Friday, May 29, 2009

Apathy

Take a look at this image:


See the blue line? That represents the number of people who visit cnn.com. The red line? It represents the most popular blog (The Huffington Post). The cyan line? Feministing, the most popular (so far as I can tell) feminist website.

Yeah.

Think about this for a minute. An order of magnitude more people visit the boring, business-as-usual site (represented by CNN) than the mainstream liberal (in the most general sense) site (represented by Huffington). And an order of magnitude more visit Huffington than the real social change site (represented by Feministing). And Feministing is constantly under fire from other feminists for being too status quo and privileged!

I'm not complaining. I'm not trying to claim that feminism is somehow irrelevant. I'm not even unhappy about the small numbers - in fact, the deviant part of me would probably want to do something else if everybody was doing it! But I am curious, even frightened: What on earth are all those people, the CNN readers so to speak, even doing?

Lest you think I'm assuming that these (admittedly inaccurate) Internet statistics are representative of the whole world, let me assure you that I did attempt to research other statistics as well. They didn't make much sense - supposedly, some 20% of women consider themselves feminists. It depends on who you ask, too: One study showed that 60% of women and men were favorable to the 'women's movement', whatever that may mean. But I'm not sure I buy it. There are 1.5 BILLION internet users. Somebody is visiting CNN (and Facebook, etc.). Are 20% of those people really working in any way for social change?

Have you ever noticed when an article about feminism (or anti-racism, or gay rights, or any other social movement) gets published in some major news outlet? Most people respond with indifference. A few identify, but more respond with outright hostility. You'd think that would provide the motivation for that 20-60% to act, but it doesn't.

People are simply... apathetic.

I attend a university with some 20,000 other students. There's no feminist organization - it died from lack of interest. There's a GLBT organization - which managed to score a grand total of 10 protesters at a recent marriage equality event. A student wanted to start a women's center recently - got published in the student newspaper and everything. On further investigation though, it turned out she really wanted the university administration to start a women's center - the students were only needed for lobbying, and she didn't have a plan to actually do anything.

Do nothing, and hope someone else does it for you. That's the way of the world, it seems. It seems that every time I turn around, someone's insisting that people are busier than ever. That we rush around, and don't take the time to appreciate life, etc. But for all that supposed rushing, there's very little being done. People, eat, sleep, watch TV (assuming they live in a privileged country), have sex, and die. They're miserable, but they don't care.

Back to the Internet for a second - how is it that millions upon millions can read the news, visit some random entertainment site, and never even consider that they might be able to do something worthwhile, to change the world in some little way? And the Internet users represent the most privileged fifth, the people most responsible for oppression. It's not that they actively mean to oppress, of course - they're merely apathetic in a patriarchal society.

Feminists like to make a lot of noise about some small specific issue. "If only that violence could be stopped, that inequality rectified, we'll have accomplished something", we say. And that is true, without a doubt. We'll have accomplished something, done some good. But is it enough?

Sometimes I wonder: Can we effect real change at all, without somehow convincing the apathetic people? Won't the stories simply repeat themselves? Even if people only noticed that there was something wrong, I believe it could make all the difference.

Just something to think about.

2 comments:

Laura said...

Seems to me that KNOWING information is actually different than applying to REAL life. The ability to access quick off the shelf news is often, as the blue line shows, more desirable to people than perhaps a deviling deeper in to social issues or problems. That's not to mention the problem that responsibility for changing social problems isn't really a skill that is instilled in us. I think your post is potentially pointing to the systemic problem of teaching how to value and engage in civil duty and participate in social change.

Aviva said...

Also, there's something to be said vis-a-vis your numbers, Brianna, for the lack of an actual "women's movement" these days. I would bet feminism made the mainstream news a lot more often in the late 1960s and 1970s when women (and men) were organized and making a stink. Not that there weren't huge problems with the second wave, but there's something to be said for that sort of cohesive social movement as regards getting people to notice.