Why You Should Stop Saying IRL

Where your friends live piechart from Facebook

“In Real Life” shortened to IRL is a term that has become common on the internet to describe events that happen offline. “She’s one of my IRL friends,” is something you may read and not give a second thought to but if you value your community online you should stop using that phrase. It devalues your relationships and helps promote the idea that the bonds we form with our online friends aren’t as “real” or important as those that we can physically touch. I have replaced IRL with “in the wild” because IRL is ableist and judgmental.

The major difference between your online and offline interactions is that offline, you have less control over who you meet. You can’t control who you see walking down the street or the coffee shop. Whereas online, you can pick and choose your interactions in a variety of ways. You don’t have to go to every forum, you don’t have to respond to every message. Offline, it’s a jungle out there hence, in the wild.

There is this strange belief that what happens online is somehow less important than what happens in a face to face, physical setting. That somehow there’s a magical force field that keeps people from forming complex relationships with true feelings just because there are screens involved. Primarily it’s because the ubiquitous nature of digital communications has happened at lightning speed and humanity just hasn’t caught up to the change.

To be fair, it’s not a perfect medium for communication. Most of the nuances in our communication is nonverbal and that tends not to come off in a digital landscape but that’s not the largest problem in communication via digital means. The larger problem is that people simply don’t treat it as a way to really connect with people.

This is evident in the slew of reports like this one that indicate that people lead double lives online. That their online world is a perfect representation of what they think they should be instead of who they are. This idea that you “shouldn’t put your personal business on Facebook” leads to people creating online personas that share their names and faces but none of their hardships.

Which is, in a way, fair.

Our social media profiles are populated by close friends and causal acquaintances. Just like in the wild. You know a mix of people, some of which you will share the fact that you’re struggling with a medical issue or fears about the future but most of which you’ll just talk about your kids finishing the school year or vacation plans.

That doesn’t mean that what you see isn’t real life. It’s just the front facing portion of their life. Just like when you go to the grocery store and the cashier asks about your day, you don’t tell them you’re worried about the results of your HIV test even if that’s what’s currently on your mind. You tell your friends that. The problem isn’t that these front facing profiles exist, the problem comes when there isn’t an outlet for the reality.

It’s not that people lead a Pinterest perfect life, it’s that they don’t have an outlet for their everyday lives. Think of the perfect housewife who drinks or the prom queen with bulimia. People hiding who they are has been happening forever and is a function of being a social human. People need other people that they can relax around, friends that they can truly be themselves around. For some people, their friends exist online.

This happens for a variety of reasons. It happens because some people are incredibly introverted and just can’t deal with people for very long. It happens because someone may live in a place where not many people share their interests. It happens because someone may be disabled and simply cannot get out of the house much. Or they get out a lot and have people all over the planet they want to keep in communication with.

No matter what the reason for building these online friendships, they are real friendships. What happens online in the communities and forums that you find yourself in is your real life. The private messages where people confide in you or the groups where you may find yourself giving advice are real. The people on the other side of that screen are real. Your feelings for them and their feelings for you are real.

Not everyone you meet online is going to be your best friend. That’s true in the same way that not everyone you meet in the wild is going to be your best friend or even a good friend. It’s true that people lie and manipulate others online but it’s also true that they do that in the wild. People are going to be awful to other people no matter where you go. Whether it’s face to face or not. The internet didn’t make them that way, they are just that way.

By dismissing these relationships we are telling people that the feelings they feel don’t matter. We are falling into extremely ableist ideals because we are pushing a form of interaction that not everyone can participate in due to disability and limitations. We are ignoring the complex realities of many people and pushing everyone into the same box.

By saying that online relationships aren’t just as important we’re dismissing the needs of people who can’t be their true selves for safety reasons, we are telling them that it’s more important that they form unsafe connections with their neighbors than turning to a safe online community where they can be themselves.

By saying that they don’t matter you are telling the harrowed young mother that the group of people who talked her through her 3 AM feeding trouble and were there when she was in the deep pits of PPD are less important and meaningful than the friend she knows from work who hasn’t spoken to her since she had the baby.

The online world isn’t just geeks arguing over the more nuanced possibilities in their fandoms or teenagers sending each other snapchats. It is a varied and rich environment filled with all kinds of people. Some of them are silly and some of them are serious. Just like your everyday life.

The biggest indicator of whether an online relationship is real and meaningful is how you feel about it. If you go online and post with the idea that it doesn’t matter or that people who take the time to message you or comment don’t really care, then you will not form those bonds. This isn’t happening because your online interactions don’t matter, it’s because you don’t value them. You cannot build meaningful relationships if one half doesn’t care. This is true in the wild and it’s true online.

In short, if you want to make friends, you must first be a friend yourself.

I have online friends who have supported me through thick and thin. I have friends in the wild who have done the same. All of these people are my real friends. Everything that happens online and off is my real life. It all matters.

Doing Nothing At All Doesn’t Work

photo by Donyae Coles

Toy gun in Gettysburg shop Photo by Donyae Coles

The problem with the gun debate is that both sides treat it as a zero sum game. There has to be a blanket right answer that solves the problem. Anything less isn’t worth it but blanket solutions hurt the people who aren’t doing anything wrong. So instead of investing in any solutions we do nothing at all and accept that there’s nothing to be done. This is wrong.

The fact of the matter is that there are things that can be done but there’s no one solution to the problem. There’s no one right answer that is going to fix the issue and make terrible mass shootings a remnant of our violent past. That’s not a reason to just accept the murder of innocent people.

The idea that there is nothing anyone can do is the greatest lie the devil ever told. There is always something that can be done. It may be hard and not everyone is going to be happy but you know what? You can’t please everyone all of the time.

This blog suggested that we just learn to take care of each other better, to notice people more and go back to a time where people really looked after one another. The suggestion is that we should reach out to those we see being, well, creepy. Short of that, there’s nothing anyone can do. A sweet sentiment but terribly ill conceived.

For one, this is terribly dangerous advice for women in particular. That’s how you get stalkers. For two, it ignores that mass shootings have been going on a lot longer than this age of social media. The first mass shootings where the public was greatly in danger began in the 1960s and we’ve just carried on since then. Long before computers began to isolate people. It’s not technology’s fault.

There’s not any one root cause for mass shootings in the United States of America. Like most other things, the issue is multifaceted with many root causes. It’s not criminals, it’s not technology, it’s not the lack of Jesus, it’s a lot of things and stopping it calls for a lot of solutions.

Do we need stricter gun control?* Yes. Do we need better access and less stigma for mental health?** Yes. Do we need to address the culture in this country that creates such violent and disfranchised people? Yes.

Will correcting any one of these issues on their own solve the problem? No. Because it is not any single issue that caused the problem.

If your house is falling apart because of a leaky roof that you let alone too long, just fixing the roof isn’t going to save your house. It is still falling apart there just aren’t any new leaks. If you want to fix your house you have to repair the damage that was done in the time the roof leaked. You have to rip up floors and tear down walls. Lay down fresh hardwood, really do the work. You can’t just throw on some fresh paint and walk away.

Sticker gun control is the roof. It’s a start but it won’t save us. The other issues are everything else that is going to make our house safe and inhabitable again. It will take time. It will take work and sure it would be far easier to do nothing at all but that doesn’t mean we should do nothing at all.

It’s a good house. We all have to live in it. Let’s fix the roof and then get started on these other issues before the whole thing falls in. Mass shootings are a thing that is happening right now. They are part of our history. They do not have to be part of the future. This keeps happening because we are letting it happen.

We are letting it happen by continuing not to move an inch. We are letting it happen by constantly trying to deflect the focus to other issues and pushing strawmen arguments. We are letting it happen by doing nothing at all.

We can stop this by simply starting to do something. It may take ten years, it may take 20 but if we start actually working on putting measures in place, by admitting that we DO have a problem with guns and that something in our culture is inherently flawed and needs addressing then we can stop this.

*Gun control is not short hand for ban all guns. No one is actually suggesting that the government come and take all of anyone’s weapons. What gun control may call for is stricter policies regarding the type and how many of a weapon is available as well as more oversight for the guns in circulation currently.

**Mental health isn’t actually a factor in most mass shootings but it comes up so often that it needs to be addressed and quite honestly it won’t hurt.

You Don’t Need Feminism but Feminism Needs You

I dont need feminism picture

There’s a photo going around Facebook of a black woman proudly holding up a sign that proclaims she “doesn’t need Feminism because” and then goes on to present a list of reasons that really just point out that she probably really doesn’t understand Feminism. I see this a lot from fellow black women and it’s a problem.

Now, Feminism does have a huge issue with intersectionality across the board. I’ll be using the term White Feminist in this piece to describe the particular brand of Feminism that tends to be exclusionary and is at the root of this particular woman’s objections as well as women like her. With this brand of Feminist thought, the needs and support for women of color as well as trans and disabled peoples are often ignored.

White Feminism is toxic, ablest, trans exclusionary and is basically just white supremacy in a female package. It’s different from radical Feminism which is all of those things but more blatant. The major problem with White Feminism is that it doesn’t realize it’s excluding anyone or that it harbors ideals that are harmful to other groups. It is a one size fits all version of Feminism and that size is upper-middle class White women. It is also unfortunately the version that many people have come to understand as standard but it is not what Feminism is. It’s very easy to see why so many women of color are against it.

Personally I was hoping that this letter would follow the opening statement with a lesson on Womanism but it did not. Instead it was a list of the oft repeated misconceptions of the movement and furthermore was extremely judgmental and hurtful to women who are not able to live the life that she is so proud of.

“I’m enjoying my role as a supportive wife I love that my man is the head of my household. And I value being a Stay at home mom over slaving for a corporation while neglecting my family.”

There’s nothing wrong with being a stay at home mom and focusing on the everyday realities of family life while your husband works but there is something wrong with implying that women who do work are neglecting their family.

This back and forth is actually one of the biggest issues in the representation of Feminism when it comes to black women. We have a history of always having worked outside of the home. As women we benefited from the inroads that Feminism made in the working world for opportunities for better work outside of traditional “women’s work” but the fact that having to go to work isn’t anything new to the black community is often ignored.

This is important because the push to “leave the kitchen” so to speak is a uniquely White woman issue. To women of color who have always had to work, the opposite is true. We want to be able to stay home. That is in and of itself a Feminist act which seems counterintuitive but it’s not.

Feminism is about choice. It’s not about leaving the home or staying in the home. It’s not about having babies or not. Getting abortions or not. It’s about having the choice to do or not to do as you please.

Some women believe that Feminism is at odds with traditional home making roles but it isn’t. The way that some women practice it may make it seem that way but the core of the movement is about choice. The choice to work or stay home. The choice to wear a hijab or not. The choice to have kids or not. Choice and equality.

This woman says that she doesn’t need Feminism but Feminism needs her. We need women in the movement who stay home and take care of their babies and husband. We need women who are fiercely religious. We need women from all walks of life to say, “Yes this is my choice and I support women who make different choices.”

Stay at home moms, you should support women who go to work every day because one day your baby might be one of them. Women who work you should support women who stay home with their children because someone may have done it for you or for someone you care about.

Feminism needs you to get rid of the toxic attitudes and stereotypes that surround it. It needs women to stand together and push back against those voices that create the division.

I’m really happy this woman can stay home and be a homemaker. It’s hard work! I will always support her right to do it. My hope is that she and others like her one day begin to support other women’s rights to live their lives in ways that make them happy as well without the judgement.

We Need A Higher Minimum Wage Because People Are Stupid

Coffee and donuts

A few days ago my family and I decided to go to Dunkin Donuts to grab breakfast before running errands. We went through the drive-thru expecting it to be a quick trip. It wasn’t. It began when I ordered a number four, hold the sausage. The person taking our order responded that it came with sausage and if I wanted to the sandwich without then I couldn’t get the meal. She just didn’t understand that you could have the sandwich, with the meal WITHOUT the meat. We tried to explain the concept. She didn’t get it.

I explained how I wanted my coffee made, using percentages. 75% coffee, 25% milk. She didn’t understand that either. When we drove around there was another employee trying to understand the concept of the meal without the meat on the sandwich but thankfully someone had figured out how to make the coffee at least.

They didn’t have hash browns ready so we ended up waiting in the parking lot for half an hour for the rest of our meal. My husband had to eventually go inside and get them. When he got back to the car, rightfully annoyed at what our short stop had become, I turned to him and said, “This is why these people need to be paid $15 an hour.” He looked at me like I was crazy until I explained.

“Do you want the girl who couldn’t figure out taking meat off of a sandwich to be in charge of your grandma’s medication?”

The common argument is that people who work in low skill jobs don’t deserve to make a living wage. That they should better themselves in order to earn more. Never mind that we still need people to flip our burgers and sweep our floors and also forget about the fact that those low skill jobs are often very, very hard work.

What that argument ignores completely is that not everyone is bright. That some people really are best suited for unskilled labor. Because we ignore that not everyone is suited for every job, we end up with a lot of people in careers that they just shouldn’t be in becuase that is what pays well and no one wants to be poor.

The fact of the matter is, being a fast food worker, a retail associate, or any sort of unskilled worker may be the best job for some people. They may be a great customer service rep or excellent with their hands. They may just really like the low responsibility these jobs offer so they can focus on their family. Or, they may just not be that bright. And all of those people deserve to make enough money to live off of.

Imagine the group of people who were in charge of my family’s breakfast in any other situation. The same group of people who collectively didn’t understand substitution, basic percentages, and were unable to get an order of hash browns out in a timely manner as your medical staff, your legal support team, the people in charge of your social services.

Do you want them in those roles? Probably not. Neither do I but I also don’t think they deserve to struggle just because they’re not as talented as other people.

I want people who care about those professions to be in them. I want people who have a passion for medical issues and legal work to work in those fields. I don’t want someone handling the paperwork for my case who is only doing it because it pays more than flipping burgers.

If you keep them happy where they are then they will stay there ensuring that people who really want to work in a field go into it. Which means you’ll have workers who are loving what they do more often than just people who are going into a field because they don’t want to starve.

So next time you hear about workers going on strike for higher wages and you think that they don’t deserve it, think about the dumbest person you know. Then ask yourself, do you want that person in charge of your medication or do want them happily working a drive thru window?