I recently read Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist. I liked it, for the most part. I agreed with a lot of what she was saying about mainstream feminism and the tendency to ignore marginalized populations in conversations about feminism. I certainly identified with her “bad feminist” label because I too like music that a feminist shouldn’t and have other similar faults. But I found some of her essays somewhat contradictory and problematic as I went on. I didn’t really have a name for what I was feeling about her writing until a conversation I had with my sister about the book. She used the term “call-out activism” and I knew immediately that that’s what I felt about some of Gay’s writing.

To me, call-out activism is the tendency in activism to point out every tiny problem with anything they are currently attacking. There is no forgiveness for human error or acknowledgement of small steps being taken. If it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough. Where I found this to be most problematic in Bad Feminist was in the essays on the film industry. I will admit that, as an actor, I’m naturally protective of the industry but I think that I also hold it to a fairly high degree of scrutiny. Many of the essays in this portion of the book are about a specific movie or TV show. Many of them called these specific shows out for not being 100% accurate to what is statistically likely and not showing the lives of average people. Absolutely. She is completely justified in making these claims but she ignores that there is a reason for this and that reason is not that filmmakers are deliberately setting out to marginalize or misrepresent people. I work with a dramaturg who has a saying that sums this up very succinctly: “Worst days and best days, not Tuesdays.” And she’s right. No one wants to watch a show or a movie about the girl who gets up, goes to work, goes to the gym, goes home, cooks dinner and goes to bed day in and day out. That’s BORING and there’s absolutely no fodder for drama, or comedy for that matter, in that. Is there too much stereotyping in Hollywood? Absolutely. Is there too much male-dominated media in Hollywood? Of course there is. Is there enough diversity in leading and other roles in Hollywood? Not even close. But you can’t expect people to tell 100% accurate-to-life stories all the time. First of all because sometimes they just want to tell fairy-tale stories and second of all because no one wants to see realistic stories all the time. Real life is depressing and people generally consume popular media as a means to escape that, not to be slapped in the face with it. I absolutely agree that Hollywood, and even the indie film scene, have a lot of work to do to be better representative of their audiences I just don’t think that everyone needs to do it all the time.

Which brings me back to call-out activism. I spent a lot of my younger days distancing myself from any kind of activism. In high school I had friends who were protesting at city hall and circulating petitions about X, Y, or Z on a weekly basis. I didn’t disagree with them and I admired their commitment to their causes but I was always hesitant to jump in head first as they did. I saw the problems they were trying to tackle but I also saw a lot of unrealistic expectations for how and when these problems would be solved. Similarly, I never realized that I was a feminist until late in university because I’m not one of those 1970s angry ones (although I definitely have my fair share of feminist anger) and I like shaving my legs (when I remember). I just didn’t realize that you could embrace that label without being loud and hating everyone and everything for not being good enough. I prefer a more personal form of activism in which I can make commitments to changing my own views and calling out counter-productive discourse in my own circles. I believe we have a lot of work to do in the world but I don’t believe that this call-out style of activism is a productive way to get us there. As my sister said, “this is why no one takes that style of activism seriously, we need strategy”. We need to look at what goals we can achieve right away, on a small scale, before we tackle The Man and all of those other deeply-rooted, massive-scale problems.