Columns

Powers ’15: Comfort and oppression

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Opinions Columnist

We hear a lot about oppression these days, especially at Brown. Listening to the hyperbolic language employed by social justice activists, one might think times are worse now than they were 50 years ago.

These aren’t cases of the boy who cried wolf, as the considerations put forward are not completely baseless, but using the same words to describe vastly different concepts homogenizes our understanding of the concepts themselves. The repeated exaggeration of relatively minor concerns for rhetorical effect trivializes more serious historical and ongoing grievances.

When an Asian woman like Suey Park, the inventor of “#CancelColbert,” describes herself as a “person of color” who faces discrimination to construct a platform from which she can criticize stop-and-frisk, it trivializes the suffering of those who are the actual targets of the policy — young black men.

When a drunk married couple agrees to have sex and we describe it as “rape” — asymmetrically blaming the men in the relationships, calling them “rapists,” and idolizing the women, calling them “survivors” — it trivializes the immorality of perpetrators and the trauma of victims involved in serious, physically violent sexual assault.

The slightest perceived injustice is now termed “oppression” at the malicious hands of the heteronormative, racist patriarchy. Oppression used to mean something. Now it can mean nothing more than encountering disagreement from a straight white male.

Social justice activists look for any excuse to be offended because ultra-liberal society socially rewards these winners of the oppression Olympics. The specious logic is that if one so much as feels oppressed, one actually is oppressed, and is therefore in the right with regard to the debate at hand.

In 1999, Amelia Rideau, then-vice president of the Black Student Union at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, brought a complaint before the faculty senate regarding the use of the word “niggardly” in her English class. Her professor was explaining Geoffrey Chaucer’s use of the term — meaning “stingy” — in “The Canterbury Tales.” Rideau said she “was in tears, shaking. … It’s not up to the rest of the class to decide whether my feelings are valid.” The term has no etymological connection to the racial slur.

With respect to an incident the previous week involving the use of the same word, Julian Bond, then-chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said, “You hate to think you have to censor your language to meet other people’s lack of understanding. … Order dictionaries issued to all … who need them. … We have a hair-trigger sensibility, and I think that is particularly true of racial minorities.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious disease that is increasingly trivialized by these complaints of “triggering language” — language that makes people uncomfortable. Unless one has a genuine psychiatric condition, learning how to deal with mental discomfort is a standard part of intellectual maturation. The vast majority of life takes place outside the padded cribs into which we were born.

That’s not to say we should encourage the unnecessary use of “triggering language,” but the pursuit of truth is our priority here at Brown. As former President Ruth Simmons said in her 2001 convocation address, “We expect that you will not be reckless or deliberately assault, intimidate, harass or harm others under the guise of free speech. … However, don’t be fooled by these admonitions. They should not interfere with the confidence you feel as a learner to be … uncompromising in the expression of your opinion. … I won’t ask you to embrace someone who offends your humanity. … But I would ask you to understand that the price of your own freedom is permitting the expression of such opinions. … The process of discovery need not make us feel good and secure.”

Brown students often aren’t interested in having these uncomfortable conversations. I was informed by an anonymous Internet commentator on a previous column of mine that “debating upper-class entitled provocateurs like Andrew Powers isn’t a good use of anyone’s time.”

Let’s pretend that unfounded appeals to authority and ad hominem attacks by social justice activists are sound. Let’s imagine that “oppressed” individuals are experts on the absolute truths of morality and that straight white men aren’t entitled to any opinion regarding such issues — a view Park and like-minded activists advocate. I’ll grant these premises as true for the sake of argument.

Fortunately, there are always those who are considered disenfranchised enough to have a “legitimate” opinion and who don’t buy into the overblown rhetoric — Bond and Simmons are two of them in the above cases. Both grew up during the ’50s and ’60s and can attest to the government-sponsored oppression under Jim Crow laws that characterized that period of American history. We can condemn “privileged” individuals all we want, but this will do nothing to derail the force of their arguments, even under the outrageous epistemic framework I granted.

But we don’t need to make unwarranted references to “expert opinion” regarding these questions anyway. We’re all smart enough to think for ourselves at Brown. Getting at the truth necessitates engaging an individual’s reasoning, not engaging the individual himself. Let’s criticize arguments on the basis of their flawed logic, not on the basis of who supports them.

 

 

Andrew Powers ’15 can be reached at andrew_powers@brown.edu.

71 Comments

  1. “Social justice activists look for any excuse to be offended because ultra-liberal society socially rewards these winners of the oppression Olympics. The specious logic is that if one so much as feels oppressed, one actually is oppressed, and is therefore in the right with regard to the debate at hand.”

    Maybe it’s not that “social justice activists” are looking for “any excuse to be offended” but that the society is full of institutional oppression. If one feels oppressed, especially if the person is of marginalized identity (which is more than race and gender identity by the way), chances are they are actually oppressed by society.
    I agree, oppressed individuals are not necessarily experts on the absolute truths of morality. What they ARE, however, are people who experience first-hand individual and institutional oppression. They see the society and its institutionalized oppression differently from people of non-marginalized identities — because they live through it. They (inevitably) have a different lens of viewing the world than “straight white males”.

    Also your examples of Asians and “person of color” and sexual assault under intoxication as not facing “real oppression” is utter BS. Do your research. You don’t have to read journals or anything, you can actually learn a lot through Brown events (surprising, huh? since “Brown students often aren’t interested in having uncomfortable conversations”?) You could have attended workshops during the Stand Up! campaign. Attend the Asian American conference or something.

    p.s. I can’t disagree more with this sentence: “Brown students often aren’t interested in having these uncomfortable conversations.” There’s a LOT of such conversation at Brown. More than anywhere I’ve been.

    • Yeah and the majority of that conversation is completely one sided reinforcement of each other’s views.

      • '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (2014) says:

        “waaah i’m a baby who can’t stand to have the minority opinion in a group!!” — lol try being a minority in the WORLD

  2. '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (2014) says:

    ur attacking a caricature of liberals here.

    as ive commented on a past article of yours, i do believe that modern (academic) liberalism encourages people to get “offended” by innocuous things & jump thru intellectual hoops to justify it. i think this is a harmful practice, as it trivializes the very real problems in society. it alienates people outside the bubble who arent astute or open enough to sift thru the outrage to discover the underlying societal issues that motivate such extreme reactions, whether those reactions are always justified or not. this article shows that u are one such person.

    people who totally discount an opinion on a minority issue bc it comes from a member of a majority group are stupid. most people dont. anyone w/ brain believes that anyone may have insight to contribute to a discussion.

    but keep in mind that the speaker is relevant. it’s not off-topic or an ad hominem to consider the race/gender/whatever of the person who is making a judgment abt social attitudes, policy, or whatever. anyone’s beliefs/opinions can be distorted irrationally by existing beliefs, desires, & so on. but off the top of my head, here are two reasons minority status may tend to confer epistemic credibility in discussions in this arena: (a) minorities are more attuned to subtle cultural attitudes that the majority may overlook bc these prejudices are so deeply ingrained in our culture & dont affect majority groups; (b) majority opinion may be unconsciously affected by the desire to maintain a privileged standing in society. the first involves the amount of information available to an agent in making a judgment. the second is perhaps a generalization of the first, bringing in every cognitive bias, but im thinking particularly about factors like wishful thinking.

    again, it is important to consider what biases may come into play for any speaker. minority ‘attunement’ may in part be confirmation bias. minority groups have desires as well. this comment is too long already for me to lay out my intuitions abt why i believe that in the context of these discussions (a) & (b) tend to outweigh biases on the other side; ill leave that as an exercise to the reader. but i think it may be enough to emphasize the intuitive idea that firsthand experience w/ an issue often lends credibility, & that minorities have more firsthand experience w/ the type of social issues we are likely talking abt here.

    • Andrew Powers Andrew Powers says:

      Thanks for the comment. You’re completely right that I’m attacking a caricature, but it’s not a straw man, as it’s a faithful representation of the epistemic view to which far too many vocal individuals at this school explicitly subscribe.

      I think it’s assuming a pretty uncharitable interpretation of my position to say that I’m unwilling to “sift thru the outrage to discover the underlying societal issues.” I certainly believe there exists blatant government-sponsored oppression in modern America (e.g. marriage laws) and that we should be trying to fix that.

      My claim isn’t that all the conclusions of the social justice crowd are wrong — I’m criticizing only their process of justification. I would certainly still agree with them more on social issues than I would with a typical American conservative.

      And I’m not even that interested in pushing for any specific moral conclusions since it’s all going to come down to which moral axioms we assume anyway. I just want to ensure that the process we use to reason about these issues is valid and that we’re being logically consistent throughout. There are a lot of bullets we can bite, but consistency isn’t negotiable. If we sacrifice that in any capacity, we can prove anything.

      I disagree with you that speaker is relevant when considering issues of policy, but this still ignores the point I made in the last part of my article that, even granting the most extreme form of the epistemic view you’re taking (that the views of privileged individuals have no correspondence to the truth), there is far from unilateral agreement among the “experts.” I think this point is often swept under the rug by the media.

      Oftentimes it’s the individuals who have survived much worse oppression (and under the view would therefore be most qualified to make judgments regarding related oppression), such as older black Americans like chairman Bond, that speak out against the frivolous complaints — telling the younger generation that they should be willing to deal with some level of discomfort. It’s the younger, less oppressed, generation that supports increased sensitivity and censorship.

      A friend sent me this article by Michelle Goldberg you might find interesting/relevant:
      http://www.thenation.com/blog/179160/cancelcolbert-and-return-anti-liberal-left

      In any case, it doesn’t seem to me that we can come to straightforward conclusions with respect to issues of oppression so easily even under the above extreme view, much less under more plausible views like the one you advocate.

      • Buttz Henderson says:

        funny then that you cited yr mom’s experience working in a sweatshop in an article which declared that “cheap labor is the third world’s greatest resource” or something creepy like that. you’re not logical, you don’t have perspective. you are an insecure little boy who can’t accept the idea that a portion of the stable identity you think you know comes from the undeserved hardships faced by people who are not yourself.

        you can cry about ad hominem, but your “arguments” are so deeply rooted in your distorted idea of selfhood that your “logic” has become an impentrable wall of petty fears about your own transience. every thought you think is always being chewed apart at its foundations by the terror that maybe, just maybe, you and people like you will turn to dust just like everything else. it’s ok to be incomplete, Andrew Powers ’15. it’s ok to accept change within and without yourself.

        in the meantime, bdh editors, publishing babby’s first right-wing screeds doesn’t expand our open discourse or whatever. its just gross.

      • '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (2014) says:

        andrew,

        thanks for the reply. i think u may be a bit confused abt ur own thoughts on whether the speaker is relevant to his/her arguments & opinions. ur saying, “well, i dont think the speaker matters, but if u do, heres something from what u would say is a credible source.” but theres certainly a persuasive force that i think even u feel. when u talk about president simmons and chairman bond, the rhetorical strategy seems stronger than, “let me pull some examples out of my butt.” id wager u agree that to some extent their status as “individuals who have survived much worse oppression” makes them “most qualified to make judgments regarding related oppression.” also, like buttz said, u did invoke ur mom’s firsthand experience in that other article.

        as for the extreme view u describe, that “the views of privileged individuals have no correspondence to the truth”: literally zero people think that. ur thoughts here are distorted, it seems, by a particular frustration: u feel like u & other members of privileged classes get blown off, even when u make good arguments, due to ur privileged status.

        heres what i think is really going on. i think ur more general problem, based on ur articles so far, is an inability (or unwillingness) to understand nuanced arguments that go beyond pure deductive reasoning. u really underestimate the intelligence of ur classmates! when someone goes from a to b on the basis of anything but cold hard logic, ur robot brain goes, “error! this person must be stupid!” & u fail to consider the fact that real-life reasoning takes into account lots of subtle little things that dont immediately come to the surface as purely logical principles.

        ill admit, i have similar troubles. with a background in analytic philosophy & a technical stem field, im finding philosophy of law (totes an intro-lvl class) more difficult than i thought i would bc it can be hard for me to evaluate the implicit assumptions that go into arguments: which ones are up for grabs as holes in the argument, & which ones am i just supposed to grant for the sake of discourse? in analytic phil u really have to spell everything out, & that feels safe to me. i understand a proof of godels incompleteness thm (phil1880! take it if u havent!) better than a paper meant to show why the death penalty is immoral — cuz i get what numbers are, but wtf are morals? i understand convoluted twin earth thought experiments better than analyses of judicial review — cuz twin earth is a theoretical construct, but wtf actually happens in our legal system & how should i know if thats good or bad?

        u often emphasize consistency in ur pieces, & ur right that even loosely argued, inductive reasoning must not rely on or give rise to contradictions. but if ur gonna point at two opinions & label them irreconcilable, make sure uve considered all the little subtle differences between the cases.

        my point is, its hard to communicate when every little thing cant be spelled out. subjective experience (e.g., as a member of some group) is something that cant be spelled out. heres what i do to improve: when someone says something that seems totally unfounded or ridiculous abt a social justice topic, i look more closely at where theyre coming from & i try to understand all the subtle factors influencing their judgment (& mine!). then, i can evaluate whether those influences detract from the reliability of their reasoning or add to it. (as u know, in the case of minority issues i believe that experience as a minority usually improves someone’s reasoning.) the brown micro/aggressions facebook page is a good place to do this. sometimes my initial reaction to a post will be, u know, “thats not offensive at all!” but ill try to understand how i might see it if i were in the speaker’s shoes (impossible, of course, but i try!) given the relevant subtle & unsubtle social biases & inequalities. i usually end up w/ a much better understanding of why the described conduct was (micro)aggressive.

      • '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (2014) says:

        ~~new comment bc tldr~~

        i liked the article you linked — goldberg does a good job describing “left-wing illiberalism” & i agree with much of it. ull notice ive only really argued w/ u about the issue of whether the speaker matters, bc we mostly agree on the political correctness stuff.

        u might also like (if u haven’t read it b4) nadine strossen’s 1990 article on regulating racist speech on campus (i have this readily available bc it was just assigned as a reading in phil/law lolz). im sure uve heard the arguments, chilling effect & slippery slope & all that, but this is a particularly good & concise piece.

        btw, without even thinking about our conversation, upon reading the article i immediately looked strossen up on wikipedia. “where is she coming from?” i wondered, “what might hate speech mean to her?” — fwiw shes a jewish american whose dad was a holocaust survivor (& shes the former president of the aclu!). this gave me a bit of context in which to evaluate her ideas. to me, her minority status gave her argument more power: she likely feels the force of hate speech (the article hers is responding to gives special attention to antisemitic speech!), yet she still sees the value in giving all different ideologies a stage in academic discourse.

        • Andrew Powers Andrew Powers says:

          Sorry, I shouldn’t have been ambiguous when I said that speaker doesn’t matter at all. I meant that I don’t think speakers matter at all in the sense that you believe they do (i.e. that they might more well-informed.).

          When we consider epistemic peers, there are three factors to consider: intelligence, well-informedness, and bias. I think there’s rarely a significant difference in the second criterion. Usually when someone has such a valuable/informative story, it’s public information as a news story or statistic. The personal emotional power individuals feel by living through that experience is a negative in terms of the third criterion of epistemic position.

          Personal experience introduces bias, which I think is much more of an issue here. This was evident in the OJ Simpson case, when public opinion divided along racial lines. People got emotional and ignored physical evidence. Gallup polling showed that black Americans predominantly believed that Simpson was innocent, not just “not guilty.”
          http://articles.philly.com/1995-10-01/news/25697504_1_simpson-trial-whites-nicole-brown-simpson

          In many cases, including those in my article, the speakers presented are likely to be at least somewhat biased, so the fact that they come up with a viewpoint, which contradicts their bias, demonstrates that the evidence is relatively compelling (or at least seems more so than it would have if I presented an unbiased speaker who came to the same conclusion).

          On the issue of the epistemic framework I mentioned:
          My point wasn’t so much that lots of people believe it, so much as that even granting the strongest form of the argument doesn’t provide sufficient grounds to be so dismissive. And this level of dismissal isn’t just a hypothetical. Take a look at this herald article from a few years ago:
          http://www.browndailyherald.com/2013/02/11/black-12-dismissing-defended/

          I also don’t think your characterization of the motivation for my views is accurate since I clearly don’t use deductive reasoning exclusively. I definitely believe in an external world, induction, moral realism, free will, etc.

          • '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (tldr) says:

            again, everyone is biased. experiences, motivations, & so on are a built-in lens through which we all view the world. theres not necessarily a fact of the matter about whose belief is most justified in any particular case, let alone in general. but in the context of intelligent people talking about social justice, i imagine it is defensible in some cases to point out, “hey, youre a white male; it is unlikely that you can understand this issue as well as members of the relevant group.”

          • Andrew Powers Andrew Powers says:

            I agree that everyone is biased, but it’s a matter of degree that’s relevant here, so we shouldn’t just throw it out as a differentiating criterion for relative epistemic position. I’m skeptical you think there’s no fact of the matter as to the relative epistemic position of individuals in any given case. It’s definitely true that we might not be able to measure it accurately, but — as in the case of measuring the relative utility of competing actions — I think saying there’s no fact of the matter is implausible.

            You’re right, and I shouldn’t exaggerate. There’s definitely at least some social justice cases in which well-informedness can outweigh the effects of bias that I’m talking about, but in general, I think the converse is true. But this is an empirical question, so I guess we don’t really disagree in principle.

          • '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (tldr) says:

            oops just saw this

            yeah i just meant no fact of the matter in any way we have access to… & again thats only in tricky cases, but i think a lot of these cases are tricky!

            youre right we pretty much agree in principle… & i guess im really only disagreeing with empirical claims that the article hints at, not even ones it makes. technically it only makes a relative claim, that members of privileged groups are too often blown off without consideration to their points & that this is bad. of course thats true in a strict sense. (the same happens to minority groups!) but your having taken the time to write it obviously implies that this is going on all the time & it reads as kind of victim-y, which i think is what was so provocative about it. like, “oooh poor white males being blown off all the time!” … seems kinda petty. (btw i dont think youre white but for the purposes of this convo you pretty much are…)

  3. “Getting at the truth necessitates engaging an individual’s reasoning, not engaging the individual himself.” <————- False dichotomy, buddy.

    • Andrew Powers Andrew Powers says:

      A false dichotomy is when an individual incorrectly claims that two options exhaust all possibilities. It wasn’t my claim that getting at the truth necessitates either engaging an individual’s reasoning or engaging an individual himself (and that these are the only possibilities).

      My point was just that getting at the truth necessitates engaging an individual’s reasoning. The other option I mentioned (engaging the individual himself) is an ad hominem fallacy, but there are plenty of other fallacious ways to go about pursuing the truth besides this one, so it doesn’t exhaust all possibilities.

      • man, your philosophy professors have you down such a sh*tty rabbit-hole

        • (yea ad hominem i know)

          • idk maybe it’s not ad hominem, i think andrew’s assumption of the position of “reasonable philosophy student” is a relevant fact.

          • if we’re going to do this

          • '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (tldr) says:

            i think it just isnt ad hominem bc youre not using that fact about him to say anything about his argument…

            ‘terrible thing’ put it best in this post:

            I think you misunderstand my point. Ad hominem, as your source (Wikipedia) tells us, is a fallacy “in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument.”

            But in fact, it is the other way around. I suggest not that this piece is misguided and wrongheaded because Powers is a tool and a sh!t-eater (though he may well be) (he is). Rather, Powers is a tool specifically because of the peace, and I suggest that he literally eat his own feces as punishment for being such a tool.

            …but yea youve hit on the important fact here, which is that it isnt impressive to run around whipping out tired latin expressions for concepts 10yos can understand. the more interesting questions are usually the empirical ones. does his status as a philosophy student hinder his reasoning here? should we generally be wary of a white male’s opinions on social justice issues?

          • absolutely

          • '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (tldr) says:

            is that an answer to the questions at the end? if so, i agree on the latter point. but im gonna attribute the literalism/obsession with deductive logic to his personality, not to his concentration…

          • yeah i mean yes to both for me, way more significant yes to the second question but academic philosophy is frequently a white, male-dominated field so i don’t think they’re independent.

          • angry comment section regular says:

            ugh tell me about itttt
            – girl in philosophy

        • Explain why you think his answer was a bad one…it was completely correct and well put.

          • because engaging an individual’s reasoning in a meaningful way involves figuring out where that reasoning is coming from.

          • Andrew Powers Andrew Powers says:

            You might disagree with my conclusion, but my argument doesn’t proceed by a false dichotomy. Citing a random unrelated fallacy isn’t a valid form of argumentation.

          • in the sentence i quoted, you proceed as if engaging an individual’s reasoning and engaging the individual him/herself are two mutually exclusive, independent activities. this assumption underlies your argument in general and is misguided.

          • ^and is what people typically refer to as a false dichotomy.

          • Andrew Powers Andrew Powers says:

            Nothing I said supports your interpretation. It’s not like I said, “We have two choices, either engage the individual or engage the argument. We shouldn’t engage the individual. Therefore we must engage the argument.”

            My point was, “Don’t use ad hominem. Engage the argument.”

          • yeah, as if engaging the individual and engaging the argument were two independent activities. they’re not. i don’t really care keep engaging, go read philosophical investigations or something.

          • '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (tldr) says:

            omg u dummies this whole thing could have been resolved in like 2 posts, 4 max, if u had stopped trying to out-logic each other & just realized u were talking past each other

            p.s. u try reading wittgenstein bro it isnt easy

          • yeah, i’m being an irresponsible commenter but this article is infuriating.

          • '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (tldr) says:

            lol i feel u. i just think it’s a waste of time/space as a rule to have a logic pissing contest when clearly u guys are both capable of deductive reasoning. convo coulda gone:

            “false dichotomy”
            “no im not saying it’s either-or, im saying remember to engage the argument instead of just focusing on the individual”
            “oh i get it now”
            then maybe u could have gone on to be like “but that dichotomy does seem to underlie ur argument in general” or whatever but pretty much everything so far couldve been accomplished as above ^^^^^

            i honestly cringe when i see people naming logical fallacies left & right, it reminds me of like 9th grade

          • Andrew Powers Andrew Powers says:

            The importance of giving a reasonable/charitable interpretation of arguments whose conclusions you disagree with is a separate point that shouldn’t be ignored.

          • alas

          • jjjjjjjjjjjjjj says:

            u try wiggerstein?

  4. this column’s approach is deeply misguided. people are not born into equality. “arguments” are not all worth equal time.

  5. Buttz Henderson says:

    are you ever embarassed that you pay so much to be this dumb?

    • Buttz Henderson says:

      YOU HAVE RESPONDED TO EVERYONE ELSE NOW RESPOND TO BUTTZ. PLS ANSWER MY QUESTION ANDREW POWERS ’15

    • Having an opinion that you disagree with (in this case about what is trivial and what is not) doesn’t make someone dumb. Ruth is quoted herself in the article, “I would ask you to understand that the price of your own freedom is permitting the expression of such opinions.”

      Also… regardless of the author’s underlying point, it is evident by this publication that the author is both intelligent and articulate.

  6. Best column I’ve read in the Herald in a while. Finally someone directly stands up to the tyranny of the left.

  7. Luckily while these crazies may have an influence at Brown, they won’t have any impact on the real world. American society won’t ever fall to their level of idiocy. Besides they’ll be too busy working their minimum wage jobs after they realize that no one wants to hire a sociology concentrator.

  8. Male Survivor says:

    As a survivor of sexual assault, I can safely say that you know nothing about what makes certain events traumatic, or what the vast majority of survivors experience. Over 95% of cases involve people who already knew each other, and so the situations you describe as the most legitimate are in reality among the most rare. In fact, the violation of trust and safety between those knowing each other can serve as one of the main bases of trauma in many survivors’ cases. Educate yourself on what trauma is. No excuses.

    • u r ridiculus says:

      I like how you started your reply with “as a survivor of sexual assault” to back up your ideas…pretty ironic

      • Male Survivor says:

        Well, I’ve experienced it. So there’s that. More importantly, though, I’ve educated myself on what sexual assault and trauma are, unlike Andrew Powers.

  9. “The repeated exaggeration of relatively minor concerns for rhetorical effect trivializes more serious historical and ongoing grievances.”

    Oppression takes form in all shapes. Perhaps think about how issues of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and racially discriminatory policies are actually consequences of the larger frameworks of oppression you are trying to highlight. You say that by defining oppression as interactions with a straight white male that we are trivializing “more serious historical and ongoing grievances.” We are all part of our current system of social frameworks that are entrenched in the serious and historical/ongoing grievances you mention and we should all acknowledge how our actions are continuing to affect others even if it is not with malicious or direct intent. Marginalized communities face manifestations of these systems of oppression and forms of structural violence even if it is overhearing “triggering” language, which I believe your article is an example of.

    I also want to address the problematic examples you use in your piece.

    “When a drunk married couple agrees to have sex and we describe it as “rape” — asymmetrically blaming the men in the relationships, calling them “rapists,” and idolizing the women, calling them “survivors” — it trivializes the immorality of perpetrators and the trauma of victims involved in serious, physically violent sexual assault.”

    Consent is consent whether you’re married, drunk or sober. If a partner does not give consent then it is not a matter of if “we describe it as ‘rape'” – IT IS RAPE. Your own perceptions of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and rape are misinformed and entrenched with the heteronormativity and gender bias. The term “survivor” is employed in certain cases to combat victimization of individuals who have faced sexual violence. Being called a victim implies passivity whereas the term survivor highlights resistance and actions done in response to the violence. Thus, you are in your own words trivializing the actual effects of sexual violence by arguing that women (and really all survivors) who have faced sexual violence are some how idolized.

    As a side note, Asian American women like Suey Park are not just a self-described “people of color.” She is a person of color so you can drop the quotes.

  10. PostracialSociety says:

    I can’t wait for Friday, when I will pull up this article with a good glass of wine and a tray of Blue Room sushi, and read the comments section to unwind from a long week of classes.
    Don’t let me down, everyone.

  11. Cara Newlon Cara Newlon says:

    Hey Andrew! I’m going to attempt to respectfully disagree with this, but I’m extremely disturbed by most of this article, especially your comments about sexual assault.

    First off, you can be raped in a marriage. A married couple can also get drunk and have consensual sex. It seems to me that you’re implying- though not explicitly- that rape doesn’t occur in drunk couples, and that women are somehow idolized after being sexually assaulted. Let’s be clear: both male and female survivors of sexual assault- that’s right, both men and women can be raped- are not “idolized.” Society shames them. Survivors of sexual assault do not feel comfortable talking about their experiences. The term “survivor” helps validate a victim’s experience, and remove them from that victim mindset. What’s it to you if a man or woman wants to brand themselves a positive term, like survivor, instead of the negative “victim?” Why do you have a problem with that? I don’t think a “real victim” would feel trivialized by being called a survivor, or having her rapist called a rapist. I do think, however, that this article trivializes both sexual assault and the PTSD that comes from it.

    • '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (tldr) says:

      well put. that paragraph was particularly horrifying. unless hes just totally trolling, the only thing that could possibly account for an intelligent person writing something like that is a combination of (1) aspergers (not being rude or ableist; i truly think that helps explain the tone-deafness) & (2) spending too much time on MRA sites

    • Andrew Powers Andrew Powers says:

      Thanks for the comment Cara. I think you’re more upset here by what you think are my personal beliefs rather than by the actual argument I made. Based on a single sentence I wrote, you incorrectly interpolated my views on sexual assault. A few other commenters essentially did the same thing, including “Male survivor” and “Emily.”

      With regard to a few of your points:
      “First off, you can be raped in a marriage.”
      “A married couple can also get drunk and have consensual sex.”
      “that’s right, both men and women can be raped”
      These are all completely consistent with what I said.

      “It seems to me that you’re implying- though not explicitly- that rape doesn’t occur in drunk couples”
      I do believe rape occurs in drunk couples.

      With respect to your later points:
      I think there’s often an underlying fallacy of equivocation through use of ambiguous terms like “sexual assault.” The legal terms are relatively precise, but that’s not what’s relevant here. What we’re interested in is what constitutes a moral crime (The equivocations I’m talking about often use legal terms to draw moral conclusions).

      There are numerous vague edge cases — usually involving impaired mental competence — that would not unanimously be considered sexual assault (in a moral sense). I’m not going to try to guess at what exactly you mean, so I can’t meaningfully address your points since the term is so central to the discussion. I think sexual assault is one of the most complex issues in ethics. Unfortunately, most of the dialogue involves individuals talking past one another (even when there’s no disagreement) instead of actually sitting down and carefully picking apart the definitions that underlie their arguments.

      As a side note, if you would like to engage my argument, engage it as presented. But if you would prefer to engage my personal views, please just ask what they are next time. I’m always more than happy to discuss at length in person.

  12. Andrew, thank you. Unfortunately, any trace of a culture of academic maturity is wishful thinking. “Social Justice Warriors” have have denigrated and corrupted Brown beyond repair.

  13. ActuallyReasonablePerson says:

    This is a great article, I agree 100%. Just so you know there’s someone who appreciates all of your writing. Keep it up.

  14. It's all hogwarts says:

    Let’s face it: Brown is a bunch of self-righteous hufflepuffs thinking they’re griffindors without any of the cunning of ravenclaws who see anyone they disagree with as the worst of the slytherins.

  15. Televangelist says:

    lol this article is such total fail

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