There is an argument, I’ll call it “BUT THE REAL WORLD,” that goes like this:
“I don’t let students into class without ID badges because in the real world most of you will end up in prison or with jobs where you have to wear name tags, so you need to practice.”
“Trans conference attendees can’t really expect there to be single stall or gender neutral bathroom options- that’s not a thing in the real world.”
“You shouldn’t need to use a computer for this course as a disability accommodation, because in the real world, you cannot carry your computer everywhere.”
Sexual assault survivors triggered and sent into relapse by a statue of a naked man placed next to their home should just close their eyes or go somewhere else because in “the real world” there are triggers.
I’ve heard this argument used many times- from activists circles where it was a convenient excuse for lazy allyship, to my shitty urban public high school, where it was used to justify unfair policies and trifling building conditions. Instead of “Making our communities safe and accessible and nurturing for as many people as we can, and particularly for marginalized groups, is a desirable goal but it is difficult and sometimes we will fail,” a popular idea seems to be “It is my moral obligation to make moving through this space as difficult as I speculate it is in the “real world” so that you can be a badass when you get there” – which can be a useful mindset to have for intentional, consensual, and time constrained purposes.
But outside of those parameters, BUT THE REAL WORLD is nothing but a reason to keep a problematic status quo going: “This problematic, painful shit is actually good for you, because it’s preparing you for more problematic, painful shit down the road!”
BUT THE REAL WORD prioritizes the worthy goal of developing resilience in the face of oppression at the expense of the goal of creating spaces where people who are already resilient don’t need to be, and where people who don’t meet arbitrary standards of being able to physically and mentally triumph over society’s bullshit have the chance to flourish. It’s like… I dunno. Being gung-ho about climate change adaptation, but not actually seeing the need to address climate change itself because “in the real world” there are some other countries who won’t sign onto international greenhouse gas regulations.
Ok wow. I’m an environmental nerd and I digress. The point is this- the spaces we move through are the real world, and we cannot be complacent with our chunks of the real world being as terrible as other chunks might be. People may have oppressive and exclusionary experiences in other communities, but that never justifies those people having such experiences in mine. Having access to thoughtful and accommodating spaces will go much farther towards marginalized peoples being able to thrive than being subjected to struggletastic “preparation” for the “real world.” All of us, every day, in all of our spaces, can set the standard for what THE REAL WORLD could be like.