Callout culture comes from a place of class, educational, and ability privilege. If you have ever taken a gender studies class, you have educational privilege and almost certainly class privilege as well. If you have enough time to keep track of whether transsexual, transgender, trans, or trans* is the preferred term this week, you have class privilege. If you can understand dry academic feminism books, you have educational and ability privilege. (Actually, bell hooks has some great writing, particularly in Feminism Is For Everybody, about how academic feminism and its children, including nearly all of online social justice, have made feminism greatly inaccessible to the people it’s supposed to help. …Aaaand I just proved I’m exactly the sort of person I’m complaining about.)
It is amazing how a group of people whose whole thing is checking their privilege refuse to check their privilege when it’ll stop them from feeling like a Super Cool Activisty Person. But you know what? There are lots of people who are trying to figure out where they’ll sleep tonight or what food they’ll eat, who are barely literate, who are trapped in an abusive household, and for the vast majority of them whether you call it “equal marriage” or “gay marriage” is a complete nonissue.
Callout culture has some incredibly oppressive dynamics. For all its conversation about not caring about the precious feefees of the cis white dudes, callout culture has this remarkable tendency to target women and queer men. See also: the incredible amount of energy directed by the online social justice community against radfems, a tiny and powerless minority of transphobes, as opposed to against literally anyone else. Or Dan Savage hate. Sure, Dan Savage is a fuckwit, but is he any more of a fuckwit than every other advice columnist ever? (Captain Awkward and Ms. Manners aside.) And yet the amount of hatred Dan Savage gets is disproportionate to the amount of hate other advice columnists get.
Partially, this is because Dan Savage and radfems are Part Of Our Community (TM), and leftist groups are always far more interested in fighting the People’s Front of Judea than we are in fighting the Romans. And partially it’s because nothing is more perennially popular than femmephobia, queerphobia, and misogyny.
Well-intentioned knowledgeable people can disagree. Okay, look, people. Most of the callout culture nonsense is not actually about, you know, important issues, because nearly everyone that participates in callout culture agrees that Western society is racist and you shouldn’t murder trans women and so on. Instead, we tend to have arguments that look like this:
Person A: Nonbinary people who were female assigned at birth experience privilege that nonbinary people who were male assigned at birth do not.
Person B: Yes, but it is also kind of fucked to divide up nonbinary people by our assigned genders, as if female-assigned nonbinary people are pseudomen and male-assigned nonbinary people are pseudowomen.
Person A: TRANSMISOGYNISTIC SCUM.
Person B: BINARIST SCUM.
When, uh, actually, if we stayed away from the screaming, we’d notice that both Person A and Person B are kind of right. As a female-assigned-at-birth trans person, I am far less likely to be a victim of a hate crime (for just one example); however, it is also fucked to classify me as a pseudo-dude. Callout culture makes complicated, nuanced discussions like this much more difficult to have.
Final ethical guidelines.
1) Whenever you have the energy for it, rationally and civilly argue with those you disagree with.
2) Whenever you don’t have the energy for it, consider blocking them instead of shouting.
3) Some views are so beyond the pale with adherents that are so unlikely to be convinced that shouting and insults are called for in order to convey that This Is Not An Acceptable Thing People Believe. It’s generally better to put some rational argument between the insults in order to explain why it’s not acceptable, though.
4) Not every view that disagrees with you is so beyond the pale that no one sensible agrees with it. If you think so, then maybe you should quit activism, because the whole point of activism is convincing people and it seems like rather a waste of energy.
5) In general it is better to shout at people who are not part of your audience rather than people who are. They are less likely to feel insulted and the fact that shouting at people makes convincing them difficult is less likely to come up.
6) If someone who is generally sensible says something horrible, clarify if they meant what you think they meant before you start screaming.
7) Stop fucking assuming people you disagree with are privileged.
8) Try to criticize people who are outside your community too, it’s good for you.
9) Remember that you do not know what other people are going through– both people you’re criticizing and people you are being criticized by– and that it is better to err on the side of kindness. Or the block button. The block button is awesome.
10) If other people do not follow these rules, listen to them anyway. Note that I don’t say “agree with them”; it’s possible that they are an asshole and also wrong. And obviously if something is detrimental to your mental health, the block button, it is awesome. But as much as you can, listen to everyone. People might not phrase things in the most compassionate and persuasive way possible; they might, in fact, phrase it in an obviously douchey way. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.