Activism vs. Self Care

This is going to sound a little weird because I took my German text, put it into Google translate and didn’t take the time to straighten out every detail. But it should make the content available for people who speak English. Here we go.

I have not blogged for ages and do not know how to do that – but I ‘m going to try it.
Today, I want to talk about the interaction or the contradictions between activist work and self-care. Activist work is not only to go out the door and to distribute flyers/ organize demos / to paint creatively on advertising, but also online discussions, to operate a blog (see what I did there?) or simply just to confront which prejudices you were fed.
I would now link to my clever self care post, if I had completed it. But I did not, so have a brief summary on self care. Self care can be done in many ways, but always contains taking care of oneself. Basic types of self care are to eat, drink and sleep enough. Above all, you should recognize when you have reached a limit and should postpone a task instead of doing it right now. The latter consideration is very important for activism.

Inside or outside

But before I’ll further address the issue that there may be conflicts between self care and activism, I would like to consider briefly whether this conflict is the same to all of us. You might have guessed it: No, it is not.
To make the decision whether you want to take care of activism or rather have a free weekend, this is only possible for a particular group of people. If my activism is to fight every day for the right to do the same things in public others who are not part of a minority do, there are only limited time periods off. If I do, however, mainly do activist work in my organization, but I can drop the issue when I go home – then I have completely different opportunities to rest. You can only really ask “activism or self care”, if you are sufficiently privileged. I write from a white and privileged enough perspective to actually ask me the question most of the time.

To Work, to rest or no choice?

I am writing this article because I feel this conflict regularly myself. All the things that I do ” at leisure ” on the Internet, are filled with activist themes. On Twitter, on Tumblr, in my feed reader – everywhere I follow people who deal with similar issues like me. Between cat pictures, there are posts about the deaths of refugees or new research on sexist violence.
When there is always something to do, it is difficult to answer where to make a cut. When will “I feel a little queasy” turn to ” if I do not close this page soon, I will be done with this week”? And most importantly: How can I close the page if the problem does not go away?
If you notice that our world is in a shitty place and you make the decision to do something about it, then you take over a responsibility. Not necessarily for a specific person but a responsibility to yourself. The question is, when do you take a break from your responsibility for a day or a week or even longer? When you get headaches? When the motivation to do anything disappears? When you have problems getting enough sleep and eating enough? When does activism become self harm?
As mentioned above “giving up the responsibility” does not look the same for everyone. Many, perhaps most, start activist work because they are personally affected – be it by racism and / or cissexism and / or ableism etc. Ie even if they decide not to fight at large scale, they are still not free from activist acts, but must continue to deal with the small bites and hostility society attacks them with. So how free are they really?

I have no answer to all this, of course . Resp. no answer that would work for many more people than myself. But I think it’s important that we pay attention to ourselves and each other. Where there is effort, there has to be rest, otherwise the power reserves go eventually empty.

Avatar – The last air bender (Fire)

On the left is a crossed out picture from avatar by James Cameron, on the right there is a poster from Avatar-the last airbender. The caption reads 'When I say avatar, I'm talking about avatar, the last airbender.'

So that we are clear…

I recently watched the three books of Avatar – The Last Airbender. No, I am neither talking about the movie on the left nor this fail.
Now, I would like to tell you why I do not like the book of fire. This is, by the way, unfortunate because I really enjoy these series; the episodes are funny, they are not as obviously western-centric as other productions and there are cool female characters (yes, that is outstanding), cute strange animals and sweet bending skills.

[Sorry, spoilers ahead. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to write a version without spoilers due to the nature of the post’s content.]

First of all, the third book is less funny. This is a crime in and of itself. During the book, the female protagonists lose more and more of their agency, culminating in a lot of disappointing passivity in the final battle.

Here comes what bothered me as well:

In one episode, the female characters (Toph and Katara) pick a fight, they generally do not act like friends but only get along. This episode appeared totally constructed because the group is usually good friends but, out of the blue, the girls could not stand each other. Due to the fact that there never was a tension before, I felt uncomfortably pushed in the direction of “women cannot get along, they always fight and hate on each other. There is no way women can support each other and discuss anything productively.” This myth further alienates girls and women and is really harmful to the audience of these series, who are (apart from people like me) children and teenagers who are maybe infected by this crap.
With this episode, the producers went from the “we have an awesome group of friends” terrain into “we just pick up on real-life tropes and do not care about our message” country (yeah, awkward metaphor). That is disappointing.

Next point: Who’s breasts grew? Kataras! And why? WHO KNOWS. It is true, the friends are slowly becoming adults and I heard that women’s breasts sometimes grow in puberty, but hers are unnecessarily big by now (she is a teenager – do they really have to sexualize a teenager in a series that could live off its humor instead of teh sexay ladiez? Which by the way shows the female audience that they still have to be dead-on sexy instead of themselves, the latter being encouraged before this book).
I really appreciated how everyone always wore pants, even under their skirts and women displayed rather sensible armor (see the fire princess in battle), but women’s bodies became more and more disproportionate and less sensibly shaped (for, you know, stuff like breathing and standing upright without braking their back).
Some people may still not see any sexualization but what about this pointless scene in the episode with Toph’s and Katara’s “conflict”, where, when Soka and Toph talk about Katara, she overhears them while taking a bath in a lake? Yes, except for her naked shoulders and head, everything is under the water surface and her braids were lying over her imaginary breasts and maybe, just maybe, she even wore this white swimsuit surrogate, but you couldn’t tell. And I don’t get why this scene was even necessary because you can overhear people in a lot of places. And apart from this example, they usually managed to depict people bathing without having to hint at their nakedness.

When we’re still at problematic depictions of women, lets stop shortly at princess Azula’s. What was this shit with her going crazy? These last scenes were so offensive to me. It’s really hard to describe exactly how offensive. Where to start…

  • The only woman who is interested in power goes crazy.
  • Craziness as a trope in general, especially connected to women.
  • Women in general don’t want power – no, only crazy and dangerous women want power.
  • Azula is evil because of her “fate”. I’ll get to why this is not logical in a second.
  • When she is caught by Katara and tied to these metal bars, she lashes out and stares and screams and growls. This was the most offensive scene of the whole series to me and an inhuman depiction of the main-stream opinion on craziness. I could have puked.

So, like I mentioned, Azula is evil “because of fate”. There are no good reasons for people being evil, no, it’s in their blood or something.
The explanation goes a little like this: Azula’s and Suko’s grandfather, the former Fire Lord, went all “I will conquer the whole world”.
But when, all of a sudden, Zukos decisions were explained by the identity of his ancestors, things became completely ridiculous. Prince Zuko’s struggle to do the right thing which prompted him to go to the Avatar was explained with the difference in/of his grandfathers: Avatar Roku on the one hand and the evil Fire Lord on the other. Now think about it: He changes between being good and bad because there is the fight between the “good” and the “bad” side of his heritage. Okay. And Azula is his sister – not a half-sister, his sister. She has exactly the same heritage. And do her decisions resemble her brother’s? No, they don’t.
So why didn’t they follow the story ark they started with the party in the Fire Nation? The royal kids attend a party and afterwards, at the beach, each of them explains why they are like they are. Azula mentions that her mother always thought she’s a monster. I think that’s a good reason to have some inner conflicts. And it is much more sensible that she would have a problem with this fact than the “It’s all fate and bloodlines and shit”.
That’s why I was kind of disappointed they decided to take the easy road with “fate” and “Fire Nation people just are evil” (which doesn’t make a lot of sense in many episodes because they also meet harmless and nice inhabitants) instead of explaining their actions with their past and their family. That is how people actually work (i.e. they are shaped by their life experiences) and story telling which would have been less lazy.

The last thing I want to talk about, which I didn’t like, is the scene when the Fire Lord is finally defeated and Toph, Aang, Sokka etc. make fun of him. I know these are series for children and they are supposed to be funny, but you still have the duty to depict defeat in a human way and not forget you are writing about people. Fictional people, but still people. Like with Azula, they did not manage to walk the thin line in this final scene.
There just are situations which you cannot use to crack a joke. And this was one of them.

So the third book had several flaws which took the innocence of the characters away – taking the innocence away could have been logical in the context of the story because the protagonists are slowly coming of age and fighting a damn war, but that’s not what happened here. What happened is that the producers didn’t grasp the fine nuance between showing defeat and robbing a person of their dignity – which is problematic even if the person is “just” an animated character: people are watching and they are learning about compassion … or not.

Survey: What does “^^” mean to you?


Please answer the following questions in the comments.

I need a lot of answers to make the survey representative so please help me with sharing this link!

(1) Do you use this smiley? “^^
(1 a) If you don’t, why?
(2) In which situations do you/people you know use this smiley?
(3) If you associate a certain mimic or gesture with this smiley which one would that be? (Feel free to link to pictures to illustrate them.)

Thanks for your help and please, spread the word!

PS: I will write about the purpose of this survey as soon as it’s over.

“I would much rather call it … humanism!”

Deutsche Version

Privilege Denying Dude (a meme, a white young man with crossed arms) saying 'Feminism is too divise, I'm a humanist'

Privilege Denying Dude knows what’s the deal.

There are people (oftentimes, they identify as male) who think feminism should change its name. Because in a way, they can relate to what feminists say, but the label sounds so … women-centric? And they feel kind of excluded or something. That is why they would like to have more of an umbrella term like “humanism” – after all, the “male side” of gender essentialism, i.e. topics like emasculation and the “act like a man” box hurt them, too.

Let me tell you, why this demand is wrong on so many levels.

We will start with: Feminism grew and changed over several decades. It started with middle-class white women standing up for their rights. But (unfortunately sometimes not as much as necessary) intersectionality was developed.
So if I speak about feminism, I am speaking about so much more: anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-classism etc. etc. (see my “about” page for a more elaborate list). “My” feminism tries to pay attention to every way in which people can be marginalized. But my feminism is not feminism in general, which still focuses very much on cis, able-bodied, white middle-class women. That is why some people of color prefer “womanism” or writers like s.e. smith decide to rather be allies because they do not feel included.
They felt that they are marginalized even within the feminist movement and drew the consequences. They hold feminist opinions, too, and took them with them as they created a new movement or watch feminism from the outside. Those decisions are perfectly fine. And we should work on changing feminism so as to include all the marginalized people.

A meme where you see a poorly drawn very excited white woman with a broom in her hand. The caption reads 'Include all the marginalized people.'

Include all the marginalized people!

“But if marginalized groups get ‘their own feminist ways’, why shouldn’t men get their own brand?”, I hear you say.

Well, if you honestly had this question in mind, I am very glad I do not have to talk to you because the subsequent discussion would be quite unpleasant for both of us.

First: If you are not disabled or a person of color or homo- or bi- or a- or transsexual or poor or several of these things (and some more I certainly forgot) you are not marginalized at all.
You belong to the most privileged group in the world. How dare you ask people to give up their movements’ name and agenda in order to pamper your privileged ass? Yes, this is a privileged question right there.
“But what if you are marginalized in one or more ways while identifying as male – should you be able to get your own special brand of feminism if you wish?” Yes, you should. But that’s a whole ‘nother deal.
Second: What really gets my hackles up concerning the “let’s change the name” proposal is that men are not trying to build their own movement -oh no- they are asking to change the name of an existing one that was created as a reaction to their privileges to verbally include them, privileged people. The demand alone is unworthy of discussion.

Again: Once upon a time, women did not have the same rights as men and as a reaction they started a movement to demand those rights. Now, men want to claim one of the few places which does not allow them to hijack any discussion and -once again- they try to silence women by proclaiming the importance of their issues. Does this seem familiar? Like … everyday life? (Also replace “women” with other marginalized groups and “men” with the respective majority.)

And finally: Why exactly does feminism have to change its name in order to include male problems in a sexist society? Feminists are already talking about the problems that gender binaries* evoke (*Women have to be this way and men have to be that way to make them hate each other and no, there cannot be other genders.) Feminists are well aware of these problems.
So if feminists are already considering these issues, why change anything? Why of all things change the name?
That one is easy to answer: because men cannot be expected to identify with something that has got a female label on it. Our whole society is designed for men (read any male privilege list again, if you want to contradict) and women are expected to identify with the male perspective all the time; in movies, newspapers, books and even in certain languages, like German, that have male and female names for jobs etc. and women still have to identify with the “more general” male form.
Men, on the other hand, cannot be expected to relate to “female” things and that’s why we have to change the name of a movement for the marginalized to include people on the top of the food chain … What?

So: no. My movement will not change its name, as long it’s not a change for the oppressed but for the privileged. You can now politely fuck off.

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