On Declarations…You Cannot Oppose That Which You Participate In

Dr. Jenn McCabe

Founder of Radical Relating, Director of the World Makers Leadership Program, and CEO of Lead. Gather. Relate.

There’s a particular type of commitment we make that I want to talk about today, and that is a commitment to what you know. It is called a declaration of universal intent. A declaration of universal intent is a formal statement applicable in all cases. If you’d like to read about the entire process of making a declaration of universal intent, you can do so here.

I recently made a commitment to the following—you cannot oppose that which you participate in. It is a declaration of universal intent. I challenge you to find a time when the statement doesn’t bear out. Seriously. Give it a try. I’ve spent the better part of a year asking questions, enlisting others in discussions, and asking anyone who was willing to tear the idea apart to do so.

What I learned was that people who pushed against it were conditional with their sovereignty and conditional with their commitment. They were looking to be held only partly responsible for their decision-making. There were worries about perfectionism. One can’t be perfect, so to make the commitment is setting oneself up to fail.

I thought about this for a bit. No one is perfect. And we still make commitments. I made my marriage vows and I am not perfect. I am committed. There is a difference. This is an important distinction to make.

Committed is not the same as perfect, which isn’t an attempt to let myself or anyone else off the hook.

I looked at people’s commitments and watched closely the way they related to one another. I watched people’s interactions on Facebook, an odd and yet helpful place to see how people oppose the things they’re against. I happened to walk right into the middle one of the best possible case studies of my declaration.

I’m for women. Aren’t you?

I was a member of a group of women entrepreneurs looking for a way to sell their services or products without using the typical marketing tactics. These typical marketing tactics are pretty nasty: creating false scarcity, using the things women feel worst about in terms of their body or relationships (a.k.a. pain points) to position your service as the answer to their problems. This group was looking to market in a way that did not sell women out in order to get a sale. The project attracted a great number of people from all parts of the globe and all types of businesses. The aim was to honor women and meet them at the door with products and services rather than manipulate women to buy.

As with any newly formed group, there was a period of growing pains.

The group wanted to learn how to market differently and in order to do that reviews of real-life examples that were over-the-top awful were done.

The group looked at a given business’s marketing approach and identified where it was going off the rails in its marketing. This led to some very thoughtful discussion as well as some not so thoughtful commentaries. We’ll call them rants.

“Rants” is my way of being generous. “Public shaming” would be more accurate. “Displays of contempt” would also be accurate.

Many in the group had expressed concern that communication of this nature was not helpful and that it did little more than add to the noise, but there was pushback.

Members of the group would say it’s okay…because the woman in question used it in her marketing…because she clearly doesn’t have women’s best interests at heart…because we know better, are better, do better…because opposing shaming and contempt with shaming and contempt is okay as long as the other did it first.

No. A thousand times no. You cannot oppose that which you participate in.

Let me go deeper into a specific example from this group to further illustrate the declaration.

A photo of a woman was placed in the group’s newsfeed. Accompanying the photo were captions that expressed outrage and dismay at the way this particular woman made her way in the world. Under the captions and photo were comments that summed up the disapproval of the audience. Words such as “disgusting” and “scary,” contemptuous statements about her obvious lack of understanding, and a healthy number of “OMGs” were thrown in for good measure. It was about midway through the comments that a picture of the woman’s children was added to the thread, which invited the inevitable questioning of her ability to mother her children given the utter delusion under which she clearly operates.

I was set to ignore the whole thing as I had countless others until I saw the photo of her children. It was then that I said, no. Here is exactly what I said (minus the name of the person who began the thread):

“What is the point of this post? To pronounce judgement on her? To learn something? These past two weeks we’ve been working on declaring what this group is about- advancing the cause of women. Brining in her name and face without her participation? This is not what we’ve agreed to do here. I oppose this. I want her face removed and I want to hear what it is you are doing with this. Figuring out what you will do differently? It is not okay to render judgment, ridicule, and shame and walk away. it is the opposite of declaring you are for women and then tearing her down. Do I agree with her? No. Shame and ridicule her behind her back? That’s fucked up.

We’ll get to my own hypocrisy in a minute, but there are really great examples in the replies to my comment that illustrate the conundrum of participating in that which you oppose.

Here is a sampling: You have a “tone.” You “humiliate.” You are “aggressive,” “disrespectful.” You engage in “going low,” “attacking,” “insulting,” and “yelling.” You’re acting “patriarchal.”

The last one is my favorite because when you know the history of powerful women, you know that all of these accusations are often the very things they get accused of being when in opposition to (said) patriarchy. The only thing that was missing was the accusation of being shrill, but I suppose “yelling” is pretty darn close.


Now remember the declaration—you cannot oppose that which you participate in.

The group’s overarching want is for women not to pick up the nonsense shoveled at us through marketing or other means, not to let outside expectations shape our choices and desires. Essentially, leave them free to be themselves. Except the woman who is the subject of the post, of course. She needs a wake-up call. And don’t forget me. I need to be chased out of town with anti-patriarchal pitchforks.

And let’s not forget my own participation. Admittedly I was doing pretty well until that very last line. Oh, my. I do have a fiery side. Unfortunately, the result was that everyone focused on the judgment rendered, not the opposition. The original post stayed up. The photo of the woman’s children stayed up. I offered to relate to those who had accusations for me. A few took me up on it. Some exited with dramatic flair.

Being for women but against some women doesn’t work. Opposing patriarch by imposing patriarchal norms doesn’t work. Just as rendering judgment to oppose judgment doesn’t work.

It isn’t opposition. It is participation.

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