Gender / Pro-Choice Politics / Race/Ethnicity

On Cherry-Picking The Meaning Of A Political Identity

In this blog post, I’m going to stick to talking about the “pro-life” movement, pro-choice politics, the “men’s rights” movement, feminisms, white supremacist hate groups, and the Civil Rights Movement. In no particular order. The purpose of this blog post will be to dissect whether it is ever acceptable or appropriate for someone to defend an attempt to cherry-pick what their political identity means, while expecting everyone else to just psychically determine whether or not and in what ways they are distinguished from the greater movement they subscribe themselves to. In other words, should we just accept on a principle of blind faith, when someone says they go by their own personal definition of a given political identity? At this point in the process of my writing, my standpoint is a firm no. That may change at some point later, as I articulate my thoughts.

Hate Movements

Though I am going to be writing about various movements in no particular order, the “ordered pair” arrangement I have given the various movements under discussion is no coincidence. I am of the firm opinion that the “pro-life” movement, “men’s rights” movement, and white supremacist hate groups all share one thing in common: they are all hate movements, often masquerading as some form of social justice activism except among the rare few extremists who are willing to associate their faces with their professed beliefs. The general public is already brainwashed through socialization by previously and similarly indoctrinated generations, biased mass media and a public education system that teaches the public what to think instead of how to think, to be misogynistic and white supremacist by default — these are just two of many broader dominant social attitudes that define the over-arching culture in most Westernized societies. The hate movement masquerading as a form of social justice rather effortlessly entices a majority of the general public into supporting them financially, or by signing up on their email lists and message boards, following and sharing their blog posts and image macros, buying their merchandise, and even promoting their events. The very rare few extremists who push a very blatantly misogynist or white supremacist agenda, and then want their own faces associated with it as much as possible (mostly because they can’t keep their mouths shut about it and want to be relatively famous, even if a majority of the attention they receive is negative feedback), often use this Majority Opinion® as evidence of how right they are, and thus, how righteous they are entitled to be.

There are two problems with this that people tend not to think about, however. First of all, that a majority of people agree on something does not prove that it is right. A majority of people thought the sun rotated around the Earth, and a majority of people thought that the Earth was a cube from which you could sail off the edge, and yet, both of these facts have been established as ignorance. A majority of people even thought that the best way to stave off illness was to avoid bathing as much as possible, and this too has been established as ignorance. That a majority of people in North America either believe that all indigenous people on the continent were wiped out of existence hundreds of years ago; or that if they do acknowledge their continued existence, that attempting to eradicate them by attacking and criminalizing their huge diversity of cultural practices and spirituality as base, amoral, and “savage”, and by abducting their children from their natal homes and raising them in boarding schools separated from their parents and greater communities (where they were strictly forbidden to take part in any aspect of their culture of origin), is somehow not genocide at all even though these practices are explicitly defined by the United Nations as cultural genocide, does not mean that the majority opinion is rooted in truth on this matter, any more than the idea of the flat Earth was.

“…due to the single great insanity from our having continually drunk from the crazing waters of ignorance from time immemorial, there is no confidence whatsoever in our decisions concerning what does and does not exist, what is and is not. Even though a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, or a hundred thousand of such insane people agree, it in no way becomes more credible.”

— Tibetan Buddhist Gendun Chopek

The Role of the Majority in a Democracy

What I’m getting at here is that the appeal to majority that hate movements love to promote themselves by, is a well-established logical fallacy, and for good reasons. But there’s another problem embedded in the support system hate movements receive. It’s the grossly oversimplified idea that democracy is a system of government defined by majority rule. In other words, Tough Shit© if a majority of people don’t agree with you. Just live with it or move on. Well, I ask you this: if democracy is majority rule, how is it that the current Prime Minister of Canada was formally reinstalled as the country’s leader, with just 35% of the votes? 65% of the country voted in favour of someone else, and that is most certainly a majority of the population, compared to just a little more than half that, and yet, there he still is somehow (just… nevermind the robo-call fraud scandal… that’s only going to complicate matters further). And this 35% majority happened because that 65% of the country couldn’t agree on Which Someone Else to vote in favour of. It’s not like we’re just voting either Democrat or Republican here (and on that note… just pretend you’ve never heard about Republican voter ballot fraud scandals… such as when they are deliberately miscounted and suspiciously reported in favour of the Republicans, and then everyone refuses to do a recount). We have more than two options, so somehow, 35% of the country is enough. But that doesn’t sound right, does it? I don’t know about you, but I was taught in school that a majority meant more than half the pie. Maybe majority rule “democracy” doesn’t really exist in this country after all.

So maybe it’s not majority rule but a system defined by the principle of One Person, One Vote™. That might actually be true if we were all voting for who the formal leader of the country is, instead of voting for who will represent our neighbourhood’s concerns (i.e., Members of Parliament) in Canadian Parliament (and thus, the political party with the most MPs becomes our formal leadership — yikes!) Or if we were all voting separately on each of the 30 issues contained within a single omnibus bill (e.g., Bill C-45) of more than 400 pages’ length. Instead, to exercise your power as a voter, you have to convince your MP by writing them a letter or flooding their office with phone calls on every piece of legislation being pushed around in Parliament at any given time. And when you do, your one letter represents… wait for it… one hundred votes. But what does that matter if your MP’s voice isn’t even heard on the floor of Parliament, or the formal leadership of the country simply chooses to ignore particular MPs based on which population they represent, or pushes an omnibus bill despite this blatant violation of the principles of democracy? And what about when the formal leadership instructs its own party members to conduct themselves in a particular way with respect to a given proposal (say… Motion 312… to “reopen the debate on when personhood begins” on the floor of Canadian Parliament), but they don’t even listen to their own party leader and go against his explicit instructions anyway? Is their voice equivalent to just one vote, or are they speaking on behalf of hundreds of thousands of people, without consulting them first? It seems to me that if One Person, One Vote™ is the defining value of democracy, then Canada doesn’t have one of those. We must be working on a different system entirely.

And what if people aren’t voting because of what ideas their preferred party is in favour of, but simply because their party has one particular lean on a social justice issue that is in line with their personal beliefs? Or simply because their party leader isn’t a person of colour? Is democracy even possible when a public education system designed and maintained by the government, to teach people what to think instead of teaching them how to think, deprives people of even a basic understanding of how their education is designed? Or how their government even works? Shouldn’t democracy be defined by values such as freedom of speech (although not all ideas are equal, simply because of an equal right to express them), freedom of association (although not all company is equally desirable, simply because of an equal right to sit next to them), and freedom of assembly (although not all locations are equal, simply because of a right to swarm into them)?

Social Justice Movements

This brings me to what I believe really defines democracy. It isn’t about how many people it takes to formally establish a law or even how many votes one person is entitled to. It’s the radical idea that all people are of equal worth. That no one group or person is entitled to more or fewer rights than any other group or person. This is what distinguishes social justice movements from the hate movements merely masquerading as social justice activism. A social justice movement seeks to maintain or gain equal rights for a group of people who are deprived of equality or who are being made vulnerable to losing their hard-won right to equality. A hate movement seeks to maintain that inequality, or take rights away from a group of people (who have generally had to fight for those rights because they were not freely given) in order to subjugate them. I sincerely believe that the pro-choice movement, feminisms, and the Civil Rights Movement are all social justice movements. Without the pro-choice movement, women would still be less entitled to access legitimate life-saving medical treatment than men (1969 and 1989 were huge milestones in this respect). Without feminisms, women would still not even be legally considered persons (after 1929, the women’s suffrage movement changed this). And without the Civil Rights Movement, the United States wouldn’t currently have a Black President in his second term in office, because Black men and women still wouldn’t even have the right to vote (1964 was a big year for that leap forward, too — what was that about One Person, One Vote™ again?).

And on that last note: I felt sick to my stomach for the brief window of time during which there were more votes in favour of Mitt Romney, and I burst into tears of joy first thing in the morning when I opened Facebook and discovered that Barack Obama had been re-elected as the President of the United States. I believe Obama will actually listen to the people he leads if they speak up loud enough.

Social justice movements also invest a great deal of time, energy, and resources, in teaching people new ways to think about the issues being identified and challenged. That’s why I use the word feminisms as opposed to the singular feminism. There are innumerable ways of approaching the issue of systemic gender inequality, or the subjugation and oppression of women and trans* people for the exclusive benefit of men who may (and often do) go about their day-to-day lives fully unaware of their privileges (or the very narrow set of conditions under which they are socially permitted to go about their day-to-day lives without facing similar, or even some of the same, repercussions faced by women and trans* people simply for not being men). Pro-choice politics is just one of the issues within the total scope of feminisms, which often intersect with issues raised by the Civil Rights Movement as well. Some feminisms clash with the Civil Rights Movement and with other feminisms as a result. Thus I do not identify myself as a feminist, completely unconscious of the effect of saying this to an audience whose knowledge set on the topic I can never reasonably predict. I’m well aware that within the past century, liberal feminism (i.e., the Women’s Suffrage Movement) was exclusively for the benefit of white middle class women. I’m also not ignorant of the fact that this has changed a lot in recent decades, even though there are some individual feminists who haven’t. Nor do I say “I am a feminist” without being fully conscious that some people will see me exclusively as a misandrist, simply because I said The F-word©. But I’m not ignorant of the fact that someone who equates feminism with hatred of men has simply never engaged the subject of gender inequality sincerely, and is unlikely to ever hear anything I say unless it’s translated back into misandry for them by a men’s rights activist first.

In-Group Critical Thinking & Criticism

Another hugely critical aspect I’ve noticed that distinguishes a hate movement from a social justice movement is how closed or open it is to in-group critical thinking and criticism. Take the pro-life movement for example. The goal of the pro-life movement is to unify all of its adherents and participants (and eventually the entire country, and arguably, the entire world) under the belief that abortion is fundamentally unethical, amoral, and should be regarded as a crime equivalent to murder or even genocide. Pro-lifers are taught to think about abortion this way from the time they are merely children, with a limited capacity to make up their own minds or challenge the horrendous atrocity their very young minds are conceptualizing as the same ideas are pushed on them day after day. As adults, pro-lifers will typically (but not always) avoid answering any questions about what the punishment should be for women who access illegal abortion, or what to do about women who became pregnant from rape or incest. Most will simply change the subject. Of those who do answer directly, most will say that they just never thought about that (and merrily continue on not thinking about it); and a very arrogant few will plainly state that women should be thrown in prison cells or padded rooms for accessing abortion, and that pregnancy from rape or incest is a gift from God (so it logically follows then that rape or incest not resulting in pregnancy is simply the victim’s fault). Pro-lifers are also taught to think of oral contraceptives and in vitro fertilization in the same ways as abortion, because they are taught that both cause abortions.

The pro-life solution to the abortion problem is to simply strip the right to access abortion away from all women, so that truly virtuous women will just somehow find a way to want their unwanted pregnancies, and who cares about the women who don’t, because they’re all “pro-abortion” sluts who died on the end of a coathanger because of their genocidal apathy. Only, very very few will ever talk about those women who die from illegal abortions. Even fewer will even acknowledge that miscarriages happen at all, let alone at a higher frequency than pregnancies that are successfully carried to term (and the few who do acknowledge this blame the women who suffer those miscarriages for the fact that it happened). Most pro-lifers will simply change the topic when it gets uncomfortable for them, and point at their giant placards of what they allege are aborted fetuses. I guess we’re just supposed to believe that they think all life is sacred, even though they are using images they allege to be aborted fetuses, dismembered and smeared all over the palm of someone’s hand, to deliberately emotionally antagonize as many people as possible.

Now take the pro-choice movement. My experience in the past year within the pro-choice movement has been that its adherents and participants actively engage with the arguments of the pro-life movement they oppose, so that they can properly challenge the ignorance that is being promoted as some sort of Truth or Science. Pro-choice advocates also frequently engage sincerely and actively with the criticisms the pro-life movement produces of its opponents, who they prefer to call “pro-abortion” or “pro-death”. Then pro-choice advocates engage with each other’s efforts, tactics, arguments, criticisms, and so on. If something being planned strikes a fellow pro-choicer as insensitive to the very women the action or argument is intended to defend, for instance, it gets taken off the table until it is revised to be more appropriate. And what is the pro-life movement doing while all this is going on? Calling us names and trying to make us pick fights with each other, that’s what.

My experiences with the “men’s rights” movement is similar to my experience with the pro-life movement, and my experiences with feminisms are similar to my experience with the pro-choice movement. I may disagree with how a radical cultural feminist (i.e., “Every man is a potential rapist”) approaches the subject of systemic gender inequality, and may even disagree with a number of the conclusions they reach as a result of the paradigm they operate in. But I can simply just not work with radical cultural feminists, while we mutually work towards similar goals in relation to establishing gender equality. A men’s rights activist, however, rarely says anything I agree with, beyond statements of observation and the extremely rare occasions on which we share the same mere opinion — that is, until either one of us begins interrogating where our opinion comes from, at which point, we’re running in opposition to each other again. I may agree with an MRA that poverty is a terrible thing, for instance. But whereas I come at the issue of poverty as a female-bodied (trans) individual whose life has been marked by disadvantages that prevent me from earning as much as men for the exact same work, or prevent me from even obtaining that job to begin with while I’m confined to low-paying white collar subordinate work, an MRA will typically start ranting about how men are being “marched to their deaths” in blue collar jobs, repeatedly peppering the conversation with a persistent and unsupported denial of the wage gap. I only wish I were exaggerating, but I’m not. And what is an MRA doing while feminists are engaging each other and the arguments offered by the “men’s rights” movement? Playing self-congratulatory word games and then calling us names while trying to make us pick fights with each other. Sound familiar?

Then you’ve got white supremacists butting heads with the progress of the Civil Rights Movement. Anyone who is white who allies themselves with the goals of the Civil Rights Movement is somehow racist against… themselves, I guess, and every other white person… and any person of colour who allies themselves with the goals of white supremacists also considers that same white person racist… against the very people of colour they are working to fight for. I’m seeing this within the Idle No More movement, as I challenge racism and ignorance against indigenous people while working to defend their right to do whatever it takes to force the Canadian government to finally do its part to honour the Crown treaties. And I’m not always right, but I am open to receive those criticisms. But indigenous people aren’t always right either, simply because being indigenous doesn’t automatically preclude you from making mistakes, and I try to provide criticisms only where I am most able to articulate why (in the appropriate forums and at the appropriate times, as well). I’m learning a lot, and I’m learning it very quickly. So what do you know, but while adherents and participants of the Idle No More movement are busy engaging each other on their next moves and which tactics are simply going to burn people out (and thus, need to be abandoned, for everyone’s sake), white supremacists are busy calling us names and trying to make us pick fights with each other. No big surprise there.

Cherry-Picking: Cut It Out

Now that I’ve gotten all that aside, and already lightly touched on the subject of cherry-picking with respect to saying “I’m a feminist”, it’s time to address the original thought that inspired me to write today. No one gets to cherry-pick what a political identity means, and then try to enforce two different interpretive standards for that identifier. You don’t get to say “I’m pro-life” and then make up your own definition of what it means to you personally, then get yourself worked up into a tizzy about being misunderstood as someone who thinks Rape Pregnancy is a Gift From God when you don’t actually think that. If you don’t think that, then you’re not a pro-lifer, so stop calling yourself one. You don’t get to call yourself a white supremacist, then immediately deny that this means that you must then believe that people of colour aren’t really full members of the human species, and expect people to distinguish between you and the guy in the white pointy hat standing next to you. If you don’t believe that people of colour are subhuman or less deserving of the same rights as everyone else, then stop calling yourself a white supremacist. You don’t get to say “I’m a men’s rights activist” and then claim that by this, you really mean something completely different than identifying yourself as a proponent of a hate movement that explicitly targets women by grossly over-exaggerating the importance, magnitude, and frequency of violence against men, and proportionally minimizing all forms of violence against women. If you don’t believe that men are the under-privileged class in society, then stop calling yourself a men’s rights activist.

In the same vein, as I’ve already stated above, it’s all fine and dandy to subscribe to a particular form of feminism at the exclusion of some or even many others, when you say “I’m a feminist”. But at least be prepared to say what kind of feminist you are. Don’t get upset when someone calls you a “radfem” even though you’re a transfeminist whose core principles are a violation of everything “radfem”. Understand the history of why people still jump to radical cultural feminism, fourty years later, whenever someone says “I’m a feminist”. You don’t get to cherry-pick what the word feminist means to you personally, and then insist that everyone predict that on their own and get upset when they fail the psychic litmus test. You don’t get to cherry-pick what “pro-choice” means, and then blow a temper tantrum when someone tells you that it means defending rights to access abortion when you aren’t prepared to defend anyone’s decision to have one and actually think it’s wrong — although I’d be utterly shocked to discover anyone who identifies themselves as pro-choice who would actually interfere with women’s access to abortion, or who would say they think it’s wrong. This is very obliquely getting at how different it actually is for someone to openly declare themselves a part of what amounts to a hate movement, and then get upset when you tell them some of the beliefs they’ve just defended by saying so (which happens frequently when I tell a self-professed pro-lifer even just one example of what they actually just said they agree to). Do the work of learning about the pro-choice movement. Even better yet, look into the roughly 50-year history of the pro-life movement while you’re at it. No one gets to redefine what the term Civil Rights Movement actually means, either.

Pro-lifers in particular are annoyingly ignorant about the history of their own movement. Many self-professed pro-lifers who are simply people who would not get an abortion and don’t think you should either (but who don’t want an abortion ban and think the idea of forcing a rape or incest victim through her perpetrator’s pregnancy is absolutely revolting). One of them told me that “they” co-opted the term from people like him. Only this isn’t true at all, seeing as how this particular individual is about 30 years old, and the pro-life movement emerged just over 50 years ago. I mean, unless he has a time machine or something, then I guess that’s possible. And you know what? A lot of feminists are actually annoyingly self-righteous about the history of their own movement. Many self-professed feminists know little bits and pieces about how racist and classist most feminisms were up until the Civil Rights Movement, and some even understand how much of it is still very centred around compulsive cisgenderedness and compulsive heterosexuality. And guess what, feminists? People who were alive to see it then are still among us. We don’t get to cherry-pick our history, any more than pro-lifers do. Cut that out already and grow a backbone about it or stand aside until you can take a stand without feeling all White Guilty over it. Part of what distinguishes feminisms in general is how intersectional the analysis is. Embracing the fact that historically, feminists were racist and classist, but feminists of colour played a critical role in setting white feminists straight, is a really empowering thing to reflect upon.

So where am I on the issue of cherry-picking the meaning of one’s political identity now? Same place as I started when I began writing. No one gets that luxury — the privilege of avoiding critically engaging your own politics. Not even the proponents of social justice movements.

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