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:
From the title alone I got the feeling the stupid is strong with this one, and Melissa A. Fabello proved my feelings right.
Fabello starts with an anecdote:
It’s a common argument that those of us – all of us – who work in social justice movements face: the straw man of reverse oppression. Even within the in-crowd of people who are quote-unquote “socially conscious,” this argument pops up now and again.
It is a good thing Fabello knows what a logical fallacy is because she engages in scores of them. For example:
“Yes, black women are beautiful — but I think what you mean is that all women are beautiful,” they say.
“But isn’t telling men to ‘sit down and shut up’ also sexist?” they ponder.
“But in the dictionary,” they start.
And we – seasoned veterans in the war against anti-oppression – know that the battle has already been lost.
It’s hard to convince someone that they’ve misunderstood a concept when their very (albeit misguided) understanding of the world depends on the existence of the falsehood in question.
However, it’s true that reverse oppression – like “reverse racism,” “female privilege,” and (so help me God) “cisphobia” – cannot possibly exist. Because the very nature of oppression won’t allow it to!
That is a nice example of denying the antecedent. Fabello, like most feminists, defines oppression in a way that wholly excludes certain people from being considered oppressed, and then uses this as proof that said people cannot be oppressed.
She cites Urban Dictionary when she claims people have “internalized oppressive ideas and values,” which is odd considering that she immediately argues:
Put it down. Close that web browser. And for those of you who I know are going to post dictionary definitions in the comment section before even reading the article, you— I don’t have anything to say to you. Just stop.
Merriam-Webster is not your friend today.
The dictionary, to begin with, is a really trite resource to use when arguing complex topics.
I am curious: if dictionaries are so useless and untrustworthy, why did Fabello cite Urban Dictionary? Are people to understand that Fabello considers Urban Dictionary, yet Merriam-Webster is not? Is it not possible she favors the Urban Dictionary definition because it is written by users, meaning that feminists like herself can add a definition and upvote it to popularity, making it the topmost definition?
Likewise, given that many feminists cite Merriam-Webster’s definition of “feminism” whenever people criticize the ideology, does this mean that said definition is now inaccurate? Is Fabello arguing that feminism is not “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes?”
Fabelllo tries to explain her position:
You can show me the definition of “plant” if you want to, but that sure as hell doesn’t make you a botanist. Similarly, your dictionary definition of “racism,” for example, doesn’t make you a scholar in sociology.
That is called a straw man. Who argued that knowing the definition of a word made one an expert in a given field of study?
And I’m not saying that everyone in the social justice movement is a scholar – although, obviously, some of us are – but those of us who have done the hard work to unpack privilege and unlearn socialization are getting our information from the greats – not the dictionary.
That is an appeal to authority, a fairly terrible one at that. Fabello lists several social justice figures she apparently considers experts on various social issues, however, each one of them is a biased source. As the above link explains:
The authority is an expert, but is not disinterested. That is, the expert is biased towards one side of the issue, and his opinion is thereby untrustworthy.
For example, suppose that a medical scientist testifies that ambient cigarette smoke does not pose a hazard to the health of non-smokers exposed to it. Suppose, further, that it turns out that the scientist is an employee of a cigarette company. Clearly, the scientist has a powerful bias in favor of the position that he is taking which calls into question his objectivity.
Similarly, each one of the people Fabello cites is invested in the social justice community, giving them a powerful bias in favor of the position that they present. Their objectivity is now in question, and while it is possible their insights are accurate, it is also possible their insights stem primarily or solely from their biases.
You want an easy, shallow definition of “racism” to endorse your unsupported viewpoint? Go to the dictionary. But if you want to apply a Critical Race Theory lens to a conversation around power and oppression, then go to the seminal works of the people above – or at least some secondary sources!
In other words, go to a biased source. That is not going to lead to the “depth” Fabello croons about. It leads only to compartmentalized group think.
She then engages is an impressive, Chinatown-esque display of double think:
The dictionary is a great tool.
Hell, I use the dictionary all the time because I’m always confusing “insure” and “ensure,” and I always want to use fancy words without actually knowing if they make sense in context.
And that’s what the dictionary is there for – to give you a quick and dirty definition to work with.
But the dictionary has no depth.
The dictionary is younger me when I’d be asked to speak on issues that I only understood marginally, but wanted so desperately to have an opinion on: fumbling about, trying to make sense, but only having a paragraph – if that! – of information to go off of.
It just doesn’t cut it.
Just to be clear: the dictionary is “a really trite resource to use when arguing complex topics,” but “a great tool” to clear any confusion about the meaning of words like “insure” and “ensure,” yet it “has no depth.”
I am sure there is a good reason for this warped illogic:
Furthermore, I want to tell you a secret about the dictionary: It is, in and of itself, an oppressive force. All resources that deal with “the rules” of language are.
Please take a moment to guess what makes the dictionary “an oppressive force.” Do not cheat and look ahead. Genuinely strain your brain to determine what force could be so powerful as to ruin the English dictionary. Got it?
Although the oldest dictionaries date back to Mesopotamia (who’s surprised? Show me something that doesn’t date back to Mesopotamia), the first English dictionary was created in 1604 by a dude named Robert Cawdrey – a white guy. […] Every milestone of the creation of the English dictionary was achieved by (yup) a white guy – in pursuit of a “standard of our language…in the superior sense,” which sounds like loaded language to me.
Yes, it is always best to take a quote completely out of context to try to make it look racist. The actual quote is:
I ciiunot [sic] help thinking it a sort of disgrace to our nation, that hitherto we have had no such standard of our language ; our dictionaries at present being more properly what our neighbours the Dutch and the Germans call theirs, word-books, than dictionaries, in the superior sense of that title. All words, good and bad, are there jumbled indiscriminately together, insomuch that the injudicious reader may speak, and write as inelegantly, improperly, and vulgarly as he pleases, by and with the authority of one or other of our word-books.
This refers specifically to how English is being used and the lack of a general text that explains what words mean, their history, and their usage. It is about controlling language, not racism.
And I know that because this is a piece on the non-existence of reverse oppression, there are people out there moaning along the lines of “What’s so wrong with white men?”
So I’ll let the amazingly brilliant Audre Lorde explain why using a resource created by an oppressive force to detangle the concept of oppression makes zero sense: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
Again Fabello appeals to authority, in this case a radical black feminist with an extreme bias against white feminists, apparently so intense that she lied about not receiving a response from Mary Daly after writing her a rather harsh and critical letter.
Now that we better understand what oppression isn’t, let’s talk about what oppression is, then
I am sure this type of segue works well in person with speaker talking too fast for anyone to catch the absence of substance. In writing, however, this thing looks foolish and amateur.
We do not have a better understanding of what oppression is not. We have zero understanding of it aside from the vague notion that there is no such thing as “reverse oppression.”
However, I do not want to impede Fabello’s descent into utter stupidity, so we shall move on:
See, the problem with the dictionary definition of “sexism,” for example, is that it posits that sexism is “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination…on the basis of sex” or “unfair treatment of people because of their sex.”
That is a problem because?
Now, the cool thing is that the dictionary is starting to get hip to the notion that generally, sexism occurs against women (and I say “generally” not to infer that it is possible to be sexist against men, but rather that sexism also affects trans and gender non-conforming people) – and definitions are starting to reflect that.
Ironically, that argument is sexist against men.
But what the dictionary – and a lot of people who are making this argument – misses is that sexism isn’t just prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (although all of those things are definitely bad).
Sexism is a form of oppression.
No one missed that. Indeed, Fabello never presents a single example of anyone suggesting that sexism is not or can never be a form of oppression. The argument appears to be that it can apply to men as well.
Fabello attempts to explain why the latter cannot be true, yet succeeds only in showing the many leaps in logic she needs to make to reach that conclusion:
However, only oppressed people experience all of that and institutionalized violence and systematic erasure.
That is a non sequitur. Nothing Fabello presented above supports the notion that only oppressed people experience “institutionalize violence and systematic erasure.” Indeed, Lorde’s essay suggests the opposite: that the privileged can experience privilege and oppression simultaneously in different aspects of their lives.
See, and that’s why it’s not possible to be sexist against men.
Because you can stereotype men. And you can be prejudiced against men. And you can also discriminate against men. And none of that is okay! But oppression – because it is institutionalized and systematic – is another level entirely.
“But” is a term of negation typically used to suggest that the clause that preceded it is untrue in part or in full. So technically Fabello stated that it is okay to stereotype, be prejudiced against, and discriminate against men. However, one would already know Fabello supported those positions since she engaged in such stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination against men in her article.
She tries to support her claim with four points. The first:
1. It Is Pervasive
It is woven throughout social institutions, as well as embedded within individual consciousness. […] This is about a cultural value that is systematic in that it exists within the very fabric of our society and is practiced (albeit often subconsciously) in the very institutions we’ve been taught to trust – you know, like the exclusive, white-cis male-written dictionary.
You mean like assuming that men and boys are disposable, replaceable, less redeemable, violent, untrustworthy, unclean, lacking compassion, and uncivil?
2. It Is Restrictive
That is, structural limits significantly shape a person’s life chances and sense of possibility in ways beyond the individual’s control.
You mean things like limiting men’s career, parenting, and education options? Or perhaps things like preventing single men from adopting children, barring men from sitting next to unaccompanied children on planes, banning men from sitting with their knees apart on public transportation, or banning men from urinating standing up?
3. It Is Hierarchical
That is, oppression positions one group as “better” than another.
Dominant or privileged groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups.
You mean like people, who shall go unnamed, arguing that they have more compassion, concern, intelligent, ethics, empathy, and usefulness to society?
4. The Dominant Group Has the Power to Define Reality
That is, they determine the status quo: what is “normal,” “real,” or “correct.”
You mean like someone getting to define who can and cannot be oppressed?
It turns out Fabello is correct. Men cannot be victims of “reverse oppression.” Rather, according to Fabello’s own logic, men are victims of regular, All-American oppression.
When people in power are stereotyped or discriminated against – awful as that is – it isn’t the result of subjugation, regardless of what the dictionary tells you. Those negative attitudes toward privileged people aren’t pervasive, restrictive, or hierarchal.
Except Merriam-Webster’s definition never states that. It defines “stereotype” as, “to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same.” It defines “discrimination” as, “the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people.”
The word “subjugate” does not appear in either definition. I know I stated I did not want to prevent Fabello’s descent into stupidity, however, I must state that this is why it is so important to read before refuting.
That is, they aren’t losing out on anything just because someone’s words, actions, or beliefs were hurtful – or even harmful.
That is called begging the question. Fabello offers no explanation for how she, or any “social justice warrior,” knows what said dominant group suffers.
Oppression cannot exist without a force of power behind it. And this is exactly why the idea that a dominant group being subjugated is so laughable – because what force is driving it?
Again, Lorde’s essay demonstrates it is possible for a dominant group to experience an advantage in one area and a disadvantage in another.
It is rather sad when the non-feminist knows feminist theory better than feminists, and has not read the particular essay in question in twenty years.
We have to talk about the ways in which people conceptualize their experiences. But when we attempt to do this by drawing false equivalences between experiences, we’re failing at understanding nuance, and that isn’t really helping anyone – not even the straw man.
Which Fabello beautifully demonstrated with her monstrous straw man of an article. Such Grade-A stupidity deserves a reward.
So my dear Melissa A. Fabello, you are so concerned about oppression and …
You know what might help?