There are ways in which I’ve evolved as a feminist, particularly in the last two or so years, and I really am fascinated by the progress I’ve made. Nearly every day, I’m given reason to think deeply on an aspect of privilege and oppression reaching across the gamut of human existence. I’ve noticed that my own beliefs only lean further on the “radical” end of the scale with each passing day, and this actually gives me great comfort. I’ve met several amazing people over the last couple of years, and have delved deeper into some of my most treasured relationships, emerging stronger in my convictions, and feeling more comfortable with aspects of my life and the lives of those around me.
I’ve written in the past about the “man-hating” feminist strawman (strawwoman? hah), and many parts of that post remain true. The biggest change is in how I approach people who attempt to derail me in discussions of social justice.
This image often makes an appearance.
That older entry talked about how I used to become so trapped in proving that I’m not actually a “man-hater” that I allowed people to completely steer me away from the topic at hand. Now, I’m almost always able to shrug and go, “Yup, I hate men, now about the war on women….”
I know some MRAs who will snatch up this entry in boyish glee: “YOU SAID IT! YOU HATE MEN! I KNEW IT!” And I dearly hope they enjoy their glittering moment of ignorant righteousness, because I just don’t give even half of a shit.
You see, I’ve realized that statements like this, mindsets like this, they don’t fucking matter. Because I’m a grown up, and I understand both context and relativity. So let’s explore those terms! My detractors frequently like to pull out some form of the “you wouldn’t want a black person talking about you the way you talk about men!” argument, so I’m going to use that as an example.
the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.
Context is most often important in personal, direct conversations. Context is what allows a person to grasp hyperbole, it reminds you that comments are not made in a vacuum, and that the greater scheme must always be acknowledged. Context is what tells me that when a friend of color is talking about the marginalization of POCs, their “I fucking hate white people!” comment isn’t a literal condemnation of every white individual. I’m able to read it in context, aware of the oppression they face at the hands of white people (yes, including me, no matter how hard I try to be a “good ally”). I can understand that, in context, they aren’t staring me down and saying, “I fucking hate you, Bunnika, just because you’re white!” It’s not white individuals they’re directing their rage at, but rather the institution of whiteness, and the way white privilege victimizes them all the time. My white privilege, their other friends’ white privilege, their coworkers’ white privilege, every white person’s white privilege. They’re pissed, and they have every right to be. Yet, I know that my friend can hate the privileged part of me, they can be angry that such privilege exists, without actually hating me and each individual white person.
Oh, but I have an adendum to this, and its name is “relativity!”
the state or fact of being considered in relation to something else
So let’s assume that my friend of color really is saying, “I fucking hate you, Bunnika, just because you’re white!” First, sadface at us not being friends anymore. 😦 But let’s realistically look at how that statement would fare relative to a reflective comment from me.
A person of color hating me doesn’t really have a lot of options. They have the ability to enact violence against me or say cruel things to me, but that’s just an issue of social mores that doesn’t really affect this debate. So, how will their contribution to the hatred of whites negatively impact me and all white people? Does this friend have the power of social judgment behind them? Does this friend possess the legal standing to oppress me? Can this person sit comfortably with the knowledge that people will be more likely to defer to them and disbelieve me? Are they able to throw on a catty grin, secure in the knowledge that their systemic privilege over me as a white person will encourage society to look upon them as just in their hatred, because I really do deserve that condemnation? Obvious answer is obvious.
Relativity is the ability to understand that statements are oppressive only when they are made by oppressors. Minorities are the oppressed classes, the ones stripped of their rights for the betterment of the oppressive majority. So, you can maybe say such a statement by my friend is mean, or even personally unwarranted, but it is in no way oppressive, and it is not unjust. Minorities have the right to be angry at the people who oppress them, and it is not their responsibility to be the nice ones. They already shoulder the burden in this relationship, and the least a privileged person can do is respect that fact, and give a little leeway.
I don’t like to have people hate me; frankly, I’ve never psychologically grasped the concept of trolling, because I don’t know why someone would purposefully run about trying to piss people off. But I accept that people will hate me, sometimes because I’m demanding that they check their privilege, and sometimes because I’m doing a shit job of checking my own. You can’t be an outspoken, opinionated person without earning some enemies. And you certainly can’t be privileged and never offend those you oppress. The job is to weed through all of it, find strength in your own convictions, and willingly accept the challenges that are laid forth before you.
And I also don’t like hating people, but my stance on that really hasn’t changed. I “hate” a lot of people in a broad, figurative stance. When a man makes a rape joke, I hate men. When a straight person campaigns against gay marriage, I hate straight people. When an able-bodied person rushes around my wheelchair to duck into the handicapped stall before I can get there, I hate the able-bodied. You see the pattern here?
Now, do you really, seriously believe that the only people in my life are queer, poor, crippled, non-Christian, fat women? While that sounds like a fascinating bookclub to join, I seriously struggle to think of any person I know who meets that definition. Yet I still have friends, I still have family and confidants and lovers. Because I’m capable of loving those who have privilege over me, and they’re capable of acknowledging that privilege. And yes, it works both ways, and it always, always will. Stop throwing the “but what if a POC was oppressing you?” card at me. It doesn’t belong in the deck; you cut it out of a cereal box and hastily scribbled your own biases as the flavor text. It’s time to shuffle, and draw a new perspective.