Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Monday, 20 February 2012

The profound ways in which oppression works

“Of course, this is one of the profound ways in which oppression works—to mire us in body hatred. Homophobia is all about defining queer bodies as wrong, perverse, immoral. Transphobia, about defining trans bodies as unnatural, monstrous, or the product of delusion. Ableism, about defining disabled bodies as broken and tragic. Class warfare, about defining the bodies of workers as expendable. Racism, about defining the bodies of people of color as primitive, exotic, or worthless. Sexism, about defining female bodies as pliable objects. These messages sink beneath our skin.”
— Eli Clare, “Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies”

Since I last wrote for this blog, a lot has happened in my life, the big thing being the chest surgery I waited and wished and hoped and saved and prayed for for six years, and combining that with reading the above quote from Eli Clare made me want to write again.

Oppression works because it makes one identifiable group 'lesser' than another. That's all it comes down to, and in that sense oppression is inherently capitalist - it's about identifying a dominant group able to exploit a 'lesser' group. Sometimes that exploitation is financial:

Homophobia exploited for advertising: - Fosters
Transphobia exploited for advertising:  - Paddy Power
Ableism exploited for advertising: - Nuveem Investments
Racism exploited for advertising: - McDonalds
Sexism exploited for advertising: - Flo TV

Those examples took me all of five minutes to find. There's no point in picking an advert exemplifying class warfare when the core of advertising is capitalist exploitation - the exploitation of the working class to produce goods that are then marketed to the same working class to buy. Looking at the spread (and I tried to choose a wide spread), companies such as Fosters, Paddy Power and McDonalds typically appeal to the working class (using a definition encompassing all but the 'boss class', as opposed to a definition including only those who are 'blue collar' workers), and the other two adverts both ran during the SuperBowl, an American event again aimed at the 'working class' (as defined above).

In the first advert, a perceived straight man is warned off all the possible cues that he could offer or be offered by a friend who might or might not be gay - and the homosexual body is classed as perverted, as something to be avoided.
In the second advert, trans women are portrayed as something one should try and tell apart from cis women - telling the stallions from the mares.
In the third advert, the super-crip theme is played on, CGI imagery giving the concept that all people with disabilities should aspire to pass as abled, and those that don't, well we aren't trying hard enough.
In the fourth advert, race and skin colour are exoticised to play on the theme of chocolate
In the fifth advert, gender stereotypes are upheld, and implied that women, who must love shopping, are emasculating their partners, who must love sport.

In short, these adverts present as ideal, the straight, cis, abled, white and heteronormative body as the ideal. Anything outside of that is deluded or perverse, and hence, so am I.

With a body that is non-heteronormative, that is disabled, that is in transition, and that is queer, I am othered, in the way that society chooses to other people like me, people who are different, and that is damaging, make no mistake. My body becomes public property, to ask questions of, what's wrong with my legs, what's in my underwear, why I use a wheelchair, but this is the tip of the iceberg.

The workers will never be free, as long as my body is public property, because that just emphasises a society where the body of the working class is public property, where it can be forced to work (see workfare, as an example), where we are not free inside or outside of our skins. The public ownership of visibly queered bodies is symptomatic of the way in which the ruling class claim ownership over the bodies of everyone not in the ruling class, and this is why these adverts are even more problematic than most aimed at the aforementioned working class.

A movement cannot move towards revolution, towards equality, towards anarchism or communism, without addressing the claims made on othered bodies, because it all comes from the same root, living in a culture that forces one to strive for domination.

Oppression 'mires us in body hatred' but not only that, it takes our right to freedom in our own skins away from us, and until we can reclaim our skins, how can we reclaim society. It's all too easy for anti-capitalist movements to lose sight of the little people, to lose sight of the minorities, of people who might not be able to contribute to the wider movement in the same way, when in fact these people should be the focus of a movement that aims to destroy oppression of all kinds. I do not say in a non-capitalist world oppression would be gone, but I do say it would be easier to challenge, because we wouldn't be forced always to seek ways of claiming a little dominance over another, we would be free to find our own paths and do what we needed for the good of ourselves, and the good of our community.

My body traps me, the scars on my skin are like a prison, held deep because with them I can never be seen as anything but broken, they symptomise the internal breaks that I hold, they make external the internal. My body is queer, and I am othered. I ask only that the anti-capitalist movement remember those that are oppressed not only by the system of capitalism but also the inherent sexism, transphobia, homophobia, racism, and ableism that are inherent in all systems, and in society as it stands.

This is no issue to pay lip-service to, this is an issue to challenge.

Disclaimer: a large amount of valium was consumed during the writing of this post.

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