This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question.
This question may seem very 101 but I have yet been able to find or formulate a good response to a comment I recently received from another young woman and I was hoping someone could help me out?
I was talking about power dynamics between men and women and the respondent came back with “Western women aren’t oppressed. I don’t feel oppressed. We are able to vote.. etc etc.” and I was just flabbergasted and didn’t know how to respond. I suspect a lot of this was her personal response to acknowledging oppression making her seem weak or whiny. Although I could be wrong and she may really believe this and think it cancels out the feelings of any Western women who does acknowledge our ongoing oppression. Help?
It can be disorienting to be faced with this stance by someone who is a member of a class of people, and feels that they represent that class. You may disagree strongly with their position, and have very good reasons for it which you want to express. But you hesitate.
It could be that the situation is already tense and you don’t want to make things worse. Maybe you don’t know each other very well, and you’re not sure whether it’s a good idea to open this particular can of worms with them. Or, perhaps, you just don’t have the right words.
Finally, a Feminism 101 blog has a FAQ with a pretty good answer, which calls out the misconceptions underlying the question:
1. Even if women in your part of the world do have legal equality, what about women elsewhere? Feminists who fight for the rights of other women to have what they already have are justified in doing so.
2. Simple, basic legal equality regarding the right to own property, sign contracts or vote does not always translate into social equality in work, the community or the home.
(emphasis added. thanks to Mary for the reference)
However, the matter of how to respond to the person is perhaps more important than having an answer. Ideally, you’d like to engage with this person, and enter into a dialog where you can both learn something. Your mileage may vary, but I find that counterargument and psychoanalysis don’t always set us on that path.
Here’s what I try to do:
- Validate their first-hand experience. Regardless of whether they represent a class, they are telling you something about their lived experience, and that is a subject on which they are an authority. Respect that, and acknowledge what they are telling you about themselves. You never know, and they may have been very fortunate. They are almost certainly fortunate compared to many other people, and recognizing that good fortune can be a sign of genuine humility. So, give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Integrate their position into a broader perspective. Other people (including you) have a different view: how can we reconcile that? If you don’t know, invite them to explore the question with you. What would have to be true in order for both views to be valid?
- Explore their point of view. Now that you have some shared perspective, dig a little deeper and try to understand why they feel they way they do. How do their past and present experiences, their beliefs, and their personality influence their opinion? What can you learn from them?
How about you, readers? Tell us in the comments how you respond to this type of situation.