By: Liberate Zealot
Content Warning: Discussions of sexism
So a lot of people in my life have a lot of privilege (as do I) and so think "overcoming obstacles" (read systematic oppression) is about perception and individual choice. They're not quite at the bootstraps level, but they don't understand how racism or sexism or the Kyriarchy effects the people it oppresses. They want to be allies, but they're too privileged to see the Kyriarchy or understand its systemic nature. So I find myself trying to describe the experience of oppression.
Recently my boyfriend and I were talking about feminism and sexism and how there is no "getting over" oppression, and that specific individual incidents of sexism aren't isolated. There is no "getting over" something that is still on going.
Now, as I've said before, I am very privileged. The oppression I personally experience is not a never ending barrage. I go through most of my life not being a target for misogyny; sexism is not a daily presence (outside of my continued education of myself or internet activism, which I do try to make daily). The occasional street harassment, "Pro-life" or anti-sex billboard, the yearly gathering with my conservative/religious family members, the single fathers of my students who get occasionally flirtatious or subtly inappropriate. These are the incidents I can't avoid, and they aren't too extreme or common (except for how any instance of these is too common). But they are upsetting and startling.
Experiencing sexism (for me) is a bit like walking into a glass door. You just go along minding you own business, walking towards a place you want to get, where other people are, and BAM glass door in your face. And along with being halted you feel pain, embarrassment, and some asshole is trying to convince you it was funny, and maybe that the glass door wasn't there in the first place.
Which is where the analogy falls down. You can be careful and avoid running face first into glass doors, but that's not possible with sexism. The world brings it to you, and no evasive maneuvers will stop oppressors from oppressing. (Not fully, not in the short term). And the fact is the oppression I experience is just the occasional glass door, as opposed to a brick wall society denies while constantly throwing me at and blaming me for being trapped behind.
So maybe this isn't the right way to explain sexism to people who don't experience it. Maybe there is no accurate way to fully describe the experience. All I know is that I'm surprised every time, and pained, and humiliated, and my progress is stopped or delayed by the oppressions I experience. Normally it's something I can recover from in just five or ten minutes, or at least hide my stinging face. But the glass doors keep coming, and no matter how careful, how evasive, I can't avoid them. The sharp shocks build up. I start to watch for the glass doors everywhere, because if I can't evade them at least I can prepare myself for the impact. Personally I'll take the banner of "paranoid" or "humorless" feminist. It's annoying, but not as upsetting as being blindsided by sexism, which even when "paranoid" I don't always see coming.