You know how 1st world feminists get told that they don’t need feminism? They’re told that they should be glad they’re not “really oppressed” like the women in 3rd world countries. That things could always be worse.
You know what my mother tells me? She says I don’t need feminism because I should be glad I’m born in an urban city of Pakistan. She says, at least I wasn’t born in a rural area where girls are married off to men twice their age. That things could always be worse.
And our house maid, Shabana, who was married to her uncle at 15 and, at 18, has 2 children, she doesn’t even know what feminism is. She was told by her father that she should be glad her husband doesn’t beat her and hasn’t thrown tehzaab (acid) at her. That things could always be worse.
Am I the only one seeing a very disturbing pattern here?–Tumblr user Sharjeea
I’ve said it before: the most important thing about privilege is not whether you have it or not, but what you do with it. We’re not all oppressed the same way–from an intersectional perspective, some of us may hold privileges in one way even if we suffer in another way–but that does not mean the solution is to pat ourselves on the back for the meager privileges we hold in an unequal society.
The race to the bottom can get only more horrific, never ending as long as there is someone to crush. Oppression remains as long as society is unequal and unjust. If children in Africa are starving, it doesn’t make a dint of a difference that you have scraps to eat, unless you agree that the minimum morally acceptable action is to force a person to live on scraps.
Things are already “worse”. Focus on making them better.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
—John Donne, excerpt from Meditation XVII
Sometimes the lengths cishet homophobes and transphobes go to, justifying their views “for the sake of [their] children”, remind me of this poem. The fact is, we are all interconnected and nowhere does it become more apparent than in the case of “invisible” markers such as sexual orientation and gender identity. You probably already know at least one LGBTIQA person, even if you don’t know it. Somebody you love or care about, someone who may be a friend or a friendly colleague. The children in whose name you justify oppression may one day grow up to be so much more different from you than you could have ever imagined. (Or maybe not that different after all.) Perhaps they may grow up learning to fear you even as they learn more about their own selves.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself knowing a child I spent my life loving and protecting was so scared of me that they went through months or years or even a lifetime of agony and inner torment, desperately trying to hold on to my love (which was never so weak as to be lost) by suppressing who they are.
We all know a “real” Arthur Ashe award winner–they are our friends, our family, our neighbors, and so on. Does that mean the one in my house is or should be the only one? Is my friend’s mother who beat cancer and manages a primary school for middle-to-lower income kids less deserving? Deserving of what?
Awards are just awards. If we believed awards could fully describe the extent of human achievement (and struggle), we might also have to believe that most of the people who have done anything worthy or have struggled in any way are cis, white Western men. Perhaps that is one reason why I already understand the superficiality of public acknowledgement: if it happens sincerely, it happens too late. So I don’t sit down and squabble over the merit of these awards, just like I don’t go to a school’s sports day and claim rigging/media bias/political correctness if every child is handed a prize for participation. Because these are all ultimately meaningless.
What is real is real, award or no award. Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t need an award from ESPN to validate her life has been a personal struggle, any more than Malala needed a Nobel to realize she had risked her life to stand up against the Taliban. Meanwhile, Iqbal Masih was murdered at the age of 12 and he helped over 3000 children escape from the bonded child labor that still powers a sizable chunk of Pakistan’s capitalist economy–and he got no award. It would be an afterthought even if he did.
But you know what ISN’T courageous? A grown, cis man using his child’s struggle to punch down and attack a trans woman and her struggle as somehow less worthy of attention. Do not turn your child’s pain into an excuse to invalidate someone else’s. Oppression is NOT a competition.