Lenhoff: Slacktivism pervasive in feminist culture

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Lenhoff: Slacktivism pervasive in feminist culture

Caryn Lenhoff, Assistant Opinion Editor

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As someone with both a lot of work to do and a mighty procrastination habit, I spend more than my fair share of time online. Once I’ve gotten bored of refreshing Facebook, reading The New York Times and Googling my own name, I often find myself perusing one of a number of feminist websites.

That I frequent Jezebel, xoJane and their ilk isn’t really remarkable: I am, after all, a liberal woman in her 20s: precisely these sites’ target demographic. I should be standing and applauding progressive pieces about marriage equality, access to healthcare and women’s still-unequal position in modern society. But too many articles become nothing more than an extended complaint about whatever issue happens to be at hand. It speaks to a broader problem in today’s America: griping about whatever bothers us without ever taking real action to combat those issues. (I’m not blind to the irony of addressing this issue from a column in The Daily. Hear me out.)

I am not suggesting that we should stop calling attention to problems in society. Do institutional barriers exist that hold women back? Of course. And raising awareness of issues that may not be on America’s radar is absolutely an important job. But, as Sheryl Sandberg’s workplace manual/feminist manifesto “Lean In suggests, sitting behind keyboards lamenting these roadblocks won’t help us overcome them any faster. Sandberg challenges women to take control of their futures by working within their current means to better their — and other women’s — circumstances.

This sort of candid, clear-headed thinking was a welcome departure from the sort of dialogue to which I had become accustomed online. In that sphere, articles become repetitive in the extreme. Comment sections often devolve into echo chambers, with people scrambling to offer every possible criticism of the offense du jour.

There is nothing wrong with expressing disagreement, displeasure or even disgust at a person or an ideal; it would be an affront to my Jewish heritage if I failed to appreciate the power of a good kvetch. Where things start to go astray is when discussions never progress beyond complaining. There is a difference between a reasonable, productive conversation that can bring about actual change and the sort of one-sided shouting into which much modern feminist dialogue has devolved.

Real change does not result simply from putting your grievances on paper, then waiting for progress to fall into your lap. Every major advance in American civil rights, from the eradication of slavery to women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, has come about after a period of sustained action and activism. If the pioneers of those movements had been satisfied with today’s brand of inaction, their effects on society would be far diminished.

As President Bill Clinton said at an August event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, “It is time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back.” Instead of wishing for a perfect world, we should be working with the tools available to us to improve the one in which we actually live.

Caryn Lenhoff is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at carynlenhoff2014@u.northwestern.edu. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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