This weekend, a facebook meme by Cop Block—a Facebook page calling for police accountability—went viral, receiving nearly 70,000 “likes” and 18,000 shares in 20 hours. The image responded to the now-famous video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” arguing that anyone who found the “10 hours” video more troubling than videos of police brutality is “part of the problem.”
We’ve been seeing a lot of this type of discourse in social media lately. The viral FCKH8 advertisement “F-Bombs for Feminism” is a recent example: The FCKH8 video stated that those who felt outrage at their provocative decision to have young girls say “fuck” repeatedly should redirect their concern to the sexism and structural inequality girls and women still face in our society.
I find this kind of juxtaposition incredibly problematic. It creates false dichotomies—and false choices—while completely ignoring the fact that people can be concerned about multiple issues simultaneously. It reminds me of how some people react to my work on girls’ media and princess culture: “Why are you so concerned about girl culture when we have bigger things to worry about, like [insert other cause here]?”
When memes, viral videos, and words like these are bandied about, everyone needs to remember: The battle for social justice is neither a contest nor a zero-sum game. The problems in society do not need to compete against one another for popularity. The USA has a population of 316 million people! We really can work on more than one problem at a time, and individuals should feel free to working on the problem that best fits their experiences, skills, and expertise.
There’s no need to shame those who work on issues other than your own. They’re not detracting from your social justice work. If anything, they’re helping to raise the consciousness of more people, inspiring more political engagement—and that’s crucial. We’re all in this together. Don’t buy into people’s underhanded attempts to divide and conquer those who crusade for social justice!
As far as the Cop Block meme goes, my response is this: If you think the second scenario depicted somehow negates the legitimacy of the first, then you are part of the problem. Both of these problems should bother people, and both need to be addressed. Let’s bring a “win-win” mindset to social justice movements. Remember: improvements on one societal ill often pave the way for improvements on others.
Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Her book, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, is now available from retailers including Amazon.