Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

The “Matrix of Oppression” qua matrix of oppression

with 2 comments

Daily Nous hosts a post and a discussion thread, titled Philosophers from Poverty, on the topic of class or socio-economic status as a form of disadvantage in academic philosophy. To my knowledge, the internet has not been flooded so far by discussions, projects, calls to arms, campaigns, etc. related to this form of disadvantage. For all I know, this thread might well be a first.

Abant, Turkey

Abant, Turkey, 2010. Photo by: I. Aranyosi

Naturally, when a blog post is about topic X, readers are supposed to comment about topic X. Some reader might well say: “Ok, ok, X, but please don’t forget about Y when you discuss about X”. This is OK and non-controversial when the topic X is, say, the Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, and Y is the Copenhagen Interpretation. When, however, the topic is some form of social/cultural/political group disadvantage, and the corollary of discrimination and bias based on that, one needs to be a little more careful when putting forward a comment like the one above: “Ok, ok, X, but please don’t forget about Y when you discuss about X”. The reason is that people who are likely to read and comment on the thread are precisely people who likely suffer as a result of that disadvantage, and they might feel hurt or sidelined by such a comment.

Indeed, on the Daily Nous thread, feminist philosopher Rachel McKinnon’s contribution was not very well received by several readers, as she thought the most appropriate thought to contribute was to immediately point out that socio-economic disadvantage is not the most important one and the folks commenting should not forget about gender and race disadvantage.

In her defensive subsequent comments she pointed out that all she was after was the importance of having intersectionality –the multiplicity of intersecting dimensions of privilege and disadvantage– in view whenever one raises issues about one particular such disadvantage.

Her point seems legit, so I have created a fictional series of comments, by a fictional male character, on a fictional feminist philosophy blog, where this dude, William Blunt, offers his contributions to the topic of gender disadvantage in philosophy. It was easy to generate the thread, because all I did was to replace the topic of “class” and associated terms from the Daily Nous thread with “gender” and associated terms. Mutatis mutandis for other terms, e.g. those related to race.

The result is that William’s contributions really come out as perfectly appropriate for a discussion thread where women are supposed to express their experiences related to gender discrimination. In effect, if Rachel McKinnon’s point about bringing intersectionality into the picture whenever the topic of discussion is some individual element of the matrix of oppression is right, William Blunt should simply replicate this thread, mutatis mutandis, and insert it into all discussion threads on, e.g. the Feminist Philosophers blog.

William Blunt on Dec 18, 2014 • 2:21 pm at 2:21 pm

Reply

Here are two resources people should consult when thinking about privilege: …

Yes, gender features really matter viz. privilege, but they’re not all that matter.

William Blunton Dec 18, 2014 • 2:41 pm at 2:41 pm

Reply

That’s a very open question, though. I don’t think that gender is the most important (though I don’t think it’s the least important). The problem I see is when people, and it really tends to be white women, raise gender as a way to shut down discussion of other axes of privilege. So let’s be sure we’re not doing that here. Gender doesn’t share a lot of important features with class, race, and sexual orientation

William Blunt on Dec 18, 2014 • 8:22 pm at 8:22 pm

Reply

The intentional or unintentional misreading of my comments–and their discursive purpose–is amazing. Nowhere did I engage in oppression olympics. Nowhere did I say that ‘white women’ can’t raise gender issues.

William Blunt on Dec 19, 2014 • 9:48 am at 9:48 am 

Reply

I posted two links at the beginning of this thread. *please* read them for the answer you’re looking for. A white straight woman still has forms of privilege in terms of white privilege and straight privilege. One can lack some forms of privilege while still having others. It’s not an all-or-nothing concept where one is “privileged” overall or not. Thinking of it in these latter terms is inaccurate and quite misleading. And to return to the point: we always have to be mindful of intersectional forms of oppression and privilege (or lack thereof). Class/race privilege is just one of many axes of identity and privilege. But given an intersectional perspective, one cannot ignore that axis. But that also means we can’t ignore the others. My comments in this thread were merely making the latter point: yes gender matters quite a lot, but let’s not use that discussion to lose sight of the other axes of oppression.

William Blunt on Dec 19, 2014 • 11:37 am at 11:37 am

Reply

And perhaps I came off as “You repeatedly came off in this thread as a person who was trying to derail discussions of gender privilege by insisting that we instead talk about race or class” but my posts were decidedly not with that aim or content. I didn’t say we should supplant discussion of gender privilege with discussions only of class and race etc. I said that we shouldn’t supplant *those* discussions with only gender privilege: we have to consider them all viz. intersectionality. However, I’ve noted that comments about intersectionality often get portrayed as wanting to derail and only talk about the other issues. I think that philosophy needs to talk about class issues more. My point was merely–and I’ve repeated this more than once in this thread–that in having those conversations, we should keep in mind the other axes. There are ways that, e.g., black people experience being a woman that are importantly different from how white people experience being a woman, and they’re not fully captured by ‘white privilege’ because of intersectionality.

William Blunt on Dec 19, 2014 • 1:51 pm at 1:51 pm

Reply

I wasn’t at all asking you to defend anything. I wasn’t asking you also to discuss forms of privilege you have. People have read that into my comments. But it’s simply not there. The point of bringing up class/race etc is that these *intersect* with gender such that the way a rich black person experiences being a woman will tend to be very different from how a poor black person experiences it. This is *not* at all to deny that the rich black female still lacks gender privilege. She does! And let’s talk about that, because it matters! But let’s also not lose sight of how the other axes are directly relevant to conversations about gender privilege (or lack thereof).

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Written by István Aranyosi

December 24, 2014 at 10:19 am

2 Responses

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  1. Nicely put.

    nonny

    December 25, 2014 at 12:00 am

  2. […] week, our colleague Dr. Istvan Aranyosi posted a discussion focusing on a comment made by Dr. Rachel McKinnon on a thread over at Daily Nous. Dr. Aranyosi’ […]


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