From feminism to veganism to everything in between, the beginning of the twenty-first century has seen some major social justice movements rise. Thanks to social media, places like Tumblr are ablaze with political discourse, ranging from so-called “radical” ideas for societal reform, to calls for moderation, to entire counter-movements.
Some people criticize these movements for being too radical. For example, some oppose feminists who claim that we must radically change our lexicon and adopt different vocabularies because words we’ve been using for centuries are rooted in oppression. The classic example is changing “women” to “womyn.” Some people, who do agree that we still have a long way to go for women’s equality, argue that this is going too far, that we’re asking too much out of ordinary people if we want them to completely rethink their lifestyle.
I used to agree with this, and in some ways I still do. I think changing our society’s entire way of thinking and using words is an enormous project that is way too ambitious. I can see the good intentions behind it, but as an ordinary citizen I have more important things to do than scrupulously monitor my political correctness.
Then, I started thinking more about this. Why are we so afraid of these radicalized movements? Why are we so quick to call them “ridiculous” or at best “too idealist”?
Because if you really look at it, they do have a point. Using the word “lame” as a derogatory term for someone isn’t exactly respectful to people with disabilities. And, despite the monumental steps we’ve taken towards women’s equality since the beginning of the twentieth century, western society is still underlined with patriarchal sexism. You might not see it at first, but if you look closely, and if you actually listen to women’s testimonials, it’s definitely there.
I believe we’re scared of radical social justice ideas because they challenge us to alter the perceptions we’ve grown so comfortable with. We’ve used the word “lame” as a pejorative for forever, why should we change? We’re uncomfortable with the idea that everyday things we’ve accepted without questioning might actually be wrong. And for those of us who champion ourselves as an enlightened bunch—we who are not racists, homophobes, ablists, or sexists (of course not!)—we don’t want to admit that we’re not perfect.
Social justice movements scare us because they challenge us to rethink fundamental parts of our everyday lives. And I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think we’ll be able to phase out “lame” for quite a while, but I think that will happen eventually; we’ve pretty much managed to phase out “gay” as an insult anyway.
I’m not asking you to radically change the way you act and speak (but if you do, kudos to you). I get it. It’s hard. All I believe is that it’s reasonable to be just a little more sensitive, and to start questioning things you’ve taken for granted.