I have spent a lot of time, over the past few years, thinking about B's right to not be in the limelight. I write about her, give speeches about her, hell, I'm sitting on a novel I've written about her, fresh from an awesome editing friend. I often have to draw a fuzzy line about what is my story, and what is her story, and where my rights and what benefits I am intending end, and her rights begin.
It's not easy. My tactic so far has been to ask her if it's alright. She has had complete access to my novel, and so far she's always wanted me to tell people about her. Still, I ask because assuming would be unethical. and sometimes she feels nervous or exposed in the moment, and needs to wrap her head around what is going on. I try to respect that.
When a certain young girl in the news now was insulted by a satirical newspaper, that is what I thought about. I'm not going to name them or link to any stories. If you don't know what I am talking about, then, oh hai, how's it going under your rock?
As much as it was offensive, and it was, my immediate thoughts were that this little girl spent the night attending what surely must have been a magical night for her ( I consider award ceremonies elitist crapola, but most people don't) and woke up the next morning to a pile of shit. No nine year old should have to experience that. But the actuality of the insult and the retraction would be just the start, as endless commenting and articles and stories would surely follow. All without that girl or her family having indicated what they wanted, what they thought would be justice. Well meaning people would express their outrage, and bigots and morons would up the ante constantly. I feel so bad for what that family is going to be exposed to in the next few months. And yes, I realise that sexism and racism and classism are constantly stealing from us and grinding us down, but it's different when you are singled out.
I determined not to read, or comment, or link to any of the avalanche of media attention, unless it is something from the girl or her family.
This led to a sort of revelation to me. I realise that in the past I certainly have done exactly what now bothered me. I feel outrage at some horrible injustice, some abuse of an individual, and by goat, I would defend and argue and read and quote. See, that's actually a part of me, it's integral to my personality. I am a fighter, and I will willingly wade in and battle my fearsome foe, especially if I feel a kinship of oppression. But I rarely consider if that is what the person wants if they are not known personally to me. And no matter how righteous my anger, no matter how good my intentions, that's actually a pretty damn ignorant thing to do. My righteous anger does not outweigh their right to fight the fight they choose, even if that choice is not to fight at all.
Years ago, my sister came out as a lesbian. At one point I can remember feeling resentment for her because she was not as much as a feminist as I felt I was. Why, she was a lesbian; she owed it to me and our sisters to fight, march, organise. I finally came to realise that I didn't have a right to expect that. Just living her life as an out lesbian was enough, it was brave and inherently political, and I could stuff my expectations. Not everyone is at the same place at the same time, and that's okay.
As leftists (wherever you are on that spectrum) we actually owe it to victims of abuse not to press them into service for our anger. Even if that anger is right and just and fitting. Even if the abuse is public, and in the media, and systemic, and representative of all that is wrong in society. We need to make sure we ask how they want to pursue their justice, and that we help and defend them in the way they ask. For the larger picture, we can take our anger and use it how we see fit, but we must respect the individual, and the more the other side doesn't the more we must. We can fight the fight with those that consent to our doing so.
B and that little girl, they owe us nothing. And even if we are fighting the fight for them, for others like them, we cannot use them without consent, even though I know we're doing it out of love.