…besides your member card ?
[This post was prompted by one of the many trains of thought that left the station upon reading this at Peter Watts' blog, which I followed to where the fire started …and then spread.
There's a lot of food for thought in this jungle of internet rage, and a lot of noise, as should be expected, and I don't intend to cover every angle, although I will probably return to some of the issues raised in the future.
I commented on Peter's post, but in the process I started plowing a tangent furrow, and I'm not a fan of derailing threads so I had to stick it somewhere else, which is below.]
I 'get' feminism like I get black power, or gay pride, or self-diagnosed @spies wearing their quirks like badges of honor.
Not in the sociological sense, I don't, because I haven't gone all embedded journo in each and every one of those groups, but insofar as I can recognize the drive, it feels like I can relate.
It's frustrating when people think they know who you are, solely based on their preconceptions of what you are, say a gay black non-neurotypical female, and worse even when they tell you about your experience and your place in the world — as if they knew.
And yes, there's comfort in familiarity, support in recognition, and that's good enough reason to seek out kindred spirits, fellow members of an ingroup who've (had) to deal with the same crap, and won't try and mold you into their particular brand of 'normal'… at first.
Because that's the problem with self-identification in identity politics of any kind: you join in driven by a crave to be acknowledged for who you are, as a person, which includes what you are as a demographic, but it only starts there, and you end up peer-pressured into conforming to the group's idea of how and who you ought to be.
Ingroups are attractive because they free one from the Sisyphean push back against prejudice, they promise (and deliver) a safe ecosystem within which one can exist and grow as a person, safe from the pressure to constantly defend and justify oneself which dominates outside the group.
Anyone who ever felt like an outcast, or felt they weren't accepted for who they are can somewhat relate to that urge, and that's about everyone who lived long enough to reach their teens in any society that regards individualism as something not entirely like a brain disease.
How it can go wrong is obvious, though, and trading one ill-fitting uniform for another can even be for the worse after rationalizations kick in: at least going against the consensus and 'normal' of a society that is imposed on you can be intuitive and almost self-evident, but it's much more difficult to justify any challenge to the groupthink of a club you self-selected into, without your own identity coming into question.
Am I saying one should pretend prejudices are a fiction, or worse, that race, gender, sexual orientation or any other 'deviation from the standard' don't really matter ? No.
I'm not about to deny anyone the option to weigh the defining elements of their identity by their own scales, yet I'll point that if you're about finding out who you are, and intrinsically define yourself (as opposed to merely satisfy a need to belong), then seeking validation by whomever is most likely to do it based on one or two traits you share with them isn't just the 'quick and easy way': it also carries the risk of the group defining your self for you.
Now, I'm a proverbial reasonably affluent middle-aged white man, and in the world of identity politics, that makes me statutorily incapable to even dream of relating to the ordeals of the oppressed of any kind.
Because I'm that sort of asshat, I also take extra care not to wear my possible deviations-from-standard on my sleeve, for fear of the variably well-meaning who could be tempted to coopt me in their gang, make excuses for me, or blame my skewed views on the parts of me that don't operate on specs.
On the plus side, my assumed privilege and inability to empathize also afford me the luxury to treat people as equals, if and when I feel like it (or so goes the song).
The upside of that blatant iniquity is I can do something the self-identified oppressed can't possibly do, which is tell you about how it feels from the haughty heights I call home: pretty good, identity speaking.
My experience of privilege in this regard is: there's plenty of room between the cliffs of definition-of-self-by-group-affiliation and circumstances-denialism, and it's in those feisty-yet-naviguable waters where maybe not the nicest or comfortable, but the most constructive conversations tend to catch wind in their sails.
And while I'm not meaning to throw my privilege in your face, or tell you or anyone to 'get over it, already', because I know that's neither here nor there… I'm just asking: is that what you expect the ultimate spoils of victory for identity politics to be ?
Is the ability to converse on equal footing without the need (assumed or imposed) to constantly justify, excuse or defend oneself the holy grail of every minority ? …and if so, how and when can you tell any one set of "us vs then" rethorics (will) have jumped the shark and outlived their usefulness ?
Or is the issue one of payback, meaning no oppressed group can be vindicated and satisfied until they've in turn got the opportunity to stomp their former oppressor(s)… and then, what's the pecking order among the formerly-oppressed — can they share the driver's seat on the steamroller of justice, or are we going Round Robin about righteous fury ?
[For a different perspective, an interesting and feminism-centric take on the issue can be found here.]