You’ll live through the call-outs, but don’t come back and haunt me if you don’t.
Everyone knows that comments sections on popular websites are like stepping into a virtual version of the Ancient Roman Colosseum. Many of us avoid them. Others pull up popcorn and watch in silence. The bravest gladiators duke it out as if their next meal depends on it.
Lurking in these battlegrounds is part of my job. I’ve moderated the comments sections for a few companies, so I’m paid to witness the havoc. I’m thrown into the arena to block trolls, answer questions, and respond to misinformed, yet highly opinionated folks.
By far the most interesting comments sections are the ones in feminist/social justice spaces. Because there are so many strains of feminism, and often, varying opinions on what feminism is, the battles in these spaces are intense. I’m hired for these jobs because I have a background in social media, a broad understanding of social justice topics, and an ability to keep my cool when responding to mean-spirited comments.
But what my employers don’t know is that I am also shady AF. So is my feminism.
I stay classy when I’m running social media accounts, but in my mind I’m throwing major shade.
Think feminism and throwing shade don’t go together? Well, my revolutionary, way-paving ancestors within the African diaspora have handed down a legacy of shade.What my employers don’t know is that I am also shady AF. So is my feminism. Click To Tweet
Back when Europeans were out colonizing and being shitty, black slaves in Brazil were plotting on the low (even back then they knew that the best shade is low-key and unexpected). Masking their preparation as dance, these slaves trained one another to attack their masters. They used this “martial dance” called Capoeira to fight and escape to freedom.
Rebel slaves in Central America were even shadier. Garifuna slaves created a dance called “Wanaragua” or “Jankunu,” where they put on white masks, resembling their British masters, and dance around to mock them. Some sources say they were making fun of their masters’ lack of rhythm.
Then, there is the trickster figure in African American literature who shows up to pull a fast one on the slave owners and oppressors to make them look like fools.
This shade-throwing legacy continues in the witty conversations on Black Twitter with hashtags like #RapAlbumsThatCausedSlavery, to make fun of the white tears surrounding the N-word; #StayMadAbby, to tease Abigail Fisher, a white woman who cried all the way to the Supreme Court because she assumed black students took her spot at the University of Texas; and #CNNHeadlines, to call attention to the racist reporting on police brutality cases from major media outlets.
All these practices of past and present shade were and are used to fight back against oppressors, contest systems of oppression, make fun of white tears, demand inclusivity, and uplift people of color all at the same time.
This is exactly what I try to do with my feminism. But, sometimes I screw up.
When I’m in the comments section, sometimes I catch myself thinking some pretty “unfeminist” things (I’d never actually post them, because I love my job). But the fact that I have these thoughts mean they might slip out of my mouth in a live, offline situation.Intersectionality should never be sacrificed for an attempt at throwing shade. Click To Tweet
Feminists can be as shady as we want to be. However, intersectional feminists also have a responsibility to include people of various identities and experiences in our feminism, and to challenge oppressive systems in our society. Intersectionality should never be sacrificed for an attempt at throwing shade.
But it is possible to do both. Here’s how:
1. Avoid assuming someone’s gender
Suppose you’re in a heated debate with someone online, and they say something completely ridiculous. At this point, you’re over the conversation. You roll your eyes, type, “Girl, bye,” and enter in a sassy gif that reflects your annoyed sentiment — because boss shade throwers keep the perfect gifs on deck.
Then they respond with, “Actually, I’m not a girl.” Damn. . . You lost the battle, Fam.
Not only did your shadiness fall flat, but you also made a harmful error. You saw a profile picture or a name and guessed someone’s gender. Major no-no! People can tell you their own genders. You don’t get to decide for them.
Misgendering someone invalidates the experiences of many people who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, including agender, intersex, and gender non-binary folks. You may not have done it on purpose, but your misstep echoes the same sentiments that perpetuate violence against people who don’t identify with their gender assigned at birth.
Our language often relies on a dated and oppressive gender binary. As feminist illustrator and vlogger Kat Blaque explains in Buzzfeed’s “Why pronouns matter for Trans People” video, “There are some situations where we really put way too much stock into whether or not somebody is a man or a woman. There’s a lot of situations that we just don’t need to necessarily have gendered language.”
So be careful about using it.When I’m being petty, and I’m not on the clock, I like to call people ‘sweetheart.’ Click To Tweet
If you’ve already made the mistake of misgendering someone, you should probably chill on the shade throwing. Next time, opt for gender-neutral shady nicknames. When I’m being petty (and I’m not on the clock), I like to call people “sweetheart.” It works for all genders — and reads very condescendingly.
2. Take the ableism out of your call-outs
Ableism is often left out of feminist conversations. Simply put, ableism is the oppression of disabled and neurodivergent people (oppression of the latter is often called saneism). It takes many forms and often appears in the language we use.
For example, when you’re debating someone and you say something like, “Are you crazy?” when someone says something you don’t agree with, or if you say something is “stupid” because their opinion is different from your own, that’s ableist.
Ableist language includes words like “dumb,” “idiot,” “stupid,” “crazy,” “retarded,” “insane” and others.
To some folks, this may seem like we are being “too PC,” and that “you can’t say anything nowadays because everyone gets offended.”
But I’m not at all concerned about the feelings of people who don’t check their privilege. My goal here is to avoid oppressive language. There are slurs against people who look like me, and I get upset when I hear them. I know what it feels like to be targeted because I’m not society’s definition of “normal.” Therefore, even on my pettiest of days, I do my best to avoid using these slurs.
3. Bury them with facts
People often say “Kill them with kindness and bury them with a smile.”
That’s cute and all. I get the whole “you win more bees with honey” notion — but screw that noise. Bees sting. So do questions from so-called “innocent” people who say they want to understand, but insist on playing devil’s advocate in asking questions about “reverse racism,” safety in gender-neutral bathrooms, and the necessity of safe spaces.
Then, when we get upset about having to answer these hackneyed questions, they ask why we’re so upset. I’m not here for tone policing — especially when people question the lived experiences of marginalized folks.
So forget the smiles. I say bury them with facts.
Now, I have to admit, I get a slight high from telling people they’re wrong. I don’t do it with malice — mostly because I’m paid not to — but also, slapping cold hard facts in people’s faces can be just as satisfying.
Calmly, I explain that their opinions are just opinions, while certain facts, statistics, and the lived experiences of marginalized groups suggest the very opposite. I link to several credible sources so they can look it up for themselves if they desire. Then (in my head, because I am a professional), I drop in a nail polish emoji.Forget the smiles. I say bury them with facts. Click To Tweet
If you’re not being paid to keep your cool, pepper some sass between those facts.
Pro tip: You can’t be shady and wrong. Make sure you get your facts straight.
4. Listen and learn about topics you don’t fully understand
I know I just said you can’t be shady and wrong, but at one time or another you’ll accidentally say something offensive. You thought you were being this great feminist hero in your shining armor coming to educate the masses, but instead you said something totally inaccurate that reinforces the toxic ideas about a marginalized group.
Not to worry! If you’re in a comments section or in a social justice space, someone will likely call you out on it. They may clap back with some harsh words, and at the end of them, drop in the frog and tea emojis to make it abundantly clear that you have just been read for filth.
Take that L, sweetheart. Embrace it. Wear it like a scarlet letter.If Google isn’t part of your squad, you can’t sit with me. Click To Tweet
Your privilege was clearly showing, and you let it get in the way of your ability to listen and understand a topic you didn’t know much about. So if someone claps back at your misinformed statement, listen to them. They might share useful information on how to make your feminism and social justice work more intersectionally.
Also, apologize and thank them for taking the time to educate you. This is not the time to be petty.
Pro tip: Keep your knickers un-bunched. You’ll live through these call outs, I promise (but, like, don’t come back and haunt me if you don’t). What’s most important is that you learn not to make your mistake again, especially if this mistake dehumanized, silenced, gaslighted, and/or echoed some form of violence against marginalized folks.
Of course, if you’re feeling unsafe, get the hell out of there. Self-care in social justice spaces is important. Just be careful with confusing the discomfort of having your privilege called out with a real threat to your well-being. I’ve seen way too many White Feminists misuse the word “attacked.”
Entering intersectional feminist spaces can make us feel a lot of pressure. We have to be careful not to further marginalize people with identities and experiences we don’t fully understand. There’s often a huge learning curve in these environments, and Google becomes our best friend (seriously, if Google isn’t part of your squad, you can’t sit with me). When introduced to the intersectional side to feminism, many of us have to look up words like demisexual and TERF, and we have to rethink the way we use language.
However, we don’t have to lose our shady edge in these spaces. Being a petty, shade–throwing intersectional feminist is about finding that sweet spot where humor and shade meet inclusivity. Sometimes we will mess up, and the call-outs aimed in our direction will make us feel small — smaller than Hillary Clinton’s favorite pair of kitten heels.
But we learn from them, and we come back even shadier and more inclusive.