Sweat the small stuff

Talia Kollek
November 19, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

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I’ll let you in on a little secret: feminists are sometimes very angry people. We hold signs at rallies, we swear at catcallers, and sometimes we publish aggressive opinions pieces. Often we are accused of focusing on issues that are too small. Are you moaning about the lack of female MSU presidential candidates? What about the environment! Are you upset about the wage gap? What about genocide? Missing and murdered Indigenous women? Think about world hunger.

Over the years I’ve learned that no issue is too small. Telling people that their grievances are unimportant is to misunderstand the nature of social change. Our societal flaws do not exist in a vacuum, but instead are part of a larger web of systematic barriers that feminists have simply labeled “patriarchy.” Nothing is a small issue because it is always part of a larger one. A casual sexist joke in the office contributes to the devaluing of women in the workplace. Brushing off a Pocahontas costume at Halloween is a dismissal of the contemporary impact of colonialism. A friend who insists on hugging you despite your complaints is ignoring the importance of consent. Speaking up about these “small” issues is absolutely worth your time, and acknowledging these legitimate grievances is very important.

Getting involved with small-scale issues can also function as a form of “gateway activism.” No one begins their activist career with a global campaign for social reform. Instead most people start by making changes locally, or advocating for themselves on a small scale. Furthermore, issues such as racism, sexism, and homophobia are complex, and require time and effort to understand. If everyone who wanted to commit to social change began by trying to solve an entire “ism,” the process would become immediately overwhelming. Instead of trying to bite off more than you can chew, starting small means that you can learn as you work, both from others and from past mistakes.

It is also perfectly valid to not graduate onto “bigger” issues. Not everyone is destined to become a contemporary Martin Luther King. Equally important are the people who strive to make meaningful changes to their own environments, be it their interpersonal relationships, or how they feel about themselves. Not everyone has to do great things to make a big difference.

By focusing exclusively on larger issues we can also often lose sight of the impact of the “smaller” things. Sure, one food bank may not alleviate poverty and hunger globally, but even if the larger systematic issues remain unsolved, then at least it has made a difference in the immediate lives of its clients. A little work is better than no work, especially when the problem you are trying to tackle is multi-faceted.

Often the person who tells you that there are bigger fish to fry are not frying any fish themselves. My advice to those aspiring to bring about meaningful change in this world is to sweat the small stuff. It may seem like the hydra grows too many heads, but large or small, you need to chop them off one at a time.

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