Real Social Skills is one of my favorite blogs. A while back, they wrote about distinguishing personal piety and basic morality, which I think is an incredibly important distinction. Basic morality is just that– not hurting people, the basic minimum requirements of decent human. Personal piety is everything else. It’s eating vegan and donating to charity and volunteering at a homeless shelter and doing political activism and loving thy enemy and all that shit.
I kind of dislike the word “personal piety” for it, because “personal piety” to me smacks of self-righteous smugness, which is not it at all. It’s just that there are lots of different good things that people can do, and no one can do everything. I really enjoy writing blog posts and I get panic attacks when I go on political marches, so I should do the blog posts and not the political marches. I’m interested in gender theory and my head hurts every time I try to figure out the Israel/Palestine thing, so I can talk about rape culture and just not have an opinion about Zionism.
“I don’t want to” is a totally valid reason not to do things in the “personal piety” category. For one thing, people tend to not be very good at doing things they don’t want to do; they half-ass it, they want the Good Person certificate instead of actually being a good person. They burn out a lot. Whereas if you’re doing something you like and are interested in, you’ll put up with huge amounts of bullshit.
Which means: you don’t have to be a feminist to be a good person.
Well, I mean, it depends on your definition of “feminist.” If you’re going with the “believes women are people” definition, no, you don’t get any wiggle room there. There are a lot of things involved in social justice advocacy that are basic morality. For instance:
- Not calling people slurs.
- Respecting other people’s boundaries.
- Using appropriate pronouns for trans people.
- Providing accommodations for disabled people.
- Not saying horribly racist or sexist generalizations (yes, even if they’re “jokes,” your sandwich joke is dumb and not funny).
- Not talking about how certain marginalized groups are sick and evil and horrible.
Basically, not being an asshole.
But the vast majority of social justice things aren’t that. They’re personal piety things. I’m talking about things like:
- Being informed of the latest news that everyone’s getting outraged about.
- Boycotting media that marginalizes people.
- Boycotting companies run by people who say asshole things.
- Writing letters to your congresspeople or signing online petitions.
- Participating in marches, rallies, or protests.
- Making an effort to consume media that includes marginalized groups or is made by members of marginalized groups.
- Making absolutely completely sure that your decision to wear makeup or be a stay-at-home mom isn’t rooted in internalized misogyny.
- Calling out your friends for saying asshole things.
- Making sure all your language is inclusive.
All of those things are really good things! If you do those things, you get Bonus Points for Good Human. But they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, necessary things.
None of those things are things that everyone is able to do. Some people, to take care of their mental health, need to not read news that makes them angry. Some people are way too socially anxious to call people out. Some people don’t have time to Do Feminism. Some people are really just bored by the entire topic and would make people’s lives far better as a passionate advocate for science education in schools than as a half-assed feminist. And that’s okay.
Now, I suppose you could attempt to make the case that some things are so important that people ought to do them regardless of mental health, time constraints, level of interest, etc. I entirely agree with this. Unfortunately, that thing isn’t social justice, it’s giving to effective charities. Sorry about that, fellow social justice people, our shit just isn’t that important.