When Patricia Arquette, with her actual words, excluded women of color from the feminist struggle for gender equality, not to mention downplayed the continued struggle for LGBTQ and racial equality, those of us with questions and criticisms were told by white feminists that we were taking her out of context, expecting too much from an actress, or otherwise interpreting her incorrectly.
White feminists are not the only or most repeated culprits in this, my least favorite game: “But they actually meant the opposite of what they just literally actually said!” Hardly. Most of that comes from the, ahem, feminist-critical (let’s not say they are all anti-feminist) crowd.
Let’s recall the many times when everyone remembered for the zillionth time that a certain man has a certain platform on a certain microblogging site and noticed that he, yet again, has said a bad thing. The majority of his critics chose, as always, to fixate on his words to the erasure and detriment of alternative voices, even ones uniquely qualified to speak on the matter at hand. His defenders, though, invariably blame the platform (that he chose), the critics (who explain their criticisms), the culture (which you’d assume he was aware of) — anything and everything but the man himself.
This flurry of defensiveness is regarding the words generated online for public consumption of one man’s own free will, a man who makes millions dollars for communicating. You’d think that someone who makes a more-than-comfortable living writing books and delivering talks probably says what he means rather than requires hordes of fans to defend him against his own words.
It’s all oddly reminiscent of the religion I left behind over 9 years ago. All of us Muslim children were told that the Quran is the perfectly clear, comprehensible guide to life, the universe, and everything, that Islam is a beautiful and easy and simple religion to follow. Meanwhile, as my family grew more religious, everyday aspects of modern American life, from my beloved short haircut to television to Barbie dolls to Disney movies, became casualties of that “simple” religion. The clarity of the Quran, too, became suspect when I realized that people around me claimed they were doing things, even some things they claimed were for Allah, that went against the words of that book. The murkiness got worse when I was bullied by friends and family alike for following the dictates of a text that they also claimed to follow.
The best part of leaving Islam, for me, was getting rid of the need for me to believe in things that I didn’t think made sense. I no longer had to make excuses or engage in intensive apologetics in order to reconcile the basic facts of my universe. And I’m not about to backtrack now for individuals who are cited as the (unelected) leaders and spokespeople of a movement that I care about.
People who put themselves forward and are accepted as leaders, representatives, and high-ranking, highly-visible activists have a responsibility to ensure clear communication. Leaving it to the less skeptical of the people exposed to their ideas to defend them is an appalling shirking of responsibility. Even less responsible for interpreting their words so as to make them sound as nice as possible are those of us who don’t stan quite so hard (if at all).