Why consuming pain is not activism

We are socialised to consume pain, particularly the pain of others. We use pain to “teach” ourselves gratitude.

We tell kids to finish their food because there are children in the world who are starving.

We tell each other we are so grateful we live here and not “there”, where there is war and misery greater than our own. We use books, shows, movies and sometimes other people’s stories to help us “feel”.

We consume images of dead bodies to “feel” about terrorism, share dead black kids to “feel” about anti-black violence in the US, and (especially in the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children) we consume stories of abuse from survivors of violence.

We justify it by saying it will “teach” and “raise awareness” because we’ve justified our consumption of pain and death as being necessary.

And while I have no doubt it may have started from a good place, consuming stories of abuse has become an expected part of the 16 days of activism.

We encourage, nudge, even guilt-trip people with stories of violence to share and “break the silence” because “the world needs to know”, forgetting that abuse and violence do not occur because of ignorance. We laud those who speak out as being brave, as though living with the massive trauma of surviving abuse and violence isn’t bravery.

We gorge ourselves with stories of pain, but to what end?

Why have we not asked ourselves, when we argue that hearing these stories is important for encouraging empathy and sharing images and stories of pain to encourage “empathy”, what kind of society cannot understand that violence is trauma, without indulging in the graphic and painful details, and has the potential to traumatise those who speak out and those who don’t?

Furthermore, when do we as a country begin to have the harder conversation about living in a society where people who hear survivors’ stories, read and see all the anti-abuse information, still believe that some people “deserve” abuse because the idea that oppression is a result of ignorance is only one part of the story.

We live among people who have wilfully chosen misogyny, violence and rape, and yet we have not even begun to discuss how we go about fixing that.

Patriarchal violence has not survived centuries because people “didn’t know” or “couldn’t see”.

Systemic oppression is deliberate, and we must begin to talk about what we do about those who deliberately and knowingly abuse and hurt us.

Follow me on Twitter @GugsM

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