It occurred to me this past weekend that I have spent much of my life trying to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable.
Not only did I assign myself the impossible job of keeping everyone’s feathers in an unruffled state, I think that on some level I assumed that making someone uncomfortable was just about the worst sin one could possibly commit. I mean, what could be worse, right?
(Can you think of anything? I can’t.)
Upon closer examination, my tendency towards preemptive and over-the-top courtesy unravels to reveal a far less altruistic motivation: I never wanted to be the person who made others uncomfortable. I never wanted to be that girl, the 5th wheel weirdo, the “who invited her?” party guest.
Surprise! It was about me and my ego the whole time. Ha! It usually is.
What brought this to mind was my taking part in the sHell No! day of civil disobedience/non-violent protest here in Seattle this past weekend. As I floated merrily along on my group’s raft out in the midst of a colorful sea of kayaks and other boats, I remembered taking part in a peace march my freshman year of high school. It was a momentous day in my life because I actually skipped my 9th grade global st udies class to take part in the march. (Don’t worry. I notified my teacher first.)
Suffice to say, this was a big deal for me.
And then, I found myself walking down the main street in downtown Ashland, Oregon with a sizeable crowd of other people in protest of then-President Bush’s military strikes against Afghanistan and Iraq. I remember starting out from campus with a fiery determination in my heart, and then getting to the mi ddle of town and losing a bit of steam. We didn’t have a parade permit, and we were blocking traffic. I found myself thinking about all the people sitting in their cars, unable to drive forward, and I felt this intense discomfort, a knot in the pit of my stomach. What did blocking traffic have to do with peace? Were the drivers getting frustrated with us? Was it counterproductive to swarm the streets like this, and let all these drivers write us off as lawless and slobbish hippies?
But below my intellectual misgivings, I think that the core issue was that I felt I was keeping other people from getting where they needed to go. I was in the way, making a nuisance of myself, taking up space in an awkward and unhelpful way. I feared the impatience I felt sure our impromptu march was causing. Because what could be worse than incurring the wrath of good and law-abiding citizens who were just trying to go about their day? And for what purpose? Did I really think that meandering through the early afternoon traffic shouting about peace was going to make a difference?
But I’ll tell you what’s worse than making a nuisance of myself: what’s worse is letting my heart and mind go back to sleep just because I’m afraid of being judged. And what’s so bad about about making trouble, anyway?
And to bring it back to why I am a feminist, (because, let’s be real, I can always bring it back to why I’m a feminist), I think that part of my reluctance to make others feel uncomfortable is that it’s not nice or polite. And good girls are nice and polite! I’ve always wanted to be a good person, but I think that wanting to be a kind and compassionate person with a lot of integrity got wrapped up with some antiquated B.S. about what good, kind, compassionate women do and do not say.
I was inspired by a recent post I read by Cherry Smiley, a First Nations activist and artist who spoke out in defense of fellow feminist Meghan Murphy. Murphy took some heat over her views that the sex-industry leads to increased objectification of women and girls. (In particular, a number of pro-sex work groups in Canada, where Murphy resides, took issue with her criticism of the industry.)
Without going too deeply into this particular subject, I found myself admiring both Smiley’s and Murphy’s courage, which led me to realize how often in my life I have shied away from rocking the boat. Although it’s embarrassing to admit to myself, I think I have grouped all kinds of “trouble” under one big umbrella, when really “causing trouble” is a subjective judgment made by the person whose feathers are being ruffled.
In her post, Smiley notes that one tenet of feminism is acknowledging that women and girls pay a price for ‘stepping out of line,’ in the form of judgment from others, harrassment online and off (Gamergate anyone?), or even just the entreaties of friends and families to “be cool”, or “not make a big deal out of it.” Smiley goes on to suggest that “Perhaps it’s time for more of us to think critically and step bravely out of line.”
I think she’s right. So here’s to more of the best sort of trouble, the sort that shakes us awake and reminds us that we are part of building the future of this planet. I don’t want to fall asleep, to numb out when I could be taking part in whatever this “life” business is all about. And if that makes other people feel uncomfortable, well…
I’ll be over here having a great time rocking out.