Friday, February 13, 2009

Comparing oppressions (by Suzie)

         Comparing and contrasting has a rich history in writing and can be done in different ways to illuminate a subject. Comparing apples and oranges can be appropriate if I’m discussing the nutritional content of fruit, for example. If I compare genocide in Rwanda with the Holocaust, I may learn something by examining how they differed and how they were alike.
        Some people equate “comparing oppressions” with “deciding which oppressions are worse.” This has gotten tagged as oppression Olympics.
        I try to steer clear of that minefield. Instead, I venture into another one: I often use comparisons when I think people get one subject but not another. Examples can be found in the post below on cancer.
        Here’s a well-known example from the presidential election: Some white liberals who would never dream of saying something racist had no problem saying something sexist. When I challenged friends, the answer was always the same: They thought racism was worse than sexism. Once that was out in the open, I could discuss why they thought sexism wasn’t that bad. I could do that without arguing that racism is no longer a problem; that sexism is worse than racism; that the history of racism and sexism are the same; or that all oppressions work in the same way. I could discuss this, knowing that what people say and do can differ, and that anti-racist whites can still do things that disadvantage people of color.
        Comparing gender and race has a long history in feminism, most notably among the suffragists who worked in the abolition movement and the ’60s feminists who supported the civil rights movement.
        Some people dislike comparisons of oppression because they believe that their oppression is worse, and that others have no right to compare themselves. Here’s an example from a review of a book by Monique Wittig:
Although I don't believe in “comparing oppressions,” I am amazed at the audacity of women who are descended from a group that actually OWNED other women who then can turn around and compare themselves to a group in whose oppression their own ancestors explicitly participated.
          I wish people would understand that, if someone thinks her oppression is worse, then she is comparing oppressions.