“Why ‘bitch,’ though?”
I’ve been asked this question a couple of times since I launched this blog a full twenty-four hours ago. I suppose I could have titled my blog Sustainable Nice Girl, Sustainable Hottie 69, or something a else little more mainstream, but Sustainable Bitch was a conscious, deliberate choice.
Activism needs more bitches.
There, I said it. Call me a social justice warrior (Please, I’ll be flattered), but I firmly believe that there is an important place for bitchiness in activist circles and in any major social movement. The movement I’m fighting for here is sustainability and a zero-waste lifestyle, but I’m here to stand up for the bitches in any movement who are fighting for positive change—be it the feminist movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, or anything else. In the words of the illustrious Tina Fey:
I’ve noticed a particular phenomenon around many of these movements, but it seems to be amplified in the rhetoric of the zero-waste and sustainability advocacy. Zero-waste advocates are fighting an incredibly important battle for a sustainable future, but we apologize for it.
Popular opinion often makes us feel a need to make these movements “comfortable” places for everyone, climate-change deniers and all, to come and sit and have a cup of fair-trade organic tea and have a quaint discussion about how we’re all going to choke on plastic and melt all the ice caps someday without having to go home and feel bad about ourselves afterward.
For lack of a better term, that’s kinda bullshit.
Let’s take a lesson from the feminist movement, shall we?
In September 2014, the UN launched its now internationally renowned HeForShe campaign with nice girl Emma Watson at the helm. The HeForShe campaign called for men and boys to join the fight for women’s rights and gender equality. In her speech inaugurating the campaign, Watson “extended a formal invitation” to men to join the feminist movement, assuring them that the term “feminism” isn’t synonymous with “man-hating.” The HeForShe movement and Watson’s speech sought to create a space where men could feel safe to engage in the conversation about feminism.
This rubbed many feminists—including myself—entirely the wrong way. The HeForShe movement struck many people, mostly women, as pandering to the fragile egos of threatened men and degrading to the foundations for women’s rights and equality that female feminists had fought for for centuries. Many feminists, male and female, were insulted that men only felt compelled to care about gender equality when a pretty, famous, white woman told them that the mean, man-hating feminists wouldn’t push them around anymore.
By trying to make the feminist movement “comfortable” for people who previously had no interest in it—or worse, for people who professed to be against it altogether—the subtext of the HeForShe campaign seemed to apologize for and be embarrassed of the culture of the feminist movement that activists had built over decades, even centuries. In a way, it undermined the justifiable anger that many feminists felt about the state of gender rights around the world. It scolded angry, “man-hating” feminists for scaring all the boys away.
Sure, the campaign did make the feminist movement seem a little sexier for a few bros here and there. But it missed the point: Feminism was perhaps an uncomfortable space for some, but only because the movement rightfully demanded radical change.
The HeForShe campaign implied that it was okay, understandable, or forgivable that men and anti-feminists had refused to change. It implied that we should feel entitled to refuse to change our behaviors if change makes us uncomfortable, that we should wait to feel happy and welcome before we stop treating women like objects or animals or commodities.
Like I said: Bullshit.
But Anyway, Back to This Zero-Waste Thing
There are a lot of parallels between the HeForShe campaign and the rhetoric of the zer0-waste movement. Namely, we tend to ask very nicely for changes in behaviors or policies that could radically reduce waste or our impact on the environment. We don’t want to “pressure” people around us into adopting sustainable habits. We would rather hurl ourselves into the steaming crater of a landfill than appear ungracious about the terrible practices that are not-so-slowly and very surely destroying the planet.
Like My Therapist Tells Me…
Your feelings are valid. You have every right to be angry about the state of things in whatever movement it is that you’re fighting for.
No, you don’t have to fluff the pillows in the activism parlor for your fight to be valid. You can be angry and still be right. Comfort isn’t going to restore the ozone or bring back the polar bears. The clock is still ticking while we wait for everyone to feel comfortable with uncomfortable facts and to make difficult, but necessary, change.
Seriously. Don’t be afraid be a bitch about it. Make people uncomfortable; ask them to change. That’s the only way anything will.