Today, the interwebs brought me a blog intended to be a conversation with Oprah re. her efforts against rape. I’m not going to link to the original article, partly because I don’t want to send traffic to it, and partly because sending off flying monkeys to attack other people’s castles isn’t part of my conflict management style. For the purpose of this exercise, all you need to know is that the article included the following comment:
“You also applauded the #METOO women for their courage – what have they gained for giving their voice and sharing their experience? Individually- perhaps a moment of inspiration. And an experience of strength for walking past the shadows of misplaced blame and its sister shame – maybe that as well. Not small moments.
But Oprah; what has changed?”
I’ve got two answers to this.
First, I’m going to answer the question posed: what has changed?
We have ripped the bandaid off a festering social sore.
A lot of men who were unaware of the extent of the problem and how close to home it had hit (yes, they shouldn’t have been, but they were), now can’t hide from it.
A lot of men who were unaware that they were part of the problem now can’t hide from that.
A lot of women who thought that they were alone in their circle now know that they are not, that they can reach out to people who will understand them and support them.
A lot of women have learnt that the shame lies in being a rapist, not in being the target of rape.
Yes, this won’t help women defend themselves against the stranger who leaps at them from out of the bushes and hits them on the head with a brick. But that isn’t the most common problem most women face most often. This isn’t helping women defend themselves: it is making it less likely for them to find themselves in a situation where they have to. And yes, because the results are not immediate, they may benefit future generations more than they benefit us here and now. We get the work, other people will reap the bulk of the results. And you might see that as unfair (boo hoo) or worthless (selfish much?), but that’s how non-violent social change works. To ignore its value is to ignore how privileged we are to be here and now, in a society that is full of flaws and problems, but is infinitely better for at least a proportion of us than any of its previous incarnations. We didn’t fight for the society we have now: we have inherited it from the people who came before us and didn’t shy away from fighting battles they couldn’t “win” during their time on earth, because they saw the value in the war as a whole.
That’s half the issue. The other half is possibly even more important, and it’s something I want to say to YOU, dear reader, not to the writer of the original piece.
DO NOT LET ANYONE, EVER, PISS ON YOUR EFFORTS TO DO GOOD.
If someone comes at you with a reason why your efforts are wrong, why you think you’re pulling in a direction but what you’re likely achieving is its opposite, that’s what we call “constructive criticism,” which is helpful, though painful. By all means, listen to them, critically evaluate their contributions, and adjust your efforts if required. That’s not what I’m talking about.
I am talking about those people who try to tell you that what you are doing is not enough, and that the solution is either to do something else entirely or quit altogether. They might be right, in a way: their approach may be more direct, more impactful – though, often enough, it is simply more epic, simply more in line with a white Western man’s idea of what “heroism” should look like. That’s a problem, but it’s not the problem.
The problem is that you might not be able to do that other thing at all. It may be simply beyond your means and abilities. Or maybe you could do it, but not today, because today you lack those resources. Today you were going to do a thing, but it is not the thing, and, now that you’re comparing it to the thing, it looks pathetic.
STOP THERE. Seriously. That line of reasoning is fucked. It’s going to fuck you up. It’s going to fuck all of us up.
Whatever you do today that moves things in the right direction, is a move in the right direction. It doesn’t matter if the shift is so small that it can hardly be measured: it’s a shift, and shifts are incremental. The tiny thing you do tomorrow will add to the tiny thing you did today, and two tiny things add up to a less-tiny result. If you do a tiny thing every day, that’s 365 tiny things in a year: the cumulative result may be palpable.
Then there are the ripples. You did a tiny thing today. Someone saw you, or you told a friend (which, incidentally, would be TWO things you did today). That gave your friend enough of an impetus to do a tiny thing themselves, so tomorrow TWO tiny things will be done. If you carry on as you are and they follow your example, the day after four tiny things may happen, and so on, exponentially. How many tiny things does it take to build up into a big thing? I don’t know, but I do know that there are a lot of people out there. If we all did a thing, however small, I’m willing to bet that the impact would be noticeable.
One of the reasons the world is as fucked as it is is that individuals don’t bother to do the tiny things they could do, here and now. They consider their own efforts worthless, so they do nothing at all, or they spend their lives building up to The Giant Thing that they will one day do; only that day may never come, and today’s opportunity is lost forever.
Doing what you can isn’t a worthless effort, even if it doesn’t look anything like what your hero would do. The only thing that can make your impact worthless is doing nothing because you can’t do enough.
Stand up for yourself. Stand up for others. Stand up. Some days it will be all you can do, and by virtue of that fact it will be enough.
Those are my answers. I thought they were good answers, cos they are relatively logical-sounding. I could, like, plot out some charts to expand on them. Then a friend of mine wrote something and reminded me of something that I’d forgotten: that there is more to this than logic and charts. That people actually fucking matter.
I’m going to leave you with it, because it’s bigger and stronger than anything I could ever write on this or any other subject.
“Something really strange happened. For the first time in twenty years, when I had one of my usual nightmares about rape, in my dream I called the police! I think it’s because of the #metoo movement.
And, in my dream, the police came.”