Monday, September 28, 2009

On Compassion and Confrontation: Part 3 of White Heterosexual Male Privilege: a True and Not So Simple Story

[photograph of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was found here]

[Here is part one]

[Here is part two]


What I learned tonight is that white heterosexual men like to believe they are "just individuals" even while they compartmentalise women (and queer people, and people of color) into all sorts of categories and genres for consumption and exploitation. Even while men disdainfully exclaim, "Women!", and stare at women's breasts or buttocks or other body parts day after day, they insist to the rest of us: "Please don't forget, every white heterosexual man is only an individual, each one unique in every way, unlike any other." (This shows a glaring level of willful ignorance about the existence of the Whiteboy Brotherhood.)

The triple combo of privileges and entitlements due to whiteness, manhood, and heterosexuality makes this demographic particularly resistant to many things; gross stigmatisation is one; oppression by sexuality, gender, and race is another. Knowledge of what most of the world's human beings experience as universal human experience, that W.H.M. rarely experience at all, is another.

Men being lumped into one gendered group in any way that isn't worshipful or deferential, that doesn't stroke the ego or the cock, is cause for any man to sound the alarm of being "stereotyped", mistreated, and not seen as a human being. Dudes, the problem isn't that WE aren't seen as human beings. The problem is that we don't see WOMEN as human beings, each one individual, each one unique in some ways while sharing at least one condition of oppression, most women sharing at least two conditions of oppression: by race as well as sex.

We men get pissed and we sulk. We punch and we pout. Either way, it is usually women who have to attend to the man who is so insulted by a woman having done to him what he habitually and oppressively does every single day to every other group on Earth: turning them into "a demographic", a set of stereotypes, making them two dimensional, each one the same as the other. And I can hear Thoman chiming in "I'm NOT one of THEM." And perhaps he isn't. But my reply to this, in my own imagination, as well as posted to this blog is, "Yeah. Ok. Fine. You're not. And now tell me how, exactly, you challenge the men who ARE like that, to make the world safer and less oppressive for women?"

A socially dangerous idea that goes unchallenged among men, generally and usually, is men believing "women want to be raped". The idea that "women hate men", as noted in other posts on this blog, is not one that is socially dangerous. The first produces conditions that make all women feel or be unsafe, that targets women to be potentially and actually physically and psychically assaulted, one woman every three minutes in the U.S. The second is a bit of foolish hyperbole passed around as if it had weight in the world. Whether or not any women hate any men, or whether some women hate all men, there is no man who can tell me that, as a consequence of "this feeling of man-hating that some women have", women act on it by systematically shoving something violently into men's body cavities in order to reach orgasm with the knowledge they are humiliating the man, seen as existing for such abuse.

I cannot begin to tell you how many white men, myself included, have felt "the greatest insult and hurt ever" when we are treated as "a demographic" by those we oppress, which is to say, when we are called out for behaving in ways that are, in fact, very typical of our population.

When Donna told me that Thomas is hurt at not being seen as a friend, and instead as a demographic, I wanted to go to him and say, "Thomas. I'm a demographic and I'm your friend. We all are all, every one of us, both part of some demographic and individuals too. You don't get some special anti-demographic status just because you're not used to thinking of your race, your gender, and your sexuality as carrying great privilege and power. And, I love you. Sleep well tonight, ok?"

He was way too sulky and withdrawn, and I was too angry and perplexed about what the most woman-supporting thing to do would be, to put in the effort to "reach him" and confirm my love for him, and hear out his hurt and pain, and validate it, and probably not get around to telling him how what he did was really grossly insensitive to do in front of a woman who has been sexually harassed by men all week, and in front of a gay man who has a history of being sexually assaulted.

I know Thomas well enough to tell you this: he is not a survivor of sexual assault. So there's an experience that many of us have, a disproportionately female population, who know rape not as an idea, but as a traumatic act of invasion and violation, as a spiritual betrayal and irreparable breach of trust. If you only know of rape as an idea, it can be on par with every other idea you have. This partially explains why Thomas could actually think his perception of "the two offenses" were not morally or politically different. However, it mbust be stated unequivocally, that "being prevented, as an oppressor, from entering the space of the group your people oppress" is NOT THE SAME and is NOT MORE IMPORTANT than "being raped". And the language of men's entitlements and privilege--"I should get to go anywhere I want! I should never be prevented from entering a space!" is overtly rapist speech.

Double standards abound. White men want to be taken care of emotionally by women whenever we are hurt, in any way. Whenever we feel wronged, whenever we feel mistreated, whenever we feel victimised.

It is the case that some of us bind our identities to the ways in which we've been harmed, forgetting about the privileges we still carry. There are are several groups of people who are renowned, in my own experience, for doing this: white gay men, heterosexual men of color, and white women--both heterosexual and lesbian. It is dangerous to those we structurally oppress to forget we are positioned to be oppressors every moment of lives. And, it is utterly infuriating to be repeatedly told, by those who structurally oppresses you, that you are overreacting to what happened to you.

To all W.H.M.: If you aren't oppressed by gender, by race, or by sexuality, how can you possibly know what constitutes "an overreaction" to misogyny, racism, and heterosexism? If you are not oppressed in each of those ways, or in any of those ways, who the hell are you to tell someone who IS oppressed what "the appropriate response to my oppressive behavior" should be?! Or to be so arrogant as to name your own behavior "not harmful"?

It is extremely likely that when anyone who is oppressed is observed expressing the ways they've been harmed as victimisation, they will be immediately reprimanded by the insensitive or arrogant others--those who need every wound attended to with care and respect--to "stop playing the victim". Rarely, very rarely, will anyone in the same class as the oppressor of someone so hurt and victimised say "I'm sorry you are harmed traumatically and systematically. I'm deeply saddened that the pain of that trauma follows you and is intensified each new day by callousness and cruelty. I cannot know your pain, but I can see you are in pain and I offer you my personal apology for doing so little to prevent it from happening to you and to others."

After Andrea Dworkin spoke to a group of 500 anti-sexist men at a Men's Conference, several of them returned home to start activist groups putting out the word that men can and must stop rape.

If you are a white man, I invite you to be similarly inspired by reading that speech found here.

From one white man to another,


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