Saturday, 17 March 2012

Just because they're awesome, doesn't mean they can't be awful

Don't hate! He helped me with that thing that time!

I keep coming back to this issue, and it is such a frustrating one. Someone says or does something problematic (in some circumstances illegal and horrific), and yet they have supporters who will try to dismiss the seriousness of the offense because of how "good" or "nice" or "honourable" the person is. Other than that thing. And potentially that long series of things committed against minors in their charge over a span of decades.

On the one hand, I get it. Someone you care about personally, and/or respect a great deal is being challenged and you want to protect them. They were there for you before, or you've read some of their great speeches/ books/ published papers, etc, and it distresses you that someone so amazing is being insulted in this way.

I get that it can be very hard to listen to criticisms of people we love. When a stranger is making accusations against them, our first instinct is often to go into mama-bear mode and protect them, regardless of the substance or severity of the accusation.

Take for example, my mom. My mom's super. Sometimes I have issues with my mom. Sometimes my sister and I talk about issues we're having with our mom. But if anyone else outside that tiny circle of my sis and I start talking smack about my mom, I won't stand for that. That's when I go into the "My mom's a saint! You best back off my mom lest I bring your mom's faults into this!"-sort of mode. So, I get the reaction. I do.

The thing is, sometimes the people we love and respect make bad decisions. Sometimes they may be good to us but horrifically terrible to others. Sometimes even when they're not that great to us we still feel a sense of loyalty that urges us to defend them.

This is obviously problematic. First off, it largely leads to victim-blaming. If we are so unwilling to believe that someone we know/ trust/ respect, etc, is capable of being anything but awesome, despite all evidence to the contrary, there really is no place else to go but to blame and/or disbelieve their accusers.

Putting people on pedestals is unhealthy. Full-stop. No one is perfect and absolutely no one deserves to be revered as more than human. Not our parents, our partners, our religious leaders, our political leaders, our teachers, our bosses, our siblings, movie stars, professional athletes, scientists, political activists, no one. Everybody has flaws and blindspots, because we're all raised in an imperfect culture that teaches us, up front and subliminally, very problematic things. We need to see them as human and fallible so we can both genuinely appreciate the good things they do despite their regular flaws (as in, non-criminal, non-oppressive flaws like not practicing dental hygene, not knowing how to parallel park, having the audacity to have cellulite, not being omnisciently intelligent, etc), and to hold them accountable when necessary.

Also, by defending people despite their problems, we are preventing them from becoming better people. We learn through our mistakes, but only if we acknowledge they are mistakes. If someone is making sexist comments and they're being egged on to not apologize because they're already oh-so-awesome the way they are, that can prevent them from self-growth in stepping beyond their misogynistic beliefs. If loving and admiring someone depends on them maintaining their misogyny, then they're not the only person with the problem.

In the more serious cases of heroes committing crimes, if you think that a person's positive contributions are more important than them being held accountable for the crimes they've committed, welcome to rape culture. You're in it.

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