The struggle to make the world a better place for everyone (i.e. social justice) is not a competition. White feminists should not be in competition with POC feminists, for instance, and spats between the gay community and trans folks are counterproductive. Shouting down one activist because your cause is dire doesn’t help.
Why not? Because everyone working for social justice is fundamentally working toward the same goal—a more just society—and such friendly fire only serves the Social Inequality Dragon.
Now I know social justice activists often rub each other the wrong way. (I suspect what I just said pissed off some people.) People who work for social justice (like myself) tend to be easily offended by accusations that sound like “you’re doing it wrong.” That’s not my intention here. My intention is to discuss intersectionality and how it applies to social justice, through the analogy of role-playing games.
What can I say? I’m a geek. :)
Social Justice Heroes: Fighters, Rogues, Clerics, Wizards
Here’s the analogy.
In the world’s best roleplaying game, a party of heroes comes together from all walks of life, bringing different skills to the table, all of which will prove essential to their adventure. The group includes a fighter, a rogue, a cleric, and a wizard. Each of these four has something valuable to contribute in the quest to find and slay the Social Inequality Dragon.
• The fighter provides important protection for the squishier members of the group and dishes out some important damage. But without the cleric’s buffs, the rogue opening locks and finding traps, and the wizard dispelling the bad guy’s magic, the fighter wouldn’t succeed.
• The rogue has massive DPS, can open locks, and can disarm the traps. But the rogue wouldn’t survive long without protection from the fighter, opportunities created by the wizard’s magic, and healing from the cleric.
• The cleric can produce light, buff allies, heal wounds and treat diseases, and provide some off-tank support in combat. But without the fighter to maximize the cleric’s buffs, the rogue to handle those tricky agility-based challenges, and the wizard to dish out arcane attack to match all the divine defense, the cleric isn’t going to get it done.
• The wizard is a walking toolbox of magic, with a spell for almost every situation. The wizard is particularly good at taking out a bunch of weaker creatures (like hordes of goblins who will all buckle to a single sleep spell) or some flashy damage against a big enemy (like a lightning bolt for a giant). But the wizard doesn’t have enough spells to match the abilities of everyone else in the party: toughness spells to simulate the fighter, agility spells to simulate the rogue, and certainly no healing to simulate the cleric. The wizard needs people from the other classes who can reliably do those things more often than once a day.
The abilities of each class complement those of the others but aren’t the same. No class can solo the adventure. (Well, maybe the warlock…)
Now think of a party composed entirely of members of one class or another.
• Team Fighter is really good at combat. Like *really* good. They can chew their way through a horde of creatures well enough, though they’ll probably take a long time to do it and get tired. (The wizard could have handled the horde with one or two spells, and the cleric probably could have turned undead on at least one of them.) They’re probably quite adept at climbing and getting through physical challenges, but if they have to keep breaking down every door they come across (rather than picking the lock), they’re going to attract a lot of attention, and if they spring every trap by stepping into it, their health will suffer. (The rogue could have helped pick those locks or avoid those traps, and the cleric could have helped heal.) By the time they get to the Social Inequality Dragon, they will be too exhausted to fight at their best. They won’t have the buffs to penetrate the Dragon’s armor or the dispelling magic to get through its magical protections, and the dragon will just strafe and burn them from a distance.
• Team Rogue has no problem with traps, hazards, and locked doors. They’re pretty good at taking down big enemies (though if one ever gets a hit in, that’s probably a dead rogue). They have a lot of trouble with hordes of minion types, as their specialty tends to be major damage to a single target. Some of the rogues might have minor magical abilities, to help with magical wards, but not a lot of healing or major offense. When they get to the Social Inequality Dragon, they’ll go down amazingly fast—one or two rogues with every attack—and while they may get in a hit or two, without protection they’re basically doomed.
• Team Cleric is impervious to wounds, poisons, and diseases. If they get it, they can heal it. Some of them are probably decent warriors, too. But they are probably going to suck at climbing or agility challenges, getting through doors, or trying to bypass magical wards. Hordes of minions are going to give them a hard time, unless they’re undead. If the strategy is literally “let them hit me until they get bored and go away,” that’s not going to fly in every situation. When they get to the Social Inequality Dragon, the clerics are probably going to suck it up with ranged weapons, meaning the dragon is basically free to strafe and destroy them with impunity, and there’s only so much healing can accomplish if the clerics can’t dish out offense.
• Team Wizard is supremely confident in its ability to handle anything. Smart wizard teams will have members that can emulate each of the other classes, but that emulation goes only so far. Their lack of hit points and lasting armor will be their undoing, and if they get to the Dragon, odds are they will have used up all their spells or at least they won’t have enough power to take it down. They can break its magical defenses and weaken it, but they just don’t have the strength or agility or sheer grit to defeat it.
Ultimately, the party cannot infiltrate the dungeon, defeat the dragon, rescue the kingdom, and get all the treasure unless everyone works together, bringing their different skills to the quest.
Social Justice Activists: Feminism, Racial Equality, GLBTQ+ Rights, etc
There are many overall types of social justice workers who advocate for many different things—feminism, humanism, racial equality, GLBTQ+ rights, wealth distribution, legal rights, voting rights, etc.—and hundreds of different shades within those disciplines (just like there are types of fighters, rogues, clerics, wizards, etc). Each and every activist has a different skill set and specializes in different things. A feminist might be really good at feminism but clueless when it comes to religious freedom activism. A gay rights activist might have celebrated gay marriage finally becoming legal all throughout America but be generally indifferent to voter suppression in Florida.
And that? That’s ok.
None of us can do everything. We can’t invest all our efforts in every cause. If we did, we’d be overwhelmed and never get anything accomplished. We need to pick those things we are really good at doing, and let specialists in other fields do their own thing. All social justice is valuable. All of it is important. Because the Social Inequality Dragon has many heads and many claws in many causes, and we need to work together. All of us are in this together, whether we want to be or not.
The Enemy: The Social Inequality Dragon
The problems with the world are vast and sprawling. Women are suffering all over the world, as are GLBTQ+ people, non-white people, etc., etc. Governments legislate against the medicines they can acquire, the people they can marry, or the restrooms they can use. They may have laws passed against their very existence, and they might face prison or death just for being who they are. Obviously it’s worse in some places than others, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still suck in the places where it’s better, and all of it needs to be addressed.
I guess the Social Inequality Dragon is more like a hydra (Hail Hydra!), with heads popping up all over the world and claws in almost every land. Sometimes it works through direct, obvious servants (politicians or talking heads who advocate against the rights of one of the dragon’s targets), and sometimes it benefits from seemingly unconnected people who just don’t think the dragon is a big deal (people who try to silence Social Justice activists because “it’s worse over there,” “there are more important issues,” “this isn’t really a problem,” etc). These people probably aren’t evil (that’s a whole other discussion), but they support an evil entity—either knowingly or not—by advancing its aims and hindering its opponents.
Sometimes these minions are other Social Justice types who have been charmed, tricked, or manipulated against each other. The Social Inequality Dragon has a super high Charisma and plenty of domination spells. If it can turn its enemies against each other, that frees it up from their attacks. When gay rights activists attack each other over language (tone policing) or perceived slights or question each other’s bonafides as allies (No True Scotsman fallacy), the only one that wins is the Dragon. When feminists fight over whether the hijab is empowering or not (some see it that way, some do not) or white feminists denigrate non-white feminists (or vice versa), the only one that wins is the Dragon.
How Do We Fight the Dragon?
Fight the Dragon. Stop fighting each other. Focus on the greater enemy, which thrives by keeping us divided and at each other’s throats.
Take a stand. Work to the best of your abilities. Respect each other and recognize a common foe. We are all working toward a better world. Let each other do it.
Be good to each other. Be good to the world.
Go forth and do good. :)