Okay! Personal vs Institutional. The difference between hurting someone personally, and hurting them institutionally.
This is an important aspect of interpersonal relations which is hard to begin to understand, but if you try…! It actually becomes fairly easy. It’s a matter of practice. Let’s start immediately.
Somebody can hurt your feelings. You feel bad. That’s “a bad thing”. That’s personal.
Question: is it an institutional problem? Did this person use, or subsequently hide behind, power structures that are in place throughout the society that you live in?
Personal + Institutional
Things can be personally hurtful and institutionally hurtful. For example, shooting a teenager. That’s hurtful, as the teenager is now shot. Is it institutionally hurtful? If the teenager is shot by an adult — well, adults have power over teenagers, institutionally. Is the adult a member of the police? Well, police have power (“authority”) over the general populace. Is the teenager black in America? Well, black people in America (and elsewhere, oh yes!) are disadvantaged, at large, by the racism that’s coded into the country’s culture and the cultures of those countries who most influentially watch America on the world stage.
Impersonal + Institutional
Insults and aggressions can be found personally pathetic, but remain disturbing based on institutional templates of oppression and invalidation. “Make me a sandwich” being twet at any given woman pop journalist is probably not frightening or threatening, or even actually possible (twitter makes the world seem small) — it’s still completely rude, structurally harmful, and indicative of someone whose hand might need a bit of a shitting in. Because sexism is as real as justice; an opposing force, it harms and hinders.
Impersonal + Noninstitutional
No probs. This is like… you ask if you can buy a piece of furniture being used to show crockery in a charity shop, and they say it’s not for sale, and you’re like “aww, damn”. Sorry, no big deal, move on.
Personal + Noninstitutional
Say, to take a wild example out of the air, somebody hurts their romantic partner deeply. The partner is left confused. This is personal — she (let’s say) hurt him (let’s say). It took a long time and it didn’t get better, only worse. A drawn-out break-up. Discovery of lies and intimate betrayal. Is this a personal problem? Yes. How big is it? It could be as big as the universe. Love is very painful. Sex is hard to understand.
Is this an institutional problem, though? No. It is not the case that women, as a demographic, regularly gain (or that men, as a demographic, are kept from achieving status, money, security, respect or mobility) as a result of sabotaging their sexual or romantic relationships with men. Does it hurt you? Yes. It’s sad, and I’m sorry. What it doesn’t hurt, is your culture.
When it doesn’t hurt your culture, you don’t need to take it to the streets. If you do? If you write and publicise a long, personal, detailed account of the sad death of your love relationship (I mean, for example), ask yourself: what about this can protect the public? What can it protect them from? Then ask: Who can it endanger?
Let’s take a new tack. If you have information about somebody that puts them in a bad light — if they’ve done something to hurt you personally, but not institutionally — it’s time to consider whether you are able to hurt them personally, and whether or not this potential personal hurt will be backed up by institutional endangerment.
Are they disadvantaged by: their gender? Their race? Their sexuality? Anything else? Mental health?
Then, start to wonder: are any of these aspects of their identity further endangered by their specific social circumstances? Do they participate in communities that are “traditionally for boys” or “traditionally white” or do they work extensively in areas which disrespect and take advantage of health problems? Saaaay… around fans of games, or comics.
OK, your pain is as big as the universe. Is your universe one where people are punished by crowds for their disadvantages? Is your universe one where nurturing culture outweighs the bitter vivacity of vengeance? You’re an adult and you get to choose.
Let’s not pretend that there aren’t masses, waiting, ready to punish women for being women, trans people for being trans, black people for being black — anyone with non-normative qualities for having those qualities. Never allow yourself to pretend that you aren’t making their jobs easier: if you can provide information about the sins of somebody who is marked Different, faults personal but non-institutional, you are handing cruel people the velvet glove with which to hide their iron fists of bigotry. They are set to pummel. You know that.
We all know that.
Our responsibility is to be neither the provider of the glove, nor the wearer of it.
Our responsibility is towards better.
You can do it.