Something has always struck me as deeply unsettling when advocating for human rights. The fact that some individuals see this as an opportunity for debate is deeply disturbing to reflect on. Some people genuinely think speculating on whether or not marginalized groups should have specific rights (that others already possess), is a form of intellectual entertainment.

These people are always members of an oppressive group. But, before everyone dog piles on cis, hetero white men as the ultimate villains, let’s remember that it’s possible to be a member of one marginalized group and carry hate in your heart towards another marginalized group too.

Anyone belonging to a marginalized group can more easily understand that their human rights should not be up for debate in the first place. Nor should they have to advocate for their rights.

Again, this does not prevent people who belong to a marginalized group from discriminating. Or not supporting equality for all. It simply means that at a minimum, they understand their human rights issues are not a debate. All people should be entitled to the same fundamental human rights, yet most have not been granted them. That is the fundamental issue.

Understanding the privileged perspective

It’s imperative that we recognize the power dynamics involved and realize that oppressors must grant the oppressed these rights. While women wanted the right to vote, men had to grant that right as only they had the power to do so. Because of this necessity, it becomes crucial that we adapt to their language. In doing this, we can convey our message in a way that they will understand.

Yet again we find ourselves in the position of doing the heavy lifting when we shouldn’t have to. Consequently, I’ve had to adapt to the language used, to simply concede this misconception, and refer to discussing human rights issues as “debating.”

It would be ideal for everyone to take the responsibility of educating themselves on human rights issues seriously, but more often than not, people of privilege have no motivation to educate themselves on issues that don’t impact them directly.

Consequently, the rest of us are left trying to speak to them in a way that they are comfortable with. Yes, this means more effort on our part, and by no means do I think that’s fair. I just think it’s necessary. This means we use the term “debate” when we really mean “educate,” or “disprove bigoted ideas.”

What’s the point?

When you genuinely consider what a “debate” is about, it’s impossible not to find the notion offensive. My intention having these discussions with people who view human rights issues as debate topics, is to bring them to the point of realizing that this is not a debate. Rather it’s a fight for equality.

My ideal is for the person I engage with to gain a new perspective from the exchange. For them to realize the offensiveness, and ignorance of their view. To reflect on why they ever deduced that human rights issues were debate topics in the first place. The only way to achieve any of this is through adapting to their language and approaching the entire problem through an educational perspective.

However, it’s important to acknowledge the very real possibility that the other person will not reach any of these conclusions. It’s important to be ok with that. Otherwise, it’s imperative to walk away from the discussion and I’ll tell you why.

Prioritize your needs first

Learning about intersectional issues can be mentally and emotionally fatiguing. It’s normal to need a break. You have a lifetime to amass knowledge and listen to the stories of others. This is a marathon, not a sprint. If you burn yourself out, you won’t be able to help anyone. On average, (white) women only last for two years as activists before they quit. Why? They get overwhelmed because they failed to take the breaks they needed.

Pace yourself, you’re in this for the long haul. Oppression wasn’t created overnight, so it’s not realistic to think it won’t take time and patience to dismantle. You will be no help to any cause if you run on fumes.

Take time to weigh the cost and benefit of engaging with someone online in “debate” before you do. I promise you will soon discover that sometimes it’s just not worth the effort. Conserve your energy for efforts that matter and will have a more significant impact.

Nearly all of us can relate to feelings of mental and emotional exhaustion, online activist, or not. In fact, social media has been proven to reduce overall happiness and increase anxiety. But it doesn’t have to!!

Tips for online activism

I wanted to share these tips and tricks that work for me to ensure I don’t feel overwhelmed emotionally or mentally. Hopefully, it helps you out if you need some support right now.

1. Consider managing your account by:

turning off comments
limiting comments
making your page private
“shadow banning”

2. Assess your mental health to:

be sure to stick to your boundaries, adjust them as you need to
know when you need to take a break from social media and be proactive about stepping back
ALWAYS reach out to other activists so you have a support network to lean on

3. Monitor your engagement and consider:

filtering offensive words/terms
ignoring trolling, gaslighting and/or straw-manning
limiting your DM responses (you don’t owe anyone a response!)
setting boundaries:

I don’t discuss an issue with someone who hasn’t done at least minimal research because I’m not their personal Google. Nor do I continue a discourse with someone that jumps to personal attacks.

Next Steps

Carefully consider what you are and are not comfortable with online. This will allow you to potentially remove yourself from something you don’t want to be a part of much quicker than otherwise possible.

Do you keep finding yourself overwhelmed or frustrated when you engage with people online? Does it feel like every person who argues against a particular human rights issue knows more than you do and has an answer for everything?

You’re not alone. This is a common experience for people when they’re first getting started. When it comes to feminism, there’s a lot to learn and it’s a wide-ranging umbrella term for ever-changing issues. You got this! Just take things one step at a time.

In a debate, it’s always wise to know if the person you’re engaging with is presenting valid, reasonable points or not. You should be able to detect that by familiarizing yourself with common fallacies that exist. Click here to read more about them.

In the comments below I’d love to know…

What’s the most ridiculous “debate” you’ve found yourself in?

What do you do to mentally and emotionally escape when you’re feeling overwhelmed?

What’s your advice for others when it comes to successfully managing emotions around these types of discussions?

What do you need to vent about when it comes to activism?