Privilege manifests itself in all kinds of different ways. People are brought up with notions of what is right and proper and oftentimes these notions include deeply biased value systems. Each generation battles the ideas of the one before, the one that brought them up both collectively and individually. Sometimes these battles were fought in private, sometimes within a community as well as being played out in physical spaces, these cultural changes manifested themselves through shared media – pop music, fashion and film. Traditional public challenges to established hegemony were obtuse, coded and diffuse – aimed less at any particular individual but at generalised attitudes The advent of the internet, and in particular the interactivity that we have seen develop over the past five years has particularised hegemonic challenge, especially within the realm of identity politics. It is in this context that the culture of the “call-out” has emerged.
Anyone with an interest in identity politics will have seen the multiple “privilage checklists” which circulate on the web. First developed from Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” these documents seek to explore how privilage is manifested and maintained. As individual critiques they are very valuable, if a little oversimplistic, however it is the use of them on an individualised level which raises concern, most notably in a “call out”. A call out either in a physical, but increasingly in an online space is a call to attention of unacceptable privilaged behaviour performed by another member of the community. At times a call out is absolutely necessary – either to point out to the individual behaving in that manner that it is not tolerable, or to demonstrate to other members of the community muted by the bystander effect that such behaviour can and should be challenged. Call outs are designed to create an inclusive space, but in practice frequently have the effect of making a space hostile through their aggressive and direct approach.
I am not the first person to raise the issue of the “call out” and question the manner its use, a good overview is provided by GenderBitch – as she states, a callout can be triggering for the anxiety prone, limits dialogue and can end up in swarming as others join in, developing the kind of mob mentality that marginalises other activists. She also points out the limitations of the callout on the wider point of activism, which is ultimately to change the world.
As social media replaces mainstream media, particularly within the domain of comment and analysis, the hegemonic grip that mass media has over our opinions, thoughts and ideas is lessened. We choose our own content based on our interests, and in doing so select media which reflects not only our interests but our opinions, thoughts and groundings. Within this the call-out can be particularly destructive, alienating those who share our interests but who have less conciousness of the hegemonic forces acting upon them.
Lacan, following Satre, pioneered the concept of “The Gaze”. The gaze is the feeling of anxiety generated by an awareness of being an object in the world surrounded by subjects who view you.
“I can feel myself under the gaze of someone whose eyes I do not see, not even discern. All that is necessary is for something to signify to me that there may be others there. This window, if it gets a bit dark, and if I have reasons for thinking that there is someone behind it, is straight-away a gaze
The gaze is an important concept when considering the call-out, particularly within the world of blogging and social media. Each blog has a defined “flavour” and category of readership, determined not only by the subject of the blog but also of the viewpoints and attitudes of not only its writer(s) but also its readership. The writer writes with a view of their readership in mind, and commenters post in the same vein. They feel the gaze of the readership as they add their thoughts; a regular reader will know the local hegemony of the domain and modify their comments with this in mind.
In the context of a call-out or blogswarm, this becomes even more hightened – a conflict situation has arisen, the gaze is no longer casual but keen and piercing. Comments are made supporting or opposing the callout with the reaction of the community firmly in mind. In this way the local hegemony is supported and maintained, alternative viewpoints or challenges are denigrated as the gaze falls on each commentator, pre-empting the reaction of the community to their views. The gaze limits their freedom of thought, as they are influenced to be desired within the community and in particular with the leadership of the community – the blogwriter(s).
Most call-outs are perfectly valid in their content, external privalages are played out within the blogsphere and behaviour which may go unchallenged within the real world due to the risks attached in raising those issues can be challenged much more safely within an online space, however the privalage associated with being a blogger should not be underestimated. Blogging requires time, effort and access to resources which are not universally available. When challenging others’ privilages, bloggers must be aware of their own.
The alienation inherant in any call-out, where the blogger and/or the wider readership denounce behaviour or attitudes as unacceptable to the community must be carefully pitched, with an appreciation that the behaviour or views are frequently common amongst privilaged groups. Non-hegemonic discourses or behaviour are frequently simply an extension of how privilaged groups behave within the real world. The point however, is not simply to interpret the world but to change it. While the behaviour may be unacceptable, any reaction to it should be with the aim of changing it in mind, rather than simply labelling it as an unacceptable other.
Within the activist community, there are a wide range of conciousnesses, views and experiences – some borne of the particular circumstances that people find themselves in, some borne of generalised discourses of identification, some though the intersection of experience and identification. Those experiences will not always lead to radical conclusions; and identification, particularly identification within a privilaged grouping may not always lead to an understanding and awareness of oppression. Radical inclusivity involves seeking out members of marginalised groups, but in doing so it also needs to have an awareness that there are very few who are not members of marginalised groups in one way or another, and it is their experiences of marginalisation rather than of power which draws them to the activist community. To alienate them from discourses which are contrary to their reactionary thought is to lose an opportunity for dialogue and change and to present them with a hostile and rejecting gaze rather than an understanding one.
The gaze is all around us, it consistantly determines our behaviour. As the gaze of the mass media is diminished and the gaze of localised media grows, we must seize the opportunity to use that gaze not to stare out our opponents, neither must we withdraw from the gaze if it turns critical. The fear of the gaze, the anxiety it provokes and the lessons that can be learned from it must be appreciated and understood from a position of radical inclusivity, rather than an exclusion of the other.