-With special thanks to The Keeper for a great chat about social power.-
If the powerful get to dictate how we discuss the morality of an issue, can we ever have meaningful social justice?
I have too many ideas, and am having difficulty narrowing my conversation, so let me start this way: Think of “Pretty Woman.” This film, and so many films like it, suggest(s) that an empirical vision of what is ‘right’ can win over one that’s ‘wrong’ even if there is a social stratification of those doing the arguing.
“It is wrong to be aggressive or cold in your venture capitalism, because a prostitute said so.”
Can you imagine that actually happening? Never!
And yet, that is our great lie of an American narrative.
The Horatio Alger “Anybody can make it, and everybody matters” narrative is, at best, incorrect. (At its worst, you could argue that this type of narrative is deliberately perpetuated to assuage the ire of the disadvantaged by falsely creating a belief that they can succeed as a group.)
I became familiar with a new term this morning: “TERF, or Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.” …and, really, what an insidious thing to be. Here is someone who believes that it’s unacceptable for men to deny full personhood to women, and sees how blatantly unacceptable that is. But, even with the ability to identify the injustice of patriarchy cannot see the same problems of privilege when it is they who are exercising it.
Which begs an interesting question: Can we only see injustice upwards?
Rape culture centers on this idea. It’s only wrong, or a crime, if the privileged see it as such. I was in Texas during the trial of the Stubenville rapists. As I ate my lunch one afternoon, I was listening to ESPN’s coverage on the TV in the restaurant’s dining room. Listening to male sportscasters discuss the nature of what had happened was truly as though it was from another world.
But, what became visible to me was that there was a changing cultural narrative about consent, and that the narrative was changing because it was starting to be framed from the perspective of survivors, rather than that of perpetrators. So, here again, the problem looks a lot different for those who suffer its consequences.
Narratives work this way. The powerful and privileged tell stories in a completely different way. They decide who is at fault, who is right, who is wrong.
Cisgender women, are women with transgender histories actually problematic for you? Do we not deserve the justice of being counted as your sisters?
Cis/straight men, are women actually problematic for you? Do we not deserve the justice of being counted as your equals?
White, American-born people, are those of other ethnicities or national origins actually problematic for us? Do they not deserve the justice of being counted as ‘Real Americans?’
Lastly, can those of us with various forms of privilege PLEASE stop asking about the nature of these problems from other privileged people? Only a disadvantaged person can truly show us the devastation of privilege.
Make the world better, ask how you can lift up another person.
Extra: Here’s an interesting look at straight privilege, in which the filmmakers flipped the world to a homonormative one to demonstrate the issue of homophobic bullying *(TW bullying, suicidal thoughts)*