I was watching “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” on cable yesterday because that’s what you do when you’re a freelance writer and your home is your office. Just after Godzilla emerged from the frothing whitecaps of an angry Pacific, the film cut to a scientist in his office. He picked up the phone and uttered the classic line:
“What’s that? Godzilla is attacking the city?!”
Quick cut to military personnel and men in lab coats racing down hallways and climbing ladders, preparing for the ensuing destruction. An announcement sounded over the loud-speakers.
“This is an emergency! All stations position red. Godzilla alert! Level three!”
I laughed and wondered, “Wait- that’s only level three. What’s level four? Godzilla arguing for the rights of women and indigenous people? The monster has plans for a socialist revolution?”
“To your battle stations!”
Imagining what could possibly be “level four” made me laugh. Mostly, because I’m a simple bastard. But as I sat there, chuckling to myself, and Godzilla was busy wrecking shop, scaring the shit out of the locals, I realized I’d stumbled upon a great truth about humanity.
Godzilla is just like Feminism.
And it’s the same problem all the social justice movements face. They’re seen as fight to the death, a battle for a way of life. I often ask myself, “Who the hell argues against the rights of women? Who wants to fight against the rights of any disadvantaged group?”
Well, Godzilla showed me who. Terrified people.
Watching Godzilla rampage his way through the Tokyo waterfront, it finally clicked. There in the soft glow of an afternoon epiphany, I asked myself a super silly question: “What’s scarier Godzilla or Feminism?”
I know it sounds stupid, but stick with me. Because, you see, the thing is, when some conservatives and culture warriors watch other people struggle for the rights of women, they perceive the movement as a threat to their way of life. It’s like they see a poster for a ’50s B-movie, The Attack of the 50-foot Feminist.
“She’s already destroyed San Francisco… and now, she’s headed for Oakland! She must be stopped! To your battle stations!”
I know, I’m ridiculous. But I prefer to laugh at things that would otherwise make me angry. Looking past Godzilla, and the Attack of the 50-foot Feminist, I finally saw for the first time the real problem with how humanity perceives and reacts to a threat. Our first instinct, is always to fight. We love to get medieval on that ass. But rarely, when that happens, does anyone walk away from the fight unscathed. And that, my friends, is the biggest problem for Feminism and other movements for social justice. It’s a fight. They’re seen as battles. We wage culture wars.
Moving from one cartoonish cultural figure to another, watching the Godzilla movie also reminded me of Russell Brand. He’s recently been anywhere and everywhere calling for revolution. Bless his heart. And I like the guy – as a comedian. Not so much as a revolutionary. Mostly, because clowns don’t make good rebel leaders. And he can’t help the fact he brings a “circus vibe” into the battle with him. That’s not his fault. That’s his strength. But in a revolutionary struggle, his sort of strength isn’t helpful. And it certainly, isn’t enough to win. He only calls attention to the problem, and then he gets in the way, even if he offers worthwhile solutions. The worst part is his presence cheapens the work of others in the fight with him. But you know what? I don’t really care if Russell Brand’s revolution lives or dies. Quite frankly, I don’t believe in revolution. They always fail.
If you study cultures from around the world and cast a studious eye at the history of revolutionary politics, you’ll notice there’s a seventy-year rule. It happens everywhere with just about any revolution you can name.
Seventy years after the American Revolution (1775-1783), the States were fighting in the Civil War (1861-1865).
Seventy years after that, America was in midst of The Depression and what could be called the “Roosevelt Revolution.”
In Mexico, they had a revolution (1910-1920) that was followed by a nine-year period of political instability that led to seventy-one years of single party rule under PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). But that ended in 2000.
The French Revolution of 1789 was followed by the Second French Empire of the 1860s.
The same can be said of the 1917 Russian Revolution that gave the world, the USSR (1922-1991). Communism crumbled seventy-four years after their Bolshevik uprising.
Today, we’re watching as China tries desperately not to succumb to this pattern. And many would argue, America is experiencing similar growing pains.
You may notice, that’s roughly the length of the average human lifetime. It also translates as three generations reaching adulthood. In that span of time, the memory of what life was like before the revolution dissipates. Over those seventy years, the fervent energies that won the fight weaken as the spirit of change grows old, and the political will becomes enfeebled, much like a septuagenarian.
This seventy-year rule is why I’d argue that instead of a revolution, we need [r]evolution. We can’t fight our way into the future we want. We must evolve the future we want. We have to grow so that we can grasp and hold the social justice we’re reaching for.
For those who are presently suffering, when someone like me suggests they don’t need to fight to better their lives, this will most likely sound suicidal or depressingly limited in terms of what change they can hope to achieve. But please don’t mistake my call for evolution, as a call for apathy or resignation to The Powers That Be. Not at all.
When I see something like the struggles against patriarchy, the persistent scourge of bigotry, the choke-hold of systemic capitalistic corruption and greed, I want to fight to end that bullshit, too. However, the history of revolutions around the world suggests that’s a losing battle.
Despite all the furious energy we gain from feelings of righteousness and despite all of the positive buzz of collective action, the fight we engage undermines the goals of those battling for social justice. Win or lose, someone inevitably wants to fight again. Godzilla gets beat. And he always comes back for the sequel.
Returning to the ones on the front lines of the battles for social justice, the ones who have memories and scars from a recent past marred by inequality, unfairness, brutality and pain; to you, it might sound callous or ignorant to suggest you put down your arms and stop fighting. But I firmly believe a battle will never get you what you want. Because whomever you’re fighting against, they most likely see you as a threat to their way of life, too. You are no different than Godzilla. And they will respond the same way the Japanese do. “To your battle stations!” They will dump countless resources into fighting you. They will build a Mechagodzilla to defeat you.
But hey, let’s say your revolution wins. Well, seventy years after your victory, the revolution will become the status quo. The outsiders become the insiders. And this is where it gets tricky. Conditions allow for a return of the monster we call change. Godzilla returns to destroy Tokyo, one more time. It’s what Godzilla does. And, it’s what we do. Eventually, the old revolutionaries stand in the way of the next revolution.
That’s why we must not fight for social justice. We must ignore any simple emotional call to revolution. We need to understand our times our merely the conditions that require us to evolve. We must grow, change, adapt, in order to reach social justice. Fighting is a losing battle, physically or linguistically.
No one builds a Mechagodzilla to defeat a tsunami. Those are natural disasters. And you can’t beat killer waves with lasers and robots. When a tsunami threatens Japan, the people band together and do whatever they can to outlast those hell-spawned waves.
I would say that, today, we live with a number of tsunamis that threaten the cause of social justice. We must band together to outlast them. We need to grow a future built on the values we want to see in our society. Otherwise, we’ll always be fighting monsters, battling Godzillas and building Mechagodzillas. One generation after the next. Now, I love the world of those crappy B-movies, but I’d hate to live there.
Your enemies are not monsters. They’re as natural as a typhoon. They are as dangerous and as destructive as an Oklahoma twister. But no one tries to punch the wind. No matter how furious it blows. Instead, you hunker down, you act smart, you outlast the storm, you mourn those lost and you rebuild structures, creating ones that will withstand hurricane-force winds of the future. That’s how we evolve!
Instead of picking up arms to fight, pick up books to teach young minds the values they’ll need to shape the future. As the saying goes, the pen is mightier than the sword. Don’t fight for Feminism. Grow feminists! Make it a story kids understand. And also, tend to all the adults being hurt today. This includes trans women and men.
Feminism struggles to connect with many people because it’s seen as a fight. There are sides. There are factions. There are winners and losers. The fight even divides feminists against each other. But the goals and values of Feminism are inevitable because they are decent, and we can attain them once we can each articulate what they are. Labels divide us, as Joss Whedon recently pointed out (if you’d like to read more about that, Kat George wrote a great piece about it). But I’d go one further than Joss Whedon and focus on the fact, stories connect us.
What Feminism needs isn’t more jargon, or to win a final battle, not at all. Feminism, and any other social justice movement, needs a story everyone can tell. Once it becomes our story, a shared story, that’s when the [r]evolution wins. Otherwise, I give it seventy years, because as the B-movies remind us…
“Godzilla will be back!”