[CN: homophobia, sexism, racism, physical assault, rape culture, rape jokes, ageism, ableism]
It all started with a tweet.
The BGCrushes twitter account is a student-run account for people to submit anonymous comments about their local crushes at our university, Bowling Green State University. Most of the tweets range from sweetly shy to super racy, but this one was obviously outside the norm for the account. Over the next few days, responses became increasingly heated. Some people saw it as an attack on Greek Life (sororities and fraternities, for those outside the US), and vehemently defended their brothers and sisters. Others saw it as an opportunity to call for change and discuss the problems in our community. Some saw it as a chance to make tasteless rape jokes and slurs.
I first heard about what happened when some friends of mine started posting about it on Facebook, as I’m not very active on Twitter these days. These were undergrads who I’d met while doing the Vagina Monologues earlier in the semester, and they’re mostly women of color and sorority/fraternity members, and some of them are LGBTQ. They were appalled that this had happened, and about the response. They called for their fellow Greeks to take the perpetrators to task, to seek out the ugliness in their ranks and make it clear that such behavior was not indicative of what Greek Life stood for.
Unfortunately, the police and university response was lukewarm, at best. They shared a website and said “if anyone has any information, please contact us” and left it at that. The administration said they couldn’t do anything. And we, the students, decided that wasn’t good enough.
On Friday, April 29th, a group of us met for a rally in front of the student union. The leaders of the student organizations gave passionate speeches about how they didn’t feel safe, as students, as people of color, as LGBTQ individuals. They talked about how they wanted their university to be better, to be a safer, more welcoming place to everyone. The local independent media came and took pictures and interviewed several of the speakers. After they opened up the floor to everyone, I went up and spoke as well, even though I was so emotional I was afraid I would cry. When I was finished I was shaky and light-headed from the emotions and the response. We stood together and we shouted “BG Be Better!”.
I don’t remember specifically what I said when I spoke to the group. I remember saying “I am a bisexual fat woman” and “this is not an attack on any group, this is a call to action”. But the part that was most important to me was when I talked about how we can all do something.
That was, truthfully, the very first rally I’ve ever been to. My social anxiety makes it very difficult for me to go out in public and put myself in any perceived danger, even when I feel strongly about something. I did it this time because I knew that I would know most of the people there, and that there was a pretty low chance of violence (there was no violence, everyone was very civil, although it probably helped that there were a couple police officers standing by just in case). Even though I felt really good afterward, proud of myself for doing something, I also felt extremely affected, emotionally. I spent most of the rest of the day feeling emotionally raw and exposed. I don’t know if I’ll be able to participate in anything like that in the future, just because it was a very taxing experience.
But even for people like me, who have anxiety, who are afraid, there are things we can do. We can talk about our experiences, and share stories about the experiences of others. We can call out our friends and family when they say or do bigoted things. We can push back against the narratives and stereotypes that hurt marginalized people. We can share articles and memes that point out how bigotry hurts people. We can blog, and we can comment on blogs. We can write emails to our representatives, and sign petitions. We can talk to a suicidal trans teen and tell them it gets better. We can support our friends half a continent away and tell them we love and support them, even if their family doesn’t. We can donate to people and causes that help others. Any and all of the above options are valid, and they help.
There’s always been the stereotype of the “armchair liberal” or “armchair activist”. This is a person who literally sits in their armchair and complains about injustice, but never gets up and does anything about it. This ableist and ageist stereotype hurts people who really can’t go out and join in protests or go to rallies. Right now, in the internet age, it’s so much easier for people to be activists from their armchairs. Rallies and protests are super important, but for those of us who can’t attend for one reason or another, there are things we can do.
For me, the most important take-away from this experience is that anyone can help. My favorite blog, Shakesville, uses the term “teaspooning”. It originated when the main writer of the blog, Melissa McEwan, wrote “All I ever do is try to empty the sea with this teaspoon; all I can do is keep trying to empty the sea with this teaspoon.” It refers to the fact that often, the work of social justice feels overwhelming and heart-breakingly difficult, like trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon. But for me, teaspooning has taken on an additional connotation. If one person is trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon, it’s an overwhelming endeavor that will take an eternity to accomplish. But if ten million people started emptying the sea with teaspoons, suddenly the task would seem a little more doable.
So pick up your teaspoon. Start doing what you can. Every teaspoon you empty is one that someone else doesn’t have to. Because we truly are in this together, so make your voice heard.