to change (if we look at the situation of white moderates during the civil rights movement) or they have been impacted and just do not believe they possess enough political/social power and will to do anything about it (if we look at those who state that their recycling is not enough to do anything about climate change). They support the idea of the social movement, but do not want to vocally support it, or get involved in creating the change needed. As implied by Dr. King (among others), you are either actively anti-racist (and vocally part of the civil rights movement), or you passively propagate the racist system you live in (if you are a moderate, by not being a vocal part of the social movement), or you are a racist (if you are a racist/against the movement).

When the stakes for you are lower, or you believe you do not have enough power to make a difference – you are more dangerous to a social movement and to wider social change than a racist, or a bigot, or a climate-change denier, or, even, a meninist.

The reason moderates are more dangerous to social movements than those actively against a social movement is simple – supporters, numbers and passion creates change. And if you support a movement but from the sidelines, if you are a lukewarm supporter who says ‘yes, I agree with your premise, but it’s too hard to change a system’, if you are happy to sit back and just wait for social change to happen organically, then you are not supporting the movement because you are, effectively, silent. You are, effectively, passively supporting the structures and systems of oppression that social movements are fighting against.

It is relatively easy to dismiss a climate change denier, or a racist, or a meninist (like that guy who said women could just hold their bladder instead of perioding everywhere so tampons should be taxed). It is harder to convince a moderate to stand up and be counted, so that a social movement can progress and create active change.

And it doesn’t take much to stand up and be counted when we look at the movement towards global gender equality. It could be as simple as recognising that the way you are treating two people differently because of their gender is related to inherent subconscious gender bias. It could be as simple as raising your sons like you raise your daughters. It could be as simple as talking about consent to your sexual and romantic partner/s, or your parents, or your children, or your friends. It could be as simple as calling out or calling in someone who makes a rape joke, or asks ‘what were they wearing?’ rather than ‘what sentencing is the perpetrator receiving?’. It could be as simple as not saying ‘man up’, or ‘the boy hit you because he likes you’ or ‘boys don’t cry’, when talking to children and instead providing positive statements that don’t perpetuate gender disparities and inequalities. When we are talking about global gender equality, it is easy to move from a moderate-passively-accepting-gendered-norms-and-structures to a supporter-of-the-movement. You don’t have to be a radical to not be a moderate, you can simply be someone who does something to not perpetuate active structures of systemic oppression based upon gender.

What is rare though, is a strong pushback on and impatience of the moderates when talking about global gender equality. The simple reason?

The moderate tend to be our friends. Or our family members. Or our politicians. Or our community leaders. Or our teachers, or our professors, or our mentors, or our advisers.

The moderates when it comes to global gender equality, tend to be the people closest to us. And that is why it is hard to get them on board – we still value our personal relationships more highly than systemic and social change (I get that though).

But let’s face it, the personal is political. The movement towards global gender equality is forging ahead, and you’re either vocally with us, or you’re against us.