Saturday, November 22, 2008

Who wakes up and says, "I wish I could be oppressed too"?

I have been talking with my cousin lately. He is 15, and I have been trying to explain the mechanics of oppression, privilege and power to him in a way that doesn't make him think he is being accused of something. Frighteningly, I have had to debunk several ideas that he has picked up from Cthulhu-knows-where about how oppressed he is. After doing that, he said something really upsetting to me:

"I wish I had a struggle of my own, something to fight against."


The mind...she boggles.

Somewhere along the way, the idea that having a struggle, an oppression to fight against, was in somehow. Stylish. It got you "special rights." Either that, or the rapid loss of privileges was seen as a loss of rights.

The idea that white affluent western men are an oppressed minority is laughable. It is also a perspective that one encounters quite frequently in popular culture, and especially from so-called men's rights activists(MRAs).

Let me explain something about MRAs. These people are rarely concerned with actual rights or oppression. They are primarily concerned with maintaining the status quo, because the only way they can see the rights of men being violated is when women have those same rights.

They see rights, freedoms and opportunity as a zero-sum game, namely, if females are doing well, that means that males must be getting worse. This ties in to the problem with essentialist thinking. If one group is "naturally" better at something, but the other group is doing just as well as them in actuality, then the only way to maintain this false dichotomy, is to assume that something must be holding back the "naturally" better group.

These groups do little more than encourage the very gender essentialist notions that create the inequalities they like to scream about. They help create these structures, and then blame them on the groups that are actively trying to fight them.

They blame feminism for all of their problems, with no knowledge of what feminists and feminist groups actually do. They tend to be against any legislation that deals with domestic violence, any legislation that makes divorce easier for women, against taking the victim's side in rape cases, against women having the choice to abort or continue a pregnancy, generally against anything that doesn't include men regardless of whether they actually need it or not and tend to support using children in custody cases to control and/or threaten ex's, support rapists, and rape apologists, and generally blame women for all of their own personal failings.

They tend to spend a great deal of time spouting off inaccurate information to support the idea that a cabal of women, queers, racial minorities and evil radical feminists control everything, and may even be responsible for the fall of Western Civilization! As a result, they paint hapless white men as the unfortunate victims of an "anti-male" society that grinds them into submission under the boot heel of the Fascist PC Thought Police.

Let us examine some of this, shall we? Not too much, lest we scratch out our eyeballs in frustration.

As far as this idea of "politically correct" (scare quotes intended) as code for "uptight" or "restrictive," I don't see why it is so important to some people to be allowed to use words that create an othering effect of specific groups. One thing that must be put out there right now: complaining about being forced to be "PC" is, in essence, complaining that you can't be a racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic douchenozzle without there being consequences. I seriously don't see why treating other people like the people that they are is such a damn burden. In the US, one does have the freedom to say exactly what one wants to, however, the rest of us also have the freedom to tell you that you are being obnoxious and insulting. Attempting to shame people with the sneering at political correctness indicates that you would rather be able to hurt people because you like to. This would make you, at best, a bully, and at worst, someone incredibly dangerous.

The gentleman doth protest too much is something else I want to examine here. There is a huge discussion amongst these supposed rights activists about false allegations that lead "innocent" men to being dragged through the court system and possibly imprisoned. Yet false allegations "experts" tend to turn out to be nothing more than perpetrators who are finding ways for other perps to get away with beating and raping. There has even been evidence that false allegations are more likely to come from men:

Are Allegations of Sexual Abuse That Arise During Child Custody Disputes More Likely to Be False?

An Annotated Review of the Research

Bala, N. & Schuman, J. (2000). Allegations of sexual abuse when parents have separated.

Canadian Family Law Quarterly, 17, 191-241.

Canadian Family Law Judgments: Nicholas Bala and John Schuman, two Queen's University law professors, reviewed judges' written decisions in 196 cases between 1990 and 1998 where allegations of either physical or sexual abuse were raised in the context of parental separation. Only family law cases were considered; child protection and criminal decisions were excluded.

The study showed that the judges felt that only a third of unproven cases of child abuse stemming from custody battles involve someone deliberately lying in court. In these cases, the judges found that fathers were more likely to fabricate the accusations than mothers.

These people want to tilt at windmills to preserve their privileges to the detriment of those they consider to be lower than them. They couch their true desires in the language of empowerment, and attempt to cast themselves as some tragic victim.

There are inequalities in this world, some of which specifically effect men, and most are rooted in constructions of masculinity. To resolve those inequalities, deconstruction of gender essentialism must occur. There are people who do this, who truly work to make sure that people are seen as equal regardless of what is in their pants.

They are called feminists, and they are not your expectation.


  1. This post is filled with awesomeness...Damn right on with your MRA analysis. I feel the need to blog about them to raise awareness yet it always comes at the cost of having them swarm the blog.
    They are a movement that is about privileging white men. In all of their hysterical temper tantrums all they do is repeat untruths and other anyone possible to prove that they have the right to lead. They disgust me to such a level that I am often incoherent.

  2. Aw, thanks Renee :D

    It was your intrepid MRA rages that encouraged this, actually.

    I only recently encountered them for the first time, maybe two years ago, on Yahoo!Answers. I knew they were full of crap, but it wasn't until recently that it became obvious to me just how dangerous they really are.

    I initially dismissed them as kooks on the internet.

  3. Awesomeness! Whenever I hear about "men's rights" I cringe because it's always the WASPy men doing most of the bitching. It reminds me of this one part in a comedy routine Chris Rock did:

    "The white man thinks he's losin' the country. You watch the news and they're like, 'We're losing everything! Affirmative action, illegal aliens and we're fuckin' losin' the country!' Losing? Shut the fuck up! White people ain't losin' shit! If y'all losin', whose winning? It ain't us!"

  4. Anonymous1:22 PM

    he said something really upsetting to me:

    "I wish I had a struggle of my own, something to fight against."

    As a man who, as a teenager, also expressed that sentiment, I'd like to offer a possible explanation of it.

    Essentially, it comes from the same societal background as the concept of "rebel without a cause" (or, more cruelly, "rebel without a clue"). It's the feeling that something is wrong, and wanting to have a part to play on the front line, rather than just saying, "m'kay, something's wrong and someone should change it".

    As a young male, I suspect your 15 year old cousin has received messages from society that he is expected to be in some way a warrior, a leader, and a fighter. But all the major injustices are ones on which he is, by virtue of his genetics and his identity, on the "wrong" side, and thus unable to play such an active part. I remember at that age, wishing I was a woman just so that I could be the first woman to break some barrier or other, and thus strike a blow for gender equality.

    It's the dichotomy of "I'm a man, I'm supposed to fight for stuff", but at the same time, "I'm a white, heterosexual, able-bodied man, so I have nothing to fight for!" The former statement obviously comes from the attitudes instilled by Patriarchal society in young males; the latter is at least a recognition that we *are* privileged, although I guess not realising just how bad it can be when on the other side.

    In other words, I don't think his comment was related at all to the MRA attitudes (which are, I agree, utterly reactionary and offensive)

  5. LOL Aspasia! That's a great segment :D

  6. Snowdropexplodes-

    That makes a lot of sense, and while I agree that what he said was well intentioned, there is an inherent privilege to wishing for an oppression that bothers me, but you did touch on that with not realizing what it is like to actually be on the other side.

    On the other hand, you are very right, the intention is good, and that is a step. It just freaked me out coming from him just after having to debunk the MRA ideas that someone has been feeding him.

  7. About your cousin, while of course it would be bad to encourage the wanting-an-oppression thing, perhaps it might be useful to point out that everyone truly does suffer under the current hierarchical system. Unless he is, in addition to white, male, able-bodied, straight, etc., also blindingly rich, it is likely that he does face a sort of classism. It might be possible to point that out and then take it from there to show how all the oppressions are linked and how they build up and support each other - thus demonstrating how working for feminism and anti-racism and against homophobia also works toward a new kind of society that will benefit him, too.


  8. Llencelyn,

    That is a great idea!

  9. Anne Onne3:31 PM

    Great post!

    Llencelyn's got a good point: exaiming the areas in which we know we are not privileged is a good step in encouraging empathy for those we are privileged over.

    I can see SnowdropExplode's point, too. I think you might be able to use his realisation that he doesn't have an oppression to worry about to point out how oppressed others are. Hopefully in a way that won't be all 'you should shut up and be blad that you've got a meal' but that encourages him to put the focus on others, whilst referencing back to his experiences.

    Anyhow, I came here via Shakesville, and I'm loving your blog. :)

  10. Anonymous3:25 PM

    I really like this post! Your discussion of political correctness rang true for me. I want to say to people sometimes, why is it such a burden to you to be respectful towards marginalized people? Some small burden if that's your only one.

    You inspired me to sound off on my own blog. Check it out if you want: The Czech.

  11. Awesome theczech!

    Thanks for the link love!

  12. Sarah TX2:11 PM

    I remember being 15 and wanting so desperately for something to fight for (it was a few more years before I realize that, as a lower-class fat woman, I had enough real-world battles that I didn't need imaginary ones as well).

  13. Britkid3:33 PM

    I, too, came here from Shakesville (where I lurk) and approve of the vast majority of this post, but would like to agree that "I wish I had a struggle of my own" is not so mind-boggling. I'm only a few years older than the kid in this article, and for me, the thought-process that got me there was largely powered by guilt, that frustratingly powerful emotion. Here's how it goes.

    1. First glimpse of 20th century history that's not the GCSE-syllabus stops-at-1939 "modern" overview. Black rights, anti-war protests, all that jazz. Done by STUDENTS? People like ME? Wow, just wow. You realise that your own life is rather pathetic and apathetic by comparison. It's such a shame you were born so late, isn't it? Such a shame that you don't have something so powerful to believe in, that you couldn't be involved in bringing change to your time. Such... no, you'd never say aloud that it's a shame that equality is already a reality...

    2. Begin to take more notice of the people you DO see protesting, even if they're not like you... and suddenly run headlong into an ugly stereotype. Maybe from your teachers, your older relatives. An exaggerated perception of how members of some activist group or other think, or what they've done. (One of mine was "If you want to get into a top university, it's pretty hard, unless you're an inner-city girl from an ethnic minority, then you're laughing" from a teacher who has since got the sack.) Try to shake it off and get on with searching. It's at this point that you start innocently asking the questions that get you flamed and labelled a right-winger, like "why is there no such thing as a masculinist, then?" and "Why is it not racism when the Asian girls at my high school hold their devast:ASIAN club nights?" (I never did get a straight answer to that last one, but I'm still trying to figure out the relevant thinking.)

    3. Keep searching. Find blogs for change, and begin reading. Maybe some kind soul responds to your newbie questions. Suddenly you get a horrible, horrible awakening about what "your" people have done in the past to those they should have treated equally. This shakes you up badly. Suddenly, the society you took for granted turns out not to be as utopian as you thought. The stereotype from earlier still haunts you, but now you're so messed up by the whole thing that your thoughts are in total backlash, and you catch yourself thinking "yes, that's almost what ought to happen. They deserve rights far more than I do." A horrible thought is arising in your mind.

    4. It's that these people are the equivalent of the past protesters. They will be heroes for the victories they achieve, they will change the world... and you? You will never be a beacon of hope and change, never fight injustice. You ARE the injustice, you ARE the status quo. Look how ignorant you were! No matter how kind and thoughtful you might have believed you were, you are THE ENEMY.

    Of course, you're not. But you feel like you are, at this point. After all, aren't YOU partially responsible for all these things? It's all so confusing. It would all be so much easier if you knew you were in the right. If you had something to fight for, something to believe in. But who ever heard of being simultaneously the fighter and THE ENEMY?

    I'm still struggling with this mindset somewhat, because the whole kit and caboodle hit me distinctly late (21). Blame the ivory towers of academia. But I'm slowly coming to realise that I am not, in fact, THE ENEMY, that it's idiotic to jam myself into the group that I hate for jamming people into groups. That the most logical thing to do is to accept that there are people who are privileged, and people who aren't. There are people who help the latter achieve equality, and people who don't. I don't have a choice of which group I was born into, but I do have a choice of which one I step into. And I'm trying to do that as best I can.

    (In case this alters anything in your perception of my post: I'm British, white, a student, now 22, up to now never in financial trouble, and female. I'm still taking my first steps into the world I just talked about-- not being American doesn't, I think, help, since the majority of the blogs seem to assume one is-- and would be grateful for any useful reading people can bat my way.)

  14. I think you missed a chance to point out that feminism is about changing the world so that *everyone* can lead more fully human lives and more fully reach their potential. It's not as if men had no part in that, after all. I certainly feel that part of campaigning for equal pay for equal work, better childcare, etc., is about making men's lives less rat-race-ridden, too.

  15. Anonymous6:50 PM

    All the thoughts behind your cousin's statement, and about how to talk to him, are good ones. As far as the need to be a fighter, make sure he knows that he doesn't have to have the same skin color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. to make a difference. He'll run into plenty of women giving him the fish-eye for being a man who wants to be involved in anti-rape work, but he'll also find women and groups who find male allies useful, especially for talking to other men about rape. He'll have to develop a thick skin about hearing queers (mainly gays and lesbians) refer to heterosexual people as breeders, but he'll find that PFLAG-types are more than welcome at protests and lobby days and the GLBT minority really needs allies. He might not get the sexiest roles in a movement, but as long as he isn't expecting to have them (like the men who run Concerned "Women" for America - those right-wingers just couldn't let the women really do something now, could they?) he'll find his labor is useful and mostly welcome.

  16. Anonymous12:45 PM

    I'm a woman, and a feminist, and I come from a great amount of privilege. In the upper-middle class suburb I grew up in, I found plenty to be angry about--the men who honked at me as a walked to school, the hypocritical ways in which "diversity" was lauded in my almost-all-white school, the world outside of my bubble, and, of course, trying to explain this to the straight, white male friends who I held--and still hold--dear to my heart. It is hard to be a girl and explain to a boy how heartbreaking it is to leave your house and know you will inevitably face some kind of harassment, and how by virtue of their sex they are unlikely to ever understand. It is hard to have these conversations, and it has proved to be endlessly frustrating.

    However, being a teenager is miserable for everyone. You are confused, you have mixed messages coming at you from all sides, pressures of all sorts abound, and yes, yes the white boys I grew up with had it easier than most, as did I, but I too am familiar with that feeling that comes before you have the words to express the frustration--the anger that sits in the bottom of your stomach that has no outlet, that can't be put into words because YOU DON'T KNOW WHY YOU'RE ANGRY, you don't know why your depressed. I had Kathleen Hanna to help me figure it out...they had stuff like Limp Bizkit which, instead of guiding them to channel their confusion into something positive, just encouraged them to LET IT OUT in one big angry amorphous mass.

    I made it through my teen years, and continue to make it through my 20s, because I was introduced to and sought out the kinds of words and thinkers who put my anxiety and fear and anger into perspective--who said, "think about it this way, and now do something productive about it." My ability to do this isn't exclusive to my gender, but I think there is something about the way we socialize and teach white males that leaves them out of the conversation.

  17. @hschinske

    I'm not sure how you came to that conclusion about my missed chances, considering I did not elaborate as to how that conversation ended.

    You are right about feminism and the good it can bring, and I did make those points to him. However, this exchange with him merely prompted the thought process that led to this post and has very little to do directly with the content of the post.

  18. Beste9:27 PM

    What ideas did you have to debunk from your cousin?

  19. @Beste:

    That men are naturally better than women at math, that women are naturally caregivers, but at the same time just out to take your money, that equality has been achieved, and that racism and sexism don't exist anymore and that feminism is only out to hurt men, just to name a few.

    However, as I said above, this post IS NOT about my cousin, that anecdote was the jumping off place, but not the point, of this post.