Archive for the ‘Intersectionality’ Category

Sex, Class, and Occupy Wall Street   19 comments

I’ve been following the Occupy movement with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s the first thing in a very long time that’s given me any hope for this country. It’s high time that we start focusing on economic injustice and the damage done by the greed of the mega rich and the corruption of those who do their bidding. The system is badly broken, as evidenced by the fact that politicians of both major parties are talking austerity and cuts to safety net programs at a time of record unemployment, growing poverty, and economic inequality comparable to the developing world. Clearly there’s a desperate need for a movement that raises awareness of the class war the wealthy have been waging on the rest of us.

Which brings me to my first issue with Occupy Wall Street. Who exactly are “the rest of us”? From a branding perspective, the 99% versus the 1% is very appealing. But is it accurate? Clearly not. If your household income is half a million a year, I’d say the system has been working very well for you. You may even be part of the problem if you outsource jobs or pay workers less than a living wage. But you’re still part of the 99%.

At the same time, “the 99%” has become synonymous with the downtrodden, debt-ridden, and dispossessed. I remember a Tumblr entry written from the perspective of a small child who’d witnessed her mom cry because she was unable to buy her kid a birthday present. It ended with the words, “My mom doesn’t know that I know we’re part of the 99%.” Huh? The mom doesn’t realize her kid knows she makes less than $590,000 a year? No wonder people are confused. I’ve seen numerous blog posts and comments by individuals with low six-figure incomes stating that they “stand with the 99%.” No, actually, if you have a low six-figure income, you are the 99%. In fact, if your household income totals $190,000, it could triple and you would still be part of the 99%.

So. Not very useful, is it? The bottom 90%, on the other hand, have an average household income of $31,244, which is probably more like what people have in mind when discussing the economic difficulties experienced by “the 99%.”
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About Those Oppression Olympics   4 comments

The term “Oppression Olympics” refers to the claim that the oppression faced by one group of marginalized people is somehow worse than the oppression faced by another group. Competing to see who’s more oppressed is rightly viewed as counterproductive and a derailing tactic in social justice activism. Aside from the general futility of such arguments, competitors in the Oppression Olympics ignore the reality that many people face intersecting oppressions. Therefore it’s far more helpful to think of individuals as privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others, rather than attempt to create a hierarchy of oppression in which the most oppressed is considered the winner.

One thing I’ve noticed is that feminists are more likely than other social justice activists to call each other out for “engaging in Oppression Olympics.” However, most of the people called out for this offense aren’t saying sexism is worse than other *isms. What they are usually saying is that sexism is considered more normal and acceptable than some other types of bigotry. Simply pointing to the success of another social justice movement and asking, “How can we learn from that?” is enough to get feminists accused of playing Oppression Olympics (interestingly, several of the commenters in the Feministe thread making the Oppression Olympics charge are serious competitors in the games themselves).

As I’ve mentioned before, the male hosts of our local radio station’s morning show are unabashedly sexist. In fact, that’s true for the hosts of every single morning radio show I’ve ever had the misfortune of hearing. They may very well be racist too. I suspect that they are. But they know better than to make racist jokes on the air. Not because racism is a thing of the past, but because the anti-racism movement has succeeded in making racist on-air pronouncements more or less unacceptable. I’ve noticed the same thing slowly starting to happen with anti-gay jokes, thanks to the work we’ve been doing in the LGBTQ rights movement. Sexist and misogynist jokes, however, remain as acceptable and noncontroversial as ever. But we’re not supposed to talk about that? Or we can talk about it only if we neglect to look at other social justice movements that have been more successful to see what we can learn from them? No wonder we’re not making more headway.
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Redefining Privilege into Meaninglessness   5 comments

A recent post at Racialicious alerted me to the fact that white women don’t just have regular old white privilege (indisputably true), but that we also possess white female privilege, which, in some situations, privileges us even over white males.

How does this white female privilege manifest itself? Well, it turns out that the majority of items on the White Female Privilege list are simply examples of straight up white privilege. But there are a few that are indeed specific to women.

For instance, did you know that many dudes think we’re so emotionally fragile and overwrought that we’re liable to burst into tears at any moment? These guys are so terrified of provoking a crying jag (described as the “sheer fear of tears”) that they’ll do anything not to upset us. And that’s an enormous privilege we can use to our advantage.

Okay, first, I don’t know how many dudes actually think that (white) women are this fragile, and of those who do, how many would get a kick out of making women cry? But even if I’m wrong and fear of “white lady tears” is actually a common phenomenon (maybe it’s a class thing?), I question whether privilege is the right word for it. Most women I know try to avoid public tears at all costs. No matter how much we’re hurting, we try to hold it together. That’s because our tears are not only perceived as a sign of weakness, which is bad enough, but they can also be seen as manipulative in a way male tears aren’t.
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Street Harassment: The Privileged Victim   3 comments

Nancy Leong’s Harassment in the Intersection: Gender, Race, and Class in the Street at Feminist Law Professors echoes many of the sentiments expressed in the Feministe discussion on legislating against street harassment, specifically the idea that the women victimized by street harassment are usually more privileged than the men harassing them.

The assumption is that the typical victim of street harassment is a middle or upper class white woman and the typical harasser is a poor, possibly homeless or mentally ill, man of color. “Think of those who spend the most time in the street,” writes Leong, as she asks us to picture the typical perpetrators of street harassment. What neither she nor the Feministe thread mention is that this applies to the victims of harassment as well. Poor women, who are disproportionately racial minorities, are considerably more likely to experience frequent street harassment because they spend more time in the street and on public transportation. They are less likely to own a car, and cabs are out of the question when you’re poor. That means lots of walking and taking buses and subways, all of which expose women to harassment.

That has certainly been my experience. When I first moved to NYC, I was very poor. So poor, in fact, that I walked almost everywhere. As a result, I spent a lot of time in the street. The harassment was relentless. Walking even one block without commentary of some sort seemed to be too much to ask. I was harassed by men of all races, ages, and classes. Boys who looked like they were in junior high and men old enough to be my great grandfather. Wall Street types and construction workers. The only thing they all had in common was that they were male; therefore they felt very much entitled to let me know what they thought of me and what they would like to do to me.
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