BY ALEXANDRIA ARRITT
The election of 2016 was an incredibly trying time for people of all political parties, friendships, and families. Although difficult for me as well, I was very vocal about my opinions especially through social media. Social media is one of the most prominent and available platforms to share information, current events, and even political discourse. During that time though many people avoided social media. The stress of the election was a great one to bear for sure. I did feel, however, that it was important for me to explain why this election was so important and why I feared the possible outcomes for the next four years.
Meanwhile, I had many people tell me that they unfollowed me or stayed off social media or refused to discuss opinions between people. Of course, I understand that some conversations will lead nowhere, but no conversation at all will also lead nowhere. There is a balance there that naturally comes with judgement. Even after the election is long past many people continue to stay silent on issues that are held very close to my heart as well as many others. While I understand wholly the seemingly unnecessary stress talking about politics may have on a relationship of any kind, I still find my heart dropping when people tell me they don’t talk about politics. This is because politics is a lot more than just that. “Politics” entail the livelihood and safety of ourselves and those around us, politics are healthcare and reproductive rights and environmental concerns and politics concern so many different life’s and families. If politics don’t affect you, they will affect someone you know and may care about.
When you can separate your life from politics, that is your privilege at work. Privilege is a word that sounds dirty. So what exactly is privilege? Privilege can be described as, “a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.” Some benefits that men experience include rarely experiencing gender-based harassment (of any kind), ability to choose a career without social pressures, ability to be well-represented in politics, and here is a list of many other privileges men experience. When someone points it out, “privilege” feels like an insult. Although that is what it feels like, that is not the purpose of pointing out privileges that one group of people benefits from. You may be unaware or uncertain that’s what it is, but typically that is what skews women’s experiences in a negative way. When people choose to be silent when women are fighting for their rights it allows those with institutional power to hold their bearings.
Let’s remember what some of the most historic movement leaders say about silence in the face of oppression. Desmond Tutu, a South African social rights activist who fought against the apartheid, said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Why is this the case? Why can’t we stay neutral? Many people do not have a voice, even in a seemingly modern world. It is very difficult to have a say in politics when men still outnumber women. Although America seems very progressive when it comes to women in politics, Rwanda, a country in South Africa, leads in numbers. Thinking logically, if politics determine women’s rights, but men represent much of the local, state, and federal political positions and institutions, how can women’s rights prevail? Women’s rights prevail when those with a platform of power work with minorities as a mouth piece. Of course, men can support women, and a lot of men do, but women deserve the right to represent themselves in matters of their own well-being. Another activist Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Imagine if you were stopped in public to be harassed and bystanders stood quiet when you needed help.
Avoiding conflict is a common human interest and has merit, but we must remember, in a world full of so many different people and minds and opinions and backgrounds, conflict is inevitable and it always will be. How do we approach that, how do we navigate those waters? We must learn to talk to others in a way that allows for the open exchange of ideas. Neutrality allows oppression to run rampant. The conversations that we should be having are difficult and there will be disagreements, but without them learning will stall. Politics involve women’s rights, human rights. It is possible to talk to those we disagree without damaging relationships with family and friends. We do that in a courteous manner with a true interest in what the other person has to say. There is no issue that is completely black and white, and when we take the time to understand that, compromise is possible and allows for real-time solutions to take place. That is what is most important when discussing privilege and oppression. Bringing about change is the goal in the fight for women’s rights.