Guest post: United in nuance

This guest post is by Tobias Rodriguez. Tobias is a recent college graduate living in New York City. His interests lie in reproductive rights, LGBT issues, and intersectionality.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Foxconn, one of the factories in China that manufactures Apple products. For many, hearing part of Mike Daisey’s show on NPR’s “This American Life” was the first time hearing of the harsh working conditions at Foxconn and other similar factories. The same is true of the Kony 2012 video. Many who watched that video had never heard of child soldiers before. Both Daisey and Invisible Children (the makers of Kony 2012) were able to raise a lot of awareness around their respective issues.

However, NPR’s retraction of the episode featuring Daisey’s story due to fabrication and dramatization and the backlash of Kony 2012 showed that while we can certainly care about issues and indeed there has been a lot of positive response about both issues as hoped for, there is still a need for truth, accuracy, and good representation in storytelling, especially when it comes to human rights issues.

In the right’s latest “war on women,” as Jos discussed earlier this week, the fault of the movement is its reliance on certain kinds of stories and certain kinds of women to make its point. For many people, labeling this as a war on women makes sense. What they fail to recognize though, and what Jos pointed out, is that their definition of women is pretty damn exclusive.

And she’s exactly right: in movements that are already fighting for inclusivity, why must there be a battle within for inclusivity? And if we’re talking about such a broad group like women, why must we sideline other groups who are affected by the ridiculous laws the GOP is pushing along the way?One of the faults pointed out from Kony 2012 is that Joseph Kony isn’t even in Uganda anymore, and that his army is much smaller than it’s described in the video. This does not make the situation any less important, but in the same way that, for example, transmen are left out of the women’s health discussion, opting for oversimplicity leaves supporters without the whole story and in the case of transmen, they’re once again forgotten and left with less resources.

As Daisey repeated in “This American Life’s” “Retraction” episode, he made no claim to be a journalist. He is of the theater. Invisible Children is an awareness group. Both Mike Daisey and Invisible Children are interested in spreading awareness that they hope will lead to positive change. Similarly, women’s reproductive health groups are working for positive change and acceptance, but oftentimes at the sacrifice of those on the fringe, those whose stories haven’t been heard because by virtue of being out of the mainstream because for various reasons, they’re considered much less useful when telling a larger story. Despite the call for personal stories, including a recent one from Texas on their forced ultrasound law, nuance has become harder to accept.

Simplicity is, well, simpler. In the struggle for equality (in race, gender, sexual orientation, and on and on), are we, too, becoming Mike Daisey? Latching on solid stories for fear that any other kind of story would somehow persuade the opposition that we are, in fact, not the mainstream that we purport to be? So then where’s the line between convenience and truth, drama and fact? Is the idea of representation and intersectionality only good for so long? Must we make sacrifices for the greater good, when these sacrifices of individual (and smaller fringe group) voices mirror the same sacrifices and pushbacks the overall group has felt many times before?

Even a few recent pieces that rebel against the idea that abortion should be rare are sometimes met with disdain, with the worry that once we bring in nuance, we lose those who were comfortable with a clean narrative, much like Daisey purportedly felt.

Chinese factory conditions are far from ideal. Joseph Kony is a war criminal who needs to be brought to justice. And everyone needs better reproductive health care, regardless of gender identity, financial background, color of your skin, or anything else.

But to oversimplify any of these issues is a great injustice to everyone involved. Knowing the whole story, while it may be messy and imperfect, is a better reflection of the individuals we’re fighting for. This is where true feminisms come in. It’s important to continue share our stories and not only that, but to push for every story to be heard.

Inclusivity on the part of those in leadership is important, and the complement to this is making sure that we’re speaking up when asked, and more so, when we’re not asked. A united front is a great thing, but not when it’s to the detriment of those whose voices and stories are deemed less than. Let’s stay united in truth, reality, and nuance.

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