In the last couple of years, I have found myself getting angry often. Working for social justice means seeing, analysing, and talking about injustice a lot. It’s important to expose injustice and be exposed to it, and I’ll get to that later, but it’s also hard sometimes to hold your anger about all that’s unfair and ugly in the world. I would get so angry sometimes I felt like smashing things, throwing a rock through a window.
I won’t advocate for smashing windows, nor pass judgment on people who do, but I think it’s important to talk about anger. Punk rocker Jim Lindberg once said, “[I] learned to play music that sounded like a rock going through a window.” I want to do work that smashes things. I want to harness my anger and focus it on smashing big things, bigger than a window, bigger than a car. Things like greed, supremacy, hate, and systems of oppression.
Last February, I was facilitating a workshop on feminist practice of digital security, with a bunch of awesome trainers from the Maghreb and Machrek, and we were discussing systemic violence against women online. The thing with systemic oppression is, it’s very hard to perceive if you don’t experience it. Talking about gender-based violence and having the trainers share their experiences made us all perceive it better.
Once you put on the lens of gender-based oppression, you start seeing it in places you would never expect. Places, people and interactions that you’ve seen a million times before, suddenly become oddly unfamiliar. It’s not that we’re seeing things that are new, they were always there. But when we grow up in a society where gender-based oppression is the norm, we are trained not to see it, and to reject it when we do. To reverse the metaphor, rather than putting on a lens, you are removing it, or turning off a filter.
It’s hard to challenge norms in a society. I don’t have a quick easy answer on how to do that. But I know we can change how individuals think and see things, and the best way to do that is to expose them to injustice. At the workshop, we had an exercise called a “spectrogram”, where people would stand in a line relative to what their opinion is on an issue. A question was asked whether the participants thought that women face more threats online than men.
When we started, participants were divided on the issue. Some, almost exclusively male, believed at the time that technology didn’t endanger women any more than it did men. But as participants on the other side of the spectrum shared their stories about what sort of threats they or other women have faced, most of the men standing on the other side of the line slid towards their side. Even more when we showed reports and information on online violence against women from the Take Back the Tech campaign.
“There is light in darkness, you just have to find it.” ― Bell Hooks
It might be a long way to changing society, but I saw a tiny bit of patriarchy crumble in that workshop. Even more, I saw people who embraced the notion of fighting gender-based discrimination and reflecting on how to bring it back to their own communities, families, and lives. The pillars that hold up injustice exist within our social, economic, cultural and political systems, and even within us, and bringing the latter down is an easy way to start. The work we did at that workshop felt like we were smashing things, and for a moment my anger at the injustice of the world was subdued.
Image: Smash Rate, by Carnagenyc on Flickr