Why ‘reverse’ oppression doesn’t exist
Recently, a friend posted on Facebook in frustration about how she kept getting asked on OK Cupid if she was a “female supremacist” because she put that she was a feminist on her profile. Unsurprisingly and much to my chagrin, a man commented that it was legitimate to want to know if someone was a female supremacist before dating them.
It reminded me of another post from a friend about how the man-hating feminists had initially turned her off of feminism and how now she had changed her tune. I find this really, really interesting because I see this happening with all sorts of oppressions.
Trans people who speak out “too much” about trans issues and cis privilege are accused of hating cis people. Black people who speak out “too much” about white privilege are accused of hating white people (I’ve even been accused of hating myself for talking about white privilege). Women are, almost always from what I see, accused of hating men for speaking out about sexism. I find this idea, when applied to any system of oppression and privilege utterly and completely laughable.
Let’s take the example of “female supremacy” that our cis male posters above are so concerned about. I am non-binary and I feel as though misogyny has impacted me as I’ve been read as female my whole life. While I do think anger is a logical result of the cross-section of oppressions I face, it does not behoove me to be a “female supremacist” or even a non-binary supremacist. In fact, it’s almost categorically impossible for me to do so.
I rely on cis men to pay my bills. All of my coworkers are cis. The people who pay my wages are cis men. Many of my landlords have been cis men. If I open a bank account, try to get a loan, exchange currency, most likely the leaders of those companies and the people making decisions about whether or not I have access to my own money or get any more of it are cis males.
While Theresa May may be a woman, most of the UK government and the US government (and most European governments) are dominated by cis men who are supposed to represent my interests. Most of the doctors I see are cis men. Most of the movies I watch, the fandoms I obsess over, the things I love the most in the world that help me are often written, directed, funded, and portrayed by cis men. Cis men dominate most of the culture I consume, most of the news that I read, and most of the services I access.
If I wanted to be a female supremacist, to restrict my activities to only females and non-men and become a separatist, not only would I probably not have an OK Cupid account that men would see (because you do have that option on the website, making the question even more unnecessary), but I would have to change almost everything about my life, the way I work, and the way I live. But I don’t. Mostly because even if I wanted to, I can’t.
Can marginalised people oppress those who oppress them?
And that’s the case for many people in many different cross-sections of oppression. Most of my friends are queer, but I could not realistically expect to live, work, and love in only queer spaces. Black, Latinx, Asian, and BAME/POCs would find it very difficult in the UK and the US to restrict all of their contact to only other BAME/POCs.
And the thought of only interacting with other disabled people, especially when I rely on medicines given to me by “able bodied” people to survive, is laughable. So this idea, this backlash, this concept of someone hating someone who’s privileged, and the comparison of that to the same system that hurts them is ridiculous. I cannot realistically, logically, nor do I even necessarily WANT to be a female, trans, disabled, or whatever supremacist.
Maybe people who make that accusation find it so easy to imagine because within their own privilege they are not really harmed nor do they face the same sort of social consequences if they decide to hate a group of individuals who are oppressed.
But here’s the thing, even IF my friend decided to be a female supremacist even if I decided to hate all men and focus my collective rage on them, it would not equal out the comparison. There are countless examples of sex inequality. There is an all pervasive culture that blames women for their own sexual assault. While this stat ignores trans and intersex folks, women make up about half of the population, do two thirds of the world’s working hours, but earn only 10% of the world’s income and 1% of the world’s property.
The social context present when a cis man decides to hate a woman is really not identical to when a woman decides to hate a cis man. In order for the contexts to be equal, women would have to go back in time and create the same social conditions that have existed for them for men for decades. We’d have to go back in time and deny them the right to vote, exchange them for dowries, remove bits of their sexual organs for being “nymphomaniacs”, take away their right to choice, put them in mental institutions for displaying too much emotion and being “hysterical”, and that’s just for starters.
And this is true of a variety of social oppressions. I recently found a brilliant article on How to Be A Reverse Racist which essentially sums up a point I am trying to make:
No group that faces systemic oppression can oppress the group in the systemic way they have been oppressed.
That’s the problem I have with comparing “misandry” to misogyny, with “reverse racism”, with anyone who suggests that violence, anger, or hatred from an oppressed individual is identical to the systematic discrimination they face. It’s not the same. It can’t possibly or logically be.
Do I necessarily support retaliatory actions? Not always. I see separatist approaches as valid because that’s what some people need and want and if they can do it, than more power to them. But I’m not a separatist, mostly because I don’t have the luxury of being one, and most individuals don’t have the luxury.
I’m disabled and my life depends on people who can make the medicine I need to live. I don’t have any skills that would allow me to live on an island somewhere with only women or queers or disabled people or whatever unless there were some coconuts that needed account managers. I literally cannot afford it.
Fighting back with anger
I don’t necessarily support people being mean and hateful to one another. And my point in supporting anger is not to say that I think that hating people who hate you is the best option. Working with anger is like working with fire. You have to learn how to use it. There is absolutely no incentive for me to hate cis people, hate “abled” people, hate straight people. I wouldn’t waste my anger, my energy, and my time on such a fruitless endeavour.
Sure, it’s legitimate to want to know if the person you’re looking at dating is a supremacist. But you can bet that people who are oppressed don’t have the luxury of being supremacists of any kind. And if that’s the first question you ask a stranger before you meet them, then something tells me you already think you know the answer.
Because despite all of what I write, read, consume, and think about social justice, I still manage to give even white, cis, heterosexual men the benefit of the doubt and hope that they’re not misogynist, racist, cissexist jerks. I also don’t have the luxury of assuming that they are because I rely on them for survival. If I only had to worry about random people on OKCupid being supremacist… it’d be a much nicer world.