The Straw Man of Collective Guilt

In response to a previous post:


“Women are oppressed by men” is so large and grandiose and vague as to be useless.

That may be true, but then so are: “taxation is theft,” “The police have always been thugs who protect the moneyed,” or “Any unarmed people are slaves, or are subject to slavery at any given moment.”

Most taxpayers self-report as willing; most police want to serve the public and very few unarmed people (in the United States) feel like slaves. To note the abstract relationship isn’t to express a universal as expressed by each and every individual, it’s to highlight the fundamental dynamic. The core truth of taxation is that, if one were to resist it, one would find oneself mugged. Any policeman who wants to be a thug won’t likely be stopped and anyone who attacks the infrastructure of wealth will find themselves fighting police. Unarmed people every day find themselves fighting heavily armed state agents and are forced into an obedient role (or find themselves dead).

Most men don’t rape women, many men may not ever use their physical presence to dominate a woman. The fundamental reality of sex, however, is that almost any man can physically overwhelm almost any woman at any time. Importantly to the day-to-day reality of women, that worst-case scenario plays out more frequently than the federal take-down of tax resisters, instances of police brutality, or the rounding up of disarmed civilians.

Show indicia of THIS MAN oppressing THAT WOMAN and you begin to show clarity.
I’m not shouldering blame for what some other man did to a woman I don’t know.

Indicia? You have furthered my education with your comment, sir! This is, I think, the crux of the issue. The conversation about the realities of existing power dynamics does not damn or entitle any individual. We’ve been conditioned to believe:

Wherever human beings engage in direct discourse with one another about their mutual rights and responsibilities, there is a politics. I mean politics in the sense of the public sphere in which discourse over rights and responsibilities is carried on, much in the way Hannah Arendt discusses it. …. The force of public opinion, like that of markets, is not best conceived as a concentrated will representing the public, but as the distributed influence of political discourses throughout society.
Johnson and Long, Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

That refusal doesn’t make me a co-oppressor.
It merely makes me someone who will accept blame when it is accurately placed

.

Certainly no one should be blamed for the actions of a third party and refusing to “shoulder the blame for what some man did to a woman I don’t know” is absurd. In discussions about the crimes of government, kindergarten teachers aren’t widely considered to be co-oppressors. The state can be the object of critique without everyone who is in some way connected to state power feeling the need to come screaming in to stop the discussion. The same should be true of critiques of other power disparities.

At issue is not the need for collective guilt, but rather to honor the subjective experience of people giving their account of oppression. To return to the parallel, anarchists bristle when their subjective accounts of state oppression are dismissed and when they are chided to remain within the cultural confines of “their place in society” in order to remain unmolested by state agents. We, of all people, should stand in solidarity with others whose experiences are similarly dismissed–those who are told to fit sex, gender, and any other social norm in order to remain unmolested by whoever claims the authority to trespass against them. That solidarity should be extended no matter who the claimed oppressor is, even if it’s not the state.

  1. Your closing paragraph talks in the abstract. I’ve been blamed for what other men did. Blamed many times. Told it was my fault. Told it was my responsibility to fix it.

    Sorry, that’s not reality!

    My responsibility relates to my actual interactions with people, not abstractions of triangulated guilt.

    And anyone who says men hold all the sexual power obviously hasn’t heard of women raping men — or the worse case, adult women taking advantage of adolescent boys, using their maturity to cajole the boys into sex that has far different meanings for the adult woman and the young boy. SEE: Schoolteachers lecherously fucking their 13-year-old students. Boy thinks it’s great until teacher cuts it off and says it was just for fun! Silly boy should have known teacher just wanted dick!

    Talk about gender parity issues… there’s one that flies under the radar!

  2. PS: I’m not sure the taxation/state analogy works. At leaat, I don’t see it.

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