Thursday, December 16, 2010

Anti-Oppression Lingo I don't quite "Get" yet...

I am still very new to anti-oppression work. However I do know enough not to bother those who are more skilled in recognizing and dismantling various oppressions with questions I can easily answer for myself by doing research.  "Please explain why this is wrong" is the exact opposite attitude to take when learning about 'isms... If you aren't willing to take responsibility for your own ignorance, then you probably aren't willing to make any meaningful changes once you do learn.  So yeah, I get it.

But in spite of my study, there are a few items that I still don't get that everyone else seems to.  And apparently I am the only one who doesn't get it, which makes finding answers even more intimidating, because I don't want to be THAT BOZO, the one asking questions too ignorant even for a 101 Seminar.

 Let me just jump to the point.  I am supremely grateful for the anti-oppression blogosphere.. but I don't think it's culture is beyond critique.   Here are a few words/concepts/phrases I see commonly in anti-oppression discourse that I don't think I fully "get."  Or more accurately, don't fully agree with. I am not out to start beef with anybody or single out any bl og(s) in particular.   These are just a few linguistic phenomena I've noticed around and have found slightly troubling.  I suspect I'm not the only one who feels this way.  But even if I am... this is MY blog and if I can't say this stuff anywhere else without fear of reprisal, I can at least say it here.

1. CRAZY vs CRAZYMAKING.  I get that the word "crazy" has been used to demonize those who struggle with mental illnesses. I get that this is a word that has been used to invalidate more often than its been used to illuminate.  I get that Crazy is too often used in the same derisive spirit as the word "Lame," appropriating the experience of the mentally and physically  handicapped  (respectively) by assigning a maliciously negative and yet nearly irrelevant connotation to the word (crazy is used to mean anything socially outrageous and objectionable, not necessarily related to insanity, lame is used to mean anything considered unpopular and/or awkward, completely unrelated to an inability to walk)   for no other reason than to have a handy insult to use against somebody, a bad name to use as punishment,  a stigma for another's perceived social mis-steps.

So, I do NOT for the life of me, then, understand why the word CRAZYMAKING is just fine.  I can't think of any other word where on its own it is considered an insufferable slur, but in  conjunction with another word, it is considered a valid critique.  (There is no such word as "Fatmaking"  or "Uglymaking" for example, altho the words Fat and Ugly are often used in the same derisive vein as Crazy).   To say that certain harassing behaviors are "crazymaking" to me seems to lend support to the idea that there IS such a thing as crazy and that its okay to call it that. 

So is there such a thing as crazy? And is it ever okay to call it that?

I refrain from asking this question at other blogs, even tho I see the word "crazymaking" all the time... as if it means something non-abstract and obvious. But even more frequently I see commenters getting called out for being ableist, even banned, for commenters  for saying things like "You must be crazy if you think ...." yadda yadda.  

I am NOT trying to obtuse here. I am not advocating for the use of Crazy in spite of its ableist stigma. I really am confused about the so-called anti-oppression culture's use of this world.  How can Crazy be verboten, but Crazymaking is right on?

2. DEHUMANIZING.  I get the concept alright. I understand the definition.  But I feel like this word gets waaaay overused. 

Often when I see Dehumanized used in posts or conversation, I feel like what the author really means is closer to "Subhumanized," or even "Animalized." Made into a creature that is less than a human, more like an animal.  Well  duh, isn't that what dehumanizing already implies?  Only if you accept that being human is a binary state.. you are either human or you are Something Else.  And while I do believe that is exactly the goal of all oppressions.. to make people feel the tension of this particular binary.. I am not comfortable leaving the paradigm unexamined.

Plus I feel like Dehumanizing isn't specific enough.  The action specifically being critiqued as "dehumanizing" can be understood not only as stripping a person of their status as a human being, but actively re-creating that person into a subhuman being.  Thereby, putting them on par with animals, that other class of creatures we commonly recognize as living but not endowed with any rights relative to human beings. (I have always had a big problem with the premise that human beings are the natural "superior" of animals, but I have an even bigger problem with animal rights activists and their raging racism and classism, so I tend to stay quiet on this score).

Let me put it another way.   When somebody calls me the N Word... I don't feel Dehumanized. I feel like I've been ANIMALIZED. I feel shamed and insulted, exactly as if they had called me a Gorilla.  I feel like they don't see me as a human being so much as this mythical creature they call  N****R.  

I don't just feel stripped of my humanity, I feel like I've been categorized as something much worse than a human altogether.

IMHO this is a small but very important distinction to make.  It's the difference between simple erasure and being flat out lied on. 

I know I have alot more to say on this score, but its still tangled up in my head, so I will move on for now.

3. DOUCHE/DOUCHEBAG/DOUCHEBAGGERY.  This one REALLY bothers me because I feel its hypocritical of anyone who resists Misogyny to use this term as if it were an innocuous insult and in no way related to female genitalia.  I mean come ON.  Every feminist understands that calling someone the P Word or the C Word is horribly misogynist.   Comparing people, particularly "men" to vaginas is considered the ultimate insult to their manhood and their very character.  Associating a man with items specifically designed for use with vaginas is the EXACT SAME MISOGYNIST LOGIC. 

I'm pretty sure if people started calling men who behave like insufferable jerks TAMPONS, the misogyny would  be loud and clear.  But Douchebag is somehow... totally kosher?  Please explain this one to me.

I know I have other stuff that irks me about anti-oppression culture, but my back is killing me and I need to get ready for bed.  Work comes deadly early tomorrow.  And yes, the jobhunt still goes on. I turned down two offers because they were too far away.  But I will take that as an encouraging sign that my resume is out there, doing its thang.

More on this post later.


  1. in my perspective (a person that doesn't use any of those phrases *but* variations of douche), i see the douche comments as anti-patriarchy, and here's why. as far as i'm aware, douching is actually considered generally harmful to genitals, killing the naturally-occurring bacterial flora that would typically inhabit a vaginal canal. douches, to my knowledge, are from a bygone era of misogyny (not that misogyny itself is bygone by any means) that encouraged women to make themselves smell "fresh" (chemically scented like flowers or whatever the douche contained) because it was "clean and healthy", shaming masses of women into using these ultimately risky/unhealthy products.

    so, i may be completely misinformed, but when i call someone that it's putting them on the same level as this nasty, misogynist, archaic device. which to me would be shameful, the point of name-calling. the negativity is associated with the douche itself and that it represented shady, misogynist moralizing, rather than associating negativity with women as a whole.

  2. astrid

    I'd ALMOST by this definition.. almost. If I hadn't heard "douche" as a common insult from guys in school from 5th grade on up.

    Up until I started reading feminist blogs I had only ever heard MEN, heteronormative straight men at that, call each other "douche" or "douchebag."

    If there was some national push to reclaim " the word douche" in the name of feminism, I missed it.

    Even now, just reading the word, I can hear the boys in my high school classes sneering this insult at each other whenever they seemed to be getting on each other's nerves. I am willing to bet money that when they were saying this word criticizing patriarchy and its misognynist standards was the very furthest thing from their minds.

    Bottomline, the only way to deeply insult a male in this culture is to associate him with things that are usually only ever associated with females. In my opinion, there is no way to redeem these kinds of insults.

    I guess what it comes down to is that there is probably no such thing as an "anti-oppressive" insult. Meaning, there is no way to insult someone and stand in sneering judgment of someone without reinforcing oppression itself.

  3. Oh also astrid, let me be clear i don't mean to be judgmental of anyone who does say "douche" in the sense that you just explained to me. I even admire it in this context. And Lord knows I have held on to quite a few phrases that are problematic as well. For instance, I still say "bitch" and "slut" in casual conversation even tho I KNOW better... not bragging or defending, just saying.

    I just think that "douchebag" and its iterations are problematic in the exact same ways and yet it's been deemed as "neutral" in its misogyny... curious, considering that I've observed blatant misognyists using this term uncritically for decades.

    Thanks for replying on this tho. I'll think about what you said from now on whenever I come across it in the blogosphere.

  4. It's really too bad that nobody responded to this. These are all really good points -- in fact I'd love to link this on my LJ and tumblr. Is that okay with you?

    BTW I'm sorry I don't have any deep answers for you. I'm new to this myself.

  5. * Sorry, left the window open for, like, *days*, and I'm glad someone did reply.

  6. numol

    Yes, please link if you wish. I welcome further discussion of this issue in particular as I'm just as guilty and confused as anyone else.

  7. Jane,

    When I use "douche*" I will add an asterisk and footnote the post with the following message:

    *Douche: Unnecessary, irritating to women and potentially dangerous.

    It rarely "wins" arguments, but it makes me chuckle because the description is entirely correct, both for the item called douche and the person being called a "douche".

    As for "de-humanized"... I use it and when I do I don't explain what it means to me. It never occurred that it could be ambiguous, and I suppose that's a word I'm going to have to think about before I use it again. I've always felt that it means forcing a state of "otherness", not even a defined state like animal or chattel or an inanimate object, but a state of being nothing at all, wherein the person being de-humanized then becomes a fair target for being stripped of basic human rights, personal autonomy and/or recognition as a sentient being because as far as the person doing the de-humanizing is concerned, the "victim" of such behaviour is treated/seen as being beneath notice and of no value.

    I don't yet know what I want to say about "crazymaking". I spent more than a few years soaking in a stew of privilege, freely misunderstanding, stigmatizing and shaming those who suffer from a host of issues. I want to say I know better now. I didn't immediately know, though, if I still engaged in that kind of awful behaviour in my every day life. I had to take a moment just now to think about the last time I used the word crazy, and it was in reference to myself. I said: "I must be going crazy, I lost my keys AGAIN!". Thinking back to it, I feel shame. I am ashamed that I said that. Would I feel the same about "crazymaking"? Right now I'd have to say yes, because it still seems to stigmatize people who suffer from mental illness.

    I have a long way to go, and it's blogs like yours that will help me get there. Thank you for being open and honest about not knowing, because I feel like this might be a safe space to say that I don't really know either.

  8. @Anonymous

    THANK YOU for this comment. For so many reasons. And you know, your footnote on Douche just might have made me a convert!!

    And thanks for your point about De-humanizing as well. I still go around and around with it. I think most people in anti-oppression circles use the term exactly as you defined it. But for me, something seems off.. seems left unsaid by saying de-humanized in certain instanccces. Too often I find people use it as if to say being stripped of one's status as a human being is the exact same as being treated as an animal, and these, for me, are two entirely different worlds of abuse.

    I had attempted to start a post explaining my growing views on speciesism vs racism.. particularly the way comparing animal abuse and abuse against people of color has historically been harmful to people of color. I think what gets left out of these comparisons is the need to identify the dynamic of stripping human beings of their humanity and how THAT action is uniquely harmful to human beings. In other words, comparing animal cruelty to cruelty against humans may be apt in many instances, but to leave the comparison there is to ERASE the significance of how stripping human beings of their ability/opportunity to invest in human society has uniquely damaging consequences for those human beings.

    I'm all over the place, I'm sorry. I'm just so glad someone is finally willing to engage me on these questions. :) You've inspired me to complete my thoughts on the above mentioned post sooner rather than later. Thank you for that.

    And thank you for finding my blog a safe space to question and to admit not always knowing the right thing to do at times. That was one of the biggest reasons I started this blog for myself, so to see others may find it useful in the same way means alot.


  9. Hmm... you raise an interesting point on the use of "douche." I've never thought of that word as having any feminine connotations at all (other than as an outdated, dangerous piece of garbage, which I find oh so apt), but maybe I'm missing something here. For instance, its meaning could be considered analogous to "asswipe" (you are so foul you clean someone's nether regions), in which case it is completely inappropriate as the vagina is in no way a source of foulness.

    As for "crazymaking," I've never heard that word, but it's blatantly ableist. I've never heard a single person refer to xemself as going crazy who has, in fact, actually been developing a mental illness; it seems to be pretty rare on the whole and those who happen to be stressing out or finding themselves doing something vaguely unusual need to stop appropriating the experience.