Community & Government

Rethinking Cancel Culture

adrienne and Gloria examine the power of empathy and the punitive nature of cancel culture.

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Topics include: Rethinking Cancel Culture


[MUSIC PLAYING] - I define cancel culture and call-out culture-- I kind of make a bucket of cancel, call-out space-- as the practice of thinking that we can punish, publicly shame, humiliate, and dispose of people as a way to create accountability and justice and safety. And I don't think that it actually works generally, and I don't think it mostly works the way we're deploying it now, which is across lines where we have no relationship and no way to track the accountability measures that people are taking, and where we seem to be getting a gleeful pleasure from tearing down of each other, rather than contributing to building up some other ways of being. So I decided to write the book "We Will Not Cancel Us, And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice" because I felt that what I was seeing play out, particularly in the realm of social media, in the realm of movement, was people using call-outs and cancellation as the first move that they were making when they felt a conflict or when they were told that someone had created a harm and that they weren't slowing down to actually ask the question, to actually find out what had actually happened, to see how they could contribute to supporting everyone involved. I really started to notice that you cannot be whole if you're terrified of making a mistake. And the thing that makes us terrified of making mistakes is punishment, that if I do this, then what's going to come back to me is I will get punished for basically being myself. Our mistakes come from us being ourselves, and we learn that very early on in life. For many of us, we grew up in a punitive childhood where you're supposed to be seen and not heard, or you make some mistake, you get hit. You get screamed at, whatever. And that culture of punishing children becomes punishing school systems, becomes juvenile justice, becomes the prison-industrial complex, which routes us back to slavery. So it's like punitive culture-- we're swimming in it. It also doesn't work. My friend Miriame Kaba writes beautifully about this. We've been in the experiment of prisons for 250 years, basically. Well-funded, all the innovations possible, and yet we still have rape, crime, robberies. So we know punitive doesn't work, but we're scared to actually try on the other things. And the case that I make is that public shaming, public harassment campaigns that come along with cancellation or call-outs-- they can really serve that same function-- public punishment. And it doesn't actually correct the behavior, necessarily. I don't think it's never necessary. Sometimes there are power dynamics where that's the only option, where someone feels like they're unreachable or they have the resources where, even if you say, stop causing this harm, they keep causing that harm. And I think this is why I'm such a fan of what the #MeToo movement has done. And the concern I have is it's starting to become our knee-jerk reaction to everything. ...

About the Instructor

Women’s rights activists and political changemakers Gloria Steinem, adrienne maree brown, Amanda Nguyen, and Tina Tchen know there’s strength in numbers—especially in the fight for equality. Now, they’re coming together to dissect the issues women have faced in the U.S., talk about their advocacy efforts and personal challenges, and introduce ways you can play an active role in the feminist movement in your everyday life.

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Gloria Steinem, adrienne maree brown, Amanda Nguyen, and Tina Tchen

Four women’s rights activists discuss the feminist movement in the U.S., ways they’re creating change, and how you can join the fight for equality.

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