Don’t Use This Argument Because OMG Children Are Starving in Africa

Raise your hand if this is a familiar source of tooth-grinding frustration: “Shame on you for being concerned/upset/worried about thing X, because thing Y is way worse.”

(This post started as a comment over at a post Jen wrote about comments Richard Dawkins made. But this annoys me enough, I want to just make it a post all its own. And also, I want to detach it from GettingHitOnInAnElevator-gate. Because really, it’s a more general complaint and what Richard Dawkins said is just one example.)

Now, I’ve run across this faux-argument mostly when I bring up an issue as a feminist, but I’m sure that it happens on other topics1. In one instance (among many), a couple of years ago I got in to the middle of a dogpile on the World of Warcraft forums because several of us female type humans had the audacity to say that we thought there was a particular thing in the game that was probably intended to be cute, but we found it sexist, creepy, and insulting. And immediately, that argument got pulled on us. We’re not allowed to complain that something in the game sexist and insulting because women in less socially liberal countries are under the thumb of some really horrible misogynists.

There are a multitude of reasons that this “argument” is a steaming pile of bullshit:

1) We are capable of being concerned with more than one thing at a time. And we can be concerned about an array of both large and small issues and speak out about them. Feminist women and our feminist male allies are – and this comes as a shock, I know – capable of multitasking.

2) You (directed at the general “you” that uses this ridiculous argument) do not have any way of knowing what I have and have not done toward the cause of women in less privileged countries. And further, it does not matter because you have no right to dictate to me what I can and can’t be concerned about.

3) You may think that thing X is less important than thing Y, but you must also acknowledge that I am directly affected by thing X, and that potentially gives me more power to do something about it. There is a limit to what one of us can do on our own about a giant issue in a far away place; we can donate money, we can volunteer, we can work to raise awareness. A “smaller” issue that affects you personally is something that you can act much more directly on. So you know what? I cannot personally end the practice of female genital mutilation. But I can personally try to change something that affects me directly – to use the WoW example, as a paying customer of the company that’s doing something offensive, I can make a stink about “Hey, I think this is BS.”

4) EVERYONE performs this sort of mutlitasking and issue triage. Everyone. Trying to tell someone they shouldn’t is frankly hypocritical.

5) Also, if you are that concerned about thing Y, why the hell are you wasting your valuable time and energy arguing with silly wrong-headed feminazis on the internet instead of combating thing Y?

6) Every time I hear this argument, this is what I hear: “The issue you have chosen to speak about is one that I dislike or makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t really have a good answer to it. Therefore I will try to shame you with my powers of sarcasm in to shutting up because OMG children are starving in Africa.”

Ultimately, it comes across as almost less insulting if your “argument” is just a baldly stated “go make me a sandwich,” because at least then it doesn’t sound like you’re pretending to be on our side.

Please, just let this argument go; it’s not going to convince anyone, and is frankly going to fan the flames of anger because it sounds so damn condescending. There are a lot of other ways to deal with something you think is turning in to a tempest in a teapot. Ignoring it could be one course of action, since for some reason basically telling people to shut the hell up on the internet doesn’t work unless you have the power to simultaneously kill everyone’s broadband and melt their smart phones. Maybe just saying “I don’t consider this an issue so I’m going to go do something else” would come out as more positive, and you can have a smug little thrill that you’re totally the only adult in the room as you go flouncing away.

Or hey, maybe trying to understand why people are freaking the hell out about something you consider to be a non-issue could be worth a shot. You never know.

1 – Hm, maybe along the lines of “You shouldn’t whine about ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance because there are countries where being an atheist will just get you executed!” And so on.

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