I don’t know what happened outside Harbord Collegiate. It’s been written up. Steph blogged about it. Evidently it’s before the courts so I’m not going to say anything about the incident or the possible outcomes of the legal process.
But it does prompt a couple of observations about feminism, about free speech, and about civil discourse.
I know I go on about civil discourse (really? We hadn’t noticed — ed.), but I need to acknowledge, once again, that it’s easy enough for me. I’m a straight white guy. Most of the time, I surf through life without having to acknowledge my privilege or work to overcome systemic obstacles. It’s not as if there are institutional, gendered, racial or class-based barriers to my participation in the civic life of my community. There are plenty of such obstacles for others who don’t have my skin colour, education, or other built-in advantages.
Secondly, a word about free speech. It’s one of the most fundamental freedoms we have, but it doesn’t come without asterisks. It doesn’t carry the right to be free from criticism; if you’re going to say hateful, stupid, or violent things, you have to be prepared to be challenged on them. It’s called accountability. More fundamentally, your right to express yourself does not impose a corresponding obligation on anyone else to listen, engage you, or otherwise provide you with a forum. You’re entitled to say what you like. You’re not entitled to an audience, and you’re not entitled to get in people’s faces and scream your opinions at them.
And finally, feminism. I’ve been following an interesting discussion about what it means to be an ally; while I’m inclined more toward the continuing-process approach than the fixed-state approach, that really isn’t enough. Ultimately, it’s not for me to decide whether I’m an effective ally or not; it’s up to the people I’m trying to work with to make that call.
And a lot of that lies in owning one’s own privilege. I’m straight, I’m white, and I’m a guy. I don’t know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of homophobia, sexism, or racism; I can call them when I see them, but I have never experienced them and I never will experience them in the way that LGBT people, women, or people of colour have and still do. So a necessary part of trying to work as an ally, for me, is DEFERRING to people who do. If someone who’s been marginalized calls racism, sexism or homophobia, then it’s not my place to contradict, minimize, reinterpret, or otherwise negate. More prosaically: shut up and listen.
I don’t have much time for the anti-abortion crowd, and I’m not going to entertain their disingenuous attempts to “have a conversation” about when personhood begins, let alone their charming tactic of waving placards of bloody fetuses in front of clinics or schools. However they want to frame it, what they’re doing is, at a fundamental level, attempting to re-assert patriarchal control over women’s bodies. Once again, though, it’s not my fight — or at least not in the same way as it is theirs. It affects women on a personal, emotional and physical level that I can’t even imagine. But what that means, in practice, is that if I want to be a progressive ally, I can’t equivocate, or try to find common ground, or matlow (TM).
I don’t know whether anyone committed an assault outside Harbord Collegiate. But if anyone angrily confronted the anti-abortion whackjobs, I heartily endorse the sentiments behind the confrontation.
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- Let’s come up with the most absurd, far-fetched hypotheticals imaginable …
- This is my body
- Owning your privilege: a teachable moment with @neville_park, @madhatressTO, and @c_9