hollaback again: beyond holladome

part one is here
part two is here
part three is here

this is the last part, i swear!

kendra complained about me bring critical of hollaback in various places, like on this blog & in conversations & stuff. she became very somber & said, “i have never been a part of an activist project that started off with this much negative energy.” i tried to suggest that there is nothing inherently negative about critique of differing opinions. that shit becomes negative when people invest a bunch of negative emotions in them & get upset & start kicking people out of activist groups that haven’t even started yet. (i didn’t say that last bit.) i am a big advocate of trying to own your emotions & not letting your feelings get hurt over stuff that really isn’t about you. but kendra was all, “no! you haven’t had anything good to say about hollaback at all & that’s really negative & i don’t know if i want to do this!”

i already wrote a little bit about how some people have interpreted my critiques of hollaback as really negative hatemongering, & how confused i was by this. well, i’m just gonna say it, i have moved beyond the “confused” stage & have entered the “really fucking irritated” stage. take it from me, a professional hater & routine voicer of unpopular opinions: people are not always going to like everything you say or do. if you are going to have a bunch of emotions every single time someone doesn’t like what you say or do, i guess you have two options. option #1 is to just try to avoid ever saying or doing anything that anyone might ever find controversial or problematic or weird. this isn’t going to be a very fun life, because instead of doing or saying the things you want to do or say, you are going to instead find yourself constantly worrying about how other people might react to what you want to do or say. you are going to start policing everything you do so that no one can say anything critical about you, your words, or your behaviors, & eventually you will implode from the sheer magnitude of bottled up feelings you feel. option #2 is to freak the fuck out & made a federal case of it every single time someone is critical of something you say or do. while it may feel good to express the feelings rather than bottling up, you will find that pitching regular shit fits every time someone looks at you cross-eyed is probably not going to be endearing in the long run, & people are not going to be psyched about being more external sources of personal validation than friends, & then you’ll be back at square one.

i have eschewed both of these options for instead accepting the fact that in the course of living my life & doing my thing, some people are going to disagree with me sometimes. especially when i disagree with them. it is interesting to me how the very same people who say, “oh, ciara, you’re so badass, you called out that fucked up shit & it was awesomesauce!” are pretty quick to say, “ciara, you have hurt my feelings by calling out my fucked up shit & i just don’t know how we’re going to get past this,” when i turn my awesomesauce on them. it’s not easy to maintain a constant state of awesome in a constantly fluctuating universe, but…with great power comes great responsibility.

i kid! trust me when i say that i am no more critical of other people than i am of myself. in fact, other people are getting off easy compared to what i put myself through. but i get through it by being in touch with my own personal values system & trying to make sure i don’t let myself down by it. i am not always successful, but i try, & trying is all i ask of other people.

i take care not to be critical of people, as in, who someone is, things they cannot change. everyone is flawed. i accept my friends foibles with the hopes that they will accept mine. what i do critique are ideas, behaviors…things that can be changed. things that people have control over. & i never critique with the expectation that someone will or should change something just because i say so. that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences sometimes. i mean, my critiques of hollaback more or less added up to me deciding not to be part of a local hollaback group. if someone made a racist joke & did not stop & work that shit out post-haste, that would result in me not hanging out with them anymore. but i definitely don’t think that i am some deity that everyone must constantly strive to please. i just throw some shit out there & see what sticks, as much to chart my own course in the world as anything else.

& what i am realizing is that critique is very, very important to me. if i have ever been asked (or, more to the point, TOLD) not to critique something in the past, i don’t remember it happening. i am NOT interested in being friends or working on projects with anyone who would ask me not to critique. i would not be interested in participating in any project that asked me to check my critiques at the door. what good could possibly come of such a thing? critique is the first step in fostering growth, improvement, & ultimately, real change. critique is what we need to illuminate our values & set a path toward our goals. my definition of critique, in word & deed, is something that comes from a place of hope & love. life is too goddamn short to hate just for the sake of hating. in short, i critique because i care!

& long story short, kendra made one more fucked up comment about how i have too much time on my hands because i’m all disabled & crap, i yelled, “fuck you,” & stormed out, i realized i’d yelled “fuck you” in front of a baby, & then i bought a pack of smokes. hollaback lawrence may or may not happen–i am not going to be involved. but there is some talk of starting an abortion outreach & support group, which is something that makes me WICKED PUMPED. imagine if we could increase the visibility & access to the kansas abortion fund, organize transport from places like wichita to kansas city (kansas city is the only town in kansas that provides abortions, & it’s HOURS away for a lot of kansas women), & offer loving pro-lady pro-choice pro-feminist abortion counseling? AMAZING. so this long, long story took many twists & turns, there were long dark nights when we weren’t sure we’d see the sun rise again, we questioned our most fundamental beliefs, but ultimately, there was a happy ending.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. msjacks says:

    It sounds like the abortion access network would be a great idea, and much more up your alley than Hollaback. Maybe you were really excited about doing something, anything feminist, and you settled for Hollaback because it had momentum in your area? It sounds like the valid critiques of Hollaback are enough that it isn’t something that will be effective enough to do much good for everyone in the world. I honestly knew zero about Hollaback before reading your writing about it, and I think a lot of the reason for that is that I’m a poor person. I got an iPhone two weeks ago (blew $200 of my poor person’s Pell Grant on it! Hood rich!), but before that I was T9ing it in on a 2006 model phone and being mocked mercilessly by everyone who saw me whip it out (now I’m all, LOOK AT ME NOW, SUCKAS!!!).

    I dunno. I feel like abortion access is always going to > iPhone apps. Have you read this article? I googled “Hollaback criticism” and it was the first result (your blog was 2-3-4-5).

    http://www.broadrecognition.com/politics/hollaback-misguided-shouting-for-a-much-needed-safe/

    1. ciara says:

      yeah, i was excited to just do something feminist. feminist book club is awesome, but i was also interested in doing something more activist-y. i think i wrote in my other thing about hollaback a few days ago that when i first said i would pitch in, i didn’t realize that it was just a street harassment thing. i thought it more of a general purpose feminist thing & i was excited for that. i will support an organization that only fights street harassment, & if a hollaback lawrence starts up, i will support that from the sidelines, not as a team member. so i guess what i’m saying is that my interest in hollaback was less because of momentum & more because i didn’t know what it was at first!

      also that makes it obvious that i didn’t really know what hollaback was at first either. i hadn’t really heard much about it, outside of folks i know in columbia starting a group there. but even then, i didn’t really realize what it was. they were talking about doing mud stencils & organizing a benefit show & i don’t remember hearing any of them say anything like, “we’re specifically targeting street harassment,” (maybe one of them said something about the stencils being something about street harassment, i don’t remember) so i didn’t realize. now that i’ve thought about it more, i guess the point is kind of obvious from the name, but i really didn’t get it at first. i don’t know if that is because i am poor or just because i don’t really keep up with what’s new in the feminist zeitgeist. i don’t follow tumblrs or any of the big feminist blogs or anything, so it was just off my radar. it’s probably off the radars of a lot of people who don’t spend a lot of time on the internet, & you know who doesn’t spend a lot of time on the internet? poor people. especially people who don’t have computers & do all their internetting at the library. i am not one of those people, but still.

      i have seen that article. it’s pretty much the only thing that comes up when you google “hollaback critique”. i looked EVERYWHERE for critiques & came up almost entirely empty-handed. then i went to the big feminist blogs & searched for hollaback & found posts about the app roll-out, & there was a fair amount of critique in the comments. that was good to find. i was starting to feel kind of crazy because there is so little out there. i think that yale article makes some good points, but the most interesting fact is that pretty much all the comments amounted to, “stop hatin’.” i found another big-ish feminist blog where someone in the comments described the hollaback found as a “megalomaniac who is gaming young women so she can have a non-profit job,” & everyone who replied was like, “in-fighting tears feminist movements apart.” while i would have appreciated a little more nuance & information, rather than just a hit & run, i don’t really think, “in-fighting tears the movement apart!” is really all that germane to what’s being said, you know?

  2. Msjacks says:

    You know what this “stop all the infighting” nonsense sounds like? MWMF. Obviously not as intense/critical, but def a repeat of that thing where we, as feminists, tend to hold everyone but ourselves accountable for fucked up shit.

    1. ciara says:

      yeah, it does smack of MWMF. & every other time through the history of the world when people got uncomfortable because someone was complicating their easy, breezy narrative & asking them to take a good hard look at themselves. i don’t think feminism is the only sphere where this happens. i mean, much of what i wrote here is about feminism & politics, but part of it is also just about treating people with a certain level of basic respect.

  3. Caitlin says:

    Whoa, this was epic. Sorry you had to deal with all of that bullshit.

    Abortion outreach sounds way better than Hollaback. Not that fighting street harassment isn’t important, but I never really got into the Hollaback way of doing things, maybe because I don’t have an iPhone and don’t really want one? But abortion access is so critical right now, not just in Kansas but everywhere. (Our state legislature just passed a fuckload of anti-choice laws and I am so unhappy about it.)

    About your thoughts on critique – I really like what you have to say. I often have to check myself when someone points out that I have said or done something fucked up, if only to make sure I’m not just reacting out of defensiveness and to see whether the person does in fact have a valid critique (which oftentimes they do). Its not fun and it can be embarrassing and all that, but when has anything ever worth a damn been EASY?

    1. ciara says:

      well, i guess i just want to say for the record that while i have many critiques of hollaback & have decided that i am not interested in personally being involved in a group, i am also not interested in pitting hollaback against any other form of feminist activism, including abortion access/outreach stuff. i personally am far, far more interested in doing stuff around abortion, but i’m all about different strokes for different folks & totally respect the fact that some people are far more interested in trying to stop street harassment. i know you weren’t trying to create an either/or dichotomy, but you know. people are gonna read my posts & get upset, & then they’ll read your comment & get all upset if there are insinuations that maybe i think abortion-related activism is more important than hollaback. just covering my bases here.

      the kansas legislature just voted to defund kansas-based planned parenthoods. shit here is a total mess.

      thanks for the support around all this crap (i did indeed write an epic–over 4000 words!), & sharing your perspective on critique. i have certainly been on the receiving end of critique or whatever you want to call it before. it’s not fun, & yeah, it can feel embarrassing & shameful. but i think it’s important to get to the point where you can hear what is being said instead of reacting out of your own sense of defensiveness. i wouldn’t even argue that all critique is at all times 100% valid. i have been criticized for shit before, & after thinking about it, i have decided that i wasn’t interested in changing. if that loses me some friends or something…oh well. ultimately you’re looking at your own face in the mirror every morning & that’s who you need to be true to. it’s difficult to strike that balance between listening & bettering yourself & trying to be effective as a friend or an activist or whatever…it’s a balancing act. but i think i am officially out of patience with folks who respond to critique with nothing but dramatic hurt feelings & such forth. ditch me as a friend or ally if you want. just don’t expect me to give two shits about your temper tantrums!

      1. Caitlin says:

        Oops, yeah, I should put a disclaimer that this is JUST MY OPINION, re: abortion outreach and street harassment. Anyone who wants to get upset about that, you are more than welcome to come yell at me.

        I pretty much love your entire last paragraph. I have to say that it’s gotten easier for me to these things as I’ve gotten more secure about what I believe and who I am. (And also it has helped to get over my near-pathological need to be liked and admired by everyone I know. My life has gotten a lot easier once I acknowledged that there are certain people in the world who won’t like me and who I won’t like, and it’s not a bad thing that this happens.)

        It seems that a lot of people conflate critique with insult, like pointing out an opinion that comes from a place of privilege is the same as telling someone they are a terrible person. And then the other thing is that no one is perfect, right, but when people flip out over criticism the implication is that they do in fact think they are above reproach. It’s much easier when you can just accept that you are a flawed person who is going to make mistakes and who is not going to know everything, because then a disagreement isn’t like, an attack on the core of your existence. It’s just a disagreement, and, like you said, a chance to maybe improve and become stronger in your ideas and your character.

        1. ciara says:

          yeah, i think a lot of people equate critique with personal attacks. i wish i understood the psychology of that more. i guess when it comes to something, like, say, hollaback…if someone is doing the hollaback thing & they’re having a good time with it & learning from it & feeling like it’s improving their relationships with people they care about & they feel they are doing something positive for their community, then hollaback is giving them a lot of warm fuzzies (i don’t mean that in a patronizing way). it’s something that is making them feel really good, in part because it makes them feel good about themselves. maybe they start to invest their identity in it to some extent. i know i have done that with projects i’ve been really passionate about & i don’t think it’s a negative thing at all. but then when someone comes along & criticizes hollaback, maybe it feels like they are criticizing you personally, because you have invested in it so much.

          i guess the project i have been the most proud of & invested in, besides my zines, was the boston skillshare. every year, i would look around at everyone enjoying the skillshare & getting involved in the workshops & i would feel so proud that we’d pulled it off & created an awesome event for people. but sometimes people were critical of it, & sometimes the critiques were valid. & it was hard to hear sometimes, because sometimes it was stuff that i didn’t know how to fix, or didn’t even know if i wanted to try to fix. but when i found myself feeling upset & having hurt feelings, feeling shit like, “oh my god, we put so much time & so much work into this, & so many people had a great time & learned a lot, but this one person had to go & wreck it (because critical comments always stick with you for longer & make a deeper impression than positive feedback–for me, anyway),” i would have to pull myself back & be like, “okay, this isn’t about you as a person. chill.” i tried to take the attitude of asking what was best for the project & for the people utilizing the project (workshop facilitators & attendees) instead of what was best for me, or what i wanted. probably what i wanted most of all was just for everyone to say, “great work, ciara! this project was awesome & that means that YOU are awesome!” so it was sometimes difficult not to internalize a criticism as meaning, “i had a problem with this, & therefore, i have a problem with YOU.”

          a few people have told me that what i’ve written about hollaback has hurt their feelings. it’s frustrating for two main reasons. 1) i definitely didn’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially not people i care about as friends & as people. 2) i have pretty much no control over how someone responds emotionally to something i say, & when someone says, “you hurt my feelings,” there is an implication that i need to do something to try to make it right. but there’s not really anything i can do. i still believe everything i said & i’m not going to pretend that i don’t just because it might cheer someone up. i tried to tell a few of these people that i feel they have control over their emotional responses & that i can’t help them to not be hurt, but needless to say, that wasn’t received very well. & i don’t have infinite amounts of patience. at the end of the day, i’m not losing sleep over anyone’s hurt feelings. i am opinionated & often snarky or sarcastic, but i really take care to say what i mean. people are totally entitled to have whatever emotional reaction they want or need to have to my words & actions, but i am equally entitled to…not care, i guess? that sounds harsh, but…i have my own life to live. i really am not interested in micro-managing other people’s emotions. if i lose friends over it…well, that’s sad. but one quality i appreciate in my friends is an ability to more or less handle their shit, you know?

  4. Timothy says:

    whew to all that. but yay for abortion outreach & support group! there is a really rad group like that that started recently in philly — well, they actually do support for “across the full spectrum of pregnancy”, so for abortion and also pregnancies, miscarriages… plus other reproductive justice work. but anyway, i am super excited that they started up here.

    1. ciara says:

      you read the whole thing, huh? a tip of my hat. it was a lot.

      do you know anything more about this philly group? maybe we could talk to them, share skills or ideas or something. that would be awesome.

      1. Timothy says:

        yeah! they have a facebook page with a little info on it: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pcrjs-Philly-Collaborative-for-Reproductive-Justice-and-Support/187841294588189

        i can also send you more info / put you in touch with someone in the group.

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