People I know will talk at length about how ridiculous and over-sensitive and overly angry they think feminists are, or social justice activists more generally, and often expressly refer to specific views I share or groups I’m a part of, but, “well, obviously we don’t mean you.” They don’t mean me because I’m not confrontational, I’m not argumentative, I stay quiet and let everything slide because direct confrontation is something I really struggle with. They don’t mean me, even though if I spoke my mind more often, they’d know they do mean me.
They don’t mean you, yet, they just want to check you’ll laugh along and keep the part of you they clearly do mean out of their sight.
They don’t mean you as a disabled person either. Certainly, when misogynist and/or ableist trolls came after the NUS Women’s Conference for using BSL applause to accommodate various disabilities, “well, obviously none of them meant you” although, being autistic and hypersensitive to sound, I’m amongst the people who would benefit, and my friends often end up making very similar accommodations for me, albeit on a smaller scale. People, even those who campaign for social justice and claim to strive for intersectionality, make sweeping catch-all criticisms of people who don’t follow a healthy enough or ethical enough diet, who spend a lot of time online, who didn’t vote* or go to a protest or something else which involves being able to leave home and get to another place that may be inaccessible in any number of ways, and when someone points out the inherent ableism in that and how it affects them personally… “Well, obviously we don’t mean you.” Sometimes that’s also accompanied by a thorough assessment of whether the individual in question tried this, tried that, tried hard enough, or whether they actually really genuinely have a good enough excuse.
They don’t mean you, so long as your disability and your experience has their approval. They don’t mean you, but all these other disabled people need to just try harder, or also come forward as individuals and hope they’ll be believed. They don’t mean you, as long as you’re in a position to willingly disclose your disability in demand. They don’t mean you, unless your invisible disability hasn’t been spotted or diagnosed yet, because everyone’s abled by default, right? They don’t mean you, they approve of your excuse so they don’t have a choice about it, it’s not your fault you’ll never be as good as your abled peers in their view.
Believe me, “well, obviously we don’t mean you“ doesn’t make a jot of difference to those of us who have to put up with this stuff from all angles, day in day out, always the afterthought they didn’t really mean. Unintentional harm does happen, and in a society where oppression and exclusion is so widespread it goes unnoticed, I’d go so far as to say it’s inevitable that we all cause unintentional harm at some point, but that doesn’t make it any less harmful. We need to learn from our mistakes, take care not to repeat them in future, and apologise where necessary; getting defensive and claiming we never meant you doesn’t solve anything.
Because when faced with the reality that their ideologies are hurting actual real people, they never mean you. They just mean everyone else like you, and they expect you to be okay with that.
*Just so we’re clear, I managed to arrange a postal vote on time, used it, and felt it was important for me to do so, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of blaming non-voters, even where it was by choice – it’s not something I want to get into here though, so I’d recommend reading Stavvers on the subject instead.