But what the dictionary – and a lot of people who are making this argument – misses is that sexism isn’t just prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (although all of those things are definitely bad). If you think of it in the form of a hierarchy, you’ll see that yes, all people can experience stereotyping (assumptions that all people in one group are similar), prejudice (dislike toward a group based on those stereotypes), and discrimination (refusing access to resources based on that prejudice). Allow me to explain – by going back to piece that I wrote on thin privilege and a resource that I use therein.However, only oppressed people experience all of that and institutionalized violence and systematic erasure. “Oppression,” I write in that piece, “is a special kind of problem.” And there are four reasons why.Although the oldest dictionaries date back to Mesopotamia (who’s surprised?
Some people have just internalized the (oppressive) notion that the lived experience of oppression is freewheeling and available for everyone — uhh, and somehow enviable?! Similarly, your dictionary definition of “racism,” for example, doesn’t make you a scholar in sociology. And that’s what the dictionary is there for – to give you a quick and dirty definition to work with. The dictionary is younger me when I’d be asked to speak on issues that I only understood marginally, but wanted so desperately to have an opinion on: fumbling about, trying to make sense, but only having a paragraph – if that! But ask a visual artist to explain the concept of “purple” to you, and they’ll blow your fucking mind.
And we so desperately, desperately need to break that down. And I’m not saying that everyone in the social justice movement is a scholar – although, obviously, some of us are – but those of us who have done the hard work to unpack privilege and unlearn socialization are getting our information from the greats – not the dictionary. And you don’t think that a concept like oppression deserves that same respect?
This is about a force that surrounds us and influences our relationships to ourselves and others.
For example, watch what happens if you make a “sexist” joke about men.
This is about a cultural value that is systematic in that it exists within the very fabric of our society and is practiced (albeit often subconsciously) in the very institutions we’ve been taught to trust – you know, like the exclusive, white-cis male-written dictionary.
This is about an attitude that is so deeply embedded in our minds that we act on it without thinking.
Take a look at the school-to-prison pipeline, just one of many terrible ways in which the prison industrial complex limits the lives of people of color.
Meanwhile, in most states, same-gender couples still can’t adopt children without going before a judge for approval – which is entirely out of their control. That is, oppression positions one group as “better” than another.
See, and that’s why it’s not possible to be sexist against men. It is woven throughout social institutions, as well as embedded within individual consciousness.
This isn’t about one person being a jerk to another.
It’s a common argument that those of us – all of us – who work in social justice movements face: the straw man of reverse oppression.