Social Justice Advocates Handbook: A Guide to Gender Understanding

50+ concrete things you can do today to make for a more socially just tomorrow

by Sam Killermann · 16 comments

in Social Justice

"Everyone Deserves a Shot" Comic

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Social justice — the idea that everyone in a society, regardless of the identities they embody, can have an equitable shot at success and happiness — is a goal that seems unrealistic for many people. “It’s a pipe dream, Sam,” they say, smugly. “Life isn’t rainbows and butterflies,” they say, adorably.

To achieve social justice we will have to break down a lot of huge barriers that exist on a scale far above the individual, but even the biggest scale change is nothing more than the sum of a whole lot of individual efforts.  My goal with this site is to support you in doing just that: making big change on an individual level.

Following are a whole lot of individual efforts you can make today that will be significant steps toward that biggest scale change we need for a socially just tomorrow.

  1. Read through this entire list, acquaint yourself with the breadth of options before diving in

    Raising awareness: it’s hard to fix a problem you don’t know exists

  2. Learn about how diversity and intersections of identity work
  3. Read Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” of White Privilege
  4. Read 30+ Examples of Cisgender Privilege
  5. Read 30+ Examples of Male Privilege
  6. Read 30+ Examples of Heterosexual Privilege
  7. Read 30+ Examples of Christian Privilege
  8. Read 30+ Examples of Middle-to-Upperclass Privilege
  9. Write an essay listing and addressing all of the societal privilege you have (feel free to email it to me)
  10. Learn about how gender is much more than male and female
  11. And learn how sexual orientation works for those non-binary gender folks
  12. Discuss what your gender means to you with a friend you perceive to have the same gender, and one whose gender is different
  13. Read how to avoid being a stereotype
  14. And learn why positive stereotypes aren’t positive
  15. Write a list of all the stereotypes (positive and negative) you can think of for a social group
  16. Have a focused conversation with someone who doesn’t share one of your privileged identities about their experience
  17. Repeat #15 with all of your privileged identities (e.g., White, straight, man or cisgender, middle-to-upper class, non disabled, Christian)

    Developing competency: learning how to educate and intervene

  18. Practice these 5 best practices of effective social justice work
  19. Oh, and consider these 10 tips for thickening your skin to handle the emotional drain
  20. Take a free online college social justice course, like this one from the British Columbia Teachers Federation
  21. Sign up for mailing lists from social justice publications to get new learning material in your inbox (sidebar on the right for mine)
  22. Introduce the idea of “social justice” to someone who’s never heard the term
  23. Teach someone when it is okay to say the word gay
  24. And explain why “non-straight” isn’t a good alternative to the word “gay”
  25. Talk to social justice educators about their stories and reasons for doing the work (here’s one of mine)
  26. Comment on a social justice focused article you read and ask for a clarification of a point you didn’t understand
  27. Learn how to respond if someone uses non-inclusive (bigoted) language
  28. Practice different responses to various forms of non-inclusive language with a friend
  29. Attend a social justice seminar/conference in your area (use Google, or comment below to find one)
  30. Learn how to explain that bisexuality is real, not just “a step between gay and straight”
  31. Write an essay analyzing one of your privileged identities, like this one on straightness
  32. Understand that there is a difference between political correctness and being inclusive
  33. Ask for feedback from others on your approaches to social justice work
  34. Implement that feedback in meaningful ways in future endeavors

    Taking action: small decisions that can lead to big shifts of progress

  35. Get my book!
    Share all of the things you learned from this list with your social groups and networks
  36. Stop following the golden rule, and follow the platinum rule instead
  37. Make sure your school, business, org, etc. has gender-inclusive forms
  38. Use person-centered language, remembering that any aspect of a person is just that: an aspect of a person
  39. Remember that being an ally or social justice advocate is a full-time gig — there are no breaks or vacations
  40. Confront a friend or family member when they use non-inclusive language
  41. Confront a stranger when they use non-inclusive language
  42. Understand that intentions are less important than outcomes, and hold yourself accountable
  43. Help others understand the intentions vs. outcomes thing by sharing this handy edugraphic.
  44. Set a maximum number of hypocritical acts you’ll allow yourself per day, and hold yourself to this
  45. Lower the number of hypocritical acts you allow yourself by one after a successful month
  46. Incorporate one of these 5 ways of making the world more trans-friendly into your life
  47. Use the term “partner” instead of boyfriend or girlfriend
  48. Support businesses that support social justice
  49. Sign on to support a cause at TakePart.com, or volunteer to help a local cause; consistency is more helpful than a once in a while big burst of help
  50. Use your privilege in one area to lift the status of an underprivileged group: donate money, write a blog, organize a rally, start a peer training program
  51. Build your own world
  52. Comment below with another concrete way you can work for social justice.

Written by Sam Killermann

Sam is a writer and performer who uses those skills as an ally to advance progress in the realms of LGBT equality and social justice. He tours the country speaking to college students about stereotypes, prejudice, and oppression, and writes for this site when he's at home in Austin, TX.

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  • Antonia

    Thanks for this list! One more thing I would suggest is to campaign for more extensive and fairer media representation of marginalised groups. Much of our experience of minorities comes from exposure to mass media, and that can influence our beliefs in insidious ways. So I think it is important to portray realistic characters with particular personality aspects- perhaps gay, or transgendered, or disabled, or of a marginalised ethnicity- without that single aspect becoming the single defining feature of their personality.

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Thanks for the comment, Antonia. That’s a great point, and something that would certainly be a positive step. Any ideas on how folks can accomplish that?

      • http://www.facebook.com/kath.cooper1 Kath Cooper

        I would suggest writing to the media or newspaper – it’s hard work chaging a dominant discourse, but it is possible to change discourses too.

        • Tildi

          I agree. At least in my home country – Austria – letters to the editor are often discussed within the newsrooms. And sometimes a journalist even feels the need to answer. Sometimes, journalists are just not aware of certain things. It’s indeed a really a hard work, but in my experience it isn’t totally useless.

      • MommaJo

        My 20-year-old daughter babysits for her cousins during school vacations. Yesterday she noticed the kids watching on of the many live-action, sitcoms on Disney Channel. She was struck by the blatant stereotyping of the indian culture, the marginalization of women, and the leading of our children to find both funny (the omnipresent laugh-track). She didn’t remember these aspects of similar shows when she was younger. I have encouraged her to craft a well-thought-out letter to Disney Channel regarding her concerns. I also believe she, as a positive role model for her younger cousins, could begin talking to them about the negative portrayal of other cultures that mainstream media outlets would have us accept and even learn to enjoy. Social justice begins with those of us who care stepping out of our comfort zones and standing up to discrimination!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kath.cooper1 Kath Cooper

    Sam, I’m going to make it my challenge to complete this list my the end of Jan 2013. It is a really great list to push myself with. Some of the things you have written I have read already, but I want to re-read them
    Having been in relationships with the opposite gender, and now in one with a person who is the same gender as me, I found it quite challenging to loose privileges and things I considered my ‘right’ to have. One easy example is holding hands in public, some thing that i like to do, and would freely do with my boyfriend. One one hand (excuse the pun), I think ‘i still can do this , I have the right to express my attraction to my female partner as much as much as my ex’, the other side (and my reality) is I don’t feel safe enough in public environments to expose myself to the potential negative ‘feedback’ from strangers.
    thank you for your time creating this list- I hope others enjoy it also.

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Thanks for sharing, Kath. That example is a perfect one for illustrating just how sticky the idea of privilege can be.

      I’m really happy you’re going to give it a shot. I realized there are so many things out there (or just on this site) that it can be a bit overwhelming knowing where to start. The way I learned about social justice it was broken into these three paradigms (knowledge, competence, and action), so I figured it was worth organizing a list in this way to help others.

      Be sure to let me know how it goes!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kath.cooper1 Kath Cooper

    https://www.facebook.com/MyGayDay – if you scroll down on this page, there is a story of a guy who dresses for three days in woman’s clothing, he is documenting the reactions he got from people, reminded me of your passion (for equity not necessarily woman’s clothing)

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Ah, yes, which raises the long-contended question of the merits of doing privilege experiments (removing your sight for a day, living homeless for a week, etc.). There are a lot of different opinions on this type of work. I don’t do things like that myself, because I believe it will create a false sense of understanding of what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, but I can certainly see the other side of the argument as well :)

  • Psyche

    While person-centered language is a step in the right direction, there are some groups which prefer their identity to be treated as an integral part of them as opposed to an aspect. For example, I’m on the autism spectrum, and I, like many others on the spectrum, would prefer to be called an Aspergian or autistic person, because the language I use treats my autism as a necessary part of me, not an extraneous condition. A better way to word it would be “…an aspect of a person. The exception to this rule is if the person in question has stated a preference for alternate terminology, in which case you should use the terms they prefer.”

  • John Novak

    Social justice majors don’t label you as a “bigot” duty you not having access to education which would teach you how to use inclusive language.

    When I get online to talk about the time a masked intruder invaded my house and beat my own family in front of me before leaving us hopeless to almost freeze to death, and the cops knew this was going on and were okay with it, the last thing I need is to get my “privilege” checked for using a word or two wrong. The conservative establishment is harsh enough on us poor people, we don’t need liberals attacking us to. I know everybody likes to be the horse that’s already down because it’s easy to do and they can’t fight back, but when you claim to be “against prejudice”, it makes you a complete hypocrite. I’m pretty sure in armed intruder forcing a single mom and her son to sleep on the streets. Imagine your home gets burglarized: but the burglar never leaves. He moves in, because the police let him. I’m not making excuses for the language I used but a little bit of education might have helped. If you rich folks can stop denying funding for our neighborhoods, maybe people from my neighborhood can start using “inclusive language”.

    • John Novak

      I apologize for the retype, the post I’m replying to right now is the miss spelled version, I added a few things while I was spellchecking it.

  • John Novak

    Social justice majors don’t
    label you as a “bigot” due to you not having access to education which
    would teach you how to use inclusive language.

    When I get online to talk about the time a masked intruder invaded my
    house and beat my own family in front of me before leaving us homeless
    to almost freeze to death, and the cops knew this was going on and were
    okay with it, the last thing I need is to get my “privilege” checked for
    using a word or two wrong. The conservative establishment is harsh
    enough on us poor people, we don’t need liberals attacking us too. I know
    everybody likes to beat the horse that’s already down because it’s easy
    to do and they can’t fight back, but when you claim to be “against
    prejudice”, it makes you a complete hypocrite. I’m pretty sure an armed
    intruder forcing a single resource-less mom and her resource-less son to sleep on the streets , Is a little bit worse than one person, a non-educated homeless person who no one listens to anyway, failing to use “inclusive language”. Instead of bickering and whining at me, why didn’t one of these social justice majors provide me a blanket when I was homeless? Why didn’t any of them feed me? How about telling my mom that what happened to her wasn’t her fault, or telling me that I’m not less of a man for failing to defend her, maybe give her some feminist resources? You know, do something productive that actually helps people? No. That would actually take work. It’s easier to find some fault in the way I word things and use THAT as an excuse not to share resources with me.
    Imagine your home gets burglarized: but the burglar never leaves. He
    moves in, because the police let him. I’m not making excuses for the
    language I used but a little bit of education might have helped. If you
    rich folks can stop denying funding for our neighborhoods, maybe people
    from my neighborhood can start using “inclusive language”.

    • Arianna_NL

      I am sorry for what happened to you. As a social justice advocate, I do work, not talk. One of my biggest beefs with the Net is the fact that we have so many “experts” who just link to crap and don’t actually step out of their comfort zone to help.

  • Me

    So is it my “white privilege” to work eighty plus hours a week to support my family, have a third of the money I earn go to support people who won’t work then listen to ignorant little statists like you tell me that I’m somehow better off than everyone else in this country because of the color of my skin? You, sir, are a racist. If you want to talk about privilege then why don’t we talk about the dependent class who live off of the blood and sweat of the working people of this country, many ‘victims’ of welfare live just as well as my family without lifting a damned finger…. you want ‘social justice’ you had better fix that first!

    • Erica

      No, that’s not your white privilege, but your class oppression. You can have both at the same time. This was something I struggled with for a while. I too am a white person of Low SES (socio-economic status). It is because of your class oppression you are feeling this pain, but that doesn’t mean your white skin isn’t shielding you from other pain, such as being assumed to be lazy or stupid or dangerous because of the color of your skin. If dressed correctly, you will be assumed to be of high SES, where as that’s not the case for people of color. These are two very separate identities that often get put together as one. Just because you are oppressed in one area does not make you any less privileged in another.