Good morning, my little sponges. Welcome to Opinion 240: How to Think. Grab a cookie and have a seat; class may run a little long today.

Paul Wong
Aubrey Henretty

First, I want you to forget everything you learned in the prerequisite, which, as you’ll recall, was Opinion 101: What to Think (excruciating, wasn’t it? I can’t believe that’s still required). As far as this course is concerned, it doesn’t matter what you think.

You in the corner – did you just write that down? Unbelievable. Get out of my classroom. Anyone else feeling insignificant today? Good. Then let’s get started.

The topic of the hour is oppression and boy, is it a hot one. Everyone’s got a plight these days and woe is the poor sap who can’t keep them all straight. Oh, no, I’m not saying people don’t have all kinds of garbage to put up with specific to religious affiliation, race, gender and what have you. Of course they do.

Take me, for example. I’ve got your basic European feature blend and mainstream disillusionment with religion, but as you may have noticed, I’m also a girl. I missed evil white male oppressor status by the skin of my second X chromosome, a microscopic but formidable difference that affects my life in ways my male contemporaries may never fully understand.

It goes beyond the Barbie ideal, sexual harassment and the rest of feminism’s favorite complaints. Am I right, girls? Is there not something particularly horrifying about hearing that noise in the bushes at 4 a.m. on a deserted and poorly lit street three blocks from home in the student ghetto, something uniquely infuriating about the only drugstore in a 10-mile radius charging $9.35 for one lousy box of tampons?

Forget the wage gap; the chasm between the rich and the poor in this country is a human problem and crowning more women CEOs just to prove we’re not sexist isn’t going to narrow it. Would I like to see more female politicians? Not if they’re just like the male politicians we’ve already got. The system needs a good swift kick in the ass and I don’t care who’s wearing the steel-toed boot.

A lot of self-proclaimed feminists insist women and men should be treated exactly alike (the assumption being that they basically are exactly alike), then turn around and claim that our never having had a woman president is some kind of affront to civil society, as if a little estrogen in the big chair would have changed everything. They want to have it both ways and they can because they have made it political suicide to disagree with them. The moment a man tries to point out the error of this logic, they tell him he’ll never understand either because he personally benefits from marginalizing women or because he lacks necessary first-hand experience of the system’s folly.

But I can talk about this until I turn blue, using the same line of reasoning as our hypothetical male (pay attention now, this will be on the test) and somehow I am seen as more credible. I know what it’s like to bleed for five days and not die (overrated), so I am eminently more qualified to spot logical inconsistencies. Obviously.

This isn’t an exclusively feminist strategy; many vocal members of oppressed groups are adamant about the importance of different perspectives until someone belonging to another group offers an opposing one, at which point they dismiss it as uninformed.

I was talking to one of these guys not too long ago, a condescending minority male who shook his head slowly, sighed audibly and told me there was no way I could possibly understand the subtle racist ideas with which I’d been indoctrinated since birth, the way my brain was hard-wired to discriminate against “people like him.” I objected and he sighed again. It was just part of my culture, he said. Completely unconscious.

Just part of my culture, eh? OK, let’s talk about culture. Since the underdog in question’s home culture has been keeping its women powerless and uneducated for thousands of years, I suppose I could have concluded that he wouldn’t be patronizing me like this if I were male. I wasn’t willing to stoop that low. There are no winners in the game of whose-life-is-harder and anyone who suggests otherwise is probably trying to exploit other people’s real problems for his (or her – let’s cover all our bases, shall we?) personal gain. This is no way to make the world less oppressive; as soon as the oppressed stop trying to understand the oppressor and vice versa, communication and progress will cease.

That, you can write down. Put a big star next to it.

Aubrey Henretty can be reached at ahenrett@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *