Why Study the “Unimportant”?

by | November 18, 2011
filed under Can-Con, Feminism, Pop Culture, Racism

by Jarrah Hodge

This is part 1 of a 2-part post on media literacy, pop culture analysis, and prioritizing feminist issues. Read Part 2 here.

One of the critiques I often see on feminist blogs is that the post author focuses too much on things the commenter considers unimportant. This is especially true when feminists analyze pop culture.

“Isn’t there anything more important to get into a snit about?” asked a commenter when I put out a question asking for opinions on new ads from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

From my experience, the argument against looking at the little things  usually comes from one of two general perspectives: those who are anti-feminist and are reacting defensively to what they see as criticism of activities or media they might enjoy, or those who consider themselves feminists or progressives who see focusing on pop culture as a distraction from more material feminist concerns.

I’ll start by looking at the former perspective because it’s less complicated. I get a lot of these responses to my annual posts critiquing racist and sexist Halloween costumes, and this year was no exception.

After this year’s Halloween post was quoted in the Huffington Post and on CBC, my views were attacked in a number of blogs and comments. I was listed on one blog with other examples under the following intro paragraph:

“This article is rather long for the modern attention span, but please read the entire thing so you can see just how nuts things have become. (People should be less concerned with offending others and just get on with life.)”

After quoting me, the author finishes the post with: “As a final note, the only thing I can add to this article is that these people have far too much time on their hands if this is what is important to them!”

Here are some other comments from the CBC website along these lines:

“If you’re offended by something, that’s your problem, don’t make it everyone elses. People need to stop being so sensitive, and they need to stop thinking that their feelings are everyone else’s responsibility.”

“If you look hard and long enough you can find racism anywhere. When there is nothing to fight about, people seem to create something.”

You get the picture. This type of comment generally denies that there is any legitimate problem and therefore the person being quoted (me) is wasting her time on something nonexistent. When I write opinion pieces I expect disagreement, but saying the problems are totally fabricated is sort of a non-starter, discussion-wise.

When you’ve spent at least a few hours laying out your argument in a blog post and someone replies you’re pulling stuff out of your ass, it’s hard to figure out where to go from there constructively. If there were actual questions or some acknowledgement they’d read the article, it would be easier to engage in dialogue.

This is especially true when, as in many cases, commenters add that they think I’m being sexist against men or racist against white people (for a great summary of why claims of “reverse sexism” are bogus, check out this article from Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog. Apply same framework to “reverse racism”). I don’t always have the time or energy to go through the basic arguments over and over in these cases.

Onto the second type of “isn’t there something more important to focus on” comments. These generally come from people who identify as feminist/progressive and object to pop culture analysis taking away from more material concerns.

There are so many issues feminists deal with that I am very sensitive to this argument. After all, if we’re spending all our time dissecting representations violence against women on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit how does that stop real violence against women? If we’re looking at photoshopping in advertising how does that help the struggle against poverty?

Certainly the fact that myself and many feminist bloggers have the time and opportunity to dissect pop culture is a manifestation of our privilege. If I had to work multiple jobs, if I had unstable housing, or if I had a disability that limited my mobility or my vision, it would be much harder to do what I do. It is my responsibility as a feminist coming from this place of privilege to pay attention to material concerns: poverty, types of discrimination I don’t face, mental health and health issues, and violence. This is something I don’t always succeed at, but I continue to try.

However, I don’t agree that looking at pop culture or other “unimportant” things takes away from the struggle for material equality. On the contrary, I believe the two are complementary. I will discuss this more in my next post on the importance of media literacy.

I hope readers know that just because you will see posts on pop culture on Gender Focus, it by no means means that I or the post author thinks the topic they are writing about is the only feminist issue or the preeminent feminist concern. We are simply commenting on something we have opinions on. We are trying to increase media literacy, to create discussion and to umask ways in which gender, race, and other identifiers are represented in our society.

To go back to Finally, a Feminism 101 blog, arguing that we should only be focused on a particular “more important” (Y) issue over X (the post subject being objected to) is problematic for the following reasons:

  1. It assumes that X and Y are mutually exclusive
  2. It assumes that there is an objective determinant for what is “important” and what is not
  3. It creates a hierarchy of issues, which in turn creates a supposed “correct” order/path that must be followed

The second point reminds us that different people have different ideas of what’s most important. In addition, sometimes something could be viewed as “unimportant” merely because it is socially acceptable. We still live in an unequal society so it is our job as feminists to question what society defines as “important” or not.

This third point is also key. To work toward feminist/progressive/anti-racist solidarity, we have to acknowledge that people are coming from different backgrounds and interests to work on some different issues. Let’s work together to build open discussion instead of trying to shut down discussion with the “focus on something more important” argument.

As point one alludes to, feminists can and do care about multiple issues, and there is space on this blog and the internet to discuss them all.

Read Part 2 of the post here.


(Photo by Ttrung via Wikimedia Commons)

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