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community building | human & civil rights

I Against I: The Oppressed Against the Oppressed

Minorities being manipulated into going after minorities.
There was a scene in a Scandinavian film that I will never forget (even though I have forgotten the name of the film). In this scene, an oppressed teenage boy offered an even more oppressed teenage boy a valuable coin for the opportunity to beat him. The teen allowed the beating. It was a shocking scene. Not that any currency is changing hands in the U.S., but I see this happening in our country on a social level with one minority going after another minority.

Let's focus on women (and yes, women are still a minority and marginalized). I've seen marginalized populations go after women on the street. For instance, you are walking down the street, minding your own business and some stranger (who could be homeless, poor, or any of the myriad of marginalized races/ethnicities) calls you a bitch. You think, what provoked this? Or a young woman is walking down the street and has to deal with catcalls, whistles or any number of degrading attacks to her sense of safety and self-worth.

Why do these people do this to women? One reason is that society allows it. If one construction worker whistles or makes a rude remark to a woman that is passing by, none of the other men or the few women workers at the site, are going to be brave enough to say, "Stop that." Another reason some men do this is because they are insecure and feel powerless until they see someone that they perceive as weaker. Perhaps their boss just yelled at them and since they fear standing up to the supervisor, they lash out at the next woman that walks by.

On one rare occasion when a little white man was harassing me while I was using the ATM in front of the Harvard Market QFC, a kind construction worker told the little man to leave me alone. The little man skittered off. Why does this have to be exceptional behavior? Why don't more people say, "Stop that!" to the bullies?

On 8/26/2014, I was walking from work down Harvard Avenue and a white male, 30s or 40s was across the street repeatedly screaming, "f#$%ing bitch and child (something unintelligible)." This went on the entire time I was on that block. A woman ahead of me walking a dog said something, but I could not hear her because of the screaming. She'd had to walk through his screaming as well. There were construction workers and other people around, but no one called him out. I started filming the abuser, but a van pulled up and blocked my view. This man seemed poor and possibly homeless. Were people just ignoring the behavior because they thought he was crazy or because they were fearful? Would they have ignored it if he had been screaming at a child like that? No. However, they allowed him to be abusive to women. They allowed him to call us bitches.

This bullying behavior was the catalyst for the formation of the now nation-wide Hollaback websites where women could Out the bullies that were harassing them on the street. They would film, record or write about the abuse with details of time and place and put it online. There is also a documentary War Zone that addresses the abuse that some women experience on a daily basis. The filmmaker of War Zone went to the streets and any time she was harassed or saw another woman being harassed, she would turn the camera on the abuser and ask why he had done that. It was a good idea to have the film equipment handy, for when I have called these bullies on their crap, some have screamed in my face.

Higher Education is fraught with bullying, but it seems outspoken women are more likely targets than outspoken men. I witnessed one oppressed male Instructor go after an even more oppressed female colleague with psychological bullying. The Instructor was under cyber attack. Some of his former students were constantly belittling him in public and posting terrible comments online, ruining his reputation, but the woman was dealing with workplace mobbing, E-personation and defamation of character. It seems that the man should have had empathy for his embattled colleague. Unfortunately, it was more fun for him to bully the scapegoat.

I have also seen some gay men target outspoken women. Again, this is one minority attacking another. If the woman is a feminist, a writer, they might be targeted online and offline. I have had gay/lesbian friends since I was 18 and for a few years I volunteered for an organization whose staff and pool of volunteers were predominantly LGBT, so when some gay male acquaintances went after me in the early part of the new millennium, I was stunned. I even considered some of these people my friends. Why did they go after me? I think some of them thought I was anti-American, too opinionated or perhaps they did not like the Impeach Bush sign on my balcony. (Also, I have been dealing with libel on the Internet for some time and this has been a trigger for some of the bullying.)

In 2009 one male acquaintance told me that the group who had targeted me were calling themselves the Gay Mafia. I thought, "Is he joking? Is there such a thing?" He sounded very sincere. [The real villains that came after me ages ago in Idaho are white, rightwing extremists (some are John Birchers) and CINOs. Now these people will not soil their hands by directly harassing me when they can manipulate the oppressed who seem to gleefully take part.]

The antipathy towards women with opinions becomes even more evident when you go online. From anonymous posts on the Internet to bigoted articles dressed up as jest, women are targets. The excerpt below is from a letter to The Stranger Newspaper. "When you publish articles condemning misogyny and then organize social events for people telling your female writers to go kill themselves, it's tough to believe your job is not just to cash in on human misery while pretending to care."  http://slog.thestranger.com/categories/teh_internets/page3.html

It's not just men however. Some women bully other women, which is yet another instance of the oppressed going after the oppressed. They know that going after men will be unpopular, but they can put their claws into another woman with few repercussions. This is a very simple example of bullying. One day at work I was dressed in leggings and a very long over-shirt, which was somewhat different than what I usually wore. As I was exiting the workroom, I overheard one female colleague say, "Maybe she is looking to have some fun." The other female snickered. I have never heard them make catty remarks or sexual innuendo about the way my male counterparts have dressed. These two conservative women have also indulged in very cruel psychological bullying in meetings and around the office in general. (Unfortunately this behavior has even spread to some of the female student workers.) Over several years at this same workplace, a couple of other conservative female colleagues sabotaged my work, set me up to fail, as well as spread ridicule and malicious gossip about me to other departments on campus, making it impossible for me to create new friendships. (Social isolation.) Also, because of the slander, my chances of transfer were nil. These are women attacking other women; the oppressed going after each other; the snake eating its' own tail.

Unlike the oppressed teenager in the film, we must not attack our peers. We must stand up to the real oppressors, the manipulators, the cons, the bullies, the rightwing extremists that just watch us duke it out while they sit back in their fraternal country clubs.

*I Against I is the name of an LP/CD by the fabulous band, Bad Brains.