I am honestly fatigued by the amount of conversations I have had over the past couple of years in regards to the many “isms” that plague our society, marginalize groups of people solely based on their identity, and serve to unevenly distribute power and efficacy on a local and national scale. It astonishes me how often people have expressed the idea that many of these “isms” according to and evidenced by the matrix of oppression, are falsified, dramatized, and trivial. Although I could write (and have written and will write) many posts about the social identities that are privileged in our society, bordering privilege, oppressed, and subject to isms, this particular post is about an ism I’ve personally witnessed, experienced, and lived with: Sexism.
In our society, heterosexual, wealthy, white men hold the highest rank in the system of social privilege. This is important to understand, recognize, and not get defensive about when engaging in a conversation about oppressed social groups and the isms that negatively and harmfully influence society and people’s perceptions of others. Many times (although not all of the time), when I try to approach a conversation with a male about their sexist comment, viewpoint, or treatment towards me and others, I am met with recalcitrance, defensiveness, or passivity. Getting defensive is a self-interested and self-protective reaction and it’s time we start illuminating the fact that that response does not solve anything nor is it productive. Understanding the systems that are in place in our society that oppress, marginalize, and hurt people and their identity, will be difficult if people continue to put their self first instead of empathizing with the situations of others. I understand that is can be challenging to recognize, admit, and accept the privileges you may hold in society – especially be most of them you cannot control and were born with. However, it is necessary and incredibly pressing for us to confront these conversations, acknowledge our privileges in society, and use that awareness of our identity to assist with solutions and create productive, compassionate, helpful, and empathetic pathways to justice.
The matrix of oppression – racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, transgender oppression, ageism, adultism, classicism, and religious oppression is real. Although it may not feel real to those who may not and may never experience these forms of discrimination and mistreatment, it is very real to those who live these as daily realities. It is unjust to say that the isms that afflict our society are fabricated by activists or dramatized by “the hurt” so they can call attention to themselves and a non-issue. I have heard these comments before and although they enraged me, they also hurt me. They hurt what I stand for and they degrade a part of my identity that I passionately defend because so much of society attacks it. From my personal experience with street harassment, to the constant disregard that I am a woman and not a “girl”, to the moments I’ve been called a bitch for speaking my mind and being bold in my actions, to the men who have told me that “I don’t know what I’m talking about” in reference to the decisions I have a right to make about my body. Sexism is alive and I wish, unwell.
If we want to see an end to discrimination and inequality in our lifetime, we must first admit that there is discrimination and that is has been an unfortunately engrained part of our society for a very long time. If we want to inform and educate others on their harmful notions and mindsets that most likely perpetuate the discrimination and systems of oppression in our society, we must bring awareness to the realities of the matrix of oppression and how it impacts people every single day. Just because someone of privilege doesn’t experience one aspect of the matrix of oppression, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And in so many conversations I’ve had with white, affluent men (but not all) about sexism, not only do I have to call attention to the privileges they hold as designed by society and continued by privileged social groups, but I also have to make it known that sexism is my reality and many others’ reality as well. Although it hasn’t always proven successful, I hope that the more I can make sexism and other forms of discrimination personal for those who ignore and trivialize it, the more they can seek to understand the problems and injustices many people face in our world today.
I hope people know that the more they blatantly ignore discrimination and oppression and refuse to admit the severity of it, the more they are just perpetuating those very societal ailments. They are in fact, part of the problem. By claiming victims of oppression, injustice, and societal mistreatment are “dramatizing” their situation or making something “more serious than it has to be” (comments I’ve heard both in regards to Ferguson and sexual assault and rape allegations), they are dismissing the lives of others, silencing the voices of those who are trying to do good and strive for a more equal society, and taking on the active role as an oppressor. This is notokay. This is beyond not okay. This is unjust.
And if anything, I hope this post contributes to the countless articles dedicated to raising awareness and sparking a dialogue in regards to our society’s various forms of oppression and discrimination. We need more articles and blog posts about the abuse of privilege, how people are perpetuating the problems activists and community members are trying to eradicate, and how some people refuse to accept that there are people who experience these isms every day. We need change and we want it now.
Transgender oppression exists.
Religious oppression exists.
We need to hold each other accountable for truly understanding the different levels of inequality that exists in our society, the systems of oppression that benefit some and hurt many, the socially accepted forms of discrimination, the derogatory naming of marginalized groups of people, and the privileges that some people hold that keep individual and communal acts of prejudice and bias alive. We must call attention to the isms that exist and not let people ignore them. The more people ignore these forms of discrimination, prejudice, bias, and oppression, the further we move away from the just, equitable, and compassionate world we want to live in.