Gender as Non-Fiction

And one of the things I think I've found is that the exclusion that goes on in particular feminist or queer spaces mirrors the exclusion that happens in mainstream society. I know that the average person might say, "Isn't this a minor problem, talking about infighting within these movements?" And I would argue that it's not, because if you're excluding people within your own movements, you're going to get a very narrow and distorted agenda.

In the book I talk about how feminism and queer activism, which were created to challenge different forms of sexism, often create their own sexist hierarchy, where people of certain genders and sexualities are seen as better than others. So there's an important hypocrisy there. And also exclusion happens more generally. For example, a lot of women of color and poor and working class women have talked about how mainstream feminism has been very white and middle class, and so a lot of issues that fall outside of that narrow realm often get overlooked. So I would say that it's as important to talk about exclusion within our movements as it is to talk about exclusion in the culture more generally.

In your book, you question the idea of totalizing systems of oppression, like patriarchy or the gender-binary. Instead, you argue for looking at individual double-standards, wherever they appear. So given that, I wonder how you make distinctions between discrimination and reverse discrimination from your perspective? Or do you make a distinction?

I think a lot of times when you're really focused on a particular –ism, you kind of theorize two groups, and one group has all the privilege and the other group is completely oppressed. And that's often very true, often that's one way of looking at the issue and of getting at the fact that there is a hierarchy and one group is seen as less legitimate than the other.

But I think sometimes, especially with gender, since gender's very complicated in that there's a lot of stereotypes and assumptions and expectations placed on all people, of various genders and various sexualities, and so I think that if you're only looking at the specific hierarchy you sometimes disregard a lot of assumptions and double-standards. But at the same time people who only look at double-standards sometimes don't see the hierarchy.

You brought up for example reverse-discrimination, as some men's rights activists will talk about it. And while there are very real double-standards that men face, usually the double-standards that men face is related to a hierarchy that affects women more severely than men.

So for example, I've sometimes heard people say, well women are free to wear whatever they want, whereas men have to fit more strict rules regarding dress. And I think that that ignores the fact that women's dress is very highly policed in our culture. And it's also related to the fact that being female and feminine is less legitimate in our culture than being male and masculine, which leads to the idea that men who wear women's clothing are more suspect than women who dress in masculine clothing. So that's one example of how if you're only looking at specific double-standards in terms of reverse-discrimination, it isn't very helpful. Because you can't get rid of the double-standards men face without getting rid of the double-standards women face.

I do definitely believe that men are affected by sexism. So I do think that it's really incorrect to think of men as being completely privileged and women as being completely oppressed. Men's gender and gender expression are highly policed, albeit in different ways than women's are. And rather than fighting over, "we should only be fighting for women's rights," or "we should only be fighting for men's rights," I think you should work to fight all forms of sexism, regardless of who's impacted by it.

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Noah Berlatsky is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He edits the online comics-and-culture website The Hooded Utilitarian and is the author of the forthcoming book Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948.

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