Today I was involved in a discussion on Facebook about Australian Greens’ leader Sarah Hansen-Young’s recent statement on the Greens’ policy regarding polyamorous marriage (they’re agin’ it!). This post isn’t about that, but the discussion did raise something that I keep encountering over and over again; the idea that people from marginalised groups or with radical ideas have an obligation to tread softly and not push the status quo too far, because if they do it will backfire and nothing will ever change.
The older I get and the more reading and thinking and arguing I do, the more I realise that this is absolute bullshit. If the status quo is unfair and you are in a position to challenge it, then you should challenge it, vigorously and vociferously and relentlessly. If being loud and radical is too much, how could saying nothing at all possibly make people more likely to listen and take heed? This theory of taking political change “one step at a time” is, to my mind, akin to the dreaded “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” argument. To paraphrase a friend from my Facebook discussion, marginalised people should not have to earn the things that privileged people take for granted by being meek and inoffensive, or by begging for scraps of recognition and respect. Please sir, may I have just a little more dignity? MORE?! MORE?!!? I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’RE ASKING FOR MORE, DIDN’T WE JUST GIVE YOU PEOPLE SOMETHING YESTERDAY??
Yes, actually, I do expect you to respect the relationship choices of both same-sex-attracted people AND polyamorous people (hey, some of us are both!). Yes, I expect you to recognise that fat people can be just as fit and healthy as anyone else AND not vilify those fat people who are not perfectly fit and healthy. Yes, I expect you to make special allowances for people with disabilities to make their lives easier AND respect their bodily autonomy enough to not interfere with their lives. Yes, I expect you to let women make their own choices about whether or not to raise children AND still support and respect women who choose to be full time mothers. And I’m not going to shut up about one thing while I wait for you to grasp the other one. I’m especially not going to shut up about the things that directly hurt me and affect the way I live just because my demands push your boundaries more than is comfortable for you.
Social change is necessarily uncomfortable. Sometimes the political demands of others make me feel uncomfortable and defensive and I often find that when I dig a little deeper the reason is because they are challenging beliefs and stereotypes I’d taken for granted, or challenging my own unexamined privilege. And since I don’t believe in a hierarchy of oppressions, I don’t see why I should have to wait for one to be resolved (haha!) before starting in on another one, nor do I think it is reasonable to assume that I do not value the steps forward that have already been made if I am still demanding more. I think we can always demand more of ourselves as a society when it comes to listening, learning and understanding, and I intend to.
My number one pet peeve when discussing social (in)justice with people who perhaps think about these issues less constantly than I do (which is perfectly reasonable; I must admit being outraged and disappointed full time can be pretty exhausting) is being told to calm down. I’ll calm down when there’s nothing left to be angry about, and I don’t see that moment coming any time soon.