Systemic Wedgies: A Response To Aristotelis Orginos’ “Social Justice Bullies”
Forgive me my trepidation in establishing the scene — I am, by trade, a peddler of snappy current event op/eds and fringe pursuit confessional. I strive to stay in my lane, littered with pro wrestling flyers and pinball show press passes as it may be. This is my first thinkpiece-in-response-to-a-thinkpiece.
I sometimes indulge the inclination that social justice is a hive, each of us has a duty, and if we all confront our respective facets, we can stretch oppression thin enough to overcome it. But this fantasy serves to assuage myself in my chosen paths — if I asked bell hooks if Hulk Hogan’s legdrop finisher betrayed the transparency of white supremacy in wrestling, I would be blessed if she graced me with but even a curt and somewhat dismissive “what?”
We’re working towards a common string of words, but the ways we go about it, the way that pursuit of justice occupies our waking minds, is radically individualized.
Teams are, at best, tenuous. This is why my dream of the hive is fixed to a phantom point in reality. Our loyalty, as agents of socio-political thought, when, left uninterrogated, can drift in favor of ideals over other people.
We’re all egalitarians. We all believe in justice and truth. But this faith in ourselves permits us to commit injustice and prejudice against one another.
When I got the Medium promotional email for Aristotelis Orginos’ “Social Justice Bullies: The Authoritarianism of Millennial Social Justice”, I had a flash of hopefulness. I too, am weary of the weaponization of social justice language, which insists that all harassment and abuse is permissive if the subject is “problematic” or “abusive” and drives away much needed reinforcements with harsh rebuke that knows no restraint.
That “too”, the belief that Orginos and I had a similar perspective, was immediately quelled upon reading. We all put the same items on our wish list, but the appearance, descriptions, and how we expect to pay for these things we want careen wildly into variance.
Under the guise of challenging the rampant toxicity in radical online communities, Orginos’ arguments deflect the responsibility for making debate and discourse more amicable back squarely on the marginalized — all in the name of liberalism, though oppression has reaped consistent considerable benefit from this line of rhetoric.
Like Orginos, I am an oppressor, if contextually. I am queer, and white; transgender, and documented; a woman, and able-bodied. The power I hold over others, and that others hold over me, is ever-fluttering, in flux.
Despite the differential in privilege/status between myself and Orginos, you could argue that in this space, I have the power over him. I’m a professional writer, one with a much larger social media presence. If you posted both our pieces to reddit, which touts itself as a “rational, objective” space despite all claims to the contrary, his piece would demonstrably fare better than mine. But if we, whilst touring the internet circuit, were featured on Jezebel or even my own site, which hold themselves to be “feminist” despite claims to the contrary, reaction would certainly turn to my favor.
The change of venue doesn’t negate our respective privileges — this is just a case study of intersection demonstrated with viral content.
All in all: context is not a myth.
Perhaps we’re overlooking “experience” as a form of privilege? When I see women of color on my assorted social media make jabs at white people and white culture, I am able to shuffle free from defensiveness because I have seen firsthand the deluge of micro and macro aggressions that women of color are forced to endure on social media — slurs, Instagram pics of white girls wearing headdresses and bindis, and the ever-reliable deflection of harm and bigotry by appealing to the dictionary definition of racism.
We are, in this exercise, blithely sidestepping the very real use of social media to celebrate, excuse, and rationalize the murders of black men, women, and children by American police. I won’t kowtow to this faux-egalitarian appeal for “evidence” — look on almost any hashtag related to a black person slain by police. Check out the Facebook fan and crowdfunding pages of killer cops.
It is apparent, it is known, and in the wake of this I refuse to dictate how people of color find support and solidarity on social media. Because I can leave the social media discussion at any time and return to the “real world”, which has been meticulously centered around people like me. I can put mayonaise on anything I want without the encircling whispers of people complaining about “my people’s” peculiarities.
I depart from the abstract and will now resume the parlance of my esteemed profession: the listicle.
Three Issues I Take With Aristotelis Orginos’ Thinkpiece
- Ugh, The Dictionary Shit, Again
Orginos on racism
Let’s talk about racism. The mantra of the movement is thus: It is impossible to be racist against white people because racism is the equivalent of prejudice and power. Since white people have social and economic institutional power and privilege (in America), those who are racially oppressed cannot be racist toward whites since those who are racially oppressed do not have power.
Why can’t I simply rebut this with a trip to the dictionary? Because this is laughed at by social justice types. The image of a white person walking to the dictionary to define racism is literally a trope at this point because the millennial social justice advocate finds it so entertaining that a dictionary, constructed by those in power for those who speak the language of power, can possibly give an accurate definition of a word.
Do you see where I’m going with this? It is now possible to absolve yourself of guilt by working enough academic nuance into a word to fundamentally change it — in your favor.
Meeting you in the middle here: the Merriam-Webster dictionary claims that the word “racism” is first observed in 1933. Slavery of African peoples by Europeans had existed, in either a contemporary or historical context, for about 4 centuries. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in the United States in 1882. Europeans came to this country, took it by force from its original indigenous owners, brought in slaves to build it, wrote laws to keep out non-Europeans (after relying on their labor for its industrialization) — and then, after all of that was done, finally accepted that there may exist a word for all this cruelty and inhumanity committed against non-whites, a cruelty they have never truly experienced.
Appealing to the sterile authority of the dictionary in defining racism deliberately whitewashes the atrocities committed against people of color. The callous disrespect to suggest a white person being called “mayonaise” and the systematic murder and incarceration of black people be delegated to the same word horrifies and disheartens me.
The words and language the dominant culture (white people) have constructed to describe the violence we commit against people of color, violence that has been orchestrated, a schema centuries in the making, profoundly fails to acknowledge the hurt and injustice inflicted on the people we’re now trying to silence by appealing to a dictionary.
To suggest “white people don’t know racism” I think gives us the benefit of a doubt we don’t deserve. We’ve known what racism was for a long, long time. We’re just now trying to contain it, with language. The dictionary is a very effective damage control tool .
If I were to call Orginos a “mark” — a wrestling fan who can be counted on to suspend disbelief and comply with whatever the writing staff throws at them — it might have no meaning to him. But to thousands of people within my sphere, that word is part of a larger language, one in which we form whole coherent sentences that elicit raise brows from outsiders. The word “jobber” has, per Merriam-Webster, existed since 1670 and has two attached definitions, neither of which are the context intimated by anyone I know who uses the phrase. The dictionary can incorporate our modern usage of the term, but it has no right to police or tell us we’re using it wrong. When someone says a wrestler is a “jobber”, I know what they mean and will always know what they mean, regardless of academic intervention.
Language might not ever achieve objectivity.
Challenging a woman of color on the dictionary definition of her experience is not justice. It might be law, it might be academic — but it is not justice.
2. Equating Rape Prevention With Fearmongering
There is an oft-cited statistic that “one in five women will experience sexual assault on campus in America.”This shocks the conscience, as it should, and is used to fuel the hysteria of rape culture on campuses nationwide. Unfortunately for social justice advocates — and fortunately for college-aged women everywhere — this statistic is criminally misleading. As Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post writes, this one in five statistic results from “a single survey, based on the experiences of students at two universities. As the researchers acknowledged, these results clearly can be generalized to those two large four-year universities, but not necessarily elsewhere.” But why should advocates for victims of sexual assault include that? 1-in-5 is a great way to fear-monger. In a report released by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics entitled “Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-Aged Females, 1995–2013,” Lynn Langton, Ph.D. and Sofi Sinozich report that “the rate of rape and sexual assault was 1.2 times higher for non-students (7.6 per 1,000) than for students (6.1 per 1,000).”
Using deliberately misleading statistics in a Machiavellian campaign — wherein the eradication of sexual assault on college campuses requires the misinterpretation of data and the removal of due process — does more to “derail” genitive conversations of sexual assault on campus than having productive, legally responsible conversations ever will.
When I was a child, the bullying and peer pressure of girls by boys was seen as part of their emotional development — oh, he likes her! I know I’m not alone in that experience. When my father abused my mother, and she considered leaving him, she was told that “back then, when marriages didn’t work, we fixed them”. I know I’m not alone in that experience either. What I don’t know is what it will take.
Women and girls have asserted, for a very long time, that they are unsafe. You won’t believe them until they bring you numbers. And then you complain the numbers are outdated, or of an inadequate sample size. As if this isn’t part and parcel of every modern usage of statistics in socio-political discourse.
See also: race-based crime statistics.
This is a long detour we’re all taking to avoid having to listen and believe survivors, some of whom may not be telling the whole truth, or may have a different experience of the night’s events than eyewitnesses or the accused.
As someone who is occasionally accused of being a rapist by feminists who do not believe trans women belong in women’s spaces: yes, accusing someone of sexual assault, abuse, or rape is a very effective way of shaming, shunning, and damaging their reputation. We have conformed our societal attitudes on rape to, in some ways, suggest it is worse than death. At least a murdered person’s trauma has a definitive end, right? To call someone is a rapist is so suggest they lack even the barest mercy to put their target out of their misery.
To that end, though, being called a rapist on twitter for using the women’s dressing room at Victoria’s Secret has yet to cost me my job, my relationships, or my reputation. No employer is ever going to interject “hey, weren’t you that woman who some women thought was a rapist?” in an interview. Our attitudes toward and treatment of women who come out about their abuse do not offer this solace.
They are first subjected to the legal system, one held up by the dominant culture — men, the same group of people who insist survivors of violence are “professional victims” and suggest most rape accusations are false — as the be-all of moral and legal objectivity. And then: there’s the social media harassment, the shame, the top billing of their name over the one/s accused of hurting her.
A “legally responsible” discussion of rape culture might be to look at all the ways that men’s access to women’s bodies is assumed the default in our society, from tugging the hair of schoolgirls to posting nude pictures of ex-girlfriends to revenge porn sites — and even beyond these examples. If we did that, then maybe more than 3 of every 100 accused rapists would receive due accountability for their actions, per RAINN. Admittedly, a little doom and gloom in terms of outlook, and very striking in its disparity. It may not be the statistic we need for that “nuanced discussion on rape” you want, but it’s what we have. If we want a better one, than we’ll have do our own research.
You are welcome to form your own statistics of sexual assault. Meanwhile, I, operating under the belief that RAPE IS UNACCEPTABLE REGARDLESS WHETHER IT HAPPENS TO 1 IN 5 OR 1 IN 2, will suggest we try centering our dialog on the subject to allow for belief and support of a survivor’s experience irrespective of legal and moral implications.
I don’t care if her attacker is a scumbag, or even if he knew he was raping her — yet. And I don’t care how well her testimony would hold up in court — yet. I believe justice begins with putting trust in people to speak for their experiences. The rest is relative. To overcome violence, we must trust the stories and experiences of those who have had violence inflicted upon them.
Also: Christina Hoff Sommers’ nickname amongst GamerGate, an online hate group that has repeatedly hidden behind the “well you can’t prove it with the law” logic to get away with doxxing, threatening and stalking countless women, forcing some from their homes, is “Based Mom”.
In the future, Orginos would be well advised to use people who use actual nuance in their rhetoric when holding someone up as an example of objective, research-driven activism.
3. Hashtag Concern Trolling
Instead of the discussion being focused on how advocating to “kill all white people” as a political statement or how the hashtag #KillAllMen are prejudicial and hateful sentiments, the millennial social justice advocate excuses and legitimizes these phrases and behaviors by suggesting that they are not racist or sexist but are legitimate expressions against their oppressors. The discussion of how legitimately hateful and anti-liberal these statements are does not ever surface because, as the script goes, this is “derailing” discussions of legitimate problems of oppressed people to focus on the non-problems of oppressors.
The “oppressor as objective” narrative relies on the willful ignorance of the oppressor as a concept.
At some point, our parents or the generation before them would talk about “The Man”. Do you rebel against him? Are you working for him? “The Man” is just a metaphor, a personification for a ubiquitous and intangible-yet-almost-omnipresent oppressor who, despite wholesale claims that there isn’t a plan or conspiracy to hold certain people in society down, still manages to incarcerate black people at higher rates than whites, pay women less, and use legislation to determine whether or not gay people should be allowed to get married. All of this without a singular trace leading to a singular individual. This handwringing over hashtags is deliberate and transparent in its obtuseness.
“White women feminism” is used to refer to feminist politic and action that, come the bottom line, serves to benefit the white women within its movement over all else. That whiteness can be further extrapolated into white, straight, and cisgender — but these identities are accepted to be encompassed, by default, in whiteness as a socio-political construct. Heternormativity and the gender binary are centered on thewhite worldview. I am a white woman and a feminist — I am not always a “white woman feminist”, or at least I work very hard to avoid thinking and voting and acting like one. In any case, I understand that when a woman of color criticizes white women and “WW feminism”, I am not necessarily the intended subject. The frustration is aimed at an ideology that prioritizes respectability, capital within the system, and TV shows starring Lena Dunham over the liberation and solidarity of all women. It is not self-hate or heresy to, as a white woman, want this elitism within women’s rights to be abolished.
And even if I was the intended target of a jabby tweet or tumblr post, that momentary chagrin is nowhere on the par of years and years of oppression.
Hurt feelings are not necessarily oppression — this is something necessary for social justice warrior and status quo acolyte alike to understand.
When marginalized people come to us with their experiences, we debate them on dictionary definitions.
Then, when they come back with proof, as we requested, we complain the proof is incomplete or not enough to warrant our empathy.
And after that, when they take vent their exasperation in desperate extremes, we cry that their hashtags are mean and divisive.
For generations, the AllMen have served as the incorporeal guardian of men’s responsiblity to end misogyny and rape culture. Oh, it’s so sad you were harassed on the street/sexually assaulted/had an upskirt posted on the web — but not AllMen are like that! When a man commits an act of violence against a woman, encouraged in such by a societal induction, other men from all over the world coelesce to form the AllMen. The AllMen watches with indifference, dictionary in hand, to advocate for men to wash their hands of the culture they perpetuate.
Fight “The Man”. Kill “AllMen”. The adversaries are seemingly intangible, brought about through centuries of laws, practices, sanctioned cruelty and raising children to view humanity as a stack of hierarchal value — but the damage they inflict is very real. It kills. Every day.
If women who tweet #KillAllMen are morally culpable for inciting violence, then anyone who comments on any article telling the author (or another commenter) to kill themselves is on the hook for assisted suicide. Are you ready to go there? Are your bags packed?
SOME CONVERSATION QUESTIONS THAT MIGHT BETTER TACKLE THE ISSUE OF TOXICITY IN SOCIAL JUSTICE BLOGGING
Is there any moral value in leaning on “anti-censorship” as excuse to allow people to use social media to actively threaten and harass women online?
Would making follower/friend counts on social media platforms invisible prevent people from trying to weaponize their online stroke to bully people into conforming with their politics and grudges?
How do we move away from the “whoever gets the most harassment becomes the defacto leader of a marginalized group” model of social media?
How do we get people to employ social media for transformative good (capturing police brutality) without shaming them for using it to do things we personally find annoying but have no right to say they can’t or shouldn’t?
When marginalized people want to avoid interacting with large-scale oppressive social media movements, they use block lists and mute hashtags. Why can’t white men just use the fucking tools of social media platforms if women’s blogging hurts their feelings so?
Orginos’ essay is well sculpted and covers a wide breadth of important issues.
But accusing victim’s advocates of “fearmongering” and Dennis Nedry’ing people when their lived experience and understanding of racism does not fit into your one-sentence dictionary definition is the anti-thesis of social justice and liberal thought.
I, for now, think justice is born of trust. My rhetoric on this may modify or evolve in time, but that is where it begins for me. I was able to review (and later argue) the evidence for my position because I was willing to enter discussions with women of color from a place of trust. That trust needn’t be absolute at the get-go; you can be skeptical and still enter a conversation about racism, misogyny, and rape culture from a place of trust. They aren’t mutually exclusive. They are, as it were, two great tastes that taste great together.
It’s a hell of a showing, Mr. Orginos. I emphatically invite you to a textual or multimedia point/counterpoint — name the time, place, and what locker we shove the white men in.