Over at one of my other blogs, there’s a really interesting (and very “angry”) discussion happening in the comments section of my most recent post, The Bus Driver and The Gadfly: What my activism looks like at BDSM parties. What started as a denunciation of tone arguments, thanks to some interesting coincidences today, turned into an opportunity to theorize on the relative values of different “styles” of activism. I’d say it’s worth checking out if you can stomach the vitriol, but for those who can’t and in order to isolate the meat from the bile and signal-boost the discussion, I’m cross-posting my own theorizing here:
[One] thing I’m learning more recently about “angry” activism versus more “polite” activism, is that it, too, faces an image problem (much like how I described femdom’s “image problem”, which I also linked to in an earlier comment) that creates a self-selecting pool of people who collectively discourage antagonism as a valid change agent.
I think it works like this: angry activists rock the boat, which may or may not get people to change their behavior, but if they do change their behavior they’re more likely to do so quietly and beneath-board, meaning there’s no public acknowledgement of the angry activists’ role, which makes an angry activist’s successes less visible (and we already know what having zero positive representation does to a group of people), which then perpetuates the idea that angry activism is “not effective,” or perhaps “not as effective as other styles of activism.”
I’m not certain, but my own anecdotes all seem to support this theory. Being greeted by a Kink, Inc. exec who clearly knew who I am is just one example that there absolutely were conversations over what I’d written about them even if the company never publicly acknowledged what I wrote. Of course, other times, companies are simply forced to publicly acknowledge this sort of thing, but they obviously prefer to put some spin on it.
So I’ve found the whole idea that being angry “doesn’t work” to be a load of crap. It very clearly does. But that being said, there does seem to be an inverse relationship between getting publicly acknowledged for making change and going about your change-making in a way others view as “being angry.”
I think one can correctly claim that I, as an “angry activist,” will not get much (or at least, as much) love or public acknowledgement from the community’s/company’s insiders for what I do. However, to use that as an argument saying “being angry is not effective” is just a hasty generalization.
What this seems to suggest is that if you care only about results and not about any credit, and you’re angry, then being the bad cop may be just as effective as being the good cop. However, if you care about results and credit, you’re better off being the good cop, because the bad cop won’t get as much credit as the good cop will.
And this gets really tricky, because I care more about results than credit, but I care about credit a little bit, too. Mostly, I care about credit because credit and recognition is more likely to earn me a place at the table (so to speak) so that I can get more results. That’s called having a VIP reputation and it’s kind of a fucked up thing in itself, but it seems to be how things work, especially in subcultures where one’s reputation and social ties to an elite ruling class is a strong currency, which has long been true of the BDSM Scene. (See also: The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman, 1970.)
I’m not sure what this means for me, yet, but it’s good to realize. So, now that I do, it’s something I’m going to start factoring into how I approach situations where I want to instigate change. And I thought it would be worth posting about here because it is similar to a discussion about whether “the bus driver” or “the gadfly” is an appropriate style of activism, and where to use one over the other.
Also, I should probably add that, on a personal note, I really like other activists’ “styles” because I think “it takes all types” is as true for activism as it is for sex-positivity generally. (Yay diversity!)
So if you’re not an angry activist, that’s not only cool, that’s great and may actually be one reason why I might want to collaborate with you. But should we collaborate on any BDSM-related projects, please understand that I’m probably going to be a better “bad cop” than a “diplomat” (at least for the time being), and I’d like you to respect the validity and effectiveness of that role, too. Thanks.
This is obviously a half-baked thought but seeing as it sparked some interesting mental modeling, I’d be interested in receiving more input (of any type, really, so I’ll leave it undefined).