Social Justice vs. Outrage Culture

A friend of mine took to Facebook recently and posted “Social Justice vs. Outrage Culture: Discuss” which naturally incurred a firestorm of opinions. A lot of people had really intelligent points, but there was also people who blatantly supported rape apologist’s and loudly slut shamed. As someone who has spent a lot of time reworking my classist opinions into ones that are more representative of the sound from the ground, I would like to share what I have learned.

First and foremost, a little about myself. I’m a loud and proud feminist, I’m also a skinny white girl. I used to believe that voluntourism, humanitarianism, and putting an end to human trafficking were my life calling. Throughout my education, every single one of my opinions have been challenged; many have even been changed. I know that I am privileged to have been able to do all of this. I still make a point of challenging this point of privilege as often as I have the opportunity to do so.

The discussion got onto the topic of rape culture. One respondent discussed how many cases are he said she said and how recently there is a penchant to believe the woman. It held the tone of a Men’s Rights Activist. He called Emma Sulkowicz (the woman behind ‘Carry That Weight’) a liar. This is what I would call the ‘Outrage Culture’ side. The other side discusses how low the rate of false accusations are compared to how many victims exist, and how many women are even heard by the system. They were certainly more pro ‘Social Justice’. The problem I see with this two sided argument is that no one has discussed the link between the two issues.

All too often, Outrage Culture and Social Justice end up being the same thing. Stephen Hopgood does a fantastic job of outlining this idea in his book ‘The Endtimes of Human Rights’. Throughout the book he conflates liberal capitalism with human rights, he says they work together to develop a ‘market of suffering’. What happens here is that people with power and privilege take control of the narrative, claiming that they are helping those in need. What really happens is a switch in narrative that allows privilege to be maintained while survivors are called liars. Slut shaming is a perfect example of this. By telling someone that they should be dressed a certain way, or that they should have known not to go to their rapists home, you are taking the blame off the shoulders of the perpetrator. This maintains the moral balance and refutes any kind of change that may come out of the situation.

In the case of slut shaming, this has been loudly called out. Campaigns like Slut Walk and the White House Task Force that has been called to protect students against sexual assault are beginning to change this narrative. That being said there are still plenty of discourses still controlled by priviledged, patriarchal figures.

Take for example, the Trafficking vs. Migrant Sex Workers debate. The Toronto Migrant Sex Workers Project put on an art exhibit and discussion on this topic. Stories of sex workers were shared between discussions of academics and activists. This is a perfect example where the outrage culture / social justice groups like REED (Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity) promote campaigns like ‘Buying Sex is Not a Sport’ which are aimed at shaming women who are supposed victims of trafficking. In reality, the narratives of these women have been completely suffocated by the hype of morally superior activist groups. Professor Kempadoo discussed how anti-trafficking initiatives have historical roots in immigration control, control over sexual norms and control over monetary power. By claiming that sex work is immoral, these women could not possibly have chosen this as a legitimate career, but rather must be victims. By painting them with the victim brush, they become unable to ask for help in ways that would be useful to them. Much in the same light as self defence courses and wearing conservative clothing never helped victims of rape.

In the case of the sex worker, many of the stories shared by women in the industry portrayed strong women who were providing for themselves and their families. There is a demand for the work they supply, men in high positions of authority seek comfort and attention from these women. Yet somehow, even though they frequent these establishments, they are still morally superior. Calling these women victims of trafficking and deporting them does nothing to prevent the potential violence against them or withholding of wages. Tzazná Miranda Leal talked about how labour laws would be perfectly suitable to prevent many of the harms these women go through. As someone who works in the food service industry, sexual harassment and violence on the job and withholding of wages are issues I am all too familiar with. That being said, because I work what is considered by law to be a legitimate source of income, I have a place to voice my complaints. (Something I most certainly never thought I would feel privileged for!)

All of this being said, I definitely think that advocacy work can do wonders for those who are less privileged. Using my voice as a citizen who is protected by labour laws is my way of contributing to this change in discourse. I strongly believe that it is important to think critically about the social justice initiatives you take on and who they are actually helping. As a descendent of British Colonial history I carry the ideals with me rather heavily. Checking your privilege is a a lifelong process of unlearning. Thanks for reading this far and hopefully you’ve learned something from my revelations!


When will we learn?

My mirror does not define me:
Not the stranger that looks back at me
Not the smooth face that belongs to someone else
Not the eyes that gleam with sadness
When I look for him and can only see her.
My body does not define me:
Not the slim shoulders that will not change
Not the hips that give me away
Not the chest I can’t stand to look at
When I look for him and can only see her.
My clothes do not define me:
Not the shirt and the jeans
That would look so perfect on him
But that I know would never fit me
When I look for him and can only find her.
And I’ve been looking for him for years,
But I seem to grow farther away from him
With each passing day.
He’s trapped inside this body,
Wrapped in society’s chains
That keep him from escaping.
But one day I will break those chains.
One day I will set him free.
And I’ll finally look in the mirror
And see me –
The boy I was always meant to be.

Kyler Prescott

As I scroll through my news feed today I’m horrified to find yet another trans teen suicide. My heart breaks more than I thought it could yet again. This beautiful young soul was a writer, and so I share with you his words. I have no idea what it feels like to be betrayed by my body, I was blessed to lead a cis life in a cis society. I do, however, know what it feels like to self loath, and to be bullied. I understand how cruel high school is, how tormenting words can be.

High school is a rough time for so many, but it gets better. Once you leave that bubble and go into the real world, you are almost always more accepted for who you are. It breaks my heart that Kyler will never get to be the boy, and then the man he was meant to be. It kills me that Leelah and Taylor will never grow into beautiful young women. I resent that these names are only a few of the 45% of trans youth who will attempt suicide, and the staggering 77% of trans youth who will contemplate it. (Source) This compared to the 7% of general population who have attempted and 16% who have contemplated suicide. (Source)

I’m slain by the thoughts that run through my head about what was said to them leading up to these actions that took their lives. In some cases, even their own families were not allies to them. The question that races through my thoughts again and again: When will we learn?

When will we learn that gender is a social construct, that it is a figment of our imagination. When will we accept that people should be able to live the lives they choose, rather than the lives that are bound to them by society. How many more beautiful souls will we lose? How many more poets, activists, and best friends will have to suffer at the hands of ignorance?

I cling to the hope that the trans movement is gaining notoriety. With Lavern Cox being invited to to the White House Correspondence Dinner and Bruce Jenner being interviewed by Diane Sawyer. Both dispelling myths, showing the world what it means to get to live in the skin you are meant to be in, rather than the skin that was assigned to you by society. I cling to the hope that the new sexual health education curriculum put forth by Kathleen Wynn will teach these kids that it is okay, and that they are not alone. I hope with every fibre of my being that people will begin to learn tolerance and acceptance for things that confuse them.

In the mean time, I hope and pray (which I don’t do terribly often,) that the souls of trans teens finally get given the bodies they hoped for when the reach whatever is waiting for them on the other side.

A Couple of Notes

I feel like I’ve neglected this baby over the last month or so. It’s all been a terrible whirlwind of a month really. I’ve started a TEFL Certification through U of T and started two jobs, one old and one new. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I want and what I need. I’ve also been blessed to spend many a night over drinks talking to those I love about the world and all its wonders and wearies.

All of this has led me to some changes. I decided to change the name I blog under, first and I think most importantly. Bearcat is a 1920’s slangterm for a hot-blooded, fiery woman. Boo, as many of you know is a nickname my mum coined. She recently posted this article to me on Facebook, which gave me all the happy vibes. The tagline under the title is actually drawn from the article, so hats of to Janne Robinson for being such a doll.

I will certainly keep blogging, though I may expand my repertoire a little, and decrease my frequency without beating myself up over it. The weather is far too nice to spend hunched over a computer when I could be spending it on a yoga mat in ‘Wild Child’ pose in the sun!

My Feminist Festival Checklist

Festival culture is highly linked to club culture. No one is surprised by this, thus no one should be surprised by their inherent link to rape culture. The most recent example of this was the twist from “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat” to “Eat, Sleep, Rape, Repeat”. As the post from Vice’s Music offshoot “Thump” declared in their Facebook posting of the article “Here’s the thing about rape jokes, most of them aren’t funny.”

I love a good festival. I plan months in advance, buying my ticket, getting my accommodations set, planning my outfits down to my temporary tattoos and jewellery. I’m certainly not the girl in the most scantily clad outfits, but I show some skin. I don’t want a farmers tan so I wear tank tops. I wear hats to protect myself from the sun, and now I’m starting to think I should be wearing a chastity belt to protect myself from creeps like the guy with that t-shirt at Coachella.

I wish this was one incident, but the fact of the matter is that it isn’t. There has been reports anywhere from unwanted groping during crowd surfing to women waking up bruised and in torn clothing after being date raped. None of this is ok, and trying to make light of it with a t-shirt is definitely not ok. 

I will be the first to tell you that none of these incidents are the fault of the victims, they are completely the fault of the perpetrators. That being said, I personally know that I cannot change the mind of each and every person at the festival to understand this. I’ve always been torn between the belief that I should be able to do whatever I please, and the reality that some of my actions put me in danger. I remember being taught self defence in my high school years and having the sad realization during university that if I’m blackout drunk, none of my preparation is going to protect me.

In the following portion I’m going to share with you my personal festival / show prep. This is what I do to feel the safest and most prepared for a weekend full of fun. All of this I do because I know, personally, that I have SO much more fun when I feel safe.

1) Go with friends – this one is kind of a given, find your friends who are down for anything, who like all varieties of music, who don’t care if they loose a little sleep in favour of an amazing time, and most importantly, the ones who will stick to your side like glue. There’s nothing scarier than feeling like a kid who has lost their parents because you can’t find your friends in a crowd, this feeling is only magnified when you add the different varieties of intoxicants that are used at festivals.

2) Cover your body – I’m not saying this to slut shame, cover your body in whatever you want! If that means pasties and short shorts, you do you. If that means a maxi skirt and sun hat, you do you. I usually wear shorts and a tank top or bathing suit top. I also always have a straw hat (a cheap one that I know will be dummied by the end of the weekend) and a tonne of sunscreen (but literally almost so much you could bathe in it.) I’m also a big fan of temporary tattoos, body paint and fun accessories. This year we have dinosaur temporary tats so that if we lose each other we can run around saying “find me my dinosaurs!”

3) Know your limits – again, I’m not meaning to shame the guy who has done so much MDMA that he can barely stand straight or the girl who is black out drunk all weekend. That being said, I don’t like to be there. I would rather remember every moment of my favourite bands set. Know what you are drinking, remember you’re out in the sun all day so your going to be dehydrated (read: more drunk.) Lastly, if you are going to do drugs, at least get them from someone you trust rather than that sketchy guy on the festival grounds who has everything you could imagine in his murse.

4) Be prepared – the bag I carry always has pain killers, anti-nausea medication, sunscreen, water and band-aids. Call me Mom if you will, but it has always served me well in the past.

These are the ways that I prepare myself to have the best possible weekend. I keep my gang close, I keep my sunscreen closer, and I make sure my body has enough water and food to survive the weekend without having a month-long recovery period. Rape culture is icky, and unfortunately, the ugly beast manages to get an all access pass to every festival in the land. I hate to be the downer, but this isn’t going to change over night. In the mean time I want everyone to be empowered to have as much fun as possible while still feeling safe. May you all make nothing but glorious memories this summer, and may we make those who want to hold us down quake in their boots while doing so.