Arguments are very interesting. More than just shouting your points across from entrenched positions, arguments are a lot more about subtleties of the positions you are pushing across than they are about the major sticking points that jumps across at first. In most social media banters, the nuances get lost in the heat of the moment and more focus is placed on the superficial; who is able to use grammar the best, who can quote analogies regardless of how misplaced they are to the subject matter, who can deride the personality of the other the most and a host of others. One other superficial that gets people easily distracted is the use of fallacies. No need boring you with what a fallacy is or isn’t but suffice it to say that when you employ an argument which essentially strays from the crux of the matter, you are employing fallacies to put your argument across.
One fallacy which repeatedly gets used a lot these days is known as whataboutism, broken down to WHAT ABOUT ISMS. These are mainly used in charging the other person of hypocrisy. This argument tactic gained prevalence during the Cold War where the default go to of the Soviets when responding to charges of human rights abuse from the Americans was and you are lynching Negroes. When you think of it, it makes a lot of sense to respond to American charges of human rights abuses by reminding them of the segregation they were subjecting African-Americans to right in their backyard. Yes it did not excuse the human right abuses of the Russians but neither did it give the Americans the right to charge the Soviets of human rights abuse when blacks could not share water fountains with whites in America.
Over the years whataboutism has grown into a tool frequently resorted to by people who sought to excuse their actions based on what others were also doing and a dismissal of a person’s ideas and values. For the latter, whataboutism is utilized by referring to other sets of values and ideas and querying why a person who holds or pursues other things is not doing anything about the former. For easier identification of how this works, look no further than most of the criticisms lobbed at the Ghanaian feminist group Pepper Dem. Paraphrasing what is usually put across as a rebuttal to Pepper Dem’s activism is the question the real work is on the ground and not on social media. What are you doing about FGM? What are you doing about the Gambaga Witch Camp?
At surface level, you might be compelled to agree. For the most part, the most harmful gender narratives in Ghana are perched in corners of the country which do not have access to internet connection. The girls and women in hinter land Ghana who are being subjected to cruel widowhood rites, enslavement in shrines and witch camps, and being sold off into forced marriages do need feminism just as much if not more, than the city folks scrolling up and down their Facebook timelines. But that in of itself reveals two things.
First off, “What about FGM? What about Gambaga?” is inherently not a sufficient rebuttal to social media activism. It does not answer the question of why working against destructive gender narratives via social media is wrong/a bad thing to do. If anything, it weakly attempts to argue that social media is not the most efficient platform but it does not engage that further. So essentially, it fails as a rebuttal to the feminist social media activism of Pepper Dem.
Secondly, the whataboutism directed at Ghana’s feminist social media activism shows a tacit appreciation and admission that there actually exists very worrying acts directed solely at women. For a people up in arms against everything feminist because “women are not oppressed”, it then becomes surprising that people mention oppressive acts women are subjected to when attempting to rebut the activism of a feminist group. Nonetheless, if Gambaga and FGM is so important to the person bringing it up as a rebuttal, why does that person not lead the charge in that regard?
Activism has never been a monopolized endeavor. Everyone can jump into the fray. So if Gambaga and FGM means so much to you, like they should everyone, start the activism against it and do not query others on why they are not fighting that but fighting a form of oppression which makes you uncomfortable.