People don’t play 12-dimensional chess. They do things because they genuinely want to do them.
To figure out the motivations behind an action, apply Occam’s razor. What does someone care about? Watch their choices. Do those contradict their stated beliefs? Well, their actions are showing you what they actually value. If you’re casually dating someone who says they want to commit but always has some reason why they can’t just yet, they’re stringing you along. If a conservative pastor gets caught sleeping with men but claims he’s still somehow straight, do you believe him? When Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and instituted Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it wasn’t some elaborate political triangulation. He truly did just oppose LGBT rights.
Same goes for writing. If a science-fiction author only ever writes male protagonists, he doesn’t have a secret long-game agenda to increase female representation — even if he says he’s not a sexist. And if a nonfiction genre claims to support women, people of color, and LGBT people but centers almost exclusively on graphic stories of them suffering abuse and violence, its readers actually do just want to watch oppressed people in pain.
Contemporary feminist writing is essentially confessional. Even macro-level social analysis has to be couched in terms of the author’s personal history of misery and abuse, since that’s how you establish your “lived experience” credentials to speak. For oppressed people, public suffering is the price of admission to feminist discourse. After all, that’s what feminist readers want; although they posture about relishing “white male tears,” feminists avoid accounts of white men experiencing trauma or pain. They don’t want to hear it. (The Right, of course, does want to hear it; conservatives get their version of that same emotional charge from stories of white male victimhood.)
Does “amplify marginalized voices” translate to “find accounts of oppressed people undergoing trauma and share them around for your friends to gawk at?” What interests are being served there? Who does that empower (other than the media companies that profit by selling those stories and the academics who build careers by analyzing them)?
As a woman and a lesbian, I shouldn’t have to titillate you with my experiences of misogynistic and homophobic violence to be allowed to speak. I don’t blame other oppressed writers for playing the game in order to be heard, but here’s the thing: giving the progressive subculture your suffering now won’t get you a payoff in terms of practical solidarity later. They’ll just keep wanting more of your pain. Their “allyship” will never actually lead to real-world support. The subculture is grifting you. Is entertaining them worth it?
Life under capitalism is dehumanizing, and it trains us to dehumanize each other. Most people who get involved in feminism start out wanting to right that deep existential wrong, but trauma-focused confessional writing is a bait-and-switch. It claims to humanize oppressed people, but it turns around and reduces them to objects for voyeuristic consumption. We all deserve better.
So I’m a writer and a feminist, but not a “feminist writer.” Taking oppressed people seriously means forming real, in-person relationships where you recognize each other’s dignity and care about each other’s lives. It means breaking out of the middle-class progressive bubble to engage in collective struggle with tenants against landlords, with workers against corporations, and with prisoners and detainees against the government. Signal-boosting what amounts to trauma porn — even if it comes with a feminist brand! — just deepens the moral rot of capitalist life. Learning about oppression isn’t the same as reveling in someone else’s pain.
So put your time and body on the line. Real-world collective struggle restores life and washes you clean. That’s what we owe each other: renewal, dignity, and re-humanization.