Tag Archives: oppression

I’ve experienced oppression and that means…

One of the reliable mistakes well meaning people make is to assume that knowledge of one thing means understanding of another: I have endured sexism so I understand racism. I have endured workplace bullying so I understand domestic abuse. I’m a lesbian so I understand the problems of gay men. And so on and so forth. Less well meaning people take it a step further: I have experienced sexual oppression and therefore I cannot be racist. I have been a victim of abuse so I cannot be a bully. It’s easy to see how we get there, and the consequences are unhelpful through to harmful.

One of the things this does is let us not consider where we may be going wrong. A lifetime of dealing with sexual discrimination gives you pretty much no insight into the mechanics of race. If you are a white woman, a lifetime of sexual discrimination does not actually mean you are incapable of racism. The uncomfortable truth is that to be white is to be part of a system that upholds racial discrimination. If you want to change that, you have to find ways to be active about it. Imagining reasons it does not apply to you doesn’t help anyone.

Granted, experiences of oppression can give one group the scope to empathise with the sufferings of another group. That can be a productive base for mutual support. But it can also be a way of erasing the differences in power that exist. It can be a way of minimising your role in the other group’s problems. Sometimes it can leave people feeling entitled to speak for, and speak over those they claim to be helping. Speaking for other people is something to do with caution, because so often it turns out to be speaking over. Believing that you are qualified to speak for someone else is an impulse that needs scrutiny.

Suffering does not make you incapable of being an ass-hat. Experience of discrimination does not make you incapable of discriminating against others. Experiencing challenges does not mean that in some situations you don’t also have privilege. Thinking about this may be uncomfortable. You may feel a knee-jerk defensive reaction that wants to say ‘no, because I…’ and it’s ok to feel that if it’s what you’ve got. Feel it, sit with it, unpick it, understand it. Look at where those protective feelings come from. Do it privately where no one else can see. Own what you find there. It’s not an easy process, but if you do this quietly and alone, everyone benefits.

Against tyrannical clothing

Let me start by saying that I have no problem with gear needed for health and safety reasons, because health, and also safety. I have no problem with anything a person chooses to wear, or with people not wearing clothes – your body, your business. I am willing to accept that uniforms are helpful in some circumstances, both for practical reasons and for ease of being able to see at a glance who is doing the things. These are not tyrannical clothing issues.

Tyrannical clothing is about imposing unreasonable clothing on people so as to emphasise the power difference. There’s no practical aspect to it – in fact it is often profoundly impractical and designed to make the wearer uncomfortable so as to keep them constantly aware that they have no power. Using the power imbalance to force clothes onto people that are unsuitable, uncomfortable, humiliating, is all about disempowering the victim, and it has to stop.

I’m thinking primarily of two items here in conventional western use – the neck tie and the high heeled shoe. I was obliged to wear a neck tie as part of a school uniform, and many people – especially men – are required to wear them at work. In hot weather, they are a source of misery and discomfort. They serve no purpose. We perceive them as smart because we’re told that’s what they are, but they are just a dangly bit of fabric. Woolly neck scarves, and tying lace around your neck is not considered smart, because there is no inherent ‘smartness’ in the bit of fabric. It’s just a tool of social conditioning.

The high heel is far worse because they can and do cause harm to the feet, the hip joints and in women who are still growing, you can get bone deformity. In old age you can have bunions. Most of us can’t walk any distance in a high heel, we certainly can’t run apart from some very talented exceptions. High heels make you feel precarious and vulnerable if they aren’t your thing, and yet some ‘uniforms’ require them of female workers.

We could also afford to look at double standards – work and educational spaces that allow women to wear cool, lightweight clothes in the summer while the men have to sweat it out in shirt, trousers and tie. Workspaces and educational places that let men be warm in the winter but require women to freeze in short skirts, tights and impractical shoes. There is no practical gain here, only those in power ignoring the needs of the people who have less power.

If a uniform item serves no practical purpose, and instead causes discomfort, it should not be legal to enforce the wearing of it.

No more fighting

We fight oppression and we fight for rights, we fight the system and we fight ecocide, and we fight unethical corporations and we fight the journalists who won’t report what’s happening and then we get cross with each other on social media and fight each other over matters of privilege. We’re so in the habit of fighting that we hardly know when to stop. Places that should be collaborative become combative. But we keep fighting the good fight against all comers.

I start to wonder if the fighting, at least some of the time, isn’t part of the problem rather than a route to improving things. And yes, I know there’s more than a dash of white western privilege in that statement because fighting is a choice for me, not something I cannot avoid. This is also part of my point thought – fighting is an option, so why have I been choosing it?

Well, the obvious answer is because there are so many wrong things that need sorting out so I have to fight all that injustice and intolerance and all the rest of it. The theory makes sense, but in practice I do not see the results I’m looking for. If I fight someone, the odds are really good they will dig in and fight me back. The very act of fighting them becomes part of their story about why people like me should be silenced, shot, not allowed to vote etc etc. By fighting I am feeding the fight.

I’m really tired. This has led me to conclude that I just can’t afford to pour any more energy into fighting. I’ve been thinking about this one for a while. I’ve been thinking about it since I heard Seize the Day at Rainbow Druid Camp last year singing something along the lines of “I will not rest until all oppression is ended.” Not being allowed to rest is in and of itself a form of oppression, and it will break your body and your mind far sooner than it will destroy oppression.

I’m changing my approach. I’m focusing on things I can usefully do – in my life, for the people around me. Comedy and kindness are becoming my revolutionary strategies of preference. Giving things away, buying from small producers, where I can. Helping. Living the way I want the world to be, in order to contribute to that being more feasible. I don’t want to live in a world where we spend much of our time shouting at each other and fighting each other, so I’m going to stop putting energy into that.

The Good Guys

Helen Wood left some powerful words in the comments yesterday, so I wanted to follow on and reflect more on this idea. ‘Good guys’ is of course rather general vague shorthand, but blogging does not really lend itself to picking over every term in every post. That’s just the nature of the beast and I often find I’ve skimmed over one idea for the sake of another and need to come back to it. I am always grateful to those people who flag up where I’ve missed a thing.

Good Guys.

I’m no kind of feminist man basher. I feel very strongly that if your ‘feminism’ is about bashing and blaming men, you’re doing it wrong. Cultures are made up of both genders, and cultures that oppress women are usually able to do so because enough women are wholly complicit in the process. My son is a bloke. My husband is a bloke. A lot of my friends are blokes. I like blokes. I also like women, as broad generalizations, and there are plenty of people of both genders who test my patience and empathy rather a lot.

Then there are the other ones. The people who actively delight in inflicting pain, suffering and humiliation upon others. That’s not specifically a gender issue, it’s just that a lot of cultures are set up such that men have more economic power to back up often being physically stronger and less pregnant/impregnatable in a way that skews things.

Actually few things drive me more mad than the women who wilfully uphold the myth that women are irrational, unknowable creatures full of whim and unruly emotion that a man can never hope to understand. Sure, some of us may be that way, but it’s not universal. People who surrender to the stereotypes generally do not help. The men who are so busy being sure that women are incomprehensible and irrational, and who therefore never stop to listen, are just as much an issue.

When we draw lines, and say ‘us’ over here ‘them’ over there it can so often be harmful. Lines drawn to hold, enable, define and support can be really good things. I once ran an all female singing group, that was a good thing. When we draw lines to exclude and alienate… everyone loses. When we assume there are only two sides, we reduce and limit. Another comment mentioned hermaphrodites, and of course many people are not at all defined by their biological gender. Those people are also more vulnerable to violence, more likely to be picked on.

So, dropping the gender language… there are people who seek to dominate and control other people for their own gain and amusement. There are people who take that so far that they kill. I’m out of date on exact figures, between every 3-5 days, in the UK and the USA, a woman dies at the hands of a violent partner. About one in three women gets raped. There are men who are killed by female partners, it’s a much smaller figure and sometimes connects to domestic abuse, and a victim snapping and retaliating. Now, I think that all needs talking about. I also don’t think a person needs to self identify as a feminist to find rape and murder stats troubling. This is not the world I want to live in. This is not the attitude between genders that I want. And of course it is not simply a men versus women issue. There are men for whom such acts would be unthinkable, and there are women who encourage their sons to denigrate their wives. I’ve heard too many stories.

We are all in this together. We will not fix attitudes and societies without first admitting there are problems to tackle. Some men are fab. Some men are bastards. Some women are extremely dangerous to the freedom of the women around them. Every day I thank the powers that be for the people who are here to do what work they can, for the ones who want to make better, make right, challenge the shoddy thinking and the places cruelty thrives.

I live in hope that one day we won’t need to make special time to raise awareness of oppression, because there won’t be any left to talk about, but until that day comes, I shall keep banging on about it, and praising the people who make positive change. The good guys. Regardless of gender.

Downtrodden: The new look for this season

He knows we are the scum of the earth. Every last one of us is committing benefit fraud, taking drugs and leeching off hard working tax payers like himself. Therefore, he is morally justified in doing whatever it takes to get rid of us. He knows that anything we say will be a lie. If we break down and weep, it is just an attempt to manipulate him. If we wind up homeless, that’s no more than we deserve. We should get proper jobs.

There are so many situations I could be describing here. The underlying theme is how we perceive people who appear to be living in poverty. It’s very easy to assume that people are only poor because they aren’t trying hard enough. Too lazy to work, selfish, sponging off the state. These are the people who wouldn’t work at school and have no qualifications, and are a waste of space. It doesn’t take much to get from here to the idea that maybe we should just line them all up and shoot them.

Oppression begins with dehumanisation. Once the intended victim is established, in the perpetrators mind, as being subhuman, it is much easier to proceed. Propaganda in war has often existed to explicitly demonise the enemy. Political rivals may do the same in poster campaigns. Nothing brings people together like having an opponent to fight. We’re standing up for the hard working people here, the good people, the people like you, and over there are the bad guys…. Go get em! It’s cynical, and manipulative, it keeps us fighting amongst ourselves and encourages us not to challenge the people who set the agenda.

Poor people are the easiest target. The odds are, they can’t afford to fight back. Threaten to make them homeless, to take away the money that buys food, or to undermine their human rights, and they can’t even afford to get the law involved. The harder it is to get legal funding for the poorest people, the more vulnerable they become.

I do not doubt that there are some people who are just not inclined to work, and who cheat the system. However, there are a lot of physically and mentally disabled people living in poverty. Victims of crime, people forced to run and leave everything they owned, single mums abandoned by feckless men, people shattered by bereavement, people who have been too sick to work and couldn’t pay the mortgage. There are so many people who come out of the armed forces and get into difficulty in civilian life. There are kids who grew up addicted to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, maybe from the womb – how much choice have they had, exactly? Poverty exists in cycles. It is still the case that your best guarantee of material success in life, is to start out with rich parents.

And what of the others? The people who work part time and care for someone else, unpaid and unsupported. The people who have such a strong calling that they work voluntarily and live in poverty because there is an injustice, a wrong in the world that they cannot ignore. How about the key workers who are not paid enough to be able to afford proper housing in our cities? Almost everyone making the leap to self employment, or seeking further qualification, will have to spend some time with very little income. It’s a gamble that may not pay off. And finally, there are people who chose to live in relative poverty because they reject the modern world and its priorities. But from the outside, to the prejudiced eye, we all look the same.

A bank balance is not the measure of someone’s humanity. There are many reasons why a person can find themselves in abject poverty, against their will. There are also a number of highly honourable choices that would require a person to accept living in poverty. While the wealthy elite have everyone else convinced that if poor isn’t criminal, it’s probably evidence of being criminal, we continue to equate material possessions with human worth.

I wonder what would happen if more people deliberately chose to live in relative poverty? The move towards greener living often means downsizing, owning less, re-using rather than replacing. You might stop buying all the new fashions and following every wasteful trend. Once people give up ostentatious consumption, the appearance of poverty isn’t far behind. Currently, our economy depends on reckless and unnecessary use of resources. If conspicuous rejection of affluence became the height of fashion, everything would change. It really is that ridiculous.