Reverse Oppression: A Fad that Needs to End

This is a guest post by Paul and Renee. Paul and Renee blog and review at Fangs for the Fantasy. We’re great lovers of the genre and consume it in all its forms – but as marginalised people we also analyse critically through a social justice lens.

It’s not a new idea – we’ve certainly seen it raising its ugly head in media repeatedly, but it’s become popular again – the “flipped prejudice” fiction. Victoria Foyt’s racist Save the Pearls did it for race and we now have the homophobic versions: a kickstarter for the book Out by Laura Preble and the film Love is all You Need. I hate linking to them but they need to be seen. They both have the same premise: an all gay world that persecutes the straight minority.

So that’s more appropriating the issues we live with, our history, our suffering and then shitting on it all by making us the perpetrators of the violations committed against us. How can they not see how offensive this is? How can they not see how offensive taking the severe bigotry thrown at us every day and throughout history, bigotry that has cost us so much and then making our oppressors the victims and us the attackers, is? This is appropriative, this is offensive, it’s disrespectful and it’s outright bigoted.

Y’know, if you actually want to talk about prejudice and persecution and how they can affect people’s lives, why not use actual marginalised people? You want to show how a person navigates a society that has extreme prejudice against their skin colour? Why not make your protagonist a POC? You want to show a society that persecutes people based on who they’re attracted to and who they love? Why not make your protagonist gay?

Oh, but then that becomes a specialist subject, right? A “niche”, dealing with marginalised issues. A POC book. A Gay/Lesbian book. Totally inappropriate for mainstream audience – when we can take the same story and flip it to bizarre bigot world and make the poor straight, white person the persecuted victim and we’re back in mainstream land. Funny, that.

Is that what this is? This whole offensive, bullshit trend (I mean, apart from prejudiced arsehattery, which kind of goes without saying)? A desire to use prejudice as a plot point but not sully your main character by making them an actual minority?

And don’t tell me it will help straight/white people understand oppression. Because if a privileged person will only hear about prejudiced issues when it comes from a privileged mouth then what is the point? I’ve said this before when we’ve had similar bullshit, how are you going to encourage people to address prejudice and marginalisation while at the same time training them that it’s only worth listening to privileged people?

Because that’s what I hear when this excuse is trawled out. Straight, white people can’t possibly empathise with a POC or GBLT protagonist so we have to present these prejudiced issues through a privileged lens, from a privileged mouth. Either by making being privileged a marginalisation like in the examples above – or by making up an entirely new, fictional prejudice. As we’ve mentioned before with the appropriation of magrinalised groups for “fantastic prejudice” where vampires/fae/witches are persecuted for not being mundane humans. This can even be doubly offensive when we mix both offensive appropriations – such as in Lost Girl – with the white Kenzi being oppressed by the Black fae for being human.

All of this completely puts the lie to the idea that these stories and storylines encourage empathy. If you had empathy could could empathise with the real marginalised people who are actually suffering. You wouldn’t need a privileged person to make up a ridiculous and offensive marginalisation for you to cry for..

And don’t tell me it’s for marginalised people, so we can see a world where we’re dominant. Would I like to read a book where marginalised people are the majority and in charge? Sure – but not through the eyes of a poor, oppressed straight/white person who is suffering so awfully at the hands of the big, mean, prejudiced gay/black people. Because maginalised people being cast as evil villains? Been done and it’s not fun.

If you needed any more proof that this is offensive, just take to net and start googling these storylines. Google “heterophobia” google “straight or white pride”. Google “reverse racism” google “anti-white racism”. Google “Christian prejudice”. You probably got some truly vile sites and vile people right there. These memes already exist – from the oppressors, from the hate groups and from the bigots trying to create the idea of these oppressive minorities have to be fought, controlled and kept in their place or you will become the victims. We already have this narrative, it’s in the mouths of the hate groups, the pro-segregationists, the politicians and the religious leaders denying human rights. In the shadow of these organisations, these books and films read more like cautionary tales – warnings for straight and white folks – than a call for empathy.

Just stop. You want to include marginalised people, then do it. But don’t make free with the severe issues that have shaped and attacked us for generations and appropriate them for your own ends. And certainly don’t do it while making our oppressor’s the victims and the persecuted the attackers in these lazy, shallow, ridiculous worlds.


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178 Responses to Reverse Oppression: A Fad that Needs to End

  1. JGirl says:

    I could be wrong, but these stories come across to me as stories of how terrified the author is of losing privilege. I don’t get any sort of, “Hey, what if you were the marginalized person?” sense from it at all, but rather, “OMG, how horrible would the world be if the straight, white folk weren’t in charge!?!” It really just seems like fearful, bigoted panic.

    For the sake of full disclosure, I’m a cis-gendered, mostly-straight white woman myself.

    • Bagelsan says:

      I get a kind of rape-fantasy/role-play vibe from it, in a way… or whatever the racial equivalent would be. “Ooh, wouldn’t it be fun to be like, totally enslaved and oppressed? Only not really? But just for play play?” They don’t want the actual pain of the real oppression, just the fun righteous brave indignation of being so “oppressed.”

  2. Jadey says:

    *wild applause*

  3. Wirbelwind says:

    It’s not “reverse racism”, it’s racism.
    It’s not “reverse sexism”, it’s sexism.

    • PrettyAmiable says:

      Sure, dude. If you ignore that -isms require a systemic component to actually be a thing.

      Haven’t you been banned before?

      • PrettyAmiable says:

        Balls – we weren’t supposed to engage the trolls, right? Sorry Fangs team.

        (PS, your blog is one of my top three blogs right now).

      • Wirbelwind says:

        I do not see a reason why I should have been banned.
        And racism is racism, rape is rape, sexism is sexism. There is no “reverse”.

      • msgd says:

        The definition as used in feminist communities is different than the commonly used definition outside of such communities.

      • drob says:

        Agreed, calling some kinds of oppression ‘reverse’ just serves to belittle them and make them seem not as important.

      • PrettyAmiable says:

        Funny, as I see it, calling it “racism” when a black guy calls a white guy a “cracker” seems to belittle the idea that there are SYSTEMIC ISSUES WHEREIN WHITE FOLK TRADITIONALLY OPPRESS POC.

        They are not the same.

        Shitty? Maybe, but I couldn’t give an eff if someone called me a cracker or racially profiled me for being white. I’d be a complete idiot if I did.

      • Partial Human says:

        Except you seem to be asserting that POC can be racist against whites, and that women can be sexist against men. Which isn’t true. Would you also assert that cisphobia and heterophobia are valid oppressions?

        Oh, and I don’t recall anyone bringing up rape, or trying to define who can/can’t be raped. Your disingenuity is noted.

        frob – you should probably lurk for a lot longer before posting much more. You’re throwing off such “I’m a cisstraight white man, and here’s what I think!” vibes that they can be seen from Mars. This is not the place.

        It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt

      • PrettyAmiable says:

        I have a comment in mod, but Partial Human said it better anyway. Thank you for your eloquence.

      • Wirbelwind says:

        Partial Human, do you have a superpower allowing you to check the race/gender of whoever posts here ?
        Or is saying that somebody is a straight white man your favorite silencing tactic ?

      • Partial Human says:

        Wibblefart – yes, I have the magical ability to infer meaning, and glean information, from squiggly shapes made from ink or pixels.

        It’s a power known as rea-ding.

        Arsenugget.

      • Wirbelwind says:

        Ad hominem attack this early in the morning, or are you just describing your favorite dish ?

      • PrettyAmiable says:

        wirbelwind, don’t get offended when whiny white dudes are easy to spot. You are a special kind of whiny.

        And hell the fuck yes, you should have been banned from here. You consistently say racist and xenophobic nonsense on these blogs (see your comments on the immigration post). And of course, the fact that you’re not here in good faith, given that you’re active in MRA blogs. (Notably, you out yourself as a white guy in the comments there – maybe you should get off Partial Human’s back?

    • Wirbelwind says:

      I see, so Toysoldier is a MRA now and is a pariah, right ? Is it because he speaks about male victims of abuse ?
      “Special kind of whiny” ? Like, I don’t like being called piece of shit ?
      And for “xenophobe”: every nation has a right to determine how it wants to deal with immigrants: whether do admit them, send them back or whatever, as long as they treat them humanely.

    • Fat Steve says:

      It’s not “reverse racism”, it’s racism.
      It’s not “reverse sexism”, it’s sexism.

      Wrong on both counts:

      It’s not ‘reverse racism’, it’s not racism.

      It’s not ‘reverse sexism’, it’s not sexism.

      I am of course referring to charges of ‘reverse racism’ or ‘racism’ in things like affirmative action. However the description of ‘reverse oppresion’ in the OP is something totally different and an accurate description of a literary technique.

  4. These kinds of stories also make no sense, because they assume that oppression plays out the same way in any circumstance, whereas we know in reality that the differences between people shape the form of the oppression. It’s not like women would be forcing men to give birth in a matriarchy.

  5. Becca Stareyes says:

    Amanda Marcotte, I noticed that as well.

    That and I want to know how you take a system where the privileged classes have immense systemic power and throw the whole thing into reverse — when you have so many rich/powerful white straight cis people and activists have enough trouble lessening the oppression, how do you create something where the minority is in charge? And how does that affect the world besides some kind of Freaky Friday swap? (Besides, ‘things are terrible now that they are in charge’ *eyeroll*.)

    You can get away from this in second-world fantasy and alternate history by starting it out that way, but… well, I want something more than ‘lol, now white people are persecuted by black people’. What kind of cultural changes do you get when sub-Saharan Africa, say, is home to the dominant set of cultures and Europe is a cold, exotic colony, besides ‘reverse racism’? What about societies with differing family structures — don’t tell me about the poor, persecuted straight monogamous person, tell me about the domestic dramas.

    It strikes me as building a space shuttle and then admiring how the paint job looks different from your car’s.

    • Alyson says:

      I experimented with an alternate-reality homosexual-majority world story when I was sixteen, mostly because it was fun to imagine the different sort of family structures that would have arisen in that sort of culture with hetero reproduction. (It never really went anywhere because I got another story idea that overrode it.) But it was fun imagining how their version of Adam and Eve (and Steve, and Ada) would work.

  6. Dank says:

    I’ve never encountered Fantasy where “the tables are turned”, but I have read a boatload of stuff where (ostensibly) cis, straight white people were being oppressed by some totally different group (see Mistborn, Hunger Games, etc). I wonder how people feel about that dynamic.

    • DP says:

      I completely agree with most of your post. I don’t know that the whole fantastical oppression thing is really valid here, though. For one, a lot of SF/fantasy fiction is set in ‘twisted’ versions of the real world, where you have stuff like Romans or the Medieval Church oppressing all kinds of ‘white’ people all over Europe. So you have people who would have significant privilege NOW but in a different frame they wouldn’t have.

      I think it’s valid to write about anti-Saxon bias or something like that…or a fictionalized version involving elves and humans or whatever.

      If you’re going to do a hypothetical/speculative thought experiment about WHAT IF vampires/elves/faeries/whatever, then it makes sense to think about what kind of oppressions might arise from it.

    • Bagelsan says:

      I think Hunger Games was more of a class oppression thing, if you’re thinking of the white-on-white oppression. That’s at least a valid real world oppression.

    • Erin says:

      True of Mistborn, but not true of The Hunger Games. The protagonist, Katniss and her mentor Haymitch, at least, are people of color (see this post for more).

      Actually, what made me particularly uncomfortable about Mistborn was listening to it on audio. All of the characters were given either American or European accents, except for Sazed, a eunuch from a race that is raised for servitude from birth, who has a vaguely Chinese accent. The main characters are all part of the oppressed group, and presumably white, but the one character who is marked as “Other” and who is castrated and servile to boot has a Chinese accent.

      It’s tough to know how to approach these kinds of narratives in fantasy. It’s not that every oppressed group in fantasy must correspond to a real-life oppressed group. But there have to be ways to tell these stories without appropriating real-life experiences. Maybe if the skaa, the oppressed group in Mistborn, were presented as more racially diverse, it wouldn’t feel as much like it was stealing a racial narrative that didn’t apply.

      • marle says:

        Katniss and Haymitch weren’t meant to be of color in the hunger games. Their town was meant to be representative of poor white coal mining towns in West Virginia today, which basically jabber no people of color. It was an active choice on the author’s part to focus on poor whites. You can disagree with that decision, but that was the choice that was made. That’s also why in the movie the actors are clearly white. The author was a part of the movie production and helped choose the actors

      • Erin says:

        That is clearly not true, as you would know if you’d read the link in my comment. It is not true that Appalachia is completely white, for one – there is an ethnic group unique to the area called the Melungeons, who are a mix of white, Native, and Black. In any case, who’s to say there might not be people of color in Appalachia hundreds of years in the future?

        Katniss, Haymitch, Gale, and the other people of the Seam are described as having olive skin, black hair, and gray eyes. This physical contrast with the upper-class merchants of District Twelve, who are blonde and blue-eyed, is repeatedly emphasized. Eleven and Twelve are the poorest, worst-treated districts. Eleven is described as mostly Black, and the majority of Twelve’s inhabitants are Seam, and olive-skinned and black-haired. Haymitch is closest friends with the victors from District Eleven, who are also people of color from a poor district, and Katniss instantly identifies most with a Black tribute (Rue). Poverty in Panem is racialized. Just because Suzanne Collins later chose to whitewash her own story for the movie doesn’t mean that her original story was not a racial narrative.

      • Bagelsan says:

        I’ve read the arguments, and I think it’s still very much up for debate whether or not Katniss et al. were supposed to be white or not. Her kind of coloring certainly appears on “white” people as well as POC, and the author at least seems fine with the casting of a white girl. (I personally would have preferred a girl who wasn’t white, honestly, but I think that Katniss’ race remains ambiguous.)

      • DonnaL says:

        I don’t know anything about the Hunger Games specifically, or the context of any of this, but since when do olive skin and black hair necessarily signal anything in particular about race? “Race” in general, and the conferring of “whiteness” in particular, often have very little to do with skin color.

    • If people will excuse the blatant self-promotion – we have addressed this as well http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/2012/03/appropriation-in-urban-fantasy-should.html

      We are really uncomfortable when oppression movements are appropriated for “fantastic isms”

    • Dank says:

      I can’t believe I forgot to mention this short film, which I saw just last month. It’s called Babakiuera, and while I’m not sure how to describe it, I do think it’s worth watching.

  7. drob says:

    There we had over here a while ago that my daughter read where black and white people were swapped (though this was set in the UK, which obviously has slightly different racial relations). It was called “Noughts and Crosses” or something like this, and it was written by a black woman. However from what I remember of the book (I skimmed it to make sure it wasn’t inappropriate) the white minority are treated very differently to how the real black minority are treated, for example the white minority engage in terrorist activities and work only as hired help. Either way I’m not sure it’s as simple as you say, simply the appropriation of an oppressed group’s experiences.

  8. Bruce From Missouri says:

    Don’t forget Heinlein’s “Farnhams’s Freehold” where the future is cannabalistic blacks enslaving white people.

    • Bagelsan says:

      Oh Heinlein. Can we just pretend he wrote “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel” and then never wrote again?

    • aumentou says:

      +shudders at the thought of Heinlein+

      I read Starship Troopers and Friday when I was a teenager, because yay sci-fi. At the time I would have had real difficulty putting my criticism into words, but I knew I didn’t want to read any more because it left with a bag taste in my mouth.

      It wouldn’t matter, but I associate with geeks, and they love sci-fi. So they point me at him and get surprised when I’m not keen.

  9. Bagelsan says:

    I actually read a gender-flipped reverse oppression book that was cheesily awesome; they didn’t get into the practicalities of it at all, ’cause it was essentially a matriarchy bodice-ripper, but as a woman I found it entertaining as hell. Men had to ride side-saddle, protect their virtue, marry well, etc etc. while women rode around kicking ass.

  10. matlun says:

    I am not convinced. In some cases as for example in childrens books this might Ok. It might be a good moral lesson in the sense “think how it would be if this happened to you”.

    As you say, only being able to empathize with your own group shows a limited moral sense, but it can certainly be easier to make the message pack a heavier punch in that way. Identifying more strongly with individuals of your own group is after all human nature.

    Also, reversing positions and prejudices can also make them more obvious and open to reflection and discussion. It all depends on how the story is told.

    I am just talking about the general principle here. I do not know anything more of the specific examples here than what is in the OP, so I can not say anything meaningful about them.

  11. Shigekuni says:

    Well, there are books like Durham’s Acacia trilogy, which use an African-style landscape and people as the ‘normative’ people of the world, which is so stunning that it shows you how ingrained the white anglo saxon norm in fantasy/sf really is.

  12. Lauren says:

    There’s like 100+ years of dystopian literature on social issues that follows this “fad”. The earliest I can think of off the top of my head is “Herland” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (in Gilman’s feminist utopia, women rule and the world is perfect and peaceful). And then a more recent one is “Egalia’s Daughters” by Gerd Brantenberg from the 70s. Hell, I also think of some of the civil rights fictional narratives from the 60s with “Black Like Me.”

    If they’re problematic, so be it. But they’re vastly more useful as texts representative of activist wishes of their time and place than they are as perfect representations of who we are. Is it worthwhile to understand who we are and where we’ve been? I hope so.

    The point of the whole literary tradition is to pull people out of the banality of the existing kyriarchy and flip some things around so the absurdity of whatever oppression is laid bare. But the point is that there is a long literary tradition of this in literature that wants to appeal to our collective sense of social justice. What is up for debate is whether it’s useful, and if so, to whom? And by what method? But writing it off as “appropriation” and asking all writers for all time to “just stop” is kind of silly.

    • EG says:

      There’s like 100+ years of dystopian literature on social issues that follows this “fad”. The earliest I can think of off the top of my head is “Herland” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (in Gilman’s feminist utopia, women rule and the world is perfect and peaceful). And then a more recent one is “Egalia’s Daughters” by Gerd Brantenberg from the 70s. Hell, I also think of some of the civil rights fictional narratives from the 60s with “Black Like Me.”

      Herland doesn’t seem to me to fit this dynamic at all–it’s not a world where women are matriarchal oppressors of men. It’s a utopian world in which there are no men, if I’m remembering correctly. Similarly, I though Black Like Me was about a white man passing as black and writing about his experiences, not about wicked black people oppressing him for his whiteness.

      I don’t know Egalia’s Daughters, so on that I can’t comment.

      • Lauren says:

        Yeah, Egalia’s Daughters is more of a direct parallel. Women are the patriarchs and they lord over subjugated men in overt and covert ways. If you read the Amazon synopsis, you’ll see what I mean. I’m just talking out of my neck here. Ultimately there’s a long tradition of using this kind of storytelling, one where roles are reversed or folks literally “step into another person’s shoes,” and when it’s done well it can actually be really useful as a tool in waking folks up or changing their minds about any given social issue.

        And part of me thinks that if this Kickstarter story is “so controversial” that nobody will pick it up, it’s likely less about it being controversial and more about it being bad or poorly-executed. Shit, my kid is reading more controversial YA fiction than that right now.

    • IrishUp says:

      FTR, “Black Like Me” is NOT fiction. It certainly has it’s problems, but it was not some flip universe, it was the autobiographical notes of a white man who traveled for 6 weeks through the Jim Crow era South as a black man. Griffin was documenting how he, a white dude from Texas, was treated when percieved as a black man. (He also put himself at considerable personal risk – at one point he was burned in effigy in his home town).

      I am QUITE sure Renee and Paul do NOT need to have the “point of the literary” tradition ‘splained to them. I suggest you reread the post, and maybe the links. It’s not whether there is any value in using SFF to examine how oppression(s) work and what happens to the people who are so affected, or whether SFF literature cannot be used to help teach empathy and increase awareness.

      The problem being discussed is when fiction that ACTUALLY reinforces oppressions and prejudices is gussied up to LOOK LIKE it is subverting the same. Foyt’s super-sized bag of hot-buttered fail is the example with which I am most familiar; even within her own “Save the Pearls” universe, the reverse-racism doesn’t hold up. And the OP authors are right, that kind of shit just needs to go away.

  13. A4 says:

    I find it interesting that the three organizations listed as supporters of the movie “Love Is All You Need?” are all fairly liberal ones.

    http://www.loveisallyouneedthemovie.com/supporters.php

    No Bully, Teen Line, and Marriage Equality USA

    Search “love is all you need” on this page to see the Marriage Equality USA posting on it:
    http://www.marriageequality.org/films

    • AMS says:

      At one point in time I would have totally been in agreement with my shock.

      However, as of late with several interactions that I have had online and offline, liberals can be just as bad at protecting the straight white male voice and experience as something that should only be picked at as long as it does not require introspection of their own behavior.

  14. Pom says:

    How does Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses fit in with this? Is it any less vapid for having come from a person of colour, and be written for younger people (who might have a more valid reason for not ‘getting’ racism until the “how would YOU like it if…” style narrative comes into play)?

  15. Dan_Brodribb says:

    The problem being discussed is when fiction that ACTUALLY reinforces oppressions and prejudices is gussied up to LOOK LIKE it is subverting the same

    Up until this (thanks IrishUp), I have to confess, I was having a hard time wrapping my head around this article. I’m a straight white cis able-bodied male.

    Another thing that helped was trying to put myself in the shoes of someone who had experienced that type of oppression and what it would feel like.

    And to me that’s what good fiction does. It can help us see the world from a perspective other than our own. But that almost strikes me as an argument in FAVOR of fiction where a person fitting a certain demographic is asked to imagine themself in a position different from the one they’re demographic currently occupies in society.

    So now I’m back to being uncertain again.

  16. Dan_Brodribb says:

    re my post at 3:36pm

    Huh. That is not what I expected the b-quote tag to do.

    Now I’m uncertain about my html skills as well as the original subject

  17. NancyP says:

    Nothing is new under the sun. Circa 1975:
    http://www.feministpress.org/books/naomi-mitchison/solution-three

    The linked kickstart novel and the linked kickstart film may be meant for the LGBT market.

  18. Partial Human says:

    Now now, we can’t have fiction about real oppression, can we?

    Marginalised people as the protagonists and oppressors as the antagonists? Not cool, not cool! Think of the hurted feewings of the cis/straight/white/abled/neurotypical/financially secure/Christians. Think of the men, the colonisers, the Americans!

    They’re not as hardy as you or I, they have tender hearts and delicate sensitivities. Why, even the slightest hint of losing power has them wailing “Misandry! Cisphobia! Oppression, oppression, reverse everythings!”. Poor sheltered souls.

    We also don’t want them to withdraw their support, to be forced by our incivility to say things like “I’m an ally! I believe you people should have rights, but if you’re going to be mean then…”

    Wait… I think someone’s drugged my cheese, because what I actually think is that it’s all rather pathetic. Hoyt writing a racist book because of years of butthurt about being mistaken for a POC once, dross about how gay people would totally strip straights of their rights given half a chance, gross gross gross. Giving the majorities even more excuses to appropriate oppression, and write spin-off fanfic about ebilll mean [insert minority here],.

    I’ll be down here in my bunker.

  19. Kirby says:

    Somewhat related, but the most thought-provoking example I’ve seen of “reverse racism” is the poem “Reverse Racism” by Bao Phi (flawless POC poet!).

  20. librarygoose says:

    The books that I read that had a social justice bent were hardly ever *reverse*-ism. The few that I did read as a kid just read as silly. White people trying too hard to force empathy which I could do easily when reading a book about actual POC. The instances in Scifi where it’s racism (but with aliens!) I got, because the lesson was shit like hating people (or aliens) based on their skin (unless they are Klingons) is Wrong. I already knew and understood this lesson, I knew this so it was just a shoddy affirmation of previous information. Do I think it could teach kids who don’t get this? Not sure.

  21. Cagey says:

    It’s sort of the Tim Wise conundrum through fantasy/sci-fi/fiction. Sure, you’re theoretically informing your audience about the suffering of a large group of people, but this is only possible because they recognized and empathized with the humanity of the privileged person conveying that message, a message that the people being discussed and advocated for have given in 100 different ways for years with their own voices without anyone paying attention and it’s not entirely clear that those audiences are any more inclined to listen to them now than they were before.

  22. AnnieD says:

    I read a story as a kid about this really classist society, and eventually their was a revolution and the tables were turned, with the servant class becoming the masters. On the last page, the protaganist discovers that the whole thing had played out the same way 150 years or so earlier. I thought that used the whole flipping the tables plot very well — it wasn’t just that the masters were bad people, it was a critique of a highly class-ist system which advocated for systematic change and the importance of compassionate social policies and holding the door of opportunity open after you used it rather than revolution and cyclical repetition.

    Or is it just that class oppressions are simple enough in their causes to flip in this manner?

    • EG says:

      Well, when you flip economic class oppression, you’re not changing an immutable characteristic (as we understand it now) of the people being oppressed. The rich are still exploiting and oppressing the poor. It’s just that who gets to be rich are different.

      • Yep. The only actual cases of “oh, the poor oppressed rich!” I’ve seen are in Ayn Rand’s (and I’ve heard of them in Randians’) novels. And it even took a while for Rand to go that far away from Reality Universe; Anthem and Fountainhead are at least halfway sensible where power structures are concerned.

      • AnnieD says:

        Good point. I have had someone try to flip sex based oppression on me in a weird rhetorical point. It was not a productive move — I mean, how can one envisage a world where sex differences are entirely flipped? Wouldn’t it just be a mirror image of this one.

        I thought it was an interesting example of how flipping the system can help explain how it is perpetuated, but you’re right that it works only for simpler situations.

      • Bagelsan says:

        The only “useful” gender flip I’ve heard is the saw about how if cis men had uteri then abortion would be a human right engraved in stone. :p

  23. seisy says:

    I don’t know. I think like any trope, it can be used well, and it can be used poorly, and it can be used for good, and it can be used for evil. I’ve certainly seen enough of the bad and/or evil sort, I’ve seen enough examples of the extraordinarily problematic. And we certainly shouldn’t tolerate those. But I’ve also seen things that put it to good use. For example, I think gender-flipping something (which as mentioned above, will never be exactly perfect) can be a good way to spot and explore assumptions and prejudices and privilege that are so deeply embedded in society that we never even think to question them.

    I believe in empathy. I believe that most people have the capacity to understand and relate to other human beings, even when their experiences may be miles and miles apart. But I also think that empathy isn’t always enough, because privilege is blinding and when it comes to the subtlest things, sometimes it helps to be able to see something from a new perspective.

  24. Alara Rogers says:

    When it comes to gender-flipping oppression, I am actually all for it. Men are thoroughly trained in *not* empathizing with women, *not* comprehending why something that they would hate is also something women would hate, *not* understanding that women are fundamentally human too. I don’t approve of straight-up “men are oppressed and women are the evil matriarchs” unless it’s a total parody, because it’s just impossible to imagine how the sex that’s physically stronger ever got into a place of being physically oppressed, but stuff where the tables are turned in ways that make logical sense, and also makes it really damn clear how stupid gender prejudices are, is actually awesome in my opinion.

    I read something recent which was actually fan fiction, and based on a trope that I normally can’t stand, and wasn’t straight-up direct inversion. They took this silly trope from fan fiction, the “alpha/omega” concept, which is normally just an excuse to have extremely and horrifyingly retro and misogynist sex fantasies played out with men as the victims (of other men, typically), because it’s for the consumption of women who find those fantasies hot but recognize how fucked up they are in real life — the alpha/omega thing is a division of humanity on a gender line that crosses genders, which I recognize makes no sense. Alphas impregnate, omegas give birth, but both men and women can be omegas, and in many versions both men and women can be alphas, though I’ve never seen any actual explanation of how this works or why you even have men and women if you have alphas and omegas in the same roles.

    Anyway, usually alphas are all domineering and possessive and they “claim” omegas and they’re violent, and omegas are often oppressed and they go into heat and if an alpha rapes them while they’re in heat they like it and imprint on the alpha as their mate and blah blah bullshit. In this particular fic, alphas are oppressed, because society *believes* that alphas are violent, domineering, possessive rapists who are obsessed with sex and cannot control themselves around omegas. It’s not true, in the fic, and we see part of the story from the perspective of an alpha who is trying to become an engineer and can’t get anyone to take him seriously because “alphas can’t possibly be disciplined enough for the sciences because they’re too violent”.

    And the thing that is awesome about this story is that it manages to invert sexism without making “women bad guys, men good guys”, because by using the alpha/omega trope they can assign male characters to both roles, and meanwhile it actually uses the exact same characteristics of stereotypes used by rape culture to argue for toleration of male violence to do what would happen in real life if such stereotypes were actually taken seriously and the people they are turned against weren’t rendered into non-people by misogyny — it argues that if there were people who we genuinely believed were violent and could not control themselves sexually, *they* would have their behavior regulated and controlled by society, not their victims.

    This, I think, is a great example of doing this kind of thing right. I don’t think that straight-up reverse oppression is generally a good idea unless it’s got a lot of social re-contexting and world-building built in (I appreciated a series by Steven Barnes, who is a black man, in which Africa became the dominant world power rather than Europe, and Europeans were enslaved in the New World rather than Africans, because a, he did his research, and b, he’s a black man so it didn’t end up reading like a white appropriation fantasy. I doubt very much this Pearls and Coals crap did nearly as much worldbuilding and research.) And my suspension of disbelief just totally goes “splat” at things like “gays are oppressing straights” unless you’ve built something else in like “this was a population control measure that was inflicted on society in the past and now population is handled by mechanical means and that’s why straights are oppressed”, because you gotta solve the question, how is the human race reproducing if the means by which it does so is being suppressed?

    But in general, I am, in fact, in favor of fictionalized oppressions in fantasy and science fiction, because dominant classes are indeed trained in *not* having empathy for non-dominant classes. However, I think that straight up inversions have tremendous potential to go really, really wrong, and that it’s usually better to change things up in some way rather than do a plain inversion. It’s also hard to pull it off if you are yourself a member of the dominant class that’s being inverted because it often does end up reading like an oppression fantasy; theoretically a white person and a black person should be capable of writing the exact same book, but in reality it doesn’t work like that.

    Also, completely fictionalizing an oppression can allow you to do stuff that doesn’t work in the real world right now — for instance, right now, the Western world and white people are so thoroughly dominant that it makes sense to say white privilege exists even in nations of non-whites. But this is not part of the inherent human condition; this is an accident of history, and there have been times in history where “white privilege” would have been totally situational and disappeared entirely in a different environment. Writing about, say, prejudices between Vulcans and Humans, or Humans and Fae, or whatever, allows you to get at the concept of *two* groups who each think they are superior and who will oppress the other group wherever their own group dominates, which is part of human nature but isn’t what’s currently going on with white people and anyone else.

  25. drob says:

    I may be misunderstanding you, but are you saying that, by extension, you believe there is something immutable in the nature of men that they will always be oppressing women and that the reverse is not possible?

    • drob says:

      Sorry this was meant to appear as a reply to EG above.

    • EG says:

      You are indeed misunderstanding me.

      Race and gender, while socially constructed, are still, in the context of a flipped oppression story immutable. It’s not that the men become women and the women men; it’s that women are oppressing men instead of the other way round. The kind of story AnnieD is describing is not a story where poor people oppress rich people (it’s hard to even envision how that would work); it’s a story where poor people become rich and rich people become poor.

      • drob says:

        So you mean that a story in which women oppressed men would only work if it meant women imitating a male role? I don’t find that to be true. I think that women can oppress using the feminine. Consider women using their sexuality in order to manipulate men into doing the things they want. Just because it’s not the brute force applied by males doesn’t mean it can’t be abusive all the same.

      • Annie D says:

        I’m sure that it is possible to imagine such a world, but when I have come across people trying to explain how that world would be, I’ve not always found them to be very imaginative.

        I have neither tried to imagine such a world nor surrounded myself with imaginings of it — like the article says, I only have to look around me to see examples of oppression, and I don’t need to reframe those narratives around me (white, middle class, queer woman) to understand them.

        I would like to apologise for the blindness to the experiences of trans*folk in some of my comments. I was just discussing the difficulties of being inclusive last night, and that I’ve fallen down already is a real sign that I’m not trying hard enough. Thanks for calling me out on it.

      • EG says:

        Are you making an effort to misunderstand me?

        First of all, let me make this as simple as possible: when you flip sexism, you get women oppressing men (Egalia’s Daughters). When you flip racism, you get black people oppressing white people (Save the Pearls). In the example AnnieD describes, the roles are not flipped. The poor do not oppress the rich. It’s just that the identities of the poor and the rich change. The class hierarchy, however, does not.

        As to your other point, it’s absurd. Only people on the lower end of a power hierarchy have to manipulate. Manipulation is what you do when you can’t get what you want directly, but need to get somebody whom you don’t have direct power over to get it for you. Manipulation is a weapon of the week, which is why women and children are often accused of it.

      • Partial Human says:

        I think that women can oppress using the feminine.

        Oppress who, men?

        Nope. Women have no institutional power over men. Minority groups cannot, by their very nature, be oppressive of the majority.

      • drob says:

        But indeed they can. The gender relation is not a hierarchy, how can it be with 50% of the population being female? If oppression flowed only in the direction of women then they would simply be like fuck it, let’s fuck everything up.

        The oppression flows in more of a cubic type shape. While women face the more brunt of the sexism, there are some men and boys who are oppressed very much by both men and women. Think of the socially awkward boy whom the girls cruely berate because he gets tongue tied around them, for example. The thing about the current gender system is that if a boy fails to live up to manliness, he is viewed as worse than a woman. Hence the cube.

      • Angel H. says:

        Think of the socially awkward boy whom the girls cruely berate because he gets tongue tied around them, for example.

        Dear God, not this garbage again.

      • EG says:

        Think of the socially awkward boy whom the girls cruely berate because he gets tongue tied around them, for example.

        OH THE HORROR! Socially awkward boys sometimes get made fun of!

        Fortunately, this never happens to socially awkward girls. They’re never made fun of or berated. This is a cruelty that is only ever visited upon boys by girls. It is totes the equivalent of the sexual harassment and sexual assault that boys often visit upon girls at the same age.

      • librarygoose says:

        Is a really bad version of “patriarchy hurts men too” because that is true. Patriarchy holds those awkward boys to a rigid standard of manliness and when they fail they are punished under patriarchy. Not some super special type of oppression. Because from the shit you are spouting around this thread, I’m not sure you aren’t an asshole.

      • Titfortat says:

        Nope. Women have no institutional power over men. Minority groups cannot, by their very nature, be oppressive of the majority.(Partial Human)

        So I guess if the big bad men dont decide to let you have some power it aint ever gonna happen, right? I would think it might be in your best interest to be nicer. ;)

      • Partial Human says:

        The day I play nice for scumbag MRA trolls like you, is the day when the Earth stops spinning.

        I’d have more chance of teaching chimps to perform Neurosurgery, than I would of instilling basic humanity into bitter little betas. So why try?

        Face it, you’re irrelevant. You lie somewhere between Birchers, and Kidneys for Jesus, on the cultural impact scale.

      • Titfortat says:

        Lol, too easy.

      • aumentou says:

        “Consider women using their sexuality in order to manipulate men into doing the things they want. Just because it’s not the brute force applied by males doesn’t mean it can’t be abusive all the same.”

        The difference between manipulation and force is that with that sort of manipulation you always have the option to say no. With force you don’t. They aren’t in the same league in terms of the power they can give. Manipulation is what you attempt when you can’t use force. When you can, you use force instead. It’s easier, quicker, more versatile, and way more reliable.

      • aumentou says:

        “Think of the socially awkward boy whom the girls cruely berate because he gets tongue tied around them, for example. The thing about the current gender system is that if a boy fails to live up to manliness, he is viewed as worse than a woman.”

        I am a trans woman. Once upon a time I was socially awkward, apparently male, and thought I was male. These days I am less socially awkward. I have two things to say:

        1) Having tried both, I would choose being a socially awkward male, in terms of the treatment society grants. There is a lot of basic respect that is granted to any male, awkward or not, that is simply lacking for women.

        2) You can learn not to be socially awkward.

        So I think your point is kind of crappy.

    • AnnieD says:

      I’m not sure I understand your point in relation to race, but definitely the patriarchy can be linked to basic biological differences between men and women. It’s not as if you can create a world where men give birth to children without altering what it means to be male or female.

      • SophiaBlue says:

        I don’t think this takes away from either your or EG’s points, but I would just like to remind people that trans men who can give birth exist (and, of course, both trans and cis women who cannot give birth exist).

      • DonnaL says:

        It’s not as if you can create a world where men give birth to children without altering what it means to be male or female

        Agreeing with SophiaBlue: that world doesn’t have to be created. It exists. Men do give birth to children. Just as there are women who “father” children.

      • Donna, about that: I’ve been trying to find some more trans-friendly way to talk about trans women who have kids without, like, fucking with their identity, than the verb “father”. I’ve heard “sperm donor” used, mostly by abused kids/adults, but it always sounds really derogatory, probably as a result of context, but I dunno. Is there any more accurate way I can talk about it? Or is putting “father” in quotes, like you did, just about the only way there is to be inoffensive? It seems pretty inadequate.

      • drob says:

        Assuming you are referring to trans-gender people, that is an edge case. I think it would be foolish to discount the role of the biological function of most men and women in shaping the kind of discrimination faced by men and women.

      • mxe354 says:

        It makes sense to say that trans women who raise children (of their own or someone else’s) are mothers because they are women. I’m not speaking as a trans person, however.

      • Annie D says:

        That was poorly worded. I don’t mean to erase the experiences of trans* and gender queer people, or of infertile women. My point was, that in broad terms, the patriarchy and the gendered division of labour on which it rests, relies upon the fact that on the whole, women give birth to and breastfeed children.

        Although this is an old source and has been criticised, Engel’s description of the birth of the family and the state is the best description of this that I can find at the moment. The idea that one could create a viable matriarchy which mirrors the oppressions of the patriarchy normally ignores the way that the biology of most women and most men informs the system.

        I’m not suggesting that this is how it SHOULD be, just that it informs the structures of oppression in a manner which cannot just be swept under the table with some vague explanations.

      • It makes sense to say that trans women who raise children (of their own or someone else’s) are mothers because they are women.

        Yes, of course, but my point is that I can talk about a trans man giving birth without necessarily misgendering him; we don’t use “mothering” as a term for providing egg/womb. However, the verb “to father” is innately gendered and seems vaguely squicky as a result, which is what I was talking about.

      • mxe354 says:

        Assuming you are referring to trans-gender people, that is an edge case. I think it would be foolish to discount the role of the biological function of most men and women in shaping the kind of discrimination faced by men and women.

        Transgender people aren’t “an edge case”. It’s relevant to bring them up because it disproves the notion that only cis women can give birth. And there are a lot more transgender people than you presume.

        And how in the world does the ability to get pregnant necessarily lead to discrimination? Patriarchy and prejudice against women are not permanent. They are socially constructed.

      • mxe354 says:

        My point was, that in broad terms, the patriarchy and the gendered division of labour on which it rests, relies upon the fact that on the whole, women give birth to and breastfeed children.

        In my view, that’s an oversimplified theory, but even if you assume that it’s the best theory out there, it doesn’t mean that patriarchy is an inevitable result of biology, but rather that patriarchy is a result of a social construct that centers around a biological function.

      • Annie D says:

        mxe354 — I’m going to borrow that phrase of yours, I think. It’s an excellent description.

      • EG says:

        Engel’s description of the birth of the family and the state is the best description of this that I can find at the moment.

        Engels is very eloquent. But his theory has not a shred of evidence to support it, and doesn’t actually make any logical sense. Why, for example, would male hunters develop valuable surplus? Meat doesn’t last very long. The female gatherers, on the other hand, are working with grain, according to Engels, which keeps for a much longer time. The women should develop surplus first. Nothing about his theory makes sense.

      • Annie D says:

        I’m not sure it’s possible to speak of evidence in relation to prehistory, but I see your point that his logic is lacking. The difficulty with seeking to understand the origins of gender is that we are not assisted by the clarity of hindsight, but rather see our fundamental assumptions work against us.

        I continue to see the different reproductive roles of men and women as significant in the development of hierarchies of gender. A slightly different example is the “but, babies” response to the gender wage gap; as an example of how at very least, gendered heirarchies are reinforced by the biological realities which many woman and men confront.

      • EG says:

        A slightly different example is the “but, babies” response to the gender wage gap; as an example of how at very least, gendered heirarchies are reinforced by the biological realities which many woman and men confront.

        But again, that isn’t borne out, because the difference between men and women’s wages begins, for the middle class, within a year of leaving college, when the majority of women haven’t had babies at all.

        I’m not sure it’s possible to speak of evidence in relation to prehistory

        Sure it is. There isn’t written evidence, but anthropologists and paleobiologists and suchlike put together theories to account for evidence all the time. Just because Engels couldn’t or didn’t do it around 150 years ago doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.

      • EG says:

        The physiological difference that is the basis for sexism, as far as I can see, is that speaking generally, men have greater upper body strength than women, and so were able to enforce their wishes. Fortunately, since that time guns have been invented, and we no longer have to bow to the rule of the stronger, as John Stuart Mill put it.

      • Annie D says:

        Sorry, I wasn’t clear. My intention wasn’t to suggest that the “but, babies” excuse was correct, but merely to imply that the reproductive functions commonly associated with women are used as justification for the gendered hierarchy.

        Although you might be on to something with the generally higher upper body strength. I would futher link this to women’s reproductive roles, because while heavily pregnant and as nursing mothers they are more vulnerable to violence and less likely to be able to defend themselves and their power.

      • DonnaL says:

        Assuming you are referring to trans-gender people, that is an edge case.

        Gee, talk about being marginalized. Thanks.

        Also: come on already. It’s “transgender,” not “trans-gender.” Unless you’re in the habit of saying “homo-sexual.”

      • DonnaL says:

        Donna, about that: I’ve been trying to find some more trans-friendly way to talk about trans women who have kids without, like, fucking with their identity, than the verb “father”. I’ve heard “sperm donor” used, mostly by abused kids/adults, but it always sounds really derogatory . . . I can talk about a trans man giving birth without necessarily misgendering him; we don’t use “mothering” as a term for providing egg/womb. However, the verb “to father” is innately gendered and seems vaguely squicky as a result

        Macavity, I don’t think there is an acceptable non-gendered word that means that. “Sperm donor” is inherently derogatory when applied to someone who does more than donate sperm, because I think it implies that that’s the end of the involvement. Not to mention that “sperm” is a pretty male-sounding word all by itself! So If someone called me that, I think I would have an extremely negative reaction!

        The problem, of course, is that to “father” a child generally refers to what happens before the child is born, whereas to “mother” a child refers to what happens afterwards. Which says something about traditional parenting roles, but also means that the verbs for the parallel act are gendered in one case (to father), and non-gendered in the other (to give birth), thereby unintentionally creating nomenclature difficulties for trans women who are parents, but not for trans men.

        I haven’t personally spent much time trying to come up with a non-offensive, non-gendered term that a trans woman could use to describe the act of producing a child biologically, since my son was born before my transition, so it doesn’t really bother me if someone says I that I biologically fathered him.

        The question of what verb (or noun) to use to refer to my being his parent now is another issue entirely, for another conversation.

      • Fat Steve says:

        Also: come on already. It’s “transgender,” not “trans-gender.” Unless you’re in the habit of saying “homo-sexual.”

        100% back this statemen

        Though my sense of irony couldn’t help notice your comment was laid out (on my screen at least) in the only acceptable way to hyphenate those two words: when they are on two different lines.

      • Li says:

        One of my friends just had twins with his partner. She gave birth to them, he provided the eggs and a mutual friend of theirs provided the sperm. Just to point out that while “give birth to” is broadly neutral, sometimes that’s not an entirely accurate synonym for to “mother” as it’s commonly understood. Sometimes the person who births a child and the person from whose egg the child develops aren’t the same person. Which is to say: sometimes trans men have these nomenclative difficulties too.

        PS: Language is silly.

        PPS: THE PHOTOS. Dying of cute queer families and their tiny babies.

      • IrishUp says:

        FWIW, I have been using birth(ing) parent and pregnant parent or pregnant person just generally.

        IRL, I do quite a bit of academic/clinical writing. I’ve been slipping these in to mixed results. A lot of the time nobody notices – or at least, nobody comments, and the language survives the review process. But I’ve had about an equal number of people spot it and “correct” it back to the gendered term, as spot it and comment that they like or prefer the gender neutral language.

      • aumentou says:

        @macavitykitsune

        As an adjective, I’d go with mother. Because, you know, female parent. I was trying to think of an equivalent verb to “fathered” and gave up because it occurred to me I would never use that as a verb anyway. I don’t think there is one suitable for general usage.

        @drob

        Arbitrarily deciding that our existence can be ignored in discussions about sex and gender is part of the oppression we deal with. Assuming you’re not trying to contribute to said oppression, you should stop doing that.

      • mxe354 says:

        It’s not as if you can create a world where men give birth to children without altering what it means to be male or female.

        Gender isn’t determined by the ability to give birth. And uteri-bearing men already exist. Also, the early hunter-gatherer societies are proof that patriarchy is a social construct that is not the inevitable consequence of biology.

      • Annie D says:

        My understanding of gender is a social construct which we interact with on a deep psychological level and which can be divorced from biological sex. But I do believe that the constants of gender (and accordingly, gender based oppressions) across civilisations at time (slim though they are) relate to the reproductive functions which are most commonly associated with each gender.

        Because I believe that there is little more to gender other than what society constructs around it and those basic biological functions; to my mind, a world in which the biological roles of the sexes were flipped would lead to changes in gender. Not that specific individuals would experience their own gender differently, but that on the whole, what we mean by male and female would differ more than any cultural comparison one could draw on.

  26. im says:

    This actually seems like a super complex issue.
    – Do the presence of stories w/ fantastic oppression hurt real people simply by existing, or is it because they distract from real oppression or because they perpetuate a view of oppression as being really overt, (like people assume systemic racism does not exist because there is no more KKK?)

    -Genderswap is really, really useful, both for arguments for and against feminists. Although here we’re talking arguments, not bigger fiction. Should it not be used?

    – What about cases when somebody not privileged writes a reversed -oppression story?

    • Partial Human says:

      arguments. for and against feminists

      Oh do tell. What are the arguments against feminism?

      • drob says:

        Well it can illustrate how feminists and other women would not be so happy about having complete equality. You can gender swap some things and it reveals that women would just not be comfortable taking on a lot of the roles and responsibilities that men today still have to shoulder the brunt of.

      • Past my expiration date says:

        Which roles and responsibilities that men today still have to shoulder the brunt of, specifically, would women (all women, I assume) just not be comfortable taking on? I’d like to know!

      • mxe354 says:

        Looks like you don’t understand what gender equality actually entails. Hint: it’s about the freedom to choose roles.

      • mxe354 says:

        Gender equality implies freedom from being forced into being someone you’re not, so that does’t make any sense.

      • EG says:

        Which roles and responsibilities that men today still have to shoulder the brunt of, specifically, would women (all women, I assume) just not be comfortable taking on? I’d like to know!

        So would I. I certainly hope that drob enlightens me as to which manly responsibilities would prove too much for me; I’ll try not to collapse onto my fainting couch as I consider them.

      • aumentou says:

        “You can gender swap some things and it reveals that women would just not be comfortable taking on a lot of the roles and responsibilities that men today still have to shoulder the brunt of.”

        Yeah, because getting paid more and being granted instant respect and having people generally assume you’re competent is just so awful. I don’t know how you cope.

        You’re about to start talking about the armed forces, or police, or some such. Considering that the army still have a rule saying women can’t be in the front line infantry and I know at least a few women who’d be very keen to sign up, you’re talking nonsense. Ditto the police: no specific rule, but they try to put women recruits off. It’s the institutions that don’t want the women, not the women who don’t want the job.

      • matlun says:

        Oh do tell. What are the arguments against feminism?

        Surely those arguments would not be very hard to find?

        Just find some feminist theory you find objectionable and argue against that. Considering the very wide and varied range of thought within feminism that should not be too difficult for anyone.

        Then we can have a burnout with straw men vs “no true Scotsman” arguments.

        On closer consideration: Please don’t tell.

        (Reading his posts above, even this level of argument may be beyond drob. But in principle it has played out too many times to be fun any more)

  27. My two cents on this:

    I frequently used “how would you feel if X was you and treated you like you treat X?” as a tactic to instil basic empathy in the kids I used to teach, who were three, four and five years old.

    If anyone over thrice that age needs to have things explained to them in that fashion, there’s something seriously fucking wrong with their heads imho.

    • IrishUp says:

      Word. Totes age & stage appropriate. Preschoolers & kindergardeners are working to develop theory of mind, empathy, and predicting effects. If you’re STILL working on these issues as an adult, there is no LITERATURE that’s going to help.

      • seisy says:

        But a lot of the issues worth exploring are subtle. Tell me you’ve never had a conversation with a well-meaning, sympathetic dude who honestly can’t see (in a forest/trees sort of way) that XYZ is an issue. We’ve all got those blind spots. Sometimes speculative fiction can reveal them.

        I’ve been thinking about this post and conversation a lot. I think maybe it’s necessary to distinguish between stories where the entire purpose is the flip, with some hamfisted agenda behind it, and stories where the main plot is just set in a society that works in a different way. Because in the case of the former? I find myself much more readily agreeing.

  28. James says:

    When I first heard about that “Pearls” book I was both baffled and disgusted. After reading this though, I think I understand it a bit more, but it’s still really depressing.

    The point made about ‘niche fiction’ featuring minorities and POC protagonists is a valid one, and it seems to be a pretty screwed up product of our society that it’s harder to make money talking about minorities than it is to flip things and make the white people the minorities.

    Still, it’s not like authors are to blame for that framework, and while it’s morally repugnant to co-opt and flip things like that… if that’s what it takes to sell books…

    Nope. Still horrible. Understandable, but horrible. You don’t change hearts and minds by putting on a minstrel show.

  29. Mandolin says:

    I like N. K. Jemisin’s take on this: http://nkjemisin.com/2012/08/flipping-the-scrip-can-we-should-we/

    She has a number of suggested guidelines for what can make discrimiflips potentially useful instead of damaging such as:

    Checking privilege, decentering the society and the character, and using subtlety.

    Admittedly, I’m the author of what she calls a successful discrimiflip. (The main character comes from a matriarchal, men-oppressing society.)

  30. drob says:

    Hmm there’s an interesting point though that when the discrimination is reversed it can reveal some of the issues within the social movements of the current day.

    Consider for example a novel in which discrimination of homosexuals and lesbians is reversed. A society intolerant of heterosexuals is likely to be very strict on gender lines and prohibitive of people of the opposite genders interacting with each other. Such a story could then be used to illuminate issues of sexism in the homosexual and lesbian community (I don’t know if there are such issues, but it’s an interesting thought). Or about how even after social revolution, the song remains the same, to quote Robert Fripp.

    • Partial Human says:

      A society intolerant of heterosexuals is likely to be very strict on gender lines and prohibitive of people of the opposite genders interacting with each other

      In what way? Show your work. Also, where do bisexuals fit in?

      There’s also the fact that sex != gender. You can have a homosexual couple where each person possesses different genitalia, and a heterosexual couple where each person has the same.

      Such a story could then be used to illuminate issues of sexism in the homosexual and lesbian community (I don’t know if there are such issues, but it’s an interesting thought)

      Gay life is free of sexual inequalities, and exists in an entirely different realm. We don’t have racism, classism or ableism either. It’s awesome.

      Oh, and lesbians? We’re homosexual too. Funnily enough.

      • drob says:

        There’s also the fact that sex != gender. You can have a homosexual couple where each person possesses different genitalia, and a heterosexual couple where each person has the same.

        While I absolutely respect everyone’s right to gender identify how they please, I don’t think this makes much sense. Sexual attraction works by visual attraction. A heterosexual male is attracted to the kind of body cis women have, while homosexual men are attracted to the kind of body that cis men have. I hope this isn’t offensive.

      • librarygoose says:

        It is super offensive. So…stop it?

      • EG says:

        Sexual attraction works by visual attraction.

        Evidence? Are you suggesting that blind people never find anybody sexually attractive?

      • Partial Human says:

        How do you identify trans men and trans women then, without removing their underwear? Are you saying, as a cisstraight person, that you can only be attracted to someone of the opposite sex once you’ve inspected their naked body?

        Primary sexual characteristics apparent from birth are not the same as the secondary sexual characteristics, produced by hormones, that typically inform sexual attraction. That’s why adults don’t typically desire children.

      • LotusBecca says:

        Well–this month at least–I’m identifying as a lesbian transsexual woman, one who is often highly attracted to other trans women. So I’m not sure how I would fit into your exquisitely formulated theories. I’m probably an edge case, though.

      • mxe354 says:

        While I absolutely respect everyone’s right to gender identify how they please, I don’t think this makes much sense. Sexual attraction works by visual attraction. A heterosexual male is attracted to the kind of body cis women have, while homosexual men are attracted to the kind of body that cis men have. I hope this isn’t offensive.

        You’re ignoring the fact that trans people are, in fact, real men, women, and so on. And you’re assuming that it’s easy to tell whether someone is trans based on their appearance alone. So yes, you are being offensive.

      • Li says:

        As a ‘homosexual’ man (well, close enough), I should point out that trans men’s bodies and cis men’s bodies look pretty much the same, especially after hormonal or surgical transition. I have totally experienced visual attraction to a number of trans men, and it’s not just me, because a number of them are also almost exclusively read as super hot cis men by randoms on the street and in gaybars. More often than me, in fact, since I’m cis but am suprisingly frequently read as a butch women or trans man (I suspect it’s the floral patterns) by randoms. So, apart from being offensive, you’re also dead wrong.

      • drob says:

        Hmm well if this is so… that heterosexual males can be attracted to trans women because they look like cis women, do you also believe that heterosexual males could be attracted to a cis male who looks very feminine? But clearly even if a heterosexual male was attracted to a very feminine looking cis male, I don’t think he’d want to have sex with him. And yes I have a full understanding of gender identity, but I think sexual attraction works in a way that’s not based on appearance and not based on identity either. You know what I mean?

      • Caperton says:

        drob, at the risk of sounding overly harsh, every comment you’ve made on this post has been some degree of offensive. This would be a good time to stop commenting and read more until you understand why that is. Since you appear to share an IP address with a recently banned commenter who tended to similarly ignorant comments, maybe you can ask her about why she got banned.

      • mxe354 says:

        Hmm well if this is so… that heterosexual males can be attracted to trans women because they look like cis women, do you also believe that heterosexual males could be attracted to a cis male who looks very feminine? But clearly even if a heterosexual male was attracted to a very feminine looking cis male, I don’t think he’d want to have sex with him.

        See: Kinsey scale

      • LotusBecca says:

        Sexual attraction works by visual attraction.

        [B]ut I think sexual attraction works in a way that’s not based on appearance.

        Lol. You can’t be for real. Attraction is visual but not based on appearance, huh? Normally the gibberish that cissexist trolls spout has at least a little more internal consistency than this. It’s almost like you’re not even trying.

      • aumentou says:

        “While I absolutely respect everyone’s right to gender identify how they please, ”

        You should probably start working on that, since you’re not doing it.

        “I don’t think this makes much sense. Sexual attraction works by visual attraction.”
        If you think what you can see is all that matters, why ever have sex? Most of it isn’t a visual experience.
        Also, whilst you might be driven primarily by appearance, others are not. You can’t hope to understand anything until you stop universalising your own priorities.

      • aumentou says:

        “do you also believe that heterosexual males could be attracted to a cis male who looks very feminine”

        I think someone might consider themself heterosexual because society assumes that as a default. Then they might find themself attracted to someone outside the strict remit of heterosexuality. Then, if they were honest, they’d have to acknowledge that “heterosexual” was not an accurate adjective when applied to them.

    • EG says:

      A society intolerant of heterosexuals is likely to be very strict on gender lines and prohibitive of people of the opposite genders interacting with each other.

      Sure, that makes sense, because traditionally, societies intolerant of homosexuality have done exactly the opposite–oh, wait.

      • drob says:

        Yes indeed heterosexual societies have been known to be sexist. But it seems to me that if society was homosexual and lesbian, and that we were able to breed via homosexual and lesbian techniques, then the genders would become even more separated, because they would have even less reason to interact with each other than they do now.

      • LESBIANS ARE HOMOSEXUALS. Stop saying “homosexuals and lesbians”, it doesn’t make any sense.

      • EG says:

        they would have even less reason to interact with each other than they do now.

        That presumes a separation to begin with. I myself interact with people I don’t want to have sex with all the time.

      • Bagelsan says:

        LESBIANS ARE HOMOSEXUALS.

        Whaaaat? They are? I totally thought my lesbian aunt just had a very affectionate roommate!

        ;D

    • aumentou says:

      “Consider for example a novel in which discrimination of homosexuals and lesbians is reversed. A society intolerant of heterosexuals is likely to be very strict on gender lines and prohibitive of people of the opposite genders interacting with each other. ”

      a) “homosexuals and lesbians” is a tautology.
      b) gender is not binary.
      c) orientation is not binary.
      d) the only reason heterosexual women have to interact with heterosexual men that homosexual women do not have is… sex. So you believe that “desiring sex” is the main reason heterosexual people talk to members of the opposite sex.
      I don’t know how to tell you this nicely: women are real people you can have real conversation with, not just pleasantly shaped sex dolls you have to trick into thinking you’re desirable.

      • moviemaedchen says:

        I don’t know how to tell you this nicely: women are real people you can have real conversation with, not just pleasantly shaped sex dolls you have to trick into thinking you’re desirable.

        QFT. Thank you.

  31. Fat Steve says:

    I’m not a fan of the speculative fiction genre, Woman on The Edge Of Time being the only novel in that category I can think of which I’ve loved, so I’ll ask this question to those of you above who seem to have a lot more grounding in the genre:

    Bearing in mind this bit of the OP:

    Would I like to read a book where marginalised people are the majority and in charge? Sure – but not through the eyes of a poor, oppressed straight/white person who is suffering so awfully at the hands of the big, mean, prejudiced gay/black people.

    I’d love to hear people’s idea of what this actually looked like, especially as most of us seem to be in agreement that it shouldn’t look like the examples in the OP.

    I don’t mean to dictate the direction of the conversation, but based on the literary tastes I’ve noted amongst the commentariat, I couldn’t help but imagine there’d be some great suggestions.

    • seisy says:

      Well, I’m not sure if this exactly fits what you meant, but something I’ve been thinking about as I’ve read this thread is A Handmaid’s Tale. I’m not actually sure if it’s a good or bad example, as I read it when I was in middle school and a little too young to fully understand it, let alone look at it critically. But something that struck me when I read it, and stuck with me afterwards, was a scene in which a (the?) POV character- a woman who grew up in a modern america turned extremely repressive, misogynistic, fundamentalist dystopia- encounters a group of tourists from…some still first-world country (possibly Japan?) And it was just interesting, because the group is obviously…mm, I can’t remember the term, but like slumming? disaster tourists? something like that. And there’s this brief kind of non-interaction (the minder is close by, after all) where the script has clearly been set by both the (well-meaning) tourists and the (not so benevolent) minder, and the character’s actual feelings, actual experiences and actual desires are utterly and completely erased. They aren’t important; in that moment, she doesn’t exist as a person, but as some random sample of a monolithic whole. And though I didn’t really have the words for it at the time, it got me thinking about othering and how people living under oppression are silenced by their oppressors but also by the expectations/assumptions of people outside. And about the way “exotic” often means “inexplicable” in the sense of “those weird people! There’s no possible way for me to understand them, therefore, I don’t have to think about it anymore.” Which you know, might not have been the most profound insight, hell, maybe it wasn’t even intentionally. But I remember reading the book and puzzling over that scene and trying to unpack it and understand it for days and days afterwards.

      But I’m not sure if that fits your question: the character is oppressed by old rich white guys, so that’s not really a flip, just taken to an extreme, but having a white north american woman as a third-world poster child to foreign, non-european first world disaster tourists (or whatever the term I can’t remember was) was an obvious and intentional flip.

      • Fat Steve says:

        Actually, I was more wondering if people had ideas for their own stories…

        But thanks for reminding me that Handmaid’s Tale is another book of speculative-fic that I loved…along with Atwood’s Edible Woman (and her other non-dystopian stuff)

      • seisy says:

        Eep! Sorry. That’s what I get for reading/posting at 3am:)

    • Bagelsan says:

      This doesn’t actually answer your question, but Bujold’s Ethan of Athos might be an example of a book where a usually-oppressed group is the majority in one world, and the book is from that perspective. The problems start where Ethan –from a planet entirely of gay men– has to start interacting with women and straight people, which confuse him hugely (and he gets shot at, too, because it’s a Bujold book. :D)

      • Gareth Wilson says:

        I was interested that in Ethan of Athos some gay men immigrate from the galaxy at large to Athos, and the natives think they behave very strangely.
        You may also want to consider The Forever War, where a heterosexual soldier finds himself in a future where almost everyone is homosexual. Part of the backstory is a straight Reverse Oppression – heterosexuality used to be illegal. But when he actually arrives, it’s much more tolerated and he can actually keep his military command and be openly straight. It probably avoids the pitfalls the original post describes by not having the oppression be too serious. The future where rape is legal, that’s a whole different story.

  32. karak says:

    I think this kind of work is the same kind of appropriation as wearing feathered headdresses or pretending that being voluntarily celibate is just like being gay–it comes out of a sense of absolute assumed supremacy-as-normalcy and seeks to exoticize as a way to make themselves more interesting.

    There is a lot of interesting shit that happens to me as a straight person, I don’t need to latch onto the gay experience of prejudice to make my life look more important than it is. Gross gross gross.

  33. Julian says:

    I would just like to say, there have been cases of discrimination against Christan in different parts of the world…it is just in America evangelicals equate not being able to enforce there way of life on others with discrimination…which is not comparable at all. And as for supernatural appropiation, while fantasy/sci fi stories i think can do metaphors of discrimination, there is still a line(for me True Blood has gotten dangerously close to that)

    But i do agree with the main thrust of this post. Stuff like Save the Pearls repulses me.

  34. Ledasmom says:

    Now I am thinking I should reread Le Guin’s “The Matter of Seggri” (novella? novelette? Never can keep those straight, and anyway short stories themselves have gotten very long), if I can remember what book it’s in. It is what came immediately to mind as an example of this sort of thing possibly done right, but I haven’t read it in years and it may have improved in memory. But generally I find Le Guin’s writing, where it touches gender and just in general, thought-provoking (though Samuel Delany’s essay on Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed” is also worth reading).

  35. Odin says:

    Question for the OPs and everyone else: do we count Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku as a reverse oppression story?

    On the surface, it seems like we should. It’s a manga series about an alternate-history feudal Japan, where women outnumber men 5-to-1 and by necessity inheritance and government posts have all passed to women, the (female) shogunate maintains a male harem (and in one case repeatedly rapes the husband of one of her lords), and poor families force their sons to be prostitutes for the income. Our first focal characters are men, too.

    However, I think that Yoshinaga-san’s handling of the subject is brilliant, and it’s not just me who thinks that — it won a James Tiptree Jr. award.

    So, does this qualify as a reverse oppression story? If so, is it an acceptable one (for any definition of acceptable), or does it need to die too? What makes it acceptable if it is? If it’s not a reverse oppression story, what are the key features that differentiate it from one?

  36. a lawyer says:

    At heart, those books are usually making two points in the “humans are hypocrites” genre:

    1) Stuff that the powerful oppressor folks pass off as non-oppressive is, actually, really horrible. The powerful folks learn the truth when the tables turn, and they are now oppressed. Point 1: Oppression is horrible, and the oppressors are bad judges of how bad it is. (also known as the “see, how do YOU like it” strategy.)

    2) Oppressive actions are very simple to enact, and tempting, and seem easy to justify, and give many benefits to the oppressors. So most powerful folks end up doing a lot of them too, even if they themselves were previously oppressed. Point 2: Power is like a drug, and humans tend to abuse it. also known as “the name changes but the song stays the same” strategy.

    #2 can be an uncomfortable topic for some folks though, for obvious reasons.

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  38. Lyndsay says:

    Hmm. I must say a similar idea popped into my head the other day. I wasn’t imagining a complete oppression reversal but more of a “What if same-sex couples were the most typical?” So it’s interesting to read this critique now.

    I agree with lots of points but am not sure about the empathy point. Likely the creator thinks the work is largely for those lacking empathy. We can say, “People should have empathy” and of course they should but some people just don’t. Some people will listen more to their in-group and have more empathy for their in-group. If people have always listened only other to privileged people, how are we supposed to change that? I have more questions than answers when it comes to these people.

  39. Mztress says:

    “I could be wrong, but these stories come across to me as stories of how terrified the author is of losing privilege.”

    You hit the nail on the head in the first comment. Check and mate.

  40. Megan says:

    Reading all the comments about examples of when these kinds of stories could be considered helpful or non-oppressive, I think there’s a distinction people are missing.

    A flipped-world story can be helpful/non-oppressive if it’s written by a member of the oppressed class in question.

    So, a matriarchal-world story when men are oppressed is very different depending on whether it’s been written by a man or a woman. A flipped-world story where black people are the dominant race would be non-racist if written by a black author.

    • matlun says:

      I strongly disagree with that. A work should be judged on its own merits and nothing else.

    • Lemondemon says:

      So, a matriarchal-world story when men are oppressed is very different depending on whether it’s been written by a man or a woman. A flipped-world story where black people are the dominant race would be non-racist if written by a black author.”

      You have any proof of that? Because just, say, being gay doesn’t mean the book that was written won’t be ‘heterophobic’.

      • PrettyAmiable says:

        What the hell is it about this article that is bringing out the trolls?

      • Partial Human says:

        OMG! NOT HETEROPHOBIA!

        *screams*

        The worst of all of the oppressions. All my cries are for the poor, oppressed straights

        How do you even cope with being straight? I think I’d kill myself from all the pressure, the abuse, the secrecy, and the fear.

        I mean, it’s not their fault they have that lifestyle, they were apparently born that way, but society has a long way to go before accepting male/female couples.

        What do they even do? Their bits don’t match.

      • PrettyAmiable says:

        Don’t play oppression olympics. Being straight is totally not as hard as being white.

      • mxe354 says:

        I’m pretty sure Partial Human was joking…

      • DonnaL says:

        Mxe354, what PrettyAmiable said was a joke as well.

      • Partial Human says:

        PA – HDU!!!!! Straightness is the worst of the oppressions OMG.

        My whiteness is a burden, but at least I can get sunblock. I can get a fake tan, I can minimise my deathly glow so that predators don’t see me. But heterosexuality?

        They can’t have civil partnerships,or Pride, I mean…. It’s awfully sad.

    • A flipped-world story where black people are the dominant race would be non-racist if written by a black author.

      Except we’re not talking about dominance, here, we’re talking about oppression. For instance, any fantasy I write that’s set in ancient India is going to be absolutely dominated by Indian characters and Indian culture is going to reign supreme in it. However, that doesn’t mean the focus of the plot is going to be how they went all the way to Europe just to persecute those poor, poor Greeks and their pacifist king Alexander who just wanted to be friends.

      The works being discussed aren’t talking about flipped worlds. A flipped world would be, say, Firefly, where Chinese has become the interplanetary second language even among the totally non-Asian cast.

      The works are discussing reverse oppression, which would be, in the same context of Firefly……Chinese overlords hooking large chunks of British the white population on opium some fancy drug, going to war with white kingdoms over their right to sell it, and instituting horrifically oppressive trade regulations that basically fuck white economies over, while Mal Reynolds, heroic captain, smuggles antidotes and weaning medications to small towns under the eyes of the vigilant and fascist yet just mildly incompetent Chinese governments.

      Which plot, if Whedon had made it, would, by the way, offend the shit out of any Chinese person, and rightly so, because, uh, fuck you, Joss Whedon, you racist shit. Etc.

  41. Lemondemon says:

    Seems everyone missed the air quotes?

    • DouglasG says:

      If what you meant to convey was that any book exploring gay oppressors of a straight underclass written by a gay person would be called heterophobic, of course it would. Our wanting fair treatment is called heterophobic on a regular basis. Asking for equality is being received even worse, and a gay-penned discrimination flip finding its way into general circulation would be taken as nothing less than the vision of our Ideal World View.

      I do, though, recall seeing skits of such a nature regularly performed at early Gay Pride festivals. They went down well enough. This was back about the time of the inclusion of the L in what has now expanded to GLBTQA(…?), when the number of attendees in my area was always called 200 every year for a decade (Mrs Elton and her “ten” thousand pounds in reverse, only much more exaggerated a difference). I often thought the spiritual home for such a skit would be a PFLAG meeting. But it did seem easier for oppressed GLs to be convincingly straight than for privileged S undertakers of the same role to be convincingly oppressed. (Maybe this ties in to Ms Rogers’ comment about how theoretically two authors on opposite sides of an oppression should be able to write the exact same book, but how it rarely actually happens.)

      (A funny aside – I am on a different browser with an automatic spell check, and it does not even recognize “heterophobic” as a properly spelled word. Let me see if it will accept homophobic. It does. Something dastardly must be afoot.)

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  43. Kalico says:

    “Reverse Racism” isn’t real.
    “Kyriarchy” isn’t real.
    “Cis” sex isn’t real (botched Chemistry terms, anyone?).
    “Female privilege” isn’t real.

  44. Matte says:

    Why are we talking about fiction when the Tea Party makes these reverse oppression claims over and over again? Or the NOM people calling themselves both victims and heroes for fighting against the Gay Elites?

  45. ibbica says:

    “Cis” sex isn’t real (botched Chemistry terms, anyone?).

    Hold on a tic. It’s not uniquely a ‘chemistry’ term, and it’s not ‘botching’ anything to use it as the opposite of ‘trans’. Why exactly do you think it’s “not real”, or “botched”?

    I’ll just leave this here:

    From Natalie Reed’s blog (I’m sure there are others out there, but I had this one handy):

    What does “cis” mean?

    It’s short for cisgender or cissexual, which simply means “not transgender” or “not transsexual”. It’s a totally value neutral term, neither derogatory nor loaded with connotations that it’s the superior, more natural or preferable identity (like “real”, “natural”, “genetic”, “bio”, “natal” and other terms that predated it), and is preferred precisely for this reason. Simply “not trans”: nothing more, nothing less.

    It is derived from the latin prefix “cis-”, meaning “on the same side” which is conventionally used as an antonym to “trans-”, meaning “across”. This dichotomy is found in organic chemistry and in scientific naming conventions.

  46. Shoggoth says:

    But what if APES ruled, and HUMANS were kept in cages!?!?!

  47. Shoggoth says:

    I’m nto sure quite how to put this, but I read the Turner Diaries once. Nobody probably wants to, but I swear, it’s a must-read if you have an itnerest in the history of American Kooks and the Right Wing. It’s a pretty archetypal role reversal, in a horrible, baffling way. The oppressed white man rises up and throws off the chains of blacks and jews, race-traitors, the LIEberal media, all the boogeymen. It’s a lot more interesting though, because it paints the role-reversal as having already happened, and viewed realistically is about the oppressed majority fighting against the oppressed minority. It presents a WHAT-IF that already is and runs from there.

    the chapter where they hang all the women who “betrayed their race” by banging black fellows is also, unironically, the most effective chilling literary horror I’ve ever seen.

    But yeah, it’s one fucked up book on every level, but I thought it’s bizarro-world take on doing a role reversal story was unique enough.

    It wins even more irony points by ending with the White Man killing every non-Aryan on the earth, and becoming the new majority by was of simply having no minorities.

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  49. Alanc says:

    Racism is racism.
    Sexism is sexism.

    There is no reverse. So yes, I agree with that guy up there. I see no reason why so many people wish to pretend that only straight white guys can be hateful, or why hate isn’t racist or sexist unless it’s systemic or institutional. In fact, it seems pretty obvious those who object to this obvious truth have some agenda to paint themselves as the perpetual victim, free from criticism and moral judgment. It is hard for these people to play social justice warrior, when they realize they themselves are subject to scrutiny.

    And no, I am neither straight, or white.

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