The other day, on my post about T-Shirt Hell closing, I got this comment from someone going by the name of James (a different James from the one who was published and later banned on the thread).
Maybe if women spent more time being constructive than worrying about being offended, they’d accomplish something outside the kitchen. This goes for you escpecially, Cara.
This is fairly par for the course, so I’m not upset by it. I was, indeed, in eye-rolling mode. Except that something about stuck with me.
It’s not the line about the kitchen, which was clearly intended to be the punchline, that I’m interested in. It’s the first part, about being “constructive.”
First of all, for better or worse, however you want to take it, most women are not, contrary to James’ assertion, doing what I’m doing. While I do personally wish that we could recruit more women to dedicate a larger bulk of their time to gender equality and other social justice issues, it’s currently not where we’re at. Secondly, I personally like to think of feminist blogging as doing a lot more than “being offended.” I think that identifying, analyzing and attempting to dismantle rape culture, as was being done in the post in question, goes a lot deeper than that surface level.
But thirdly, and I think most importantly, why the hell is “being offended” so regularly construed and unproductive and nonconstructive? In addition to being yet another way to frame the work being done by women as unimportant by nature, and also another excuse for why women and other marginalized groups really fall behind in work and life (because it couldn’t be oppression!), it also tells us something about which issues matter, and who is deciding it.
Though I certainly do wish that I got to focus my attention on other things, the fact is that offensiveness is currently a very regular part of life. There are two main options when confronted with these things: to be offended by them, or to ignore them.
Clearly James and the many people like him think that being offended is a waste of time. Why? Because they think that we should channel that shock and anger into what they see as more appropriate action that will actually bring about change? Instead of “being offended,” should we instead be aggressively staging boycotts, writing letters and forming our own clothing companies that offer humorous messages that don’t aim to further marginalize oppressed people? While I think that all of those would be good suggestions in addition to being offended (the suggestion that we should be taking action instead of being offended is a whole different epidemic), that doesn’t seem to be what James is suggesting at all. He seems to be suggesting, instead, that being offended is a waste of time because these things don’t matter.
And I imagine that he’s right. When you’re not a rape survivor, and when you’re not someone who, by social construct of your gender identity, is under both imagined and real constant threat of sexual violence, or when you’re simply unaware and unsympathetic to these life factors faced by women, these things do no matter to you. Not to James; not at all.
And in addition to the therapeutic value of venting our anger and finding community in our offense, it’s people like James that make being offended — and showing the world that we are offended and will not sit down and shut up about it — matter. The fact that so many people think our offense is nonconstructive is, in the end, exactly what ensures that they are wrong.