Sarah Silverman is in hot water over a video she did to comically highlight the alarmingly high wage gap between men and women in this country. Some transgender activists found it insensitive and took it literally.
The video is almost four minutes long, but it can be summed up in the following few sentences:
“Every year the average woman loses around $11,000 to the wage gap. Over the course of the working years of her life, that’s almost $500,000. That’s a $500,000 vagina tax! That’s why I’m taking matters into my own hands…I’m becoming a dude.”
To nearly everyone (gay, straight, bisexual, transgender) who watched, the message was pretty self-explanatory: Hey, I’m a woman and I earn less than a man because of it…so I’ll just be a man instead! It was hilarious and to-the-point: Working women deserve the same pay as their male counterparts.
Trans issues have nothing to do with the video. They just don’t. She’s not literally saying that women who undergo gender reassignment surgery will then go on to get equal pay. But transgender activist Janet Mock – whom I love and find incredibly inspiring – took to her Twitter account to claim Silverman was making that exact point. “Sex reassignment doesn’t help one advance in workplace,” she tweeted. “Ask one of the most underemployed populations: trans people.”
So much for irony and humor.
Silverman also took to Twitter to clarify what her intentions were in making the video (something she should not have had to do):
If I literally got a sex change I would indeed find the work force far less friendly. The video wasn’t transphobic it was transignorant – never crossed my mind. But to my *unintentional* credit- people are talking about it & so begins awareness. Please don’t punish this cause because of my video. I certainly don’t only fight for causes that concern or benefit me and I expect the same of the vital trans community.
The whole “backlash” highlights a little problem on the left (and I’m saying this as a progressive Millennial who cares deeply about LGBT rights): It’s become trendy and even expected to feign outrage for the purpose of being seen as socially aware. Let me be clear: Social justice is vitally important and fighting for the rights of all people is a liberal value that should be nurtured and encouraged. Injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia…these ugly things exist and we must continually fight against and expose them where ever they are.
But there are too many progressives and liberals who take it to the next level. I can’t speak for everyone, but when one takes something that is not offensive to begin with (ie: the Silverman video), sprinkles it with accusations of bigotry or ignorance, and then condemns it publicly, it comes across as self-serving and self-righteous. It’s almost a way to say, “Look at how enlightened and socially conscious I am!” It serves no constructive purpose and only works to split hairs and as self-promotion.
Am I saying that Janet Mock is self-righteous? Not at all – she’s an incredible human being who has helped change the national conversation on what it means to be transgender. I love her work and I hope to meet her some day. But within activist and social justice circles, there’s a tendency to find problems and bigotry where none exists. Whether it’s accusing LGBT ally and liberal comedienne Sarah Silverman of being insensitive to trans issues in a comedic PSA or calling someone who critiques a religious doctrine “racist,” the theme is the same: Ego stroking disguised as awareness.
We need to move beyond this. There is too much injustice, bigotry and hate in the world that needs to be addressed and defeated.