by Sariel Friedman
A few weeks ago, I was asked to appear on Nick News with Gloria Steinem and several of my young activist peers (watch for it–it airs in March!). In order to prepare for the discussion, I watched about six hours of Obama interviews, trying to master his keen ability to keep calm while being berated relentlessly by his opponent. At school and around my friends in the days leading to the panel, I tried to emulate Obama’s poker face, but my emotions continued to get the best of me. This is nothing new: in middle school, I threatened to castrate a boy for not letting me play football because I was a girl. I tend to provoke internet fights with boys I have never met. I’ve been known to cry when “women in the kitchen” jokes start to be directed towards me, and I once shouted at a teacher for only spending a day studying Cleopatra. Watching Obama stay calm was obviously not going to be enough–if I couldn’t control myself in my daily life, how would I control myself on national television? So I asked for a little help from my peers on how to keep my cool. Here’s what they had to say:
Hanna “Long Hair in a Lab Coat” Baldecchi: Feminism is such a logical idea! Just take a minute to sort out your thoughts beforehand and figure out a way to explain it in a way that expresses that logic. Because in the end equal rights is always right. so play your cards in a calm, collected, informed manner and you’ll always win. Don’t interrupt, because no matter how stupid someone is you have to let them finish their own thoughts. You can be really annoyed, but do not show it. Nothing pisses off ignorant people more than being upstaged intellectually. Also, yelling at people doesn’t invalidate what you’re saying, but people will want to listen to you less.
Scarlett “Neo-Riot Grrrl Revolutionary” Sinay: With any issue that I feel strongly about, there always seems to be someone who opposes it and/or fights against the idea using insufficient evidence/reasoning to support their views. That being said, I often find myself wasting words on people who 1) Refuse to see any other point of view but theirs or 2) Do not understand what I am saying. Unfortunately when I find myself in these situations, what has worked best in the past is let the OTHER person waste their words and keep your good ideas to yourself… unless of course it is possible to pull the old “agree to disagree” trick, which is ideal in situations when I think my head will blow up due to frustration.
Izzy “Activist with an Attitude” Labbe: I get frustrated more than I get angry. This is a problem for me, because I deal with a lot of people in my daily life who have very different viewpoints than I do, so sometimes it can feel like I have no place to go and no one to express my frustration to. It’s worth it to find a network of friends who can support you when it feels like no one is listening to you. It’s also very worth it to listen to what the other person has to say, because even if you’re absolutely sure you know what you’re talking about and the way you feel about it, you should always be open to ideas. Unless the person is a total misogynist asshole. Then you should just listen to them and stress that you two share different ideas but that it’s good to agree to disagree. I like to think of the Gloria Steinem quote, “the truth will set you free. But first it’ll piss you off.” So I think to be passionate about something you have to be angry the other side of the argument exists.
YingYing “Smolder” Shang: Do the smolder. No, but seriously, I usually try to remember that they just don’t know better and that they have felt hurt or victimized sometime in their lives as well. And then I close out by offering to talk more anytime in private and encouraging them to message me. I don’t know if that works, but this one guy in my physics class that always used to make misogynist comments now has a weird crush on me, so I think it’s at least semi-effective!
Margaret “Unashamed Angry Feminist” Poplin Berry: Either you are awake or you aren’t. It’s always good to have open-minded discussions, of course, but I’ve never witnessed anyone’s mind being changed if they were totally hostile to feminism in the first place. If people are totally unwilling to recognize someone else’s humanity, we don’t need them and probably can’t change their minds no matter how civil we are to them.
Chizz “The Shizz” Mbamalu: What’s wrong with being passionate about feminism? If you’re getting emotional and putting your all into something you believe in you’re probably doing it right. I won’t be civil for anyone, because whether I’m nice and gently guiding them into it or stubborn with my points, it won’t make a difference to someone who isn’t open to learning. If you’re being called an angry feminist, the people who are calling you that are just trying to derail the conversation.
In the end, keeping your cool is a personal choice (and a personal struggle!), but hopefully, these lovely ladies have brought you a little closer to figuring it all out. If you ever find yourself wanting to showing ‘em who is boss on the web, stay tuned–our own Ria Desai will have tips on how to survive an online debate later this week.