Are we right to promote marginalised groups?14th January 2012
Luke Buckley proposes that the idea that the creation of exclusive and discriminatory spaces is of benefit to marginalised and/or under represented groups such as ‘women’ is a dangerous fiction.
Discriminatory groups argue that they help to develop confidence, build dialogue, and facilitate engagement with a broader audience, whilst at the same time paying specific attention to the unique character of their experience, which is perceived to manifest itself inexorably by virtue of the possession of a distinctive trait such as sex, gender, race, ethnicity or religion. The underlying assumption is that those who don’t share this trait are necessarily unable to understand or contribute to the movement. Discriminatory groups, therefore, contribute to a homogenous depiction of the essentialised other, and indeed, themselves. With profound irony, and in a tragic own goal, the purveyors of discriminatory groups fight against the arbitrary treatment of their sex, gender, race, ethnicity, or religion, whilst unconsciously reproducing the oppressive order within which such treatment is possible.
Take for example, the women’s movement. By constructing women’s-only groups, or having elections in which only women can vote, the notion that women are axiomatically different to men is reproduced, and the historical antagonism between women and men is naturalised. The promotion of sex-specific rights reinforces the position that women are essentially the same as each other, possessing a coherent set of experiences, ideas, understandings, skills and capacities. In a self defeating move of striking hypocrisy, the destruction of patriarchy is resituated as a specifically ‘feminine’ endeavour, whilst mainstream social, political and cultural spheres are reconstructed as legitimately masculine. This is the conceptual and material apparatus of oppression.
This is not to suggest that the possession of a particular trait does not result in a particular kind of experience. But our goal should not be to reproduce the idea that people are essentially different, or to make and maintain areas in which a particular trait is the condition of participation. Our goal should be to radically challenge the legitimacy of discourse that constructs difference as natural, and instead to fabricate an egalitarian body politic in which opportunity is blind to sex, gender, race, ethnicity or religion. It is to recognise that experience is not biologically, but socially constituted, and that the essentialisation of difference is nothing more than a theodicy of oppression. It is time for us to move beyond hypocrisy, isolationism, and the subconscious reproduction of a divisive ideology, to recognise that it is together, not apart, that we make real, meaningful, and positive change.
Charlotte Tarr is of the opinion that diversity needs exclusivity to survive.
Difference is great. Diversity breathes life into a cultured society. But being different can be scary, confusing and at times dangerous. So naturally people seek out others who share their traits. As humans we feel comforted by safety in numbers. A complete understanding of what these groups achieve should be fully understood before making unsupported claims with inaccurate assumptions, because the real irony is that it is exactly these ignorant people who fuel the need for such groups to form.
The reason behind such groups and events is to bring people together who have a shared experience! Not everything is a political movement and it isn’t always about ‘fighting the man’. It can be finding support in a shared experience and feeling included. We are all different and frequently we won’t fit into one of these groups ourselves, but that doesn’t mean they represent something hypocritical or discriminatory. They are simply helping people who share something we don’t.
Maybe consideration should be given to why such groups feel the need to be formed. Why might a gay man feel concerned, a woman nervous or a black student uncertain about making choices in life which to others might be seemingly normal and straightforward? Could it be that these groups in society, who have faced years of abuse, racism, discrimination and hurt, are still slightly apprehensive about what the real situation is? Is denying them support at these moments really the fair thing to do?
The reality is that very few of these group will actually stop others attending who aren’t of their ‘other’. I recently attended the Oxford University LGBT society to support my recently out friend and I was certainly not told my lack of interest in women denied me the right to their company! I’m also not disabled but I’m still allowed to watch the Paralympic Games. Should we ban that too? They don’t exclude us from their events; we just often have no reason to be a part of it.
If the people of these groups want confidence and exclusion then let them have that. ‘Confidence groups’ created by those who do not have the same experiences cannot be manufactured and the idea is nothing more than an empty suggestion. Is the real hypocrisy not the ‘neutral’ bystander who claims to be all accepting of these ‘others’, but complains they discriminate against him when they unsurprisingly chose to find comfort in similar ‘others’, and not the stiff-armed cold embrace of acceptance poorly offered?