Something I’ve been seeing pop up in left wing articles and blogs a bit recently is discussion of apparently privileged groups “claiming to be” discriminated against. The writer is always, in my experience thus far, a member of a “genuinely” oppressed group, and apparently this entitles them to arbitrate on whether or not other people are truly victims of discrimination. This process of arbitration mystifies me. Apparently the method is simply to count the ways in which your own demographic is disadvantaged, and then dismiss the other person’s concerns out of hand because they haven’t been subjected those specific injustices. We can’t just say that our society is structured in a way which negatively impacts on most of us in some way at some points in our lives. We have to rank oppression by type, frequency, and severity. It has to be a competition. Somebody has to win.
Most frequently it’s feminist writers dismissing any acknowledgement or discussion of the circumstances in our society in which men are disadvantaged (eg. child custody, access to mental health services, substance abuse). The worst example I’ve seen of this has actually been taken down since it did the rounds a few months back, but was extensively quoted on Tumblr before it was removed.
- “So yes, men have issues. However, in no way, shape, or form are they of the same caliber as the problems and oppression facing women. If he is intent on making feminism about men, or inflating the issues that men face in order to play Oppression Olympics with the women he is conversing and organizing with, he is a fauxminist. Seriously: the minute he mentions the draft just stop listening.”
She’s not talking about men wanting special spaces in universities just because there’s a women’s room. The draft. Young men being forced by their governments to choose between going to prison, where they were likely to be physically and / or sexually assaulted on a regular basis, or attempting to kill people they’d never met while those people tried to kill them. “In no way, shape, or form of the same caliber of the problems and oppression facing women”? It doesn’t appear that she thinks conscription is irrelevant because it’s finished in the West, but there are doubtless some people who would make that argument. I’d say historical examples are relevant because they provide context and, in this case, demonstrate long-standing institutionalised discrimination which differentially subjects men to violence, a tradition which is continued with the modern prison system.
None of the writers I’ve seen make these arguments have seemed to want to seriously address, say, the fact that men in our society commit suicide three times as often as women. They just point out that men aren’t sexually assaulted as often as women and that they tend to earn more, and thus, their privilege disqualifies them as genuine victims of discrimination or gendered mistreatment themselves. “Just stop listening”. Bonus points if you can tell someone with a straight face that, because of their demographic group, they’re not entitled to critically engage with the discussions you want to have about discrimination. Being a man might not preclude you from being a feminist, but apparently it almost always precludes you disagreeing with one. If you’re a feminist and you don’t believe you engage in this type of thinking, try a little thought experiment: imagine your reaction to this post if you knew it was being written by a man. If you honestly think you’d react exactly the same way, congratulations on your objectivity. But if you think everybody else would too, you’re living in a fantasy world.
It seems extremely sad to me when some feminists dismiss negative outcomes for men in various arenas as none of their concern, and it infuriates me when they claim that the people who do draw attention to those inequalities are betraying or undermining feminism. They’re two sides of the same coin. Obviously everybody is entitled to pick their own fights, but I’d think it a rather strange and small-minded if someone campaigning for Indigenous rights dismissed discrimination against North African refugees as not being their problem. I’d be mystified if they attacked people campaigning on refugee issues as enemies of the land rights movement. There’s plenty of injustice to go around, surely. If you’re only worried about and willing to campaign on or discuss discrimination against your own demographic group, that’s your decision, but it seems unbelievably short-sighted to me.
When I call myself a feminist, I mean that I’m concerned about discrimination and mistreatment on the basis of gender. I’m worried about the pay gap and the burden of parenthood. I’m worried about equal access to mental health services and child custody. I’m worried about sexual assault and domestic violence. I’d like to live in a society where none of those issues had a disproportionate negative affect on one gender or the other – where everybody was paid a fair amount for their work and expertise, where nobody was the subject of violence they were powerless to prevent, and where everybody could spend enough time with their children. That’s equity. It’s not the olympics.