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Jul 31 2012

“Playing the Victim”: Oppression and a Catch-22

“Seems you’re making a catch-22: if people talk about it, they’re trying to be victims, but if people don’t talk about it, it doesn’t happen.”

In the recent comment thread here on Examples of Racism in Atheist/ Skeptical Communities?, ischemgeek made this comment. It was so perfect, and so succinct, that naturally I have to muck it up by expanding on it and gassing on about it.

When people talk about oppression and marginalization and bigotry — racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, etc. — we often get caught in a particularly nasty Catch-22, beautifully summarized above. If we don’t talk about oppression and marginalization and bigotry… nobody will know about it, and it can and will be ignored. In fact, many people will assume that this particular form of oppression and marginalization and bigotry is now a thing of the past, and doesn’t even exist. If a certain amount of progress has been made in a certain area — sexism, for instance — many people will act as if the problem is entirely behind us, and we don’t have to worry about it, or think about it or, Loki forbid, change our behavior.

But if we do talk about this oppression and marginalization and bigotry? We get accused of “playing the victim card.” We get accused of making up the marginalization, or exaggerating it, or going out of our way to look for it, or twisting innocent events to frame them in this narrative of victimhood, or trying to manipulate people into giving us our way by scoring sympathy points we haven’t earned. And not at all coincidentally, this once again results in the marginalization being made invisible: ignored, treated as if it either flat-out doesn’t exist or is too trivial to worry about.

Now, this “playing the victim card” trope doesn’t always come from people in the privileged group. In this particular debate, for instance, one of the people making the argument that “that’s all these blogs seem to be about, who’s going to play the victim card this week” and “can we stop with the always trying to find reasons to be victims” was black. And, of course, Paula Kirby is now infamous for her essay arguing that women shouldn’t complain about sexism so much: we have to “stop blaming it on men or hierarchies or misogyny or, silliest of all, ‘privilege’, and start simply practising being more assertive.” People in a marginalized group who haven’t personally experienced a particular form of marginalization will sometimes dismiss it: perhaps out of the Just World Fallacy, perhaps out of a desire to think that their successes are theirs alone and they don’t owe anything to the people who’ve fought for decades to smooth their path.

But it comes a lot from people in the privileged group. And regardless of who it’s coming from, it has the same effect: It renders oppression and marginalization and bigotry invisible. People fighting oppression get put in a Catch-22: If we speak out against oppression and point to examples of it, we’re accused of “playing the victim card,” and the oppression becomes invisible. And if we don’t speak out against oppression and point to examples of it… then the oppression once again becomes invisible.

And you know the thing that really galls me about this particular Catch-22? Aside from the whole “invisible” thing, I mean. The thing that really galls me is that speaking out against oppression is the opposite of victimhood. Speaking out against oppression is one of the first steps to claiming power. Speaking out against oppression takes strength, courage, a willingness to take flak. Speaking out against oppression can put you in harm’s way. (Just ask Jessica Ahlquist.) Speaking out against oppression isn’t “playing the victim card” — it’s saying, “I am sick to fucking death of being a victim, and I am demanding that it stop.”

So the question I have for people making this “victimhood” accusation: How, exactly, would you like marginalized people to proceed? Is there any possible way we can make oppression and marginalization and bigotry visible, which will meet with your approval?

And why, precisely, do you think your approval matters? Why do you get to be the ones who decide which forms of oppression and marginalization and bigotry are important… and which ones are not? Why do you think that decision should be up to you?

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  1. 1
    Enkidum

    Very much yes to this post.

    I’ve been reading a bunch of FTB pretty much since it started, and through all the various controversies and arguments, the response I’ve always had to the anti-FTB side is “Even if you don’t like the way they’re doing things, so what? Just don’t do it yourself, and focus on something else that you do believe is worthwhile.” This applies just as much to the accommodationists as to those who dislike discussions of sexism, but it’s particularly appalling in the latter case, of course.

    At any rate, why should their discomfort be your primary concern when writing about the world? You’re not writing about them (well I guess you are in this post, but not generally speaking).

    If you insist on standing in the way, you may just get run over occasionally. S’your call.

  2. 2
    Lexie

    Lurker posting because I am so glad someone finally said this, this bizarre attitude that everything is fine now is just people trying to maintain the status quo and (largely) their privileged position and it enforces victim blaming (theres no problem therefore if you’ve had a problem it’s your fault or you are delusional and imagining it). I’ve never met plenty of people who have been persecuted and haven’t said anything because they are too scared (myself included), I’ve yet to meet anyone who has spoken up who wasn’t amazingly brave and strong. Those who speak out are the tip of the iceberg of people who have a problem, those of us below the water are too scared we’ll be blamed by society and be further persecuted. So from me to Greta, other Freethoughtbloggers, Skepchicks and everyone else out there who is speaking up, THANKYOU (capitalisation normally annoys me but I can’t think of any other way to convey in text my extreme appreciation)! You speaking up makes me feel less isolated (now I know I’m not alone and I’m not ridiculous/delusional), it makes me feel a little better (I know that someone is on my side) and hopefully seeing more people doing it will give me more confidence to finally stand up for myself. So thanks so much.

  3. 3
    Dunc

    How, exactly, would you like marginalized people to proceed?

    Obviously, at a minimum, we’d like them to shut the fuck up and go away so that we can enjoy our privilege in peace. In an ideal world, it would be really lovely if they could also say nice things about us for not oppressing them.

    What?

    “that’s all these blogs seem to be about, who’s going to play the victim card this week”

    If that’s all you can find on FTB, you’re clearly not looking very hard.

  4. 4
    joel

    “Is there any possible way we can make oppression and marginalization and bigotry visible, which will meet with your approval?”

    I like this question, it will come in handy. It’s worth thinking about a more concise version perhaps one that could become a well known retort as in a “…….troll”

    Some ambivalence, I think this easy and snarky “…..troll” thing gets abused a lot but still….

  5. 5
    Emu Sam

    . . .more concise . . .

    “Is there a way to change X which you won’t whine about?”

    (Where X is oppression OR marginalization OR bigotry OR etc, whichever is immediately applicable)

    Which will over time become “Privilege whiner.” Maybe “Privilege pleader” for the alliteration.

  6. 6
    OtherSider

    Don’t you think there’s a balancing act to be had here?

    I think every claim needs to be taken on its own merits. There’s a difference between dismissing a claim immediately as whining and considering its merits.

    Not every complaint is justified, but some are. I think that just pointing to the ones who dismiss it and saying “privilege!” is just the other side of them pointing at you and saying “playing victim!”

    There just has to be a better way, I think, to encourage proper evaluation of every claim on its own merit and separate the genuine from the demagogue. What do you think?

  7. 7
    Snoof

    There just has to be a better way, I think, to encourage proper evaluation of every claim on its own merit and separate the genuine from the demagogue. What do you think?

    Maybe, just maybe, we could discuss the claims without immediately dismissing them as “playing the victim card”, or as overreactions, or as statistical outliers?

  8. 8
    Lance Armstrong

    “People in a marginalized group who haven’t personally experienced a particular form of marginalization will sometimes dismiss it: perhaps out of the Just World Fallacy, perhaps out of a desire to think that their successes are theirs alone and they don’t owe anything to the people who’ve fought for decades to smooth their path.”

    With minor wording changes, this explains the behavior of the privileged group, too. I spent much of my life unaware of my privilege and wondering why (minority group) didn’t just stop whining and grab their bootstraps. I wasn’t trying to be an ass, my privilege was invisible to me. You and other FTBers have done a lot to open my eyes.

  9. 9
    OtherSider

    I actually said that in my own comment-

    “I think every claim needs to be taken on its own merits. There’s a difference between dismissing a claim immediately as whining and considering its merits.”

    What I am sadly sick of is seeing this repeated issue:

    Complaint by “Non-Privileged Group” -> Claim of “Playing the Victim Card” -> Accusations of “Privilege”

    or

    Complaint by “Privileged Group” -> Dismissal of problem as “Wanting to Crush the Oppressor/Privileged Whining” -> Claim of “Playing the Victim Card”.

    It gets a bit frustrating watching that happen over and over.

  10. 10
    researchtobedone

    @OtherSider:

    This is a bit like saying that you’re tired of both atheists and religious fundamentalists calling each other fundamentalists.

    Yes, it does get annoying, but the fact of the matter is that only one side is saying something actually true, and the only way to get that across is to continue explaining it. The people in all these shenanigans who’ve been talking about other people not recognizing their privilege? They’ve generally been right. The people talking about “playing the victim card”? They’ve generally been abhorrently wrong.

    Is it annoying? Yes. The same way the “Atheists and fundamentalists are the same” thing is annoying. But I presume you’re not going to go around saying we should stop explaining why that accusation makes no sense.

  11. 11
    One Thousand Needles, lumper-splitter

    Here’s a timely example of that Catch-22: Reddit’s r/gaming reacts to the latest update from Anita Sarkeesian on her Tropes vs Women in Video Games series.

    If you don’t have the patience to browse through the top-rated comments, they include such gems as:

    She can contrive misogyny from just about anything.

    and

    …basically she used people for money and is gonna throw out a horribly uneducated and biased series (hurr wait for her to finish, Go watch her other stuff. She finds the song “All I Want For Christmas Is You” misogynistic.)

    and

    playing the victim card to scam people out of 150 grand doesn’t bother you?

    Your post sums up this behavior perfectly, Greta.

  12. 12
    Lance Armstrong

    “It gets a bit frustrating watching that happen over and over.”

    I’ve come to realize that if I’m in a position of privilege/power in the dynamic being discussed, that I just need to bite my tongue, stuff my personal feelings, and listen for a while before even attempting to join the discussion. I don’t see any other solution. It helps if the minority speaker is as gifted and fair-minded as Greta or Ian Cromwell, but that high standard should not be used as a bludgeon to silence anyone, either.

    It also helps if people in the position of privilege are identifying it. The accusation of whining loses traction in that case. This is something I need to do more of myself.

  13. 13
    OtherSider

    “Yes, it does get annoying, but the fact of the matter is that only one side is saying something actually true, and the only way to get that across is to continue explaining it. The people in all these shenanigans who’ve been talking about other people not recognizing their privilege? They’ve generally been right. The people talking about “playing the victim card”? They’ve generally been abhorrently wrong.”

    Does that mean that anyone who is in an “oppressed” thing is always right? Take the example of Al Sharpton. Even most black people I know consider him over the top and ridiculous.

    All I’m asking is for both sides to keep their mind open that they might, you know. Be wrong. Debate, don’t proselytize.

  14. 14
    zoebrain

    I won’t proselytise. I will give some facts. You can make of them what you will.

    From the study Injustice at every turn, the most comprehensive survey of Trans people ever produced, sample size > 6000.

    Among the key findings from “Injustice at Every Turn”:

    Respondents were nearly four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, with household income of less than $10,000.
    Respondents were twice as likely to be unemployed compared to the population as a whole. Half of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or other mistreatment in the workplace, and one in four were fired because of their gender identity or expression.
    While discrimination was pervasive for the entire sample, it was particularly pronounced for people of color. African-American transgender respondents fared far worse than all others in many areas studied.
    Housing discrimination was also common. 19% reported being refused a home or apartment and 11% reported being evicted because of their gender identity or expression. One in five respondents experienced homelessness because of their gender identity or expression.
    An astonishing 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to only 1.6% of the general population.
    Discrimination in health care and poor health outcomes were frequently experienced by respondents. 19% reported being refused care due to bias against transgender or gender-nonconforming people, with this figure even higher for respondents of color. Respondents also had over four times the national average of HIV infection.
    Harassment by law enforcement was reported by 22% of respondents and nearly half were uncomfortable seeking police assistance.
    Despite the hardships they often face, transgender and gender non-conforming persons persevere. Over 78% reported feeling more comfortable at work and their performance improving after transitioning, despite the same levels of harassment in the workplace.

    It’s a convenience sample, and excludes trans people too poor or otherwise disadvantaged to have Internet access. The number of African-American respondents is only 1/3 of expectation if all other things were equal, so obviously they’re not.

    It therefore is likely to understate any problems.

    The opposition to law reform in this area consists of two major strands of thought:
    1) There is no problem, and no evidence of a problem.
    2) Discrimination here should be allowed to continue because to prevent it would infringe on Religious Freedom. In fact it should be mandatory, not merely widespread.

    Often both arguments are made by the same people, simultaneously. The contradiction escapes them.

  15. 15
    One Thousand Needles, lumper-splitter

    Does that mean that anyone who is in an “oppressed” thing is always right?

    Has anyone, anywhere ever made that claim?

    All I’m asking is for both sides to keep their mind open that they might, you know. Be wrong. Debate, don’t proselytize.

    How very high-minded, and not at all pretentious!

    I have an idea: how about you backup your equivocation with data. Demonstrate for us that women “play the victim” anywhere near as frequently as sexism is dismissed by somebody with privilege bias.

    There are plenty of examples of the latter, such as:
    • Richard Dawkins’ Dear Muslima
    • Paula Kirby’s femistasi
    • DJ Grothe reaction to the discussion of harassment at cons

    …and those are just the most obvious examples off of the top of my head.

    Show us three comparable examples of women “playing the victim” and you might be on the way toward justifying your claim that feminist skeptics are proselytizing and being close-minded.

  16. 16
    ischemgeek

    Wow, thanks. I’ve had my writing called many things, but ‘succinct’ is rarely one (all of my essay assignments at all levels of schooling have returned with “wordy!” written all over large passages of them in red), and this is the first it’s been called ‘perfect’. I’m flattered.

    On to the topic of the post: In my experience, it holds true for any type of oppression and bullying. I’m sure most people who belong to underpriviledged group(s) can think of many examples off the top of their head. I know I can, more for obvious causes of discrimination (like my stutter and lisp, back when they were severe, or my gender) than less obvious (my sexuality, atheism, and health conditions – frankly, where I live, I’m more comfortable talking about my atheism and my bisexuality at work than my health, so that should tell you something about ableism), but I still have anecdotes for the latter cases. And for situations where I’m priviledged, I can tell of things that happened to friends (racism and classism, for example) and things that my relatives have perpetuated (mostly with regards to racism and classism as well).

    I wonder if there’s been any studies about this? How often is “You’re playing the victim!” used in an attempt to silence the underpriviledged? And how often does it succeed?

  17. 17
    karmakin

    @OneThousandNeedles: Well, the stuff she’s shown thus far is pretty one-dimensional (I’d actually call it borderline misogynistic in its own way, to be honest). As I’ve said before I donated, and I’d LOVE to see a good, fair, even-handed look at sexism in gaming and other media, and an investigation into various tropes, where they come from (The reality is that video games are really a “mash-up” of other media forms..and the unique aspects..gameplay…would be difficult to be sexist in and of itself), the history of them and if they are getting better or worse.

    That’s not what it looks like we’re getting however. Unfortunately it really does look like a hack and slash job. Not that it justifies the abuse, of course. But that doesn’t mean that we automatically have to agree with her. (What I’m expecting from what I’ve read so far, is for her to entirely ignore the actual personalities, motivations and individual characteristics of female characters, instead putting them in ugly little boxes that she can then attack)

    Actually, there was another thread on Reddit the other day that was talking directly about objections to privilege theory. I disagreed with it, but it’s enlightening to see what outsiders think and how they look at it, especially in terms of framing arguments that might be attractive to those people and pulling them into the fold. In this case, most of the people didn’t really object to privilege in terms of society, that some people are better off than others, what people objected to was that privilege was used as a debate trump card. That if one person was “privileged” that means they can’t talk on the subject at all.

    Of course, that’s not the way things are in reality. But, that’s the way it feels like to them, based on a small number of bad experiences.

  18. 18
    Timid Atheist

    All I’m asking is for both sides to keep their mind open that they might, you know. Be wrong. Debate, don’t proselytize.

    When someone is in a position of privilege, they are automatically listened to. Not true of those that are being discriminated against. It is fine to ask for both sides to keep an open mind, but the ones in privilege actually need to be open to the idea that their privilege blinds them to what kinds of oppression others are suffering. That’s why it’s so important for marginalized people to have their own spaces so that they don’t constantly have people coming in to debate the simplest of things with them.

  19. 19
    baal

    tl;dr for my comments:

    There isn’t a choice, speaking up is unavoidable if you want change and the current system will always push back in irrational ways. The best you can do is initiate and have a plan in place to control or deflect the kick back.

    To the longer version:

    Hrm, the questions at the end aren’t answerable. More exactly, they are similar to the “Why should religion be privileged?” question. You could answer but nearly anything you’d say would be indefensible after a bit of rational thought or consideration of circumstances.

    Regardless, I’m foolish and fearless (though not in equal measure). I’m also not directly answering the stated questions directly.

    I find that too many comment threads suffer from a twitter like 140 character dogmatic ping pong match. After a while, it doesn’t matter that one side is clearly right, it’s still ping-pong. This also likely means that the wrong side wins since the affirmative is pushing against the status quo – ties go to the status quo.

    I think the way forward lies in two places. The op’s need to be downright awesome in how they frame the issues. Greta Christina and Zinna Jones (and others) succeed or knock it out of the park nearly every single post. It’s amazing and well beyond what I expect I or most people could do. The other place is that the side moving for change (and on FTB that really means the minority group – which is entirely unfair) needs to avoid dogma and actually make arguments or place their comments in narrative from their experience (and this is what we see on the non-derailed threads).

    It’s mentally harder to dismiss a comment which describes actual experiences and contextualized insight rather than snippets which convey condensed and distilled insider badges and received (right or not) truths.

    Lastly, it’s been interesting to read the comments on ChristinaRads blog. She’s been doing a lot of listening and we get to listen with her. The back and forth has been a lot less binary and more of a collaborative painting – less opposition more watercolors.

    FWIW, I also have a huge personal bias against condescension. I always find myself instantly disliking anyone who uses it. I have to remind myself to see if their substance has merit.

  20. 20
    OtherSider

    @zoebrain Come on, guys. I never said there wasn’t real problems here. Please don’t take this to mean that way. I’m asking for more open mindedness from both sides. Just because there are real problems, doesn’t mean that there aren’t manufactured ones by demagogues.

    My only point is, don’t fall into the camp of thinking that anyone with privilege is automatically wrong, because otherwise you’re doing the exact same thing.

    @karmakin I only saw one thing from her, and that was the Bayonetta review. While Bayonetta is definitely all about fanservice, it is played with such over the top tongue-in-cheek silliness that I think it’s quite obvious that it was not meant to be taken seriously.

    Also: “That if one person was “privileged” that means they can’t talk on the subject at all.” I’m sorry, I’ve seen it too. I think it’s far more common than you think.

    I think any accusation of “privilege” should be then qualified with- “You’re in X position, therefore you do not go through Y”.

    @TimidAtheist I’m not sure I buy that the “oppressed” have no voice. After all, Chick Fil-A is not even allowed to open in Chicago for its views. I think the problem lies in stubbornness rather than anything else.

    @OneThousandNeedles

    Of those three people, you have a woman (Kirby), a victim of child molestation (Dawkins) and a gay man (Grothe). How are any of them privileged?

    However, I am not going to dig up things that I think are playing the victim card, because that is not what I said. At all. The one example I could come up with off the top of my head, as I said, is Al Sharpton, who has a lot of criticism even within the black community for being over the top.

    You’re using arguments against positions that I don’t hold…

  21. 21
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    “Yes, but” is the wrong response, OtherSider. We’re talking about the correct side of the issue, and you’re derailing the conversation to talk about Al Sharpton.

  22. 22
    karmakin

    @20: That game in particular was REALLY divisive when it came out, between people who think it is horribly objectifying and between people who think that she’s an awesome empowering character. I’m in the latter camp for what it’s worth. (Although I might be biased as I’m a Clover/Platinum fanboy) She’s a female, more interesting Dante (from Devil May Cry).

    Although the main “bad example” that I give, was things that she said about Bastion, to the point of not even bothering to learn the main female character’s NAME.

    Also, I don’t think that sort of “shut-down” behavior is widely common, it’s just that the few people who do it tend to be REALLY loud about it. One unfortunate thing is that I suspect that those few loud people result in things being escalated beyond what most people intend them to. It’s not too dissimilar to in gaming communities where I think there’s a distinct minority of misogynists who make things seem much worse than they are because they’re so loud about it.

  23. 23
    Bronze Dog

    I’ve seen the general trend, myself. No matter how real and visible the oppression is, those with privilege like to make the accusation.

    There are cases of people “playing victim” without being oppressed, but they’re extremely rare in my experience, or they’re privileged people complaining about the loss of a privilege.

  24. 24
    smhll

    Maybe, just maybe, we could discuss the claims without immediately dismissing them as “playing the victim card”, or as overreactions, or as statistical outliers?

    Great imagery! Really got me thinking.

    I think that we live in statistically different universes because we are often treated differently because of the human categories we “fit” into.

    Heterosexual men and women are in different statistical universes when it comes to having their asses grabbed in elevators by someone that might be pushy and hard to stop. This occurrence truly is rare for a man, and much less rare for a woman, particularly at conferences that have a social component. (Or in the elevators in Congress in the early 80s when my female friend was a Congressional page.)

    but that high standard should not be used as a bludgeon to silence anyone, either.

    Are you actually silenced? Or are you choosing (unhappily) to not discuss certain topics in certain places where you are badly outnumbered by people who have a POV very different from yours?

    A complaint is not a “card” and an “argument” is not a bludgeon.

    I personally would think we could have a more informative discussion if exaggeration were less common.

  25. 25
    John Horstman

    So the question I have for people making this “victimhood” accusation: How, exactly, would you like marginalized people to proceed? Is there any possible way we can make oppression and marginalization and bigotry visible, which will meet with your approval?

    ‘Shut the fuck up, and no.’ Actually, I’m not being fair; well, I am, but I’m describing the implications of their statements, not paraphrasing the direct responses. The direct responses are more along the lines of, “I can’t answer your question because I refuse to recognize that there are marginalized people to do the proceeding, and I don’t accept that oppression and marginalization and bigotry actually exist to be made visible. You might as well be asking about the exchange rate of leprechauns to unicorns,” but with more defensiveness and worse spelling.

  26. 26
    Enkidum

    Of those three people, you have a woman (Kirby), a victim of child molestation (Dawkins) and a gay man (Grothe). How are any of them privileged?

    Please tell me you’re joking here. You are aware that privilege is not an all-or-nothing thing, right? Consider that while Dawkins may have been molested as a child, he’s now an extremely wealthy white guy in his 70′s with a very well-paying position at one of the most important universities in the world and an audience of millions who will attend to literally every word he writes.

    As Improbable Joe says, you’re playing “yes, but”. It’s not a useful game. Yes, perhaps Al Sharpton has said some things many of us would disagree with. Who the fuck cares? What does this have to do with the article?

  27. 27
    mythbri

    @OtherSider #20

    Of those three people, you have a woman (Kirby), a victim of child molestation (Dawkins) and a gay man (Grothe). How are any of them privileged?

    All of them. And if that answer surprises you, then I don’t think that you’ve quite understood what the term “privilege” means in this context.

    All of the people mentioned above are white. They have white privilege. Two of the people mentioned above are straight. They have straight privilege. Two of the people you mentioned above are men. They have male privilege.

    Privilege doesn’t mean that you’re at the tipity-top of society. It doesn’t mean that your life is easy or that you don’t also belong to under-privileged groups (i.e., women, sexual assault victims, homosexuals, etc.). It means that the specific instances of privilege that you have go a long way toward blinding you to the problems that are faced by people without that same privilege. And even within under-privileged groups, like women or minorities, there can be disagreement. All you have to do is look at the feminist and civil rights movements to see the conflicts within.

  28. 28
    smhll

    After a while, it doesn’t matter that one side is clearly right, it’s still ping-pong.

    (Ping-pong may happen when we conclude that the other person/side is being “unreasonable”, and in our opinion, it’s not worthwhile to put any more effort into explaining.)

    I think “clearly” is a key word. I believe we get to a point in these conflicts about harassment, etc., where many people who know a lot about being in a marginalized group (thru lived experience, study, or having a patient friend) find things completely clear and are starting to get tired. BUT, I think the person who hasn’t been discriminated against can honestly still find things unclear. And then the thoughts behind the ping-pong could be “I’ve made myself perfectly clear! I shouldn’t have to explain it again!.” (And I’m not sure what the pong back thought is, so I won’t put fake words in that person’s mouth.)

  29. 29
    OtherSider

    “Please tell me you’re joking here. You are aware that privilege is not an all-or-nothing thing, right? Consider that while Dawkins may have been molested as a child, he’s now an extremely wealthy white guy in his 70′s with a very well-paying position at one of the most important universities in the world and an audience of millions who will attend to literally every word he writes.

    As Improbable Joe says, you’re playing “yes, but”. It’s not a useful game. Yes, perhaps Al Sharpton has said some things many of us would disagree with. Who the fuck cares? What does this have to do with the article?”

    The context was sexual abuse, or rather the potential thereof, and I am pointing out Dawkins is no stranger to it. Does being rich and white and male make you somehow impervious to understanding what it’s like to be abused?

    Also, the Al Sharpton example is just an example of how being in the right side of a conversation does not make -you- right. If Al Sharpton called “privilege” on white people who dismissed his outlandish claims, who would be right?

  30. 30
    Ophelia Benson

    The thing that really galls me is that speaking out against oppression is the opposite of victimhood. Speaking out against oppression is one of the first steps to claiming power. Speaking out against oppression takes strength, courage, a willingness to take flak.

    Exactly. This is what I keep trying to explain to Paula Kirby inside my head. (Well I don’t keep trying, but my imaginary efforts got a renewal yesterday after I saw a tweet of hers ranting about so-called feminists playing victim blah blah.)

    I really hate being cast as the whiny baby compared to the brave tough women who ignore rampant sexism. Fuuuuuck.

  31. 31
    Stephanie Zvan

    The context was sexual abuse, or rather the potential thereof, and I am pointing out Dawkins is no stranger to it. Does being rich and white and male make you somehow impervious to understanding what it’s like to be abused?

    First you note the correct to the potential for being abused, then you ignore it again in making your point. Are you attempting to argue that an adult, heterosexual, white, rich man understands as much about living with the ongoing threat of sexual abuse as the people he was dismissing?

  32. 32
    OtherSider

    @Stephanie Zvan

    Point made and conceded.

  33. 33
    Lance Armstrong

    “but that high standard should not be used as a bludgeon to silence anyone, either.”

    “Are you actually silenced? Or are you choosing (unhappily) to not discuss certain topics in certain places where you are badly outnumbered by people who have a POV very different from yours?”

    What I’m saying here is that my appreciation for the approaches of Greta Christina and Ian Cromwell should not be taken as support for the bad argument that minorities should express their grievances exceedingly well or not at all.

  34. 34
    Prof. Woland

    @othersider…

    While I see your point theoretically–and I agree that all people should strive to evaluate claims objectively (as best as you can) and to seek the truth in each instance–rather than just using quick assumptions to categorize others as right/wrong… While I see all of this–I do think that making this statement alone or highlighting it as the main thing to worry about can create a kind of false equivalency–as if the amount of lying or problematic statements on both sides are about equal–and thus the main problem is not really that there’s rampant sexism/racism/etc. going on in our society–but rather that the main problem is really that everyone is lying or distorting the truth on both sides in pretty much equal measure.

    Empirically, however, I don’t think that’s the case.

    I, as one of the most privileged people on the planet (white, blond-haired, blue-eyed, fairly attractive, healthy, highly-educated, and middle class American==1% in terms of the planet..), know that there are people on both sides of this issue who may distort the truth–but the level of lies–or the amount of denial that usually goes into their statements–when compared to the reality of what we face on this planet–is not equal.

    Those people denying/ignoring/disputing the existence of sexism or privilege are engaging in a much higher level of deception or propagating a much higher level of falsehood than the other side that is pointing this out on a fairly regular basis.

    Does this mean–as you note–that every claim made by those who are less privileged is true? No–of course not–but when you have one side regularly denying that there is any sexism/racism/privilege at all–and that to even talk about it is actually a falsehood (= playing the victim card–with the implicit meaning that they aren’t really victims…)–then the real problem is not that you have some imperfect statements on one side–but that you have one side of the issue disputing that there is a problem at all.

    That’s a much bigger problem. It’s not dissimilar, in my mind, from the political debate about taxes/debt going on between the main two parties in the US–with one side (the Dems..)giving much more reasonable–although not always perfect by any means–solutions to the problem (such as raising some taxes while making spending cuts–while the other side (The Reps)–giving flat-out bogus solutions involving only tax cuts that cannot possibly work in any imaginable world.

    Looking at that situation–and having someone come along and say, “Well, really, both sides have representatives who stretch the truth–therefore–what we should really pay attention to (Implying that it’s the real problem) is making sure everyone is accurate all the times…”–> that obscures the situation in that it makes the false equivalency in people’s minds that both sides are actually being reasonable.

    Anyway.. That’s my best guess as to why you are getting such strong pushback here–and why I think that pushback is pretty reasonable.

    Happy debating!

  35. 35
    ischemgeek

    @OtherSider

    Of those three people, you have a woman (Kirby), a victim of child molestation (Dawkins) and a gay man (Grothe). How are any of them privileged?

    Privilege is relative. Dawkins, for example, is a cisgendered straight white man, and for that reason, he is privileged in society compared to people of color and compared to women and compared those who are GBLTQ. He is not privileged when compared to those who were not the victims of child molestation. Lacking privilege in one area does not negate privilege in another, and vice versa.

    Take me, for example: I am a white cisgendered (if gender-nonconforming) bisexual woman raised in an upper-middle class family with a few chronic health conditions who is gifted academically despite my learning disability and speech impediment. I have privilege in some areas (race, socioeconomic background, education, booksmarts), and am underpivileged in others (gender, gender-nonconformity, sexual orientation, health and learning).

    That I come from an upper-middleclass back ground does not negate that I’m a woman. That I will have an MSc soon does not negate my asthma. Further, that I have ADHD does not negate that I’m white, and the fact that I’m cisgendered does not negate my gender nonconformity. Why? While I can confidently say I’m better off than a trans person if all else is equal, I can also say I’m worse off than a cis man. That I’m a woman does not mean that I’m underprivileged in absolutely everything. That I’m white doesn’t mean I’m privileged in absolutely everything.

    If you compare me to, say, Ian Cromwell (whose blog is almost required reading on these matters, along with Natalie Reed’s and this one), am I more privileged? Hard to say. Certainly I am for race. Certainly I’m not for gender. We’re about the same for socioeconomic background from my understanding, and though he has a bit more education than me, my background is in a more lucrative field. I’m pretty sure he’s more privileged on the health conditions front, while I’m probably in better physical shape (because I’m in very good physical shape – better than the vast majority of people I know). Overall, though? It’s a qualitative thing, not quantitative, poorly suited to absolute judgements: All else being equal, is being a woman harder than being black? Hard to say. We could postulate that being both is harder than being one or the other, and this is backed up by empirical research that shows that black women are generally at a greater disadvantage than black men or white women.

    I’ve had a long digression on this, but the cliff’s notes version is this: We can call Dawkins privileged because being a straight white man does come with quantifyable advantages in this society. We can call DJ Grothe privileged because on the front relevant to the storm he caused, he is privileged. He’s a cisgendered man. That’s the easiest gender to be in our society, and it comes with a lot of advantages, not the least of which is that his gender is the assumed normal against which everything else is often compared. And so on.

    As for Kirby, I’ve refrained from commenting on her partly because I’m not very familiar with it (I missed that one due to a combination of burnout and RL work so my understanding of it is basically the tl;dr version, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to get the background I’d need to discuss it in depth), and partly because I suspect that situation would involve system justification theory, which is more complicated than privilege, and I am far from an expert on either front (read Ian Cromwell’s series I’ve linked if you’re interested since it’s more comprehensive than I have time or expertise to discuss). Greta Christina, Natalie Reed, Ian Cromwell, Stephanie Zvan and others on this site are more knowledgable on the subjects and their blogs are great resources on such matters.

  36. 36
    OtherSider

    @Prof. Woland:

    I fully agree with everything you say. One just must never be so secure in one’s truth however that they are not ready to fight to prove it right.

    Always have the facts on your side, and then nobody but the wilfully blind can deny you. Am I saying both sides deny each others’ valid arguments equally? I’m in no place to decide. I am just speaking for everyone who wishes to make a point.

    Articulate it well, inform yourself well, don’t make statements that you’re unsure of. Don’t use charged terms without explaining them (don’t call someone privileged without explaining how their status makes them privileged in this situation, for example). Then all that will remain in your opponents’ arsenal is plain denial.

    @ischemgeek

    Point well made, and fair enough. I accept the criticism.

  37. 37
    smhll

    @Lance

    I apologize, I think I misread you about who was being silenced in what context.

  38. 38
    Greta Christina

    OtherSider: I strongly urge you to read this piece: Why “Yes, But” Is the Wrong Response to Misogyny.

    As Prof. Woland said: You’re setting up a false equivalency. When someone brings up the topic of oppression, your automatic and immediate response should not be, “Yes, but… sometimes the oppressed side is wrong, too.” It’s a “Yes, but…” derailment: an attempt to change the subject, away from the topic of oppression and towards whatever you want to talk about instead.

    And I would like to point out that, very often, the people saying “You’re playing the victim card!” don’t give any specific examples or arguments for why the oppression being discussed isn’t really oppression. evolvedthinker insisted that people were “playing the victim card” — in the middle of a long list of specific examples of racism in the atheist community. Paula Kirby made the same accusation — in the middle of a community-wide discussion of specific instances of sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment. Neither of them actually made a case for why the oppression being described wasn’t really oppression. They just chided people to stop playing the victim card. In other words — they just told people to shut up about their oppression.

  39. 39
    Feats of Cats

    @36 OtherSider

    Always have the facts on your side, and then nobody but the wilfully blind can deny you. Am I saying both sides deny each others’ valid arguments equally? I’m in no place to decide. I am just speaking for everyone who wishes to make a point.

    Articulate it well, inform yourself well, don’t make statements that you’re unsure of. Don’t use charged terms without explaining them (don’t call someone privileged without explaining how their status makes them privileged in this situation, for example). Then all that will remain in your opponents’ arsenal is plain denial.

    Here’s the thing. It’s not our job on these blogs to constantly go back to Feminism 101, and expecting the group fighting for our rights to educate every person who wanders in to argue isn’t reasonable. If you see the word “privileged” aimed at either you or others, it is your responsibility to figure out what that means, either by lurking more or entering the magical world of Google.

    Plus, what we’re talking about here are arguments in which we’re saying “don’t harass” and “women are people” and “these are firsthand experiences of women”, and they get dismissed all the time as “women be lying bitches” and “you can find misogyny in everything”. Keeping in mind that you might be wrong is always important, but is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

  40. 40
    OtherSider

    @Greta Christina

    Alright, makes sense. Sorry to derail the thread like that.

  41. 41
    G Pierce (Was ~G~)

    Greta- I am very glad you brought up Jessica Alquist. Every atheist I know understands the concept of Christian and religious privilege no problem. They even use the word, “privilege”. They can pick out with a fine-toothed comb the many incidences of it manifesting in day-to-day life, yet why are they unable to admit to, or let alone, even understand the concept of other sorts of privilege?

    Everyone cheered Jessica as a hero for fighting against the banner (as they should), but what if the banner had been sexist? Would she suddenly have been petty and hysterical? And why was no hyperskepticism applied to Jessica’s accounts of how people bullied her at school? She is well-deservedly considered a hero among most atheists, as well as brave, as opposed to a whiner or a professional victim or told to just toughen up.

    I also want to thank you for exploring race. As a white woman, during the last year I wondered to myself, will I be able to respond to a discussion of racism the way I’d like to see all men respond to discussions of sexism? The big lesson I’ve learned is start by just listening and think about what you hear before responding. I am thus going to take all the mistakes made by sexism deniers and try to avoid them best I can when learning more about racism.

  42. 42
    Adam Casey

    There’s a few different things called “playing the victim card” that have varying merits.

    The first and most direct is using one’s status as victim to talk about totally unrelated topics and demand respect. This exists, is obviously playing the victim card and always destroys debate. Just like the line “speaking as a mother”, the only function is as an argument from irrelevant authority.

    The second is the argument that “as a victim of this problem I know best how to solve it”. This is very often true, but far from automatic. Real world issues are complicated, the insights gained from one life being a victim on one way will often not be applicable to everyone. Clearly the insights gained from one life *not* being a victim will be far far less applicable and helpful. But it often happens that the solution that seems obvious to one victim in fact when tried is useless. Using status as victim to claim and authority greater than hard evidence is worrying.

    These two types of victim playing exist and detract from the actual proper role of victims* in debate, ie to provide insight into the experience and to make the real situation more visible.

    So much better is “here is my story, based on that I suggest…” or even just “here’s my story, this kind of thing happens”. Both of these are vital and shouldn’t be shut down or talked over.

    *qua victim, clearly victims should also just talk like normal people all the rest of the time

  43. 43
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Wow, I’d like quite a few of my former school administrators sentenced to read and respond to this. >.>

  44. 44
    Melody

    I rarely see people in the atheist community dismiss personal accounts that revolve around being atheist, ie religious bigotry, families disowning offspring, politics etc.

    And why not? animosity toward atheists is a reality (especially in areas with a more conservative leaning population). It’s common knowledge that atheists experience these things, and personal accounts usually correlate well with the wealth of formal studies and surveys we have out there. And unless some one is taking an issue to court, I don’t see folks being asked to provide evidence for their accounts. After all, in person experiences don’t usually happen on film, or a large studio audience or what have you.

    So, I’m puzzled as to why the same consideration isn’t offered to other marginalized peoples. We have a wealth of data (many control for socio-economic status btw) that suggests that racism, for instance, is alive and well. We have a wealth of data (look at the current legislation) that suggests women don’t have it too well in the states, etc. So…why are folks so quick to dismiss anecdotes from these (and other) groups, but readily accept atheistic leaning complaints as common place?

    Sometimes, I think think these kinds of people are upset, specifically, at the act of person X complaining. As if this causes harm some how. People aren’t so much upset that these things happen; they seem to be upset that folks are making them aware of it.

  45. 45
    Greta Christina

    The first and most direct is using one’s status as victim to talk about totally unrelated topics and demand respect. This exists, is obviously playing the victim card and always destroys debate. Just like the line “speaking as a mother”, the only function is as an argument from irrelevant authority.

    Adam Casey @ #42: But that isn’t what we’re talking about. We’re talking about times when oppression and marginalization and bigotry are the topic on the table — and people insist that anyone talking about it is “playing the victim card.” Why is this relevant?

    These two types of victim playing exist and detract from the actual proper role of victims* in debate, ie to provide insight into the experience and to make the real situation more visible.

    I’m going to say this as calmly and politely as I can manage: It is not up to you to decide what the “actual proper role of victims in debate” is. Especially when the topic on the table is the very oppression they themselves are experiencing.

  46. 46
    One Thousand Needles, lumper-splitter

    @OtherSider:

    I made an earlier response to you that seems to have been eaten or caught in a spam filter.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for reading and thinking about the responses that others have posted to you. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of privilege when it was first explained to me. It was honestly difficult to grasp until it ‘clicked.’

    So, for what it’s worth, I appreciate you considering what others had to say, and I’m sure they do too.

  47. 47
    John the Drunkard

    The ‘victim’ versus ‘privilege’ language is unhelpful.

    It isn’t really a privilege NOT to be raped or harrassed.
    It isn’t really a privilege NOT to be enslaved.
    It isn’t really a privilege NOT to be denied education or opportunity.

    Closer to Greta’s blog. Is it a priviledge to have only one injured knee?

    Rape, harrassment, slavery, oppression, and yes knee injuries, are ills in and of themselves. I can be symapathetic, supportive, and urge justice for Greta’s knee whether I am an athlete with perfect legs or a double amputee.

  48. 48
    ik

    One issue is that some of the more questionable Tumbler social-justice people such as otherkin (people who “identify as” nonhuman animals, metahumans such as elves, mythical creatures, specific fictional characters, etc a la transexuality can say a lot of the things about us that we say about White Male Patriarchs.

    IMO, they are made entirely of playing the victim card, and are not actually oppressed. Any genuinity they have is an ableism issue, not something else.

    But who knows, it could be real and we really do have ‘human privilege’.

    We need to figure out how to KNOW that what we do to them is not the same as how priviltged people attack the victim card thing.

    There is one thing that might be a bit significant. it’s not really the victim card per se, but there seem to be a lot of people in oppressed groups who have a really low opinion of each other. Not quite sure it’s internalized miso-whatevery, but tends to manifest in certain radicals who act as though they believe that they are the only member of their kind to escape the matrix.

    There is something a little bit like the victim card, but with more substance that I will criticize: the ‘Designated Victims Only’ thing.
    All of these are side effects of absolutely neccesary social justice.

    What I am seeing here is:
    -Oppressed people seeing selves as sole arbiters of theory about social attributes like gender and race
    -Suppressing derailment comes at a cost: people in the privileged group often never get to discuss or analyze their privileging attributes with people who understand the theory outside of discussing how they are privileged and Will Never Have To Face What We Faced
    -(rare, but does happen, mostly in the gendersphere) Such analysis by privileged people (often with broken privilege, or hurt by their own group) is seen as a threat
    -Some radicals seem to feel entitled to destroy the privileged group’s non-oppressive social structures, or even take over the entire culture. (Twisty Faster, I am looking at YOU.)

  49. 49
    Feats of Cats

    The ‘victim’ versus ‘privilege’ language is unhelpful.

    It isn’t really a privilege NOT to be raped or harrassed.
    It isn’t really a privilege NOT to be enslaved.
    It isn’t really a privilege NOT to be denied education or opportunity.

    Closer to Greta’s blog. Is it a priviledge to have only one injured knee?

    Rape, harrassment, slavery, oppression, and yes knee injuries, are ills in and of themselves. I can be symapathetic, supportive, and urge justice for Greta’s knee whether I am an athlete with perfect legs or a double amputee.

    Are you saying that the concept we call privilege doesn’t exist, or just that you don’t like the language? If you don’t like the language, what word would you use to succinctly describe the group that isn’t on the receiving end of systematic mistreatment?

  50. 50
    Travis

    Excellent post, as always. I think the second-to-last paragraph (and, more specifically, the “how would you like marginalized groups to proceed?” question) is brilliant.

  51. 51
    A. Noyd

    OtherSider (#20)

    While Bayonetta is definitely all about fanservice, it is played with such over the top tongue-in-cheek silliness that I think it’s quite obvious that it was not meant to be taken seriously.

    I don’t understand this defense. It’s like you’re saying women should be okay with sexist depictions of ourselves when they’re played for a joke—with a side implication that others get to decide what is and isn’t non-serious.

    Of those three people, you have a woman (Kirby), a victim of child molestation (Dawkins) and a gay man (Grothe). How are any of them privileged?

    And herein lies the problem of talking about privilege. Like you (and John the Drunkard), too many people don’t have a good understanding of what it means and how it works. Privilege isn’t like the notion virginity, where you lose it one time and are thereafter no longer privileged. There are multiple kinds of privilege. You can have male privilege and not straight privilege. You can have white privilege and not male privilege. And even when you know about your privilege, that doesn’t make it go away. You can work to actively offset it, but, because it’s society that grants it to you, you can’t make it disappear short of bringing about massive changes to society.

    And, while it’s nice to think that lacking privilege in one area of one’s existence will automatically peel one’s blinders off and allow one to see one’s remaining privilege, this isn’t usually the case. Black women have had to work hard to get black men to see that they need to avoid adding to and dismissing the oppression of women. Lesbians have had to work hard to get gay men to see that they need to avoid adding to and dismissing the oppression of women. Trans folks have had to work hard to get cis queers to see they need to avoid adding to and dismissing the oppression of trans folks. Feminist women of color have had to work hard to get white feminist women to see that they need to avoid adding to and dismissing the oppression of people of color.

    In your misunderstanding, you’ve illustrated why it’s often counterproductive to keep bringing up privilege as a concept. It only serves to confuse discussions of oppression and power dynamics if all sides aren’t informed on what it means and how it works.* But it’s important to discuss privilege in some fashion because people’s “objectivity” is biased by their privilege. We like to imagine that we can be objective about a claim no matter what social benefits we reap or what awareness of oppression we have—that benefiting from the status quo won’t make it more difficult to see things for how they really are—but this isn’t actually true. We build the assumptions we base our objectivity on from our own experience, which means that the more blinded by privilege we are, the harder it is to be genuinely objective towards claims outside our experience or to notice that our supposed objectivity is impaired.

    ……
    *And I agree with Feats of Cats at #39 that it’s the responsibility of the uninformed to stop being uninformed. But we’ll be waiting till we’re blue in the face if we expect most of our opponents to step up to that responsibility.

  52. 52
    A. Noyd

    Feats of Cats (#39)

    Keeping in mind that you might be wrong is always important, but is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    Plus, it’s hard not to keep in mind we might be wrong in a society where doubt of our positions and experiences is the default. Second-guessing is second nature to the marginalized.

  53. 53
    smhll

    @47 Give me your definition for privilege.

  54. 54
    TooManyJens

    I’m not sure I buy that the “oppressed” have no voice. After all, Chick Fil-A is not even allowed to open in Chicago for its views.

    This isn’t true. There is a single alderman who is threatening to block CFA from opening in a single ward in Chicago, and the zoning commission says they will override him if the only reason for his objection is due to Dan Cathy’s views.

    http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/07/26/local-chick-fil-a-owner-invites-mayor-emanuel-to-visit/

  55. 55
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Always have the facts on your side, and then nobody but the wilfully blind can deny you.

    You make it sound like that’s some rare side faction.

  56. 56
    Wes

    One of the problems with “playing the victim card” as an argument, aside from those already pointed out, is that it functions as a type of ad hominem argument. While not specifically stated that way, it’s generally used to imply that a person’s argument is incorrect because they are oversensitive. A person’s sensitivity has no real relevance to a statement that a certain thing happened or that a certain form of oppression exists.

    Sometimes, people actually play the victim, but if you feel like someone’s experience isn’t worth getting upset about, maybe the best way to handle that is to ask for more information? Or at the very least to explain why the “offending” person’s behavior was reasonable, given the circumstance. Neither of those things requires leveling charges at the complaining party.

  57. 57
    ik

    Ummm, one quibble: While privilege tends to hurt one’s chance at objectivity by giving you a lack of knowledge, being opppressed ALSO hurts one’s chance at objectivity pretty badly.

  58. 58
    Amanda Marcotte

    I’ve certainly seen the word “privilege” whipped out in discussions to imply that someone has no right to an opinion at all.

    Just not any involving sexism and racism in the atheist/skeptic community.

    I’m interested in examples, however.

  59. 59
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    The ‘victim’ versus ‘privilege’ language is unhelpful.

    It isn’t really a privilege NOT to be raped or harrassed.
    It isn’t really a privilege NOT to be enslaved.
    It isn’t really a privilege NOT to be denied education or opportunity.

    Closer to Greta’s blog. Is it a priviledge to have only one injured knee?

    Well, yes, if your reference value is having two rather than zero.

    Assuming that the white upper class straight cis male experience is the “default” is a big piece of the problem.

  60. 60
    Feats of Cats

    @57 ik

    Ummm, one quibble: While privilege tends to hurt one’s chance at objectivity by giving you a lack of knowledge, being opppressed ALSO hurts one’s chance at objectivity pretty badly.

    Objectivity at what? Seeing the side of the people doing the oppressing? The people who are busy telling you that you aren’t oppressed?

  61. 61
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Amanda @58:

    I’ve certainly seen the word “privilege” whipped out in discussions to imply that someone has no right to an opinion at all.

    Just not any involving sexism and racism in the atheist/skeptic community.

    I’m interested in examples, however.

    Oh, I’m certain I’ve seen it done in the context of sexism/racism in the atheist/skeptic community… 3-4 times out of tens of thousands of comments I’ve read on various blogs. Not remotely often enough to ever bring it up as though it were a salient point. People who try to pretend that incorrect use of “privilege” as a common silencing technique are engaging in the same sort of dishonest behavior as those people who insist on sticking up for the victims of false harassment/rape claims every time someone brings up harassment or rape, or interjecting the whole “what about male circumcision” whenever anyone talks about FGM. All these calls for “balance” between the way things work 90% of the time or more and some sort of real-but-rare counter situation are just trying to minimize and derail, but there’s just barely enough truth to their claims that they can pretend to being victimized when they are called out on their BS.

    Cue someone calling you hyperskeptical in 3…2…1…

  62. 62
    Susannah

    I’m coming to this discussion late, and have only skimmed the last half of the comments, so I hope this isn’t a derail.

    The thing that really galls me is that speaking out against oppression is the opposite of victimhood. Speaking out against oppression is one of the first steps to claiming power. Speaking out against oppression takes strength, courage, a willingness to take flak. … Speaking out against oppression isn’t “playing the victim card” — it’s saying, “I am sick to fucking death of being a victim, and I am demanding that it stop.”

    I found this extremely helpful; sometimes that accusation is so ground in that it seems to be coming from our own inner editor.

    Some years back, I wrote a book telling of my experience as the wife of an abusing fundamentalist pastor. I told of my childhood in a missionary home, my 17 years of marriage, and the process of finding my way out.* The book was written primarily with my grown children in mind; by the time it was finished, the grandchildren were entering adulthood. But I had also been helped by a personal story of a similar situation. I was hoping mine would encourage someone else. Maybe it has. I will probably never know.

    In the years since, I have been told that I was wrong; I never should have disrespected my husband that way. I have been told to shut up, to not upset other people (before I had said anything at all!), to forget the past, to forgive the unforgivable. That anger is a wrong response. That I was just looking for sympathy.

    And I have veered from shame and guilt to a freeing sense of what I can only call “toughness”; I took all that and I wasn’t destroyed. The shame came from that “You like to be a victim” accusation. Could it possibly be true? Why else would I have written, and published? Why else would I talk about these things? So whispers my inner editor.

    And guilt; how dare I speak out against good people when it was my youthful foolishness and my gullibility that got me into the situation in the first place? How dare I think that I had anything to offer?

    F* (**) all that!

    Speaking out against oppression isn’t “playing the victim card” — it’s saying, “I am sick to fucking death of being a victim, and I am demanding that it stop.”

    I am no longer a victim and I refuse to play that card.

    *I started writing as a Christian; by the time I published, I was an atheist. Nothing to do with the writing; everything to do with learning to think.

    ** I’m too well trained; I still can’t bring myself to say or write the f word. Think it, yes.

  63. 63
    xjustos

    you need to a search on youtube for your name… 2nd page

  64. 64
    ik

    While Bayonetta is definitely all about fanservice, it is played with such over the top tongue-in-cheek silliness that I think it’s quite obvious that it was not meant to be taken seriously.

    I don’t understand this defense. It’s like you’re saying women should be okay with sexist depictions of ourselves when they’re played for a joke—with a side implication that others get to decide what is and isn’t non-serious.

    I am not entirely sure how to respond to this, esp. as I don’t know what Bayonetta is. I suspect that this is a case of what I call the Marginal Microagression Case, in which the indiviudal media would be OK in a world where women did not have to put up with all kinds of other stuff. Mostly I feel like culture could somehow be partitioned; that such a world might be created where neither side would have to care.

  65. 65
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Ummm, one quibble: While privilege tends to hurt one’s chance at objectivity by giving you a lack of knowledge, being opppressed ALSO hurts one’s chance at objectivity pretty badly.

    What knowledge do oppressed people necessarily lack?

  66. 66
    reneerp

    Ummm, one quibble: While privilege tends to hurt one’s chance at objectivity by giving you a lack of knowledge, being opppressed ALSO hurts one’s chance at objectivity pretty badly.

    This needs some unpacking. Why would objectivity be a value here? I have the suspicion that you’re suggesting that oppressed people could just be making sh*t up, but I don’t quite want to jump to that conclusion.

  67. 67
    SkepFem

    No, their approval shouldn’t matter. Because its hardly a surprise that those most annoyed with the oppressed speaking out are the ones doing the least to prevent the oppression, if not propagating it.

  68. 68
    mildlymagnificent

    What knowledge do oppressed people necessarily lack?

    Being oppressed by poverty or social exclusion or deprivation can limit or distort your own perceptions of your own circumstances.

    As for poverty, I remember shopping with a relative who was bringing up a couple of children on her own. I spotted a rack of clothes reduced to ridiculous prices. I dashed across and started picking up a few items for her kids. She admitted she didn’t even “see” such things because she set herself a shopping list each week and never, ever varied from it because she had no money for “extras”. The armful of clothes we eventually walked away with set me back not much more than the cost of a couple of morning coffee/cake/magazines – but she’d never have got them if she’d been shopping alone. (Despite the fact that she could have afforded them if she had seen them herself and would have saved some of her clothing budget by doing so.)

    Never having enough means that you may not ‘see’ opportunities to save or make money.

    Our own financial ‘privilege’ of not being rich, but merely having enough money to spend, to budget or to save up for necessities can blind us to the limits of people who literally turn their heads away or close their eyes to anything other than urgent, immediate, demands or obligations.

  69. 69
    julian

    late and pretty off topic but

    That game in particular was REALLY divisive when it came out, between people who think it is horribly objectifying and between people who think that she’s an awesome empowering character.

    Bayonetta is empowering in the same sense racist stereotypes of asian women in comic books are empowering. You can like something (I enjoyed the surrealism in the game) but that doesn’t make it good/helpful/empowering.

    Plus it’s all besides the point. A character can be well written, have great VA work and some truly moving moments and still conform to stereotypes and tropes within the genre.

    And Bayonetta is every bit as crappy a character as Dante.

  70. 70
    beth

    These discussions often seem to me like the picture of the old/young woman*. It’s not that one or the other way of viewing things is correct, but people seeing one of the images can’t simultaneously see the other. You have to make an internal change in how you are looking at the picture before you can see the other image.

    It’s certainly a worthy goal to try to change our society for the better and I agree that reducing sexism and other prejudices is a change for the better. On the other hand, as an individual, none of us is powerful enough to significantly change our culture. We all have to live and work in it the way we find it.

    For many women, this means they may find an environment so chilly and toxic that they decide to leave instead. As a woman who has spent that past three decades working in a male-dominated field within a male-dominated industry, I understand why many women might choose to leave certain social groups or professions for a more congenial atmosphere.

    I certainly couldn’t tolerate the sort of abuse the Greta, Rebecca, Ophelia and others have blogged about. A couple of years ago, I was considering starting a blog of my own when I had more spare time available, but the threats and other abuse they indicate are part of their daily routine was enough to make me decide otherwise. Personally, I simply couldn’t handle that. That’s okay. It’s a personal choice. I appreciate their sharing what it’s like.

    I applaud their efforts to change the atmosphere. Such a change is needed and welcome. But I don’t agree that suggesting those attempts to change the way others behave toward members of marginalized groups hasn’t been the best approach is attempting to silence the marginalized group and maintain the status quo.

    A complaint about ‘playing the victim card’ is, in many cases, not an attempt to silence others but an attempt to communicate to members of the marginalized group that seeing themselves as victims is not a good mindset for effective change.

    For example, I thought the way that Paula Kirby’s article “The Sisterhood of the Oppressed” was viewed by bloggers at ftb completely missed her point. If you flip your mindset about her article, like flipping whether you see the old or young woman in the picture, it reads as an attempt to encourage women to change themselves. I read it as saying that women should not wait for men to change and warm up the atmosphere, but instead flip their own mindset and see the other picture embedded in the same set of pixels*: that they can be the change they want to see in the world.

    * You can see this picture at http://www.moillusions.com/2006/05/young-lady-or-old-hag.html

  71. 71
    baal

    It’s been a few days and I had another thought. One strategy for dealing with the catch-22 is to target and coopt voices on the otherside. This requires quite a bit of work and may entail private conversations with the oppressors (for lack of a better term) or hanging out in their spaces. Some (usually small but non-zero) number of the rabid can be talked into flipping and they then have the social cache with the other faction to get them to listen (whereas you as an outsider have -0- ability to break through their cognitive barriers). I can think of two general examples of this type of strategy – the Clergy Project and Nixon going to China to wage peace.

  72. 72
    Nick Gotts

    On the other hand, as an individual, none of us is powerful enough to significantly change our culture. – beth

    Quite so. That’s the reason for solidarity and collective action.

  73. 73
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    @41 Of course, Jessica Ahlquist was subjected to all those silencing tactics, just not by atheists. She was told that it was not a problem; that the School Prayer was not religious; that no one noticed it anyway; that you had to crane your neck to see it (the people who put it up later testified that it had been put in the most visible spot); that she was just a whiner; that she should toughen up and turn her head away; that no one else had ever complained (untrue) or objected (untrue) or noticed it (untrue). What no one else had ever done was ask the school to take it down and then take them to court when they had a fit of religious hysterics. Oh, yes, those people then got up and testified that it wasn’t about religion, it was about school tradition. She was accused of wanting attention and being in it for the money (a token $20 in damages). She was harassed; threatened with beatings, rape and death; refused delivery services; and called a ‘pawn star’ by a radio host and an ‘evil little thing’ by her state representative. Because there’s no religious favouritism in the schools, none at all.

  74. 74
    John the Drunkard

    Hello aain;

    I don’t live here, so I can’t be sure that I am not feeding trolls. I do want to remake two points that I thought were obvious.

    49. Feats of Cats
    “Are you saying that the concept we call privilege doesn’t exist, or just that you don’t like the language? If you don’t like the language, what word would you use to succinctly describe the group that isn’t on the receiving end of systematic mistreatment?”

    I mean that ‘privilege’ is defined this way as a pure negative. It is a very different matter to be ‘privileged’ not to be trampled by wild zebras (a privilege I assume I share with most participants here) than it is to be ‘privileged’ to be GWBush; isolated from responsibility by money and connections and free to believe that wealth and power are measures of some special virtue.

    59. Azkyroth,
    “Assuming that the white upper class straight cis male experience is the “default” is a big piece of the problem.”

    Again, ‘not being raped,’ and ‘not being threatened and bullied by internet creeps,’ ARE defaults. By this I mean that rape and harrassment are not the problems of some ‘special’ group that need to be ignored by anyone ‘privileged’ not to be them.

    One of the worst parts of the whole misogynist-troll outbreak is that people(mostly men) who should speak up against this bullshit feel that it is somehow ‘not their cause,’ or that they
    must identify with perpetrators because they are the same color or matching chromosomes.

    ‘Send not to know for whome the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.’

    ‘look not to let evil define categories of people, except those who commit it.’

  75. 75
    A. Noyd

    John the Drunkard (#74)

    It is a very different matter to be ‘privileged’ not to be trampled by wild zebras…than it is to be ‘privileged’ to be GWBush….

    Serious question. Which, if any, explanatory posts about privilege have you read? Were any of them from social justice and/or anti-discrimination activism sites?

  76. 76
    Emil Karlsson

    Is there any possible way we can make oppression and marginalization and bigotry visible, which will meet with your approval?

    I wrote about the general problem with the approach Greta Christina and others make in my post The Plural of Anecdote is not Scientific Evidence, although it is much more general.

    The simple answer to the question is “more scientific evidence, less anecdotes”. The problem with anecdotes is that (1) there is no independent corroboration and (2) it is not possible to know how representative they are (i.e. the extent and scope of the problem).

    Someone who does this incredibly, spectacularly and fantastically well is e. g. zoebrain (comment 14). Zoebrain provides us with a scientific report on the extent of the discrimination of trans people. This is how things are suppose to be done, not providing a few testimonials.

    Why can’t Greta Christina and others do this more often? Why can’t you discuss scientific studies looking at racism and transphobia more? Or better yet, contribute to carry them out in e. g. the skeptical or atheist community?

    The gold standard for claims is scientific evidence and just as we can reasonably ask for it in cases involving medical treatment and claims about the world at large, so too should be be able to ask for it when it comes to the extent of discrimination without having to get claims like “you are dismissing the experience of group X” or anecdotal testimonials thrown in our face.

  77. 77
    ischemgeek

    @Emil that is not the point of anecdotes. You’re exactly right that anecdotes do not provide the scope or breadth of a problem. They are not a statistically significant sample size, even if some of them do come with supporting evidence, contrary to your assertation that they’re unsupported (consider Ashley Mills’ anecdote about sexual harrassment, which was backed up by other witnesses). They do, however, provide something similar to a case study: An account of “this happened, here is how it happened, this is what made me figure out what was going on, and here is what I did about it.”

    A case study cannot on its own prove anything. What it can do is show that there is cause for concern or study in an area. It can also disprove an absolute statement: All sheep are white. I found a black sheep. Therefore, I can conclude that not all sheep are white. I cannot say how many sheep are black, but that doesn’t mean that knowing that not all sheep are white is a useless bit of knowledge. In this case, anecdotes do serve to disprove the idea that racism is not a problem in the athiest/skeptic community. That’s an absolute statement, and therefore even one example to the contrary can disprove it. Does it detail the depth of the problem? No. But it does tell us that there is a problem and it gives some qualitative insight on how to recognize the problem and the subjective experience of victims.

  78. 78
    Silentbob

    So the question I have for people making this “victimhood” accusation: How, exactly, would you like marginalized people to proceed? Is there any possible way we can make oppression and marginalization and bigotry visible, which will meet with your approval?

    How to Speak Up about a “Social Justice” Issue without Playing the “Victim Card”

    1. When presenting your concern focus on educating, rather than on belittling, denigrating or shaming others.

    2. If you receive unjust criticism, treat the critic as misguided or mistaken, rather than as evil.

    3. Appeal to universal justice, not to personal sympathy. Don’t focus on your own problems, but the general injustice experienced by the marginalized group for whom you purport to advocate.

    4. Try to save the temper tantrums for the privacy of your own home.

    5. Avoid strawman demonization of critics, especially strawmen that cast them in the role of oppressor. Do not respond to, “I think this sexism problem has been overstated”, with, “Coz Bitches Ain’t Shit, amirite!?!”, or, “Coz Bitches Be Lying!!!”.

    6. Studiously avoid exaggeration and hyperbole. Do not compare the plight of women in 21st century America with blacks in the Jim Crow deep south, or Jews in Germany in 1936.

    7. Do not treat every comment that starts with “yes, but” as derailing. If you are writing about sexual harassment in the skeptic community, and a commenter points out that it is the same or lower than the background level in the wider society, that is relevant information for putting the issue in perspective that you neglected to include, not a “derail”. By treating it as a derail you give the impression that you are trying to overemphasise the injustice.

    These are few things off the top of my head that should avoid almost all accusations of playing the victim. Oh, and since I’m probably about to get flamed (poor me! ;-) ), I should add the following:

    8. Don’t frame all criticism as the critic saying you need their “approval”, or as the critic trying to “silence” you. Just because someone disagrees and says so, it doesn’t follow that they are trying to oppress you or that they are declaring themselves the Lord High Arbiter of All Things.

    Here endeth the mansplaining.

  79. 79
    ischemgeek

    @Silentbob: You are asserting a factual claim. You are claiming that if a person follows your guidelines, they will not be accused of playing the victim.

    However, the people on the previous thread were accused of playing the victim. It seems to me that you are at best mistaken about the value of your guidelines. Further, your post reads like an attempt to dictate to others how they will deal with an experience, which is at best insensitive.

    Finally: in several cases, you appear to misrepresent the prominent feminist bloggers on this site and elsewhere. To be specific: 1) Where have these bloggers responded to people saying that sexism as a problem is overstated by snarking “coz bitchez ain’t shit” or something along those lines? Every example I can remember where people have made that snark has been in response to claims that the sexism problem is overstated because complaints of sexism are unreliable by nature (which implies one of two things: That women can’t judge whether an act is sexist or that women lie about their experience of sexism. So either we’re incompetent or we’re dishonest).

    2) In cases where a commenter was pointing information about sexism out in the context of the broader population in a good-faith attempt to add more information to the debate (not a bad-faith attempt at silencing of the sort, “We’re no worse than anywhere else so what’s the big deal?” – which is an informal straw man, erecting the idea that feminist bloggers have claimed the problem in athiest circles is worse than anywhere else, and they haven’t), where have people called it a “yes, but…” derail? I’ve seen it done when the commenter was acting in bad faith, but not when the commenter seemed to be genuinely interested in further discussion. In cases when the commenter is talking in bad faith, it is a derail because we a) have to answer the straw man and b) have to argue that sexism is a big problem in the greater society, which is a point that should be taken as given when you consider the wealth of research on the subject and c) have to lower the level of the overall discussion to answer Feminism 101 issues that have a place, yes, but that place is not in the current thread.

    A second-to-last point: Accusations of an attempt to silence are often valid, particularly when someone’s criticism boils down to “argue in a way that I find more pleasent or I won’t use my privileged position to help you!” Case in point, you point 3 is an attempt to silence anecdotes that focus mainly on a person’s subjective experience. You have explicitly stated “don’t focus on your own problems”. The problem is that anedotal posts by their nature focus on one person’s problems, at least to some extent.

    As a final note, when you’re going to make broad generalizations and factual claims, back them up with evidence. You’ve presented a claim that following your format will avoid accusations of playing the victim. Your claim, your burden of proof, and you’ve presented no evidence here in a case that should be fairly easy to gather evidence in favor – if it actually works.

  80. 80
    mouth mixture

    @79
    This. A thousand times.

  1. 81
    Scientific Studies of Racism? | Greta Christina's Blog

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    Atheists fight discrimination too – Salon.com | Mobile Atheist

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    4 Reasons Atheists Have to Fight for Their Rights | Greta Christina's Blog

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    Friday Links (24-Aug-12) | a Nadder!

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    A Gentleman's view. - It Is All A Matter Of Perspective…

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