I almost called this post “Fucking Up: A Right or a Privilege?” but I decided that A. I am tired of debates over privilege and B. I believe we SHOULD have a right to fuck up.
I’m not talking just about fucking up in feminism/social justice movements, mind you. I’m talking about life fuck-ups. I’m talking about oversleeping and missing your final exam, being late to work, kissing the wrong person, having pregnancy/STI scares (or actually having and terminating pregnancies, dealing with STIs).
I mean, isn’t not being able to fuck up the major tenet of the antichoice movement? They believe that you should have to take the “consequences” of your “actions” (only people with uteruses, however–if you can’t get pregnant, no consequences for you! Well, aside from the aforementioned STIs, which I guess they’re controlling for by defunding health care centers.)
Last time I guested at Feministe I wrote about Helen Thomas’s fuckup. (For those who don’t remember/know/want to click through, Thomas was fired for saying to a blogger that Jews should “get out” of Palestine and “go home.”)
I recently got into a conversation about Helen Thomas and others at South By Southwest with my friend (and fabulous artist) Molly Crabapple. Molly, like me, is Jewish. She also made the point that when people like Thomas are fired for one thing they say or do not on the job, we’re helping to create a world in which no one is allowed to fuck up–or better yet, only certain people are allowed to fuck up. That firing someone doesn’t truly hold them accountable. That we need a better system for responding to public fuckups, especially as the Internet makes us all more and more public. Should someone not get a chance at a job because her friend posted a picture of her drunk on her Facebook page?
If every single person on Feministe isn’t already reading Liliana Segura’s blog, you should be. Liliana is another friend of mine and an absolutely amazing journalist whose focus is on the prison system and the death penalty. Liliana, in other words, spends a lot of time talking to people, most of the time men of color, who have fucked up. Sometimes in the most colossal, violent ways. Other times by being unlucky enough to be caught up in a racist system that locks up certain people and not others.
Part of being concerned about social justice is understanding that humans fuck up. That we are, to use a cliche, all more than the worst thing we have ever done. That Helen Thomas can say something that feels like a personal slap across my face and still be a journalist that I look up to. That someone can commit a crime and still deserve more than being locked up and having the key thrown away.
Melissa Gira Grant hosted a panel at South By Southwest on “The End of Shame”–about “oversharing” in Internet culture and the culture at large. (Podcast of that panel available here.) The panelists one by one noted that being public about their worst moments, the things that people try to shame them for, has made them freer to move beyond those moments. If you acknowledge those things first, no one can dig them up later and throw them in your face.
We don’t have anything remotely resembling true accountability in the age of the Internet. We’re just starting to realize the consequences of our actions all being public, of finding ourselves under the same scrutiny as politicians and media stars. In the feminist blogosphere, we have a frequently toxic “call-out” culture but still no way of truly being accountable to one another.
One of the reasons I’m leaning more towards bell hooks’ phrasing “I advocate feminism” rather than “I am a feminist” is that it makes feminism or any sort of activism contingent upon action rather than identity. Rather like identifying as an ally to movements–I am an ally to the degree that people consider me one. It’s not an identity I get to claim. Because I will fuck up and people will decide after that whether or not they can still work with me. I will kiss the wrong boys and get too drunk and curse too much and say the wrong things and not know enough and not have read the right book or been in the right place or known that story.
Last time, I wrote:
We need to understand this, and it is good for us, because it allows us to realize that our own fuckups don’t keep us from being “heroes” too. Even if it’s just for one day.
I still think that’s true.