Updated: Apr 19
Are you only holding half the problem accountable?
CC0 photo by Kushagra on Pixahive
"I’m not allowed to do this. I’m not allowed to feel that. Why aren’t <my identity tribe> allowed to do, say, think, feel, or want X?”
It’s ironic how the chronically aggrieved happily backstroke in self-appointed victimhood regarding whoever they label their oppressors, but indignantly deny their core victim identity if you point it out.
Nobody wants to be victimized, but we all love to feel victimized. Victimhood is power. The power to abrogate responsibility for one’s life outcomes.
The mark of a Self-Identified Victim is turning every situation into an oppression narrative. Even when you’re empowered, you’re not. It’s The Oppressors always getting the upper hand.
Social justice movements are particularly vulnerable to this sort of ‘group narcissism’. It’s all about MY pain! It’s all YOUR fault! YOU need to fix it!
The universal unwillingness to self-examine, to ‘Know thyself’ as Socrates urged, manifests as endless articles on the Internetz by people of color, or people of vaginas, advising white and male people how to act, think, say, do, or handle oh-so-delicate POC or vagina-bearers. Ye shall know them by their arrogant self-aggrandizing air of superiority instructing others how to act/think/do/handle etc. the fragile victims.
The problem is you, not me. The problem is never me.
I am oppressed, therefore I am blameless.
There it is. The inherent power of victimhood.
We live in a world of discrimination, unfairness and injustice, but it’s less unfair or unjust than we think. Negative life outcomes aren’t always our fault until it is. Fault is shared.
I push back on the somewhat outdated notion that the key to ending rape is to focus solely on men, even though they commit the vast majority. It treats women, the other (unwilling) participants in rape, as helpless victims of ‘The Patriarchy’ — the sole source of female inequality, in accordance with the Gospel of Victim Feminism. It treats men as some monolithic Illuminati, all collectively out to devalue and destroy women. It doesn’t teach women that we, and everyone else, have to be vigilant and do what we can to protect ourselves in a world where hostility can come from anywhere, and target anyone, even those demon White Men.
Systemic discrimination: It starts early for everyone. Public domain photo by azmeyart-design on Pixabay
Victim antiracists similarly argue all the focus should be on white people and changing what they say is a ‘white supremacist network’, although cooler heads, including power antiracists who recognize POC aren’t helpless little kittens, call it ‘systemic discrimination’. Those who aren’t mired in semi-religious fundamentalist thinking recognize it as a problem affecting more than the naturally sunblocked.
There’s truth to victimist claims, for sure: Society is as patriarchal as it is racist, founded on genuine white supremacy and male dominance, and white people and men must consciously dismantle institutions that serve some far better than others. They must imagine and work toward a better world not only more equal for women, POC, the trans tribe and others but more equal even for the men and white people currently struggling to preserve a system that hasn’t served us for a damned long time either.
We don’t live in 1950 anymore when women had few rights and zero reproductive rights, or even the right to say no to her lawful husband for sex. We don’t live in 1850 anymore when white people owned black people and could treat them any damned way they pleased.
We live in 2022, and everyone with a genuine grievance is still far more privileged than anyone who looked like them decades ago. Progress doesn’t mean ‘perfection’. We will never reach perfection. It doesn’t exist.
At some point we have to stop, look in the mirror, and recognize where external oppression stops and internal oppression begins.
Progressophobia and the Left
I urge others to reclaim their power because we all rein ourselves in.
It’s more obvious to others how you hold yourself back than it is to yourself. Growing up, my father fought hard against my self-imposed belief that I couldn’t do math, or wasn’t good enough to try something I might fail at. Mom and Dad challenged my attitude but I clung to it with an iron grip.
It was easier than failing, and maybe ‘looking stupid’ to others.
Arguably, I received toxic messages about women’s helplessness from the mass media. Not that female helplessness wasn’t real, because it was, but that it was normal. Things have changed a tad since then. You wouldn’t know it from feminists who refuse to acknowledge progress, including Texas, which couldn’t have recently made abortion essentially illegal if it hadn’t been legal in the first place. That was progress!
Kiss it goodbye, if you don't want to vote for it.
The new October 9th law is oppressive to Texas women, for sure, but not to all Texas women.
Because oppression is forced upon you. Many Texas women voted for it.
They didn’t vote on the law, but they voted for the politicians and religious nutbag lawmakers publicly hostile to women’s reproductive rights. However that works out for them, they bear responsibility.
The oppressed Texans are the women who didn’t vote for it.
Kanye West would have had a point when he suggested slavery was voluntary had black people been allowed to vote in the mid-nineteenth century, and they’d voted for the Democrats or Whigs.
Ironically, it wouldn't have been a bad time for these theoretical black voters to vote Republican, a party formed to oppose the expansion of slave power, (new states allowing slavery) if not necessarily racial equality or the abolition of existing slavery.
The Democrats and Whigs might not have been wild about slavery, but they were okay with leaving it where it was.
The Republicans eventually passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, which achieved abolishing slavery, giving black men citizenship, and giving them the right to vote.
Who knew newly-liberated black men possessed male privilege?
Today, having lived for close to sixty years and believing I can remember most of them, I’ve seen a lot of change in both racial and gender equality.
Cognitive psychologist and popular author Steven Pinker named a major power source behind our victim-centered blindness.
Progressophobia is the willful blindness to how much progress we make with society, and equality, complaining instead, ‘It’s worse than it ever was!’
Fourteen million Afghan women are holding up their middle fingers right now to a lot of black people and women people currently stabbing themselves in the eyes.
Barack Obama called out progressophobia in black people in his farewell presidential speech.
I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago — you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we’re not where we need to be. All of us have more work to do.
He also analyzed the progressophobic mistakes in the sermons of his controversial friend and advisor Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Maybe the younger generations don’t believe in progress because they haven’t lived long enough to witness much.
We can continue to impel progress (if we can bring ourselves to believe it exists) if we’re not first pulling back on our reins like our self-horse is about to trot our carriage off a cliff.
What are you not doing? Why?
The greatest well of addiction and suicidal misery is Imposter Syndrome which affects us all, including so-called ruling white men. There’s a reason why men drink more, drug more, and commit suicide more, especially after they’ve lost their job.
But if I had to put money on where men feel vastly inferior to women, even if they don’t show it, I’d choose ‘Relationships’ for a thousand, Alex.
Education, gentlemen! Take a class, read a book, research how to fix it!
Self-disempowerment is pretty universally human.
If you don’t know how to do something, learn. If there’s one thing we all have largely equal access to, it’s libraries and the Internet.
How to create a more attractive dating profile.
How to speak up over mansplainers in the boardroom.
How to assert your rights with racist shopkeepers, doctors and real estate agents.
Snappy answers to stupid questions about your gender transition or presentation.
How to stiffen your resilience if a single thoughtless comment ruins your entire weekend
How to identify controlling, abusive men before you get in too deep with them.
And gold-digging women, or crazies.
Grow some balls or labia, or a spine if you’re undecided.
Taking back your power requires taking back some of the blame. It means no longer using oppression solely as an excuse to ‘I can’t’ while watching mindless YouTube baby foxes or Mean Tweets compilations. Watch a TED talk instead! Or videos on how to start your own business! Or how to identify abusive, controlling men!
What must you ask yourself if you’re serious about moving forward with your life plan or dream?
Who’s stopping you?
This is THE first question you should ask yourself.
Victim ideologies teach us to ignore how much agency we have over our lives, and how even if we can’t control assholes, we control how we react to them. We forget how to work on ourselves to become less triggered by those who bully, degrade, and humiliate others to feel better about themselves.
Who’s really stopping you? Is it Da Man, or Da Patriarchy, or Da Cis-iarchy, or…?
Public domain image by Thomas Wolter on Pixabay
Why do I care so much about assholes, anyway?
The world is full of them, and some specialize in creating bespoke angst for you. These labeled assholes include (genuine) racists, sexists, transphobes, homophobes, Islamophobes, and Nickelbackophobes.
Clearly, it’s better to challenge the racist asshole in the drugstore aisle than it is a clearly armed MAGAt who called you the Forbidden Word. It probably won’t end in laughter like it did for SteveQJ.
On the other hand — just sayin’ — what if you chuckled, waved your hand dismissively, and smiled, “Yeah, whatever!” How devastating might it be for Blanche Magahat to realize THE ***N*** WORD failed to get a rise out of you, even if it did (but you covered it well)?
Guess who did their part to take and throw away the power of an ugly word. Guess who ruined Blanche’s entire day.
I’m learning to laugh at misogynists, particularly those who diss older women. Know why? Because I’m becoming more at peace with myself and giving less attention and power to the people who would put me down for the simple biology of being older (or female).
Why do we care so much about assholes? Why do we even label them? How much power do we give oppressors when we label and dissect them like a scientist with a newly-discovered insect?
No no no! You can’t dissect THAT bug! Black Bugs Matter! CC0 2.0 photo by Martin LaBar on Flickr
Who cares what they think of me?
Racists gonna hate. Misogynists gonna hate. Nickelback detractors gonna hate.
At some point, you’ve got to stop worrying about others who think poorly of you, unless you’ve given them a good reason to think so. Then, it’s time for serious soul-searching.
I had to do it when I realized I was being an asshole on Facebook.
We’re encouraged to measure our value by what others think of us, at its very worst by a bunch of strangers and total wankers. Social media like Facebook and Instagram push whatever makes us engage (ergo, make money for them). Instagram pushes pro-anorexia content at users with anorexia, for pete’s sake.
Ask not why a boy would want a stick-thin girl for a girlfriend, ask how much more you can Photoshop yourself to fake being as beautiful as all the equally fake-beautiful teenage influencers on Instagram.
It’s much harder to not care when you’re younger, but the sooner you begin moving your concern from external to internal validation, the more you’ll be able to accomplish no matter your detractors. Don’t wait until middle age or even your senior years as many do.
The world is full of people born or shoved into ‘disadvantage’ — skin color, gender, gender/preference uncertainty, physical/mental/intellectual disablement, poverty. Life isn’t fair, and since the Agricultural Revolution, birth is a lottery. Nobody deserves the life they were handed. Not you, not me, not Kim Kardashian, not Mitch McConnell, not even (especially!) Donald Trump.
For better or for worse, no one deserves the great, terrible, or average hand dealt. It’s not your fault.
But here we stop with the Other-blaming.
Who hates you the most?
Discovering Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art: Break Through the Block and Win Your Inner Creative Battles helped me identify my own worst enemy.
Pressfield names the internal resistance we all struggle with: The Terminator.
Resistance is insidious. Resistance is implacable. Resistance is indefatigable. Resistance is protean. It shape-shifts. It lies. It dissembles. Its aim is to destroy us, body and soul. — Villain = Resistance
It will kill us if we let it, and we often do. It’s why I’m not good enough spiraled the suicide rate, particularly for teens, long before the pandemic. Looking within, and identifying what we’ve been doing to hold ourselves back our entire lives, is arguably the most torturous exercise anyone can engage in. The older you are, the more painful it is. All that past time wasted! It afflicts everyone, regardless of privilege. If I had to put money on the most self-hating human being in America, it would be Donald Trump.
Doesn’t everyone recognize what a tissue-thin veneer of confidence and strength the shadow-man has? His followers follow him because he is one of them. Gooble-gobble.
Nobody listens to them either, and worse, the rest of us make fun of them.
Trump can relate.
His victory is their last chance to validate their belief that it’s all everyone else’s fault they’re losing privilege and power, rather than taking an honest look at how much they’ve worked to give it to the 1%, their massas. How they voted against themselves and their own families. They’re now willfully killing themselves because the life they want is too painful to live.
How different are we, even if we’re not as toxic as Trump and his sycophantic doggies?
You’re the only person you have complete control over.
On a planet of seven billion people and counting, you’ll never change everyone. Men will still rape. Woke bigots will still destroy lives and careers for no good reason and drive some to suicide. Nazis will still hold rallies. Incels will rail and fume about feminists and occasionally lash out violently, although most female murder victims will get killed by the partners they chose rather than random strangers. Some will always hate you for one damn reason or another. You can’t do anything about them except eliminate them from your life.
We can fight back against the haters, we can march for much-needed structural change, but it’s as critical to change ourselves. We’re all imperfect, we all hate to be wrong, and we all prefer to blame others for our own failures and shortcomings. Privilege is real (and comes in varieties besides color and gender) along with systemic discrimination, but we must acknowledge a world of opportunities we closed our eyes to so we didn’t have to face potential failure, or how long we waited to recognize what we truly want and grow the balls, labia or spine to act.
Sometimes, the oppressor is you. And there’s only one person that asshole hates.
What if you stopped listening to toxic others?
What if you stopped telling yourself I can’t because others tell you that?
This ain’t the 1950s.
This ain’t the 1850s.
At what point will you stop pointing and turn toward the mirror?
It’s not all your fault, of course.
But it’s not all their fault, either.
This post first appeared on Medium in 2021.