There is a place for social activism in any society. Problems naturally occur in any civilization and not all of them are given the attention they deserve; those who point them out and attempt to encourage the address of these concerns can do a great service to their society.

There is a limit, however, to the utility of such activism, as there are indeed times when it simply is not needed. Many in our modern society have lost touch with this indisputable reality and, in doing so, venture into the realm of useless, unjustified whining.

Tumblr is rife with examples of such whining, one of the more interesting of which is “Operation Catsuit”. Here is a description of the “operation”:

Operation Catsuit is a performance series in which installation artist/handbag designer Ayana Evans wears a neon zebra print body stocking to various art events across New York City. At each event friends of the artist secretly video tape the reaction of patrons in the galleries and around the surrounding neighborhoods. Those with the strongest responses are interviewed after the artist has left the area. A handful of those who have absolutely no response at all are interviewed as well.

And here is the operation in action:

What we essentially see is this: an attractive black woman (attractive enough to get a decent amount of attention in public without much effort at all) puts on the most revealing, attention-grabbing attire she can find and walks around in environments where such attire is wholly unexpected (ex: The Museum of Modern Art) documenting reactions.

Here were some of the responses on Youtube to this experiment:

Aalinh Orberst

Britney, Jessica Szohr, ScarJo and umpteen other celebrity and “regular” women with acceptable bodies wear tight catsuits everyday. Where are the people talking behind their backs and taking their picture? As soon as it’s a woman with a big behind and more pronounced curves she’s showing the whole world every nook and cranny of her body. How is that right?

We begin to see some of the online social justice warrior insanity/victim-complex leak out here. Aalinh Orberst attempts to turn this experiment into evidence of racism because, apparently, it is common for certain non-black women with “acceptable” bodies to wear tight bodystockings every day.

This is an interesting argument because I cannot recall ever seeing the likes of Scarlett Johansson wearing a skin-tight bodystocking with bright colors and zebra patterns in a public place on even one occasion, much less “every day”. If Scarlett or any celebrity like her were to do so, it would make major headlines, but it isn’t terribly common. The only non-black celebrities that I can recall seeing push boundaries with their clothing in public (or even on stage) have been criticized quite extensively for it – Miley Cyrus comes immediately to mind.

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With all that said, what is Aalinh Orberst complaining about?

Aalinh Orberst

This made me me cry. I am so insecure about wearing certain clothes because I fear this everyday. You people in the comments know they weren’t taking pictures of her because her outfit was bangin’. They were taking pictures because even though she is completely covered up, she is a black woman with a voluptuous black woman body (you can’t deny that natural-no exercise required big butts come from our African ancestry) daring to wear stretch a catsuit over her fat behind. There was no love or praise in that. This is the kind of body shaming that is forced onto black women everyday. I dare someone with the technology to image search her catsuit and see all of the nasty comments people made. But this is the age of positive body imagery…..just not positive black body imagery.

I’m fairly certain that pictures were taken of this woman because of her outfit. It is not every day that one heads to a museum and sees a woman of any kind in a bright yellow, zebra-print, skin-tight bodystocking. Had she been more conservative (e.g., jeans and a blouse), I’m fairly certain that most of those who reacted in the video would have had little or nothing to say or do about her.

But what non-sense am I promoting here? The idea that a woman who goes out in tight, bright, unusual attention-getting attire will stand out like a sore thumb and get a lot of attention, not all of it positive? Madness.

Clearly the world just hates thick black women.

Arria

Don’t take pictures of people in public no matter what they look like unless they’re a performer or something. I just think that’s so disrespectful and an invasion of privacy

This comment is particularly fascinating: Arria is not actually capable of grasping the contradiction she creates when she implies that people have a fundamental right to total privacy in public spaces. Her argument essentially implies that every space must be regarded as a private space, unless someone is a performer (in which case no right to privacy exists).

Also, take a second to note the truly grand irony in Arria’s comment: she implies that pictures should not be taken of people in public no matter what, as such an action is “disrespectful and an invasion of privacy”.

She says this while commenting on a video in which dozens of people (the folks walking around in the museum as Ms. Bodystocking makes her way through) are recorded in a public space without their permission.

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Is this the goal of the online Social Justice Warrior? To redefine basic societal rules and expectations with contradictory, nonsensical amendments? To imply the existence of fundamental rights, and then deny those rights to legions of people simply because they can’t empathize with them?

The social justice rage continues on Tumblr:

…This is the reality of being a black woman, a black femme, and a black perceived-woman. If you do anything, anything, you are not a person. You are a side show and people have the right to be entertained! They will apologize to the white folk they knocked out of the way to get their picture rather than acknowledge a word of personhood to your face! You don’t HAVE a face! You’re just ass. White supremacy has a history dating into the early-mid 1900s of having black people in fucking zoos for their entertainment. This isn’t new! This isn’t new! This is a legacy. This is the legacy of whiteness and no white person is exempt.

Not white women, who are the initiators and main perpetrators of this because (as my friend said) they see her as a threat; not white men, who are indeed just as guilty; not white non-binaries, not white queers (your other axis of oppression do not and will not ever negate your whiteness). No one is exempt from the legacy that made this possible, that allows this to go on unchecked, that is still actively held up by the people who would fancy themselves passive, or “good people.”

It doesn’t matter how you dress. This isn’t just about being fat, this isn’t just about being skinny- this is about not being white, this is about existing in blackness.

You see white people of all shapes and sizes in this video. NONE of them are side shows, NONE of them are experiencing the sheer white gaze of antiblackness and antiblack misogyny. And this is about blackness. This is about being perceived in such a manner that other people only feel the need an “excuse” to dehumanize you: something they do already in the comfort of their homes, in their minds. You know this because not a single white person reprimanded another white person for their picture taking. Not one alerted her after said non-existent reprimand.This is what I worry about when I go out. I don’t even know if people are taking pics, and I pray they are not.

Well, I dunno. Are you going to museums in the heart of midtown Manhattan while wearing a bright yellow, skin-tight bodystocking? Because if you are, I think it safe to say that people are taking photos.

I don’t think that there is anything “anti-black” about giving attention to an individual who clearly intended to attract such attention. I don’t consider the fact that people will gaze at a thick black woman running around in Manhattan in a bright yellow, zebra-print bodystocking to be a sign of white supremacy. I think that’s just… normal. If you’d like not to be gawked at and photographed, don’t go out of your way to stand out as much as you possibly can.

That just seems like the logical conclusion to me, but what do I know? Why not just whine and complain about imaginary “misogyny” and “antiblackness” instead? I’m sure that will solve the problem.

Meanwhile, back on tumblr…

This video shows *exactly* why our work is never done. How our bodies are never truly our own because of the gaze of others. Notice how the majority of people taking pictures of her (WITHOUT HER EXPRESS PERMISSION) were female and WHITE? Can I pull a perpetuation of patriarchy card? Like a Sarah Baartman and other images, her body was as much a part of the exhibition as the paintings on the wall. And it makes me wonder….would a white girl in the same outfit, get the same reactions? Who would take the pictures then? THIS.IS.EVERYTHING and why my feminism can’t be written in the annals of Simone de Beauvoir and her likes and why White Feminism continues to undermine its own rhetoric.

-All this to say, this is some BULLSHIT!

This one is concerned about the fact that pictures were taken of Ms. Bodystocking “WITHOUT HER EXPRESS PERMISSION” but, ironically, fails to note the fact that dozens of people had their pictures taken (and appear in this video) without having given their express permission.

Odd, that…

This is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. These (mostly white) people are taking pictures of her like a zoo animal. Staring, shooting, then judging. This is a rendering of the modern Hottentot Venus experience.

It shows how Black women’s bodies are still commidified, envied, then rated inferior to historically traditional, feminine, “right” white women’s bodies. And how Black women’s natural expression and respect for their beauty is seen as putting themselves on a platter of some sorts, for other people’s ridicule or consumption.

Because notice what happens here: Most white men stare and take pictures (for their own use later). White women stare, take pictures (for their own judgement later), and literally every one of them turns away with that same look: arms crossed, lips pursed, trying to be incognito. It’s a jealously tinged with, no, based on hate.

Just because racist history looks different doesn’t mean it has changed.

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The unique ability of the social justice warrior to simply invent things to offend him/her is quite remarkable. Here, this tumblr user suggests that this video shows how black female bodies are “rated inferior to historically tradition, feminine, “right” white women’s bodies”. I’m not sure where this “inferiority” is implied and perpetuated in this video – people seem shocked because they are in the heart of Manhattan witnessing a woman in a bright zebra-print bodystocking strolling around casually, not because they saw a black woman. Most have probably never seen such a thing before, and I’m sure some think that such dress isn’t appropriate. Isn’t that normal?

Probably not. Let’s get angry about racism instead, because that makes more sense. Only racists would do a double-take at a skin-tight zebra-print bodystocking in Manhattan, because most people are perfectly accustomed to seeing such a thing on a regular basis.

Activism is necessary to bring attention to and actually engage with many real problems that persist in our world, but one does nobody any favors when they become indignant about things unworthy of any serious concern. By failing to understand this reality and getting enraged at the most mundane and inoffensive of things, the social justice warrior not only fails to make any positive progress for his or her self, but also undermines other bids to call attention to real issues using the same mediums that these social justice warriors (tumblr, youtube, etc.) frequent by making such bids appear to be the calling card of the irrational and the insane.

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The more these people complain about things that do not matter, the less we are likely to see done about things that do.

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