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Posts tagged ‘individualism’

Privilege at its Extreme is Individualism, Again

Oddly, while my own experience of reading blogs is that it’s liable to make me more depressed and despairing on my own (probably because of the silencing factor), combining it with writing relieves me and makes me angry and passionate instead of resentfully cynical. Maybe this is just because I am “the vegan,” so my passion for basic rights puts me at odds with most “rights activists.” It’s really rare that I read something I feel resonates within me so much:

It was the eighties. The atmosphere was ripe with immanent denunciations. Politics in the still-breathing lesbian community had begun to hollow out into a ritual called “name the racist (classist, homophobe etc).” Who would be next in line to confess her privilege? Once she confessed, she too could be admitted to the ranks of the righteous, entitled now to “call out” any others on their particular “isms” … She now had an Id-entity. Indeed the self became implicitly re-imaged a container-entity either filled or emptied of privilege-chips.

I’ve noticed this going around a lot, and I am deeply uncomfortable with this process in feminism. It’s not that I don’t realize I’m privileged in many ways; I’m also systematically oppressed in many ways, but those privileges and oppressions and their intersections are not nearly as clear-cut as people make them out to be. The way these things interact and play off each other would take fucking years to describe—and by then they’d have changed anyway—and I don’t feel comfortable, in any way, having the face value of my privileges and oppression determine how much I should be listened to.

Because that’s what the effect comes down to: your credibility is directly determined by your relative oppression and privileges. It’s a bizarre mathematical equation that I’m sure gives both the oppressed and the privileged on any given issue some self-satisfaction, but it doesn’t work.

I was born into an upper-class, not wholly white, partially foreign family. But that wealth was not shared with me: money and its privileges were seen as the exclusive benefit of our mother and any money given to children—even for social necessities like clothing, soap and food—was only done grudgingly. I’ve been shocked, again and again, at what kids from only middle-class families feel entitled to, because the privilege people assume I had I never actually received.

Most of my warped worldview comes from the suburbs, where the houses are large and spaced far enough apart so that the neighbors can’t hear the children being beaten—and even then, it’s not much of a feeling of entitlement: my upbringing solidified a sense of distrust in my own perceptions and experiences, so that I assume I am acting on an incomplete worldview. Whether that’s the product of the suburbs or the abuse I can’t say—though I’d consider the suburbs themselves a type of abuse.

But even aside from that—I’m not rich, and I haven’t been for years. I and another person (my best friend, my platonic life partner) survive off of roughly $1,000/mo for all expenses. I’ve been homeless. I’ve had to lift all my food. Right now, at this point in my life, I am so poor that I sneer at the arguments of how poor people can’t not buy junk food, because if I bought junk food I’d starve.

So which am I? Do I get to know what I’m saying or don’t I? Are my anti-capitalist beliefs less valid than a pro-capitalist homeless man, because I have shelter right now?

I’ve been told that it’s because of my privilege that I’m vegan—big fucking NOPE here alongside an explanation of animal agriculture-as-Western-colonialism and genocide/ecocide—and that I’m racist by saying that people of color shouldn’t be treated like animals because it’s wrong to treat animals like that in the first place. Because I’m white enough to pass on the street—though still not white enough to get a job thanks to Mexiphobia—even though I’ve been caged, dismissed, and compared to animals too.

When someone gets told they have privilege, it’s shorthand for: all of what you just said is invalid.

And instead of engaging ideas critically and actually picking them apart, everyone follows that idea—that if you agree with someone who’s oppressed on a subject tangential to their oppression, you’re more credible, too. It’s gone from: the fact is that, as someone who hasn’t experienced the life of a POC or etc., you have a skewed perspective and your flippant suggestions for how to solve XYZ aren’t accurate or useful. To: the fact is that, as someone who hasn’t experienced the life of a POC or etc., you know less than they do.

That’s where it ends. Just, “you’re privileged,” the end.

The trend that Kathy Miriam points out has been my observation, too.

One of the obstacles to critiquing individualism is that the latter, like all ideology, functions by obscuring itself and self-presents as “just the way things are.” It is the air we breathe, the element in which we swim, thus invisible. Because individualism is so naturalized as a belief system, it can disguise itself as knowledge—or invisibly form the preconditions of what is claimed as self-evident knowledge.

Because there’s never any discussion of, “Well, how do I change my privilege?” (at least, that isn’t short-circuited by I shouldn’t have to educate you!), privilege has become this self-evident, unchangeable reality. And so we shift our attention away from demanding rights and equality from the people in our community towards legislation, which has a limited chance of success and an even more limited effect on the people who still have to deal with it on the ground.

We’ve become so caught up in this idea of changing either the individual or the government that we forget that the media, capitalism, religion etc. all spew this poison into our lives. We take the media and capitalism and marriage and religion and everything else so much for granted that we forget that we can—and should—build communities for ourselves if the ones we live in will not accommodate our very real needs for safety, survival and belonging.

Instead we focus on one person at a time, and not even within our communities—we fight over the fucking internet, devolving into a big fucking fight where everyone’s screaming NO UR PRIVLEJD and, in light of all that, activism—real activism—withers and dies.

Privilege analysis is a damn good lens for social justice movements to use. But it can’t be the be-all end-all of analysis and the only tool in the cabinet, and just because you’re privileged doesn’t mean you’re not onto something.

In short, privilege makes you unworthy of listening to when you speak up in favor of a system that you benefit from or that does not directly oppress you. But having been oppressed does not mean you are smarter or a moral-o-meter that can tell the relative ethical worth of ideas, either. And while it’s nice to believe that you, personally, can tell whether or not someone’s been oppressed or privileged—e.g. that women are privileged by gender conformity norms instead of oppressed by them—no one has that super-power, sorry.

And in shorter, you can’t let discussion of privilege limit the ways you move in the world. Now, I’m going to go create some animal adoption posters. Go read Dialectical Spin now. Bye!

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Privilege isn’t Winning, it’s Not Participating

A huge problem I have with the concept of “cisgender privilege” is that my female-bodied friends, and female-bodied people in general, are somehow assumed to have more privilege from being recognizable as feminine, instead of more targeted for victimization. Er, no. Femininity doesn’t work like that: there is no place of acceptance or safety, just different kinds of violence and objectification.

What I’ve seen is that when women achieve or fall into contemporary beauty (i.e. femininity) norms, they are not given a magic shield from gendered violence, whether sexual, emotional or physical. But they are given more attention of the kind patriarchy wants us to believe is positive—a guy not-so-covertly stalking you throughout the entire grocery store, spooking you so much that you keep your keys between your fingers and look over your shoulder walking through the parking lot; some douche who comes up and tells you that you’re pretty, with the obvious expectation that you’ll immediately swoon and accompany him to bed; getting “HAY BAYBEE” or sundry other things shouted at you from a passing man (in a car, on foot) instead of “FATASS” or “FREAK.” Stop acting like these things are not just as invalidating, minimizing, and fucking terrifying as the things women go through when they’re not feminine enough. They are.

Newsflash from Feminism 101: Women do not win. Ever.

But dividing women has one very salient advantage—it keeps them occupied arguing over who’s the prettiest, ugliest, bitchiest or most privileged, short-circuiting any destruction the silly little dears might have otherwise been able to wreak on the existing power structure.

Come on. This has been happening for centuries. Women fight over who’s more beautiful and the winner is men. Women fight over a husband and the winner is the man. One of the sad truths of women’s interactions throughout history is that women are always more likely to blame and fight each other than men. Patriarchy—all power structures—create a competition amongst the underclass to divert their attention and energies to getting small slivers of oppressor-given approval and power, because the easiest way to quell rebellion is to make sure it never begins. By making women compete, patriarchy succeeded in making men and men’s power invisible: in the din and dust of scrabbling to get whatever scrap of male approval was there, women forgot who was standing above them, laughing, and blamed the women around them for being better at the competition, or worse.

Part of the solidarity of the feminist movement was realizing that the women who won were still being forced to compete.

When I look at the belief that women—because it is always women—are privileged because they have an advantage in the competition, I see that history and that community disappeared. When I see the dismissal of this competition as important, as a fundamental shaping factor of all women’s lives—because all women have to deal with this in any civilization—what appears to me is not a fight for the rights of those maligned, but an incredible push to make people forget that the competition ever existed at all.

That’s the voice of postmodernism, individualism, transactional oppression. It’s the voice of the pornographers and the pimps, the doctors and the butchers and the rapists: women have power over the competition because they choose to compete.

This is the voice of reality: women have no choice to compete, because they are not the ones setting up the arenas. Men are, and the prize is sexual, emotional and capitalistic victimization. The only beneficiaries of the Colosseum were the spectators.

The privilege and power that transactivists seek does not lie in being able to participate in the competition, much less in winning at it. Those things reside only in not competing, and women cannot give you this—they’ve been trying for thousands of years to find a way out of the competition, themselves. You cannot give power you aren’t allowed to have in the first place, and women cannot oppress you as women, if trying to found a safe place for themselves and those like them—who were given no power and no choice—even counts as oppression. Demanding that women give you the power to be like them is only begging from an empty hand, because women have never had the power to decide what women were in the first place. And I find it unsurprising that when women finally do try to decide what women are—people designated unwilling competitors from birth in a system they cannot benefit from, because they have ovaries—the reaction is this vicious.

As women, they have no power to give you and even less to take yours from you. As women, they aren’t even allowed to decide who does not get to be around them, because that would be making boundaries, and those without power cannot have boundaries. As people born and recognized as men most of your lives, you still believe that women should not be allowed to have boundaries that are respected, defended. I know you believe this because your actions are written by patriarchy, and they are the same as any other man in the world, speaking slowly and menacingly: you have no right to keep yourself from me.

The only reason that oppressiveness is scented when a woman says, “I feel unsafe, and I don’t want you around me,” is that men have always had every right to women’s space, women’s bodies and women’s time. So when someone who was raised as a man is told no, it is perceived as a limiting of their rights, their privilege. Women are oppressing men by taking away their rights, the rights that were originally taken from women. But that is also invisible, especially to men.

As a genderqueer, I am absolutely skeptical of the idea that such a thing as “cisgender privilege” exists. Seeing it in the light of male privilege and the reality of women’s lives, instead of abstracted to fit the needs of those who have been privileged all their lives, it is just more of the same thing from the same place.

Remember: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

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