It’s a week old now, but this Feministe post exhibits a type of category error that crops up in other contexts, so I figure it’s still worth saying a few words about it. The touchstone is this Rolling Stone postmortem of the battle over Caliornia’s Proposition 8, which concludes that the anti-gay amendment could have been defeated, but for a signally inept campaign waged by its opponents. Blogger Cara responds:
I’m personally really sick of the idea that the “gay people just didn’t beg enough for their own rights” argument is a brilliant replacement for the racist one above. Guess what? If entrenched homophobia (across the board) and religious intolerance was not an issue, the fact that No on 8 ran a shitty campaign wouldn’t have been an issue either. And saying “well maybe if they’d just asked the nice straight people a bit more pleadingly” is just another example of the privilege and prejudice.
No one should have to beg for their rights. Period. And the oppressor is always to blame for the oppression they commit.
First, a purely stylistic quibble. The locution “[Statement]. Period.” is not persuasive. It doesn’t impress the reader with your steely commitment to justice. It’s just rhetorical foot-stamping, about half a notch up from the clever habit of punctuating an attempted reductio with “hel-LOOOO?” It really serves no good purpose. Period, if you will.
The substantive problem here is not that Cara is wrong, as such, but that her being right does no useful work. We can all agree—I assume the author and editorial staff of Rolling Stone agree—that the real problem here is that many people are homophobic and unwilling to extend gay couples the equal treatment to which they are entitled. They really ought to cut that out.
OK, waiting… waiting…
Crap, nope, they’re still homophobes. Even after we pointed out they’re homophobes. And added a “period” to make it clear that we really, really mean it. Given demographic trends, we can probably just wait for them to die out, but since many of us aren’t that patient, some more proactive measures may be in order. For those of us squeamish about pogroms, that probably means some sort of attempt to persuade them to be less homophobic—or at least less disposed to express their homophobia through the legal system. If this persuasive effort is sufficiently organized, one might even call it a “campaign.” And if we care about achieving equality, it’s probably helpful to know whether this “campaign” is run competently or incompetently, and how the next one might be run better.
Now, to be sure, criticism of tactics shouldn’t be confused with criticism of the goal: Gay activists morally deserve to win, regardless of how well they campaign, just by dint of being in the right. That and five bucks will get you a venti latte. Given the premise that their cause is just, the question is how to achieve the goal. That question is not answered by stressing yet again, to people who already agree with you, that the cause is righteous. We know that. And while I understand the desire to avoid any hint of victim-blaming, surely when one is addressing a sympathetic audience—the readership of Rolling Stone, say—there’s a point where you get past the satisfying but futile exercise of lamenting the stuff you don’t control and focus on the stuff you do control. Supporters of gay equality have no control over other people’s bigotry, except through an effective persuasive campaign. We do have control over whether those persuasive campaigns are run well or poorly.
When you’re talking to the population as a whole, of course, the thing to stress is that it’s wrong to deny equality to gay couples—though just calling those who disagree bigots may be a suboptimal tactic, even if it’s true. When you’re talking to people who are all pretty much on board with that idea, the thing to stress is whether you’re doing a good job mobilizing those who agree and bringing around those who don’t. Morally speaking, you shouldn’t have to bring them around—or “beg for your rights,” if that’s how we want to put it: They should just abandon their repugnant views. Unfortunately, they haven’t. Now what?