It happens every day. In fact, it is pretty hard to avoid it. There are some things that can only be understood with a slap on the forehead. Things so mind-boggling that one wonders how humans managed to evolve thumbs while being this mentally inept. Case in point:
You know it is going to be good from the title, but I will let feminist bloggers Paul and Renee explain:
It’s not a new idea – we’ve certainly seen it raising its ugly head in media repeatedly, but it’s become popular again – the “flipped prejudice” fiction. Victoria Foyt’s racist Save the Pearls did it for race and we now have the homophobic versions: a kickstarter for the book Out by Laura Preble and the film Love is all You Need. I hate linking to them but they need to be seen. They both have the same premise: an all gay world that persecutes the straight minority.
So that’s more appropriating the issues we live with, our history, our suffering and then shitting on it all by making us the perpetrators of the violations committed against us. How can they not see how offensive this is? How can they not see how offensive taking the severe bigotry thrown at us every day and throughout history, bigotry that has cost us so much and then making our oppressors the victims and us the attackers, is? This is appropriative, this is offensive, it’s disrespectful and it’s outright bigoted.
As a speculative fiction and a comic book fan, I find it more offensive that Paul and Renee are offended for someone using fiction to tell an unrealistic story. The whole point of fiction is to be able to create worlds and situations that do not exist. The idea that any world one creates must fit within some narrow-minded, politically correct, “approved” storyline is pure idiocy.
But what is truly stupid about the pair’s argument is that they essentially put down stories that are metaphors that have helped spread the message about the travails of prejudice. According to them, Tolkien should not written about the racial conflict between dwarves and elves. According to them, Stan Lee pissed on minority groups when he created the X-men. According to them, Star Trek’s Let That Be Your Last Battlefield episode was just a waste, even though the episode showed exactly how stupid and petty racial bigotry is.
It seems like Paul and Renee’s real problem with these “reverse oppression” stories is not that the stories exploit “oppressed” groups, but that the conventionally “oppressed” group is shown as an “oppressor”, and from the politically correct worldview Paul and Renee hold that just could never happen.
Here is the reality: throughout history, many groups that have been oppressed were once oppressors, and many groups who are now oppressors were oppressed. One of the best examples of this is how Israel treats Palestine. That is as clear an example of systemic oppression as one can get, and yet Jews have historically been on the receiving end of similar (and worse) cruelty.
The idea that gay people or black people or women would never hurt anyone and would never oppress anyone is wishful thinking. Every group of people who has had a taste of power for a significant period of time has abused it. Some have done it worse than others, but the idea that the oppressed cannot oppress simply does not parse, and that should be painfully obvious to anyone in the West. After all, there is this nation that touts itself as the Greatest Nation That Ever Existed Infinity that was created by a group of oppressed colonists who fought for their freedom as they continued to enslave an entire race of people. Indeed, they were so aware of the irony and hypocrisy of this that they almost freed the people they had enslaved, but decided against it because they feared they would lose too many colonies and ruin the Greatest Nation That Ever Existed Infinity before they could build it.
All of that should be obvious, but Paul and Renee do not seem worried about facts or logic, hence this bit:
And don’t tell me it will help straight/white people understand oppression. Because if a privileged person will only hear about prejudiced issues when it comes from a privileged mouth then what is the point? I’ve said this before when we’ve had similar bullshit, how are you going to encourage people to address prejudice and marginalisation while at the same time training them that it’s only worth listening to privileged people?
Firstly, most of those people do not think of themselves as “privileged”, which is why these stories work. People see themselves with a completely different lens, and as a result it is often hard for people to understand what other groups feel.
Secondly, most people tend to identify with those who share some similarity with them. The more similar the person is to the intended audience, the more likely that character will resonate. If you want someone who typically does not go through a certain set of experiences to identify with those who do, your best bet is to make your protagonist look like your intended audience.
Thirdly, if in the context of the story the person is not “privileged”, then people are not hearing about “prejudiced issues when it comes from a privileged mouth”. Rather, they are hearing it from a disprivileged mouth of a person who looks like them, making the message all the more effective.
The pair goes on to write:
All of this completely puts the lie to the idea that these stories and storylines encourage empathy. If you had empathy could could empathise with the real marginalised people who are actually suffering. You wouldn’t need a privileged person to make up a ridiculous and offensive marginalisation for you to cry for.
That should be the case, but it often is not. After all, Paul and Renee seem to have problems empathizing with fictional characters. One could easily see them having problems empathizing with poor white men who lost their jobs or male survivors of sexual and domestic violence, you know, real marginalized people who are actually suffering.
Here is the thing about empathy: it is a learned behavior, and it is really hard to feel. It needs a person to set aside their own feelings and feel what others feel. That means listening to what others say and taking that emotion in, processing it, and making it part of you. It means going on that journey with that person, feeling every beat as they do, essentially seeing the world through their eyes.
Ironically, that is exactly what stories do.
To quote a certain empress:
Just as he is sharing all your adventures, other’s are sharing his. They were with him when he hid from the boys in the bookstore. […] They were with him when he took the book with the Auryn symbol on the cover, in which he’s reading his own story right now.
That is the point of storytelling, and that is the point of stories that use so-called “privileged” people as protagonists. When you see what it is like when it happens to you, that gives you an insight into what it feels like for other people have it happening to them.
That leads us to the grand irony of Paul and Renee’s piece. The outrage they show sounds remarkably like the outrage so-called “privileged” people show when someone writes a piece of speculative fiction that paints white people, heterosexual people, Christians, men, Westerners, and so on as “oppressors”. No one likes their group to be reduced to nothing but villains. It is insulting, offensive, and dismissive of the scores of people belonging to those groups who are nothing of the sort.
So how ironic that when the table is turned, it is suddenly wrong to cast whole groups of people as evil:
And don’t tell me it’s for marginalised people, so we can see a world where we’re dominant. Would I like to read a book where marginalised people are the majority and in charge? Sure – but not through the eyes of a poor, oppressed straight/white person who is suffering so awfully at the hands of the big, mean, prejudiced gay/black people. Because maginalised people being cast as evil villains? Been done and it’s not fun.
Ah ha. The problem is not really with the “oppressed” becoming the “oppressors”, just anyone telling the story from the new “oppressed” group’s point of view.
Granted, the pair do have a point that in some instances these flipped stories are done to silence criticism about the real world and keep other people in their place. But it is not clear that the examples they wrote about intend to do that. The two films about straight people living in a gay-dominated world simply show how screwed up it is to have your love denied by an intolerant society. The book about a white girl in society dominated by black people comes across as the same thing, although it appears poorly received on Amazon.
Stories are meant to entertain and educate us, and using metaphors is one of the best ways to do that. Speculative fiction is built around this idea, and while it is not always executed well, the notion that certain metaphors are off limits because of some pathetic, politically correct stupidity does no one any good.
On a final note, one cannot help but enjoy the delicious of feminists complaining about people appropriating other groups’ struggles when the feminist movement itself is an appropriate of early Marxism and the civil rights movement. How many times do feminists, particularly white, female feminist, use the black experience, especially the black male experience, to show how bad women have it?
Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.