Armchair Activism

Below is a piece I wrote for The Anchor,  Rhode Island College’s student paper. 


I use to firmly believe that one could preach on social media, but that did not make them an ally. I recently read an article on the site Everyday Feminism ( about making social justice less elitist and it pushed me to face a few facts. The first being that I was wrong in my approach to word “ally” and second, that I was an Elitist Feminist.

Elitist Feminist: Someone who dismisses the views of men and women who do not fit there educated, Judith Butler worshipping perfect feminist stereotype.

I am a reformed anti-feminist. I once dropped a class on gender equality because it attacked the sexist traditions of marriage. I was not ready for that kind of reality check and, through the microcosm of that class, I found feminists to be snobby and dismissive of people who did share their exact beliefs. Later in my life feminism became extremely important to me after I had an abortion and became openly exposed to how much sexism was still prevalent in the word. Unfortunately, I overcorrected and became dismissive of anyone who did not approach feminism from the academic way I chose to. I admit this is incredibly hypocritical because it was the real life, non-academic exposure to sexism, slut shaming and my reproductive rights that turned me to feminism.

I realize now that the class I dropped approached feminism from such a lofty standpoint that I could not access it at that time. I believe the basic concept of feminism is fundamentally accessible: equality. In laymen’s terms it means stop thinking you are better or more correct than anyone else and when you see a group being oppressed or over elevated you ask why. In loftier terms there are more theoretical concepts applied to the issues explored in feminism, but I argue they are alienating when made the gold standard for being a “true feminist”.

I have come to believe not everyone needs to be an activist or a scholar in order to be a feminist. I recently learned the term “armchair activist” which is a connotatively derogatory term for that friend who updated their Facebook status saying how enraged they were about talks to defund Planned Parenthood, but did not bother to write their local legislation or engage in any way in the political process. Initially, that sounds bad, but I think we are expecting too much from too many people. We are not all destined for limelight greatness in every field we pursue. There is just not enough time in the human lifespan for that kind of achievement. And for every feminist writing their legislators and organizing protests, there are other people out there advocating for other important issues. The people who don’t draft bills, or write their senators, or organize slut walks, they’re still allowed to be apart of the conversation because at the end of the day the conversation is the spark that keeps the fire going under an issue. If people stop talking and engaging, then people stop caring and that is a problem.

To dismiss someone from a cause you believe in for not doing “enough”  or for not understanding any complex theoretical or philosophical aspect of the movement is elitist and counterproductive. People respond to what they know and what they understand to affect them. I will concede that someone talking about being catcalled on the street is not going to immediately change that situation, but when people start talking about issues, that is how a movement is born. And while maybe that single person will not take their activism any further than a post, they very well may inspire someone else who will. To dismiss the power of conversation is to overlook an entire group of feminists. People should not feel uncomfortable with the title feminist because they never went college or took a gender studies class.  These “armchair activists” spread the word. They make topics like feminism common and through that they remove taboo from the conversation, which is an imperative part of a movement towards equality. There are little victories every day for feminism. I challenge all of us to be more aware and appreciative of these victories, rather than being focused on judging them.