In the wave of people speaking out about sexual assault and inequalities in the workplace, the recent launch of the #TimesUp campaign (amongst thousands of others), and epic speeches at the Golden Globes, I’ve been reflecting on my own perceived inability to speak out, stand up, and join “feminist” causes. I feel guilt, shame, and lame as fuck that I sit here on the sidelines (for the most part), continuing to post pictures of pretty trees and people, while advocates for equality are out there fighting to shape our reality and collective future into something better, every day.
That’s not to say that I haven’t shared little things here or there in solidarity, but there are many people I know personally, and even more that I don’t know personally, that dedicate their lives to fighting for equality on the front line. Then I turn to myself, and think, “Why not me? Why can’t I join them? Why can’t I talk about these things and fight on behalf of those that cannot?” And I just pretend it won’t matter if I don’t say anything because I only have 1,000k Instagram followers so no one will hear me.
Being brave is a bit of a conundrum you see.
If I don’t use my voice, no one will hear me, no matter how big or small it is today. If I don’t use my voice, nothing will change. If I don’t use my voice, I will continue to be a bystander while perpetrators enact crimes of prejudice, hate, and violence against innocent victims, including me.
If I do use my voice, I raise a flag, and not a good one. I become that raging feminist. I become that annoying person who cares and people dismiss as “uncool”. I become that loud lady that people don’t want to be associated with when they shine the spotlight on me because they don’t want to have to speak about the injustices they have experienced themselves. I become undesirable to men because they are threatened by me because I call them out on their shit. I get bullied and called crazy, a nag, a liar, stupid by the powers that be, as they act in desperation to protect the walls of the castles they have built up around themselves to keep out those that don’t look like them.
Beyond these sad “realities”, what holds me back is much greater than the reach of my social media presence. It is something so sublime and deep-seated, and that every single one of us is all too familiar with. It stems from my parents, from school, from friends, from the media, from the collective story we tell ourselves about our reality.
It is this: If I step out of line, raise my voice, and I don’t have millions of dollars backing me, I will be silenced, punished, alone, and a failure. And even if I do have resources to back me, I will still be punished. We see this every single day, and I don’t need to name names—it will be clear immediately if you open your Twitter feed. So yeah, of course I am scared to fight, little ol’ me.
One of the most pivotal moments in my life was back at the end of high school. I went to an all-girls high school and was bullied, ostracized and left with one friend who was experiencing the same thing. I always wondered why us, and though I still don’t have the answer, I think it’s because we were real, we were different, we didn’t quite fit into any one group (aside from the fact that high school can be horrifying in general, ugh #teenageangst). I considered transferring about a month before graduation. I couldn’t eat, I cried in class, lost a bunch of weight, and was extremely depressed.
To be fair, I had lost myself a bit in high school because I wanted to be friends with people who I perceived to be cool because they had nice clothes, or hung out with boys, or drank on the weekend. I was an empty shell of myself, trying to fit into an image of what was to be perceived as “cool”, but didn’t feel anything at all about the conversations I was having or the people I was having them with. It was vapid, fake, superficial, and built on ego, power, and perception.
The weirdest, most remarkable part was the power of groupthink. Once one girl started against me, it seemed to spread, and within a month people were coming up to me in the hallway yelling at me for trying to cancel the senior prom, because they had seen me in the headmaster’s office earlier, when in fact I was talking about leaving school.
So, let’s be real. We are all scared. It’s hard to stand up for yourself, it’s scary to face the consequences of questioning paradigms, of asking for what you need and want, choosing not to let little injustices feed great ones. It’s especially hard if people don’t have your back. It’s especially hard when the group is driven by ego and power, instead of love, acceptance, and equality.
People like to dismiss these last three words—love, acceptance, and equality—as fluff that doesn’t mean anything, get stuff done, or make money. The problem is that those people represent a lot of power, the history of power, really, and very few perspectives.
I am sick of not speaking my mind. I wish I had back then. I am sick of not taking up space. I am sick of making sure to keep things pleasant for others.
Pleasant. I can’t stand that word. Screw pleasant. Time for pleasantries is over. Time’s up.
One of the most beautiful things about human existence is choice. We can choose. Even more so, the consequences of our collective choices are resoundingly more powerful now because of social media and access to the internet. Look at how revolutions have spun up so quickly and exponentially because of these platforms—the Arab Spring, Iran today, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, The Women’s March.
I should note, it’s clear that these movements did not all see the same success, and the success of some remains to be seen, but the power of groupthink is very real. I have experienced it personally, and I want to turn it on its head.
I’m not talking the brainwashing kind of group think. I’ve had enough of that, you know, for the entirety of my life. The kind of group think that will bring about a sustainable and equal future must be founded in positivity, courage, support, and radical transparency. We can’t pit one another against each other, we can’t point fingers, we can’t manipulate each other with bent truths and falsities to win, we can’t grab at the money pot—we must find common ground and work from there.
I am going to do my part, in my own way, to help uncover silences, so there are no more silences in the future. I pledge to no longer watch as a bystander while inequalities and power plays are performed in perpetuity by straight up bad people. I promise to be courageous and stand up for myself and others that have not been able to benefit from the collective power of humanity, because they have been so quashed by a selfish elite few.
The world is changing so rapidly, every day, at an unprecedented and exponential pace, and we will fall behind into oblivion if we do not participate. I am fearful for the future, as what was once the burgeoning industry of modern technology is now an immensely powerful conglomerate of developers of artificial intelligence and robotics. I have no doubt there will come a day when these machines will have ego and be capable of respect, in addition to their capabilities that are far beyond that of just one human mind and body.
We must start training ourselves in the art of positive groupthink, because it is just that—our collective power and consciousness—which allows us to become a superhuman that can affect massive change, permeate peace, and progress, together, as one.
So, this fear that holds me back, and this fear, which I imagine every hero or courageous person has overcome at some point, stems from avoiding punishment and rejection as the token “raging feminist”.
I don’t want to isolate others, I don’t want to stick it to them, and I don’t want to punish them for what they have done. I want to learn. I want to share. I want to teach. I want to take the high road. I want equality. If that means I’m a feminist, then fine, I’m a feminist. And moreover, I’m a raging humanist. And the environment is cool too.