Rules of Feminism 1: LISTEN

Oct 23, 2013 | Opinions

Saddle up, kids. It’s time to be controversial.

Far be it for me to lay down the law for all of feminism, but this is… a set of rules? Guidelines? I don’t know. But this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, so I thought I’d just write it all out, for the record. This is my own code, the nuts and bolts of what governs my feminism.

This was just one post, but I decided to split it up for easier reading. So, let’s begin with the first and most important rule.

LISTEN to the people who experience injustice.

This, above all others – LISTEN to women. LISTEN to minorities. LISTEN to the oppressed.

It seems that a lot of people forget how to listen, and this doesn’t mean just shutting up and saying nothing while others speak. It means making sure there is space for them to speak, without fear of reprisal. It means listening in earnest, with an open mind, with compassion and empathy. It means supporting their speech with your attention, pointing others to that speech so that they can listen as well, and crediting them wherever possible so that their voices carry farther. There’s a history of the most oppressed people being silenced because they make the more privileged feel uncomfortable, and you’d best be aware of that when you walk into a conversation on social justice.

There’s also a trend of the speech of the oppressed being appropriated by the privileged. Trudy Hamilton’s post about plagiarism over at Gradient Lair is required reading on this. Needless to say, this is a shitty and silencing thing to do.

To listen means to show respect for the lives and experiences of the vulnerable. It means deferring to the voices of the people most affected by an injustice. Above all else, it means not arguing with them about the reality of their own existence, no matter how far it is from your own.

Listening well, and trying to understand, is the first step. This is what I aspire to, every day, when I read Twitter or my RSS feeds – to do nothing more than listen to others, and learn about their lives.