Recently, I got called out on Twitter. It used to be, like many (most?) of us, that being told I was causing offense, being racist, and/or hindering the work for social justice would lead me to break out in a panicky sweat, want to figuratively or even literally run away, and/or passionately defend myself as “a good person.” By now, though, it’s happened often enough that I’ve learned to view it positively as someone caring enough to engage with me, to challenge me to do better in their eyes (granting that this is easier to process via social media than in the immediacy of face-to-face conversations). And I’ve learned that at such moments, their eyes are generally seeing things I would otherwise miss and that I really need to know. Trying to remain open to being called out, whether on Twitter, in person, or wherever, has enabled me to learn and grow more quickly and more surely than I otherwise would have been able to - in short, to be a better ally.
All this was true the other morning as well. And yet, I felt an irritation that wouldn’t go entirely away as the day progressed, merely receding into the background while I was engaging with and enjoying the company of my family but re-emerging every time I had a quiet moment, re-emerging with a vengeance when I attempted, rather unsuccessfully, to go to sleep.
The retweet in question pointed out the ridiculous abundance of male scientists in collections of stock photos, including four examples, and calling for gender equity. All four examples were of white men, and the equal need for racial equity was not mentioned in the tweet.
On the one hand, in the moment, the criticism was absolutely fair. But on the other hand, I’ve come to believe that, in the struggle for equity, there’s a place for periodically laser-focusing on specific identities experiencing discrimination and a place for widening one’s view to a more intersectional focus, as long as the overall importance of intersectional thinking is not lost in the process.
For one example, even as a person who works extra hard to fight gender binarism, I am perfectly willing to share some articles, thought pieces, and anecdotes about misogyny as is, while with others, I deliberately add the phrase, “... and people of other genders too” or the comment, “Nothing on non-binary people again. Perhaps one day, research will more consistently recognize gender as a spectrum when tracking demographics.”
The person who was calling me out for not specifically including racism in my retweet is also a person who has never, even once, shared or even liked any of my many postings about gender as a spectrum. And my irritation stemmed from the fact that someone who was to all appearances a non-ally from one perspective was calling me out for being a poor ally from another.
In the moment, though, I had simply liked and retweeted my friend’s reaction. It was, after all, fair criticism, and moreover I wanted to be sure people who follow me were also thinking about racism as well as misogyny in that context.
And in retrospect, I think I was lucky not to have had time to respond more fully in the moment. Being openly receptive to being called out built my credibility as a person willing to listen and learn. Part of social justice work is modeling the behaviours you’re hoping to foster, and that’s exactly what I (fortunately!) ended up doing.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to advocate for people across the gender spectrum and against gender binarism. I’ll continue to resist and work to eliminate patriarchy itself, as well as white supremacy, ableism, ageism, and all the other systems of identity-based oppression and discrimination. I’ll work with and alongside my students, my colleagues, my friends, and my family. I can’t imagine this work will be completed within my lifetime. But I also can’t imagine leaving this world a worse place than I found it. And I deeply believe that every one of my actions needs to lead toward that end.