Where do we draw the line on social awareness and activism?

I wrote this post about a month ago and decided to sit on it for a while and let it ruminate in my mind.  Between applying for jobs and going on loads of interviews over the past couple of months, I then forgot about it.  😉  I was going to delete it and start a new post, but after reading it again I wanted to post it anyway.  It’s something that has long been on my mind.  I’ll do another post on the topic I came on here to do later.



Merriam-Webster defines activism as “a doctrine or practice that emphasises direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue”.

I’m a child of the 80s and 90s, and anyone that was alive and aware of their surroundings at that time knows that social activism really helped shape those decades.  Western society went from coveting excessive wealth, possessions and prestige to becoming more self-aware and, moreover, aware of others’ suffering – sometimes as a direct result of the excess that generation loved so well.  A lot of different issues fed into this including the AIDS epidemic, genocide in far-flung corners of the globe and generations of people becoming fed up with going to war for no good reason demanding resolution, and the adoption of 24/7 news put the issues right in our living rooms.

We had to act, so we did.  Real change has continually occurred as a direct result of social awareness and activism.  I would like to think that people have developed a more natural way of interacting with their world and the people in it as a result.  Sure, it’s an ongoing process, but society has already come a hell of a long way at achieving equality for women, people of colour, religious acceptance, LGBTIQ, etc.  The list goes on.

But.  (You knew there was a, “But…” coming!)  Where do we draw the line?  At what stage does it become a hindrance or just plain ridiculous?

Now before you get your knickers in a twist, let me say that I am not advocating ignoring the real issues here.  I’m a native of Eugene, Oregon and tie-dye, protesting and fighting the good fight is in my blood.  And really – any second grader can tell you that if your mistakes aren’t brought to your attention, you can never learn from them.  Social awareness and activism IS a good thing overall.

I saw a story on Facebook the other day about a woman who was sitting at a cafe when a man approached her.   He leaned down to her and asked her if she was single because she was gorgeous.

Okay.  Again – before you get up in arms, I will say that he probably shouldn’t have leaned down to her because that can be intimidating, particularly if you’re reading and are generally unaware of your surroundings.  I wasn’t there to hear his tone of voice or see his facial expressions when he asked her this question, so I also can’t attest to his demeanour.  But I think we can all agree that it’s a somewhat creepy thing to do no matter who you are.  Even so, one would think that she would either politely brush him off or if she was really offended by his asking that question, politely advise him that she doesn’t appreciate what he is insinuating.  That is, at least, how I would have handled the situation and, I might add, have handled such situations in the past.

What does she do?  She yells something along the lines of, “Piss off, dude – I don’t want to talk to you!  Go away!”  The story goes onto say how he gets pissed and makes a complete ass of himself, proving once again how we need feminism.

And you know what?  I agree.  We DO need feminism and the fact that he got so angry after her rejection, called her names and threatened her proves that he was a total skeeve that needs to be brought down a peg or two.  I’m not disputing that for one second.

However, did she REALLY have to react so strongly in this instance?  My parents taught me to treat others like I want to be treated.  As far as I remember, there was no caveat to that lesson pertaining to nuisances (which, let’s be honest, this dude clearly was).  Newton’s third law of, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” isn’t contained to physics – it works just as well on a social level.  This is just one woman’s pondering of the situation, but I felt like her reaction was far beyond his original action.

One more time: I’m not placing blame on anyone.  I think the dude was probably a loser, but all I am saying is that I think she could have handled the situation more diplomatically and, quite possibly, achieved a better result.  But she didn’t – she went down the “femi-nazi” route and, in my honest opinion, over-reacted, and as a result of her over-reaction, she received an equal and opposite reaction.  (Good ol’ Newton.)

And before you start dismissing me as anti-feminist, don’t.  Just don’t.  Let me be clear: I believe that feminism is a very good thing and it is extremely necessary in today’s society.  But my question to the great wide world is this:

How far should it be taken?

Equal rights and respect for women?  Absolutely 100%!  No question or doubt about it.  But when I hear a self-proclaimed feminist demanding respect in one breathe and saying things like, “I hate men – they should all be killed!” in the other it makes my skin crawl.  That’s not equality, folks.  If we go back to Merriam-Webster, we see equal defined as “of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another”.

The moral of this rather long story is in two parts:

First, treat others as you would wish to be treated by them.  Let your good deeds toward others speak louder than your words.  If someone else acts like an ass, don’t stoop to their level.  You don’t yell at your coworkers to get stuff done in the workplace because they won’t respond favourably, so why do it elsewhere?

Second, if you have to be forceful, be forceful with purpose.  Did that woman think that by yelling at him he would go, “Well shit – I was wrong.  Thanks for making me realise how pervy I sound!” and go merrily on his way?  Or did she just want to prove she was a good feminist by being the loudest in that moment and posting about her glory online for all to see?  We’ll never really know, but I just look at that whole situation and wonder what the point was.  All I know is that I would rather see more women out there being forceful in a positive, constructive sense like Malala Yousafzai.