Learning to Step Back
Posted by Rachel Bezek
April 5, 2017
Working night shift and being a generally exhausted college student, I’m up most hours of the night trying to get inspiration for an article, a paper, or something to keep my brain busy while I count down the hours to my next class. Tonight was one of those sleepless nights, and I found myself surfing between videos on gender identity, articles on whitewashing in Ghost in the Shell, and some web comics on sex and kinks.
With any and all inspiration drained out of me, I looked for something I felt like I could write about in a coherent and passionate way. I came across so many things I could write about, but staring at a Google Doc only takes me so far when it comes to actually writing.
So, I took a note from some videos about directing films (from another sleepless night that was all movie and film themed) and decided to go back to the basics.
Between all the videos I was watching, articles I was reading, and all other stimuli that I was taking in — I found a common thread.
A lot of the videos were about a specific YouTuber, Arielle Scarcella, and all of her controversy surrounding her statements on the trans and non-binary experience. An article I read featured an interview of Japanese actresses reacting to Ghost in the Shell and the many missteps from the white director and lead actress. The web comics I was reading, mostly being reviews of sex toys and beginners guides to sexuality, always begins with a statement on how one person’s experience doesn’t have to translate to another’s.
From all that, I eventually started thinking about the idea of staying in our respective lanes, stepping back, and letting better suited voices take center stage.
In the case of Arielle, she often uses her identity as a lesbian to speak on trans issues, often invalidating others’ experiences and reinforcing harmful ideas. A video that she appeared in tried to make a case for the ideology of two genders, but multiple gender expressions. As usual, the trans community on YouTube was quick to inform her otherwise, and point out her sexuality not giving her credentials to speak on what gender is and isn’t.
Meanwhile with Ghost in the Shell, Japanese actresses spoke about how large of a disconnect there was between the actual culture and the white director. One of the actresses even said, “No no no no no. We don’t do that,” in regards to Japanese social cultures in comparison to an emotional scene in the movie. A white director might not see the differences, but all of them could agree that it created a deep rift that made the movie feel so unnatural and different from the source material. Add that with the hugely controversial whitewashing of the central character, and it quickly becomes the white narrative of the Asian experience — another out of the lane situation.
Then there’s the web comics, from the Oh Joy Sex Toy website, which always make note of what experience the comic is based on. In their reviews for sex toys, they always make sure to include diverse cartoons, and make notes of how their experiences might affect how they feel. They also bring in others to talk about specific identities or situations if it doesn’t apply to the couple behind the blog. They make it clear that there are other experiences outside of their own, but never try to write that narrative themselves. It’s the concept of staying in your own lane done right.
So, this concept spreads across topics with reproductive justice, and is generally a staple of activism. However, if it’s such a staple, why do we find these controversial situations appearing again and again?
Well, again a pretty well known concept, privilege plays a large role. Cis people often speak over trans people. White people speak over people of color. Educated over the uneducated. So on, and so forth.
So, where can we go when a vital block of our activism foundation is so misunderstood?
Learning when to take a step back is hugely important. Learning to be okay with taking a step back, and finding it more necessary to take a step back needs to be at the top of the priority list for privileged activists.
While society might put more weight in white, straight, cis voices, it’s important to reevaluate that idea and learn to put experienced voices of the oppressed in the center of the conversation. It avoids many of the problematic and ignorant effects that might occur when someone tries to override an experience that isn’t their own.
While this might always be an issue, nobody can give a definite answer that will end this problem for life, we can try to eradicate it as much as possible in realm of activism. The time and energy that is lost after the wrong voice tries to speak on a subject can be spent getting educated instead, while someone else can speak with more nuance and experience.
While, honestly, activism doesn’t have the best track record of doing this, setting the precedent now is better than any alternative. Regardless of our particular interests or issue specializations, we can all try to make this a more solid part of our foundation, setting our causes and those affected by the oppression up for more success in the future.
Image via Production I.G.