[TW misogyny, homobigotry, racism, gender essentialism, violence against children]
Very UnDear Kyriarchy,
I hate you. I hate you every day. I hate you even when you are being good to me, because I know you are being good to me at someone else’s expense, and I know that the favor is very, very temporary. Even though I hate you 24/7 (even in my sleep!) I especially hate you this week.
This week has been a clusterfuck of arguments in which I, for the sake of general peace, have been expected to shut up, shut down, or even affirm opinions to which I am morally allergic – and not by strangers or acquaintances but by people I had considered friends, or at least proto-friends. These arguments have been about so many different oppressions that it boggles the mind, and so to keep my emotional equilibrium, I have been forced to write you this letter, detailing exactly how and why I hate you so much. I should be doing my homework right now, Kyriarchy, but I hate you so much I can’t focus on it.
The first argument of the week was with A. A identifies as female and heterosexual, and would say that the term cisgendered is stupid and useless, though it accurately describes her status. She is white and from France, and believes France is a paradise free of sexism (except for a bit of sexual harassment, you know how men can be)* and racism (except towards poor Arabs, who deserve it because they are messing up ALL OF FRANCE, apparently)* and homobigotry. It is my personal opinion that she has never had to examine any of her privileges save one, ever, and is therefore a fauxgressive who argues that she is never complicit in the oppression of others through the kyriarchy, because what kyriarchy?!*
The argument was multifaceted. It was a discussion of representation and normalization in society, and how that marginalizes, oppresses, and impacts minorities. She argued that the majority rules and should rule, essentially. She said she would be offended to be mistaken for a lesbian, was horribly offended to be teased by her brother about being a lesbian “because I’m not! But I have gay friends, lesbian friends, and I love them, I’m totally fine with that.” Yet it was inconceivable to her that a non-heterosexual could be offended or hurt by the assumption of heterosexuality, since heterosexuality is the “majority.”
When I challenged her preconceptions, she reverted back to that age-old oppression Bingo favorite “Everyone sorts into categories, it’s human, it’s how we survive!” I brought the conversation around to race, and she expressed the opinion that human beings are so unique that it was silly to argue about one’s race not being represented in the media, because “even if your skin color is not the same, you can still relate.” Spoken with the most pristine of unexamined white privilege, is it not?
I connected race to beauty standards, and she denied that outside representations could have any effect on personal self-esteem, because of course her body image was only affected by what her body had been like before (thin), not what images she was exposed to in her daily life, nor how society reinforced or policed those images. Her privilege and her ignorance of her own oppression made me want to vomit, and it is privilege and an ignorance in which she was steeped in by you, Kyriarchy.
After that discussion, I went to speak to a fellow student who is an American woman of color, and, after asking for her permission to talk about race (because not everyone has the energy for those conversations or wants to have them, Kyriarchy, you just often leave them no choice), I asked her what she thought about the effect of media on self-image, the effect of (lack of) representation on the dreams and feelings of marginalized peoples. I didn’t even have to finish my sentences. A’s assertion was continually that she didn’t understand, that she didn’t see why any of this would be a noticeable issue. My other friend snorted and murmured “white privilege” under her breath.
Kyriarchy, I hate you because you can seem invisible from the top, but block out the sun when seen from below.
B is a cisgendered man of color from Angola, who has lived in the United States for some time. He does not believe in evolution, believes men and women were created differently and are therefore inherently and only ever different. He believes his problem is not misogyny, but that he “love[s] women too much,” and does not believe men and women can be friends, because sex will always get in the way. He is also horribly homobigoted, but only towards gay men, because lesbians are totes hawt, duh*. We have argued pretty much nonstop since we arrived, though lately those arguments have become shorthand, since we already know what the other is going to say (much to the disappointment of the assholes around us, which I will talk about later, Kyriarchy. This is also your fault).
In my second argument of the week, we argued about whether or not he was allowed to decide if he was creepy or not. He maintained the Magic Intent theory – his intent was to be “appreciative” when he pulled aside a physically smaller woman and told her her short shorts made him want to “do naughty things to” her. It was obviously appreciative, and not creepy, even though she felt the need to break away from him and come scuttle behind me, trying to make it a joke by calling him a pervert. Kyriarchy, I am sure you can guess that my response was that intent is not, in fact, magic, and how his behavior received by others should matter to him. I am also sure you feel glibly smug about his refusal to concede the importance of the feelings of the women he makes nervous or uncomfortable, his firm belief that all of them actually like it.
Kyriarchy, if that had been all, this would have been just a normal week of hating you. Then A decided that a friend’s single mistake in directions in an unfamiliar place was the occasion to announce that all “girls are terrible at navigating,” got angry at me for not believing this to be true because she once read a study that “proved” it, and ended the argument in her harshest, most petulant tone with “WHY AM I NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE MY OWN OPINIONS?!” In one way, that did succeed in making me feel regretful, Kyriarchy, knowing what this woman has been through and how she has been taught to doubt herself. However, defense of bigotry as personal opinion is as old as you, Kyriarchy, so sympathy did not last very long. I remember when I was first challenged for my bigotry, I too reflexively defended my opinions out of ignorance and privilege, but those who challenged me pointed me towards actual information that would lead me, later, to changing those opinions. So, Kyriarchy, I trundled on, waiting for time to mellow out her anger, and letting the issue drop.
Today was the crowning glory of this clusterfuck of a week. C is a cisgendered heterosexual woman who was raised, studied, and lived in enough countries that talking about her nationality or her ethnicity is pointless information. She and B argued today that beating children when they misbehave is necessary, and a natural part of childhood discipline. Now, while I do not get to decide whether all parents who lifted a hand their children are good parents (their children get to decide that), nor would I claim that all people who were struck as children turned out fucked up, I am 100%, 24/7 morally opposed to striking children for any reason. The reason is simple – I believe everyone has the right to their own bodies, to their bodies being as free as possible from pain and harm, especially harm inflicted by other human beings. This holds as true for newborns as for centenarians. C asserted that human beings are “unfinished animals” and needed to be struck so they would know and respect the authority figure. B said striking children told them where the boundaries are, so they would not cross them. I believe in the heat of arguments, Kyriarchy, they forgot to qualify that not all kids need to be hit, I will be that charitable towards them, but when I asserted that children are capable of being taught right from wrong without being physically disciplined, their answers were “no way,” and “no they can’t.”
Thinking further than just the level of an individual child, because individual children and their individual parents vary (C was struck as a child and defends it, being struck as a child destroyed my ability to trust my father), physical violence is very much a way to assert authority and power – but is authority gained by violence ever good? We’d all like to believe in that kind of heroine or hero much lauded by fantasy novels, put in an impossible position who wreaks violence so that zie might create an oppression-free paradise…but those stories are almost always predicated on the inhumanity or outright dehumanization of the enemy. What real person has such discernment that violence (if you are of the opinion that violence is, itself, not inherently bad, which I am not**) will never be used inappropriately?
The argument ended abruptly when B spotted a Korean man who is his favorite target of disparaging commentary. Everyone else around seemed to think that mocking this person is an acceptable and entertaining pastime. In disgust, I left in favor of the internet.
But who should I encounter on the internet but A, full of moralistic judgement of other humans’ flirting habits, sexual mores, and ways of loving? The usage of “you” in English and “vous” and “tu” in French are not so different that I can give her a pass for not being a native speaker – she needs to learn “I” language as much as does Gwyneth Paltrow. When I said I would not bother being jealous over a significant other if zie turned down someone flirting with hir, she said “then in my opinion you don’t really love him.”
Erasure of my bisexuality aside, I took this literally. Of course this engendered an enraged, all caps “WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY OWN OPINIONS?” By which she really meant, why do you keep objecting to me marginalizing others when it’s just what I think. Kyriarchy, you are so invisible and ingrained to her that she cannot see you at all, even when she is wielding you like a club. Thinking maybe I had misinterpreted her, maybe she meant “If I weren’t jealous of my boyfriend, it would mean I didn’t really love him,” I asked her to clarify, to which she replied with a screed against those “sluts” who pester men so much that he “[is] pushed into making a mistake” (which she has seen happen, ZOMFSM!) and how they are “bitches,” and so am I, since I have flirted, both knowingly and unknowingly, with people who had partners. Then she tacked on “in my opinion.”
All right, A, you may have your own opinion. I can still have my own opinion that your opinion is a discriminatory, judgmental attitude about things which are none of your business (she was annoyed and disgusted by some possibly-flirting going on between two other students, not her personal relationship), and so loaded with kyriarchical gendered stereotypes as to induce vomiting.
PROTIP: “I” language means saying what it true for you. You language may be used for things your interlocutor finds to be true, or what “everyone” thinks it true (beware of using this one!). So, for example, if she said “I get angry when girls flirt with my boyfriend,” that is fine. That’s her opinion, Kyriarchy. I may not think it’s the best thing for her mental health and the health of her relationship, but she’s entitled to that. What she’s not entitled to do is argue that “You get angry when someone flirts with your boyfriend” either particularly, as in me, or universally. She might also say, without challenge from me, “Many people get jealous when someone flirts with their partners.” This is an acceptable (because qualified with “many”) use of They Language.
I understand A’s beef with me. It’s really that I can’t stand discriminatory bullshit and feel compelled to say something, which is, yes, me insisting the people share my opinions about stuff like that. She feels that I assert my opinions and do not allow anyone to have a dissenting opinion. She cannot see the difference between the You Language as in “You don’t really love your boyfriend if you’re not jealous” (asserting either particularly or universally something that is not true for me/all people) and You Language as in “When you say things like that, some people find that offensive for x, y, and z reasons,” which is really appropriately qualified They Language.
Of course, A is right that I want people to believe me when I say those kinds of things, because the fact that some people are offended by those things is not, in fact, my opinion. If I managed to say this to her so coherently, I’m afraid of what she might say…”well some Christians find the mention of homosexuality offensive!” In short, you’re welcome to encourage those with a dissenting opinion, Kyriarchy, but that does not mean I will let it exist unchallenged around me.
I believe an essential difference between anti-kyriarchical opinions and kyriarchical opinions is that anti-kyriarchical ideas open the space of possibilities for all people. Anti-kyriarchical opinions are anti-assumption, anti-discrimination, and fight against the denial and erasure of those without privilege. It is my opinion that this is a good thing. Approval of their lifeways and families and likes and dislikes and opinions is generally considered by other humans to be good. Anti-kyriarchical opinions are the opinions that, as far as I can tell, allow for the largest range of those things, because it opposes only choices that harm others, judge others, and take away the possibilities for others.
All of that is fucked up enough, Kyriarchy, but D embodies your crowning achievement – the passive, or sometimes inciting, bystander. I do not know what his opinions are about anything, but I am beginning to suspect he has no small amount of sympathy for the people with whom I argue. I suspect that his mention of fucked up things that B has said does not come from a place of allyship, of believing in that fucked-upedness, but from the entertainment he gets out of watching me fight, alone and outnumbered, against you, Kyriarchy. He is just as big a problem as A, B, and C, Kyriarchy. He is your ally, your collaborator, your enabler.
And, of course, this ad was on TV over and over again during dinner. Kyriarchy, you don’t need me to tell you that the exoticism of black bodies and Africa in Korea is fucked up, or the economic exploitation involved in coffee cultivation, or the fucked up nature of the Global North buying luxuries we can only afford because of our exploitation of the Global South…
Transcript and Description: 커피의 고향 – 에티오피아. 100% 아라비카라고 수프리모가 될 수는 없다. 당신의 커피는 에티오피아에서 왔는가? 진짜 커피 – 수프리모. “Coffee’s home, Ethiopia” Video zooms in on a map of Africa to Ethiopia, fades into a beautiful lush green valley with a black woman in an a printed, wrapped dress and green scarf tied around her hair. Cut to close up of a black hand picking a red coffee berry from a branch, and gold magic fairy dust comes from the coffee berry. The woman holds the single berry above her head and smiles slightly as the narrator says (something I’m not sure how to translate, but I will ask). The black woman lifts some coffee beans out of a huge barrel of them with her hands, magic gold fairy dust rises to her nose as she smells them and smiles. “Could it be that your coffee came from Ethiopia?” Gold fairy dust rises from the surface of a cup of coffee, then swooshes over the pale face of a conventionally very beautiful Korean woman, who closes her eyes as she sips the coffee and smiles. “Real coffee, Supremo.”
Kyriarchy, I will never give up fighting you, even if only in these small ways. I will not give up fighting you even if all these people stop speaking to me completely. I will never stop hating you for all the horrible things you have done, and all the damage you have done even to the people who most defend and cling to you.
I still have plenty of work to do on myself. I have manifestations of privilege I have not yet recognized as such, I have problematic beliefs yet to be flagged as such, I have the remnants of misogyny and racism still clinging like cobwebs to my brain, and ignorance up the Whazoo***. As a Buddhist, I’m working on harnessing my anger, on finding calmer, kinder ways to call someone a kyriarchy-enforcing asshat.
Kyriarchy, I will not just wash my mind, heart, and spirit this one time, I will be eternally vigilant for the lingering and creeping tentacles of your bullshit sneaking around within me. In the immortal words of Gandalf, you shall not pass.
*Please note these two phrases are intended to be read with palpable sarcasm.
**Morally and religiously, I seriously struggle with violence in self-defense or defense of others, however.
***what the fuck is a whazoo, anyway?!
Hating You Sincerely,
Well, I feel better. The funny things is that, out of all these people, I most like A. I am attempting to help her, in whatever small ways I can, to find a way to heal the immense damage the kyriarchy has inflicted on her and her relationship with her body. No longer in the heat of argument, I worry I may have triggered her eating disorder or a depressive spiral. I was in a very similar place to her some years ago – I really do, on some level, understand how she must feel when I try to point out her privilege or discriminatory remarks. Yet, having seen the kyriarchy, I can’t unsee it, and I have trouble swallowing shit, even if it means disturbing the peace, even if means arguing with someone whose opinions I completely used to share. As I said above, I am attempting to find the equilibrium to argue more calmly, and find politer, more thought-provoking ways to point out privilege. That doesn’t mean I will shut up in the meantime.