Reinforcing Other Axes of Oppression Isn’t “Punching Up”

Reinforcing Other Axes of Oppression Isn’t “Punching Up” December 30, 2014

I recently read a skepchick post by Jamie Bernstein titled Even Awful Women Don’t Deserve Rape Threats. After discussing gendered slurs and attacks on the appearance of such women as Sarah Palin, Vani Hari, and Ann Coulter, Jamie concludes with this:

Look, it’s ok to criticize all these women for the terrible things they have done and said. You should criticize them and do so harshly but without using gendered slurs or threats of violence or comments on their appearance. That type of language is not ok to be used on any woman anywhere. It doesn’t matter how much you dislike her. It doesn’t matter if she is a horrible person herself. There is nothing she could do that would suddenly make it ok to threaten to rape her.

I completely agree with Jamie, though that’s not probably surprising. But as I read through the piece, a word came to mind: neckbeard. In the gamergate affair, I have sometimes seen male gamers derided as “neckbeards,” purportedly for their scruffy neck hair, overweight physic, and bad hygiene. Yes, this is not the same thing as making rape threats against women (violence) or calling women sluts (misogyny), but is it not shaming a person for their appearance?

In my recent conversation with Leon Brooks-West, they had this to say:

I feel like criticisms should be kept on target. If you feel like someone is being a malicious misogynist, make it clear that’s what you’re calling out, instead of just relying on fat phobia or classism or whatever to hurt someone in retaliation. I think it is never okay to criticize someone’s appearance, or take jabs at their class, or employment status, or geographic background, or ethnicity/race, or fashion, or weight/size or what have you, JUST because you’re mad they did or said a shitty thing. Because that’s still oppressive behavior on your part, it’s just along a different axis. I mean if someone is like “get in the kitchen you rebellious woman” and you’re like “you fat backwards redneck” you’re both oppressing each other in ways backed up by some level of structural power, they’re just different forms of oppression.

I find this really helpful, as it clarifies something that has bothered me in the past.

I have seen people snark against Michael Pearl by mocking his beard, his knife throwing, and even how he looks in pictures from when he was a young man (he appears to have a physical deformity called pectus excavatum). Look, Michael Pearl is a horrible person. I’m not denying that! He encourages his followers to beat their children and describes beating children in an almost sadistic way. But that does not mean he should be mocked for his class status or his physical appearance. Calling Michael Pearl a “redneck” or a “hick” should be off the table.

We have learned from intersectionality that people can be oppressed along more than one axis, such as women of color or trans people of color. But intersecitonality also means that people can be both oppressed and oppressors at the same time, along different axes. For example, a white woman has white privilege but may be disadvantaged by her gender. A poor white man may be white and male, but he may be disadvantaged by his class status. An overweight middle class white man may face fat phobia. The word cannot neatly be divided into oppressors and the oppressed.

If we want to dismantle certain structures of oppression (say, gender), we need to not reinforce other structures of oppression in the process (say, appearance, or class). We need to take down all the structures of oppression, whether based on gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender preference, or appearance.


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