Friday, March 11, 2011

A Little Kyriarchy Primer

There are many things in the world that make me growly, Katy Perry, the existence of sweet pickles and Miracle Whip, that Two and Half Men is one of America's most popular exported shows, but nothing makes me more growly then the oppression olympics. Truth is, unless you are an undocumented, disabled, single mother, lesbian, transgendered fat woman of color living in a tent city, there is always going to someone with more privilege and someone with less privilege than you. That's why the kyriarchy is a tough system to fight, it keeps us constantly fighting with each other over who has it worse instead of examining why privilege exists and how oppression works to keep us in our place. 

Even devoted activists fall into the trap of negating the existence of another groups' oppression, especially is they deem that group as less worthy than theirs. (See the scorn many liberals, progressives and fauxgressives have for poor whites). The thing is, all oppression, all privilege, exists for pragmatic reasons (at least to the elites). Oppression is not some nefarious cloud of hate that pours acid rain on the hearts and minds of those without access to an umbrella. All oppression, no matter what flavor or how it manifests in specific groups or people, exists to restrict access to resources and power. All privilege exists to reward people who gatekeep access to resources and power for the elites. Once you understand that, you can begin to dismantle the structure that keeps us all down. But as long as we keep fighting with each other over the scraps of privilege thrown out by the elites, we will never ever win.This doesn't mean we shouldn't call each other out when we act privilege blind. Quite the contrary. But it does mean we need to take a bit of time and understand why certain groups are granted certain tiny powers (think white feminists who think pro-choice means only birth control and abortion, or why poor whites might "vote against their own self-interest (cough-not-actually-what-they-are-doing-cough). Both groups trade in racism, subtle or blatant, to keep the privilege they have (namely whiteness) while being legitimately oppressed in other ways (gender & economics). Intersections in the kyriarchy don't just work with multiple types of oppression, they also work in people who have bits of privilege mixed with bits of oppression. 

I believe that everyone, even people I don't understand or like, people who are the farthest thing away from who I am, acts in their own best interest. This includes things that I would never do, like having 17 children or joining the military. I believe that you have to start with giving people the respect that they know their own life better than any outsider ever could. That's supposed to be fundamental part of feminism, trusting women to know what is right for themselves and their bodies. But it doesn't just include women.

I trust that poor racist whites are voting for republifuckers because they aren't given a better option. They need homes and jobs and clean water and food and air and medicine and education just like the rest of us. But no party is offering that to anyone. So they take the next best option, which is the promise conservatives make to let them keep what little privilege they have, their whiteness. If that is all someone in power is offering, then it's not irrational that they take what they can get. It's not irrational when middle-class (or better) white feminists think that bodily autonomy only extends to the right NOT to have children. No one has ever told them that they aren't good enough to be parents, quite the opposite actually. 

Does this excuse either group from their privilege? No. If someone declares themselves a feminist, we expect that the least they can do is educate themselves on oppression aimed at other types of women. But when we know what the job of privilege is, we know how to break it. If white feminism is more than a little color, class, and health blind then we can see that certain women are given little bits of power to keep them from grabbing from the greater power and to keep them as the gatekeepers of that power. If it is only the voice of the middle-class or better, whites, etc, that ever get heard, then the bottom of the pyramid of oppression stays stable. Poor racist whites don't have much in resources, but they gatekeep the power in order to hold onto what they have. Offer them something to alleviate their oppression (economics)and you may be able to make a dent in their privilege (race). And by "offer them something" I don't mean that the people who have less than them need to offer something, I mean allies who are their equals.This isn't about how WOC need to empathize with white women or poor people of color need to forgive poor white's racism. People on the bottom do enough to placate those above them all ready.  I am a poor white. I can say to other poor whites "hey, it ain't poor black folks or undocumented Latin Americans making you poor. It's the CEOs and the politicians." I can also say, to other white feminists "hey, I chose to have a kid and deserve just as much bodily autonomy as you who don't choose kids do". I have some privilege. I also have lots of oppression. One does not negate the other. But recognizing that can make me a much better ally.

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