Tuesday, April 3

Zero-Sum Games

I took the title from Zuzu at Feministe because I liked it.

Mr. Shakes of Shakesville wrote:

Instead of feeling threatened by or put upon by [various civil rights] movements, instead of feeling they somehow denigrate straight, white men’s lives or their ability to be who they are, men would apply these ideas in an effort to improve their own lives, along with everyone else’s. What we need to do is confer all the rights and privileges that these men have traditionally enjoyed upon everyone else, and then, once we’ve done that, we can start thinking about what new rights, obligations, responsibilities we can confer on everyone, in order to make our society a more egalitarian and fair place to live.

I'm not a man, but I am white and upper-middle-class, and I really like this quote because it makes me feel like I'm on the right path. I got an inkling of what I needed to do when I read Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting In The Cafeteria? and came up with particular implementation ideas through Ishmael, The End Of Poverty, the March 2004 issue of National Geographic, Code Of the Street, and many more sources.

Essentially, I understood particular combatable manifestations of privilege I have that have insulated me from feeling many of the negative effects of being a woman in my culture.
  • I'm very white and of at least average conventional attractiveness, so I can pull off an "I'm a nice person!" face at college interviews, disciplinary sessions with teachers, job interviews, etc. very easily.

  • I grew up in such a safe environment that pulling an "I'm a nice person!" face was always more likely to benefit me than to make me a target of violence. I got more practice at incorporating it into my subconscious, unaware facial expressions than did people my age in the ghetto.

  • My parents made enough money at one job apiece to come home and spend time teaching me to read, do math, solve puzzles, and study for tests from a young age and throughout my childhood and teenage years.

  • My conventionally successful parents (and grandparents on one side) passed on their interests in academics over makeup and geeky conversation over making out
Now, after hearing about the rights movements of people who aren't my color or social class or economic class, I better understand what I need to give up to, as Mr. Shakes put it, "confer all the rights and privileges that these [people] have traditionally enjoyed upon everyone else, and then, once we’ve done that, we can start thinking about what new rights, obligations, responsibilities we can confer on everyone."
    It's important for me to:

  • understand that food is going to take up 3-5x more of my budget (and perhaps my family budget someday) than it did in the family I grew up in. Internalizing previously external costs is the right thing to do.
    That way, someone else's costs to eat can come down to where mine are and we'll live fairly.

  • give up huge amounts of free time and conveniences I used to have. After all, I'll have to save money to pay for that fairer food, and one of the more effecient ways to do that (because it also reduces another cost I currently shove onto other people--pollution) is to bike. But biking chips into free time.

  • make a tough decision about whether to grab back my privileges--like free time bought by externalizing costs--if/when I have kids and want to be able to educate them as well as I was educated

  • buy clothes used so they don't get dumped from Goodwill into Tanzanian markets and ruin 10,000 people's jobs at textile factories

  • buy anything with metal in it used--especially if it probably comes from China--because new metal mining imposes huge costs on other people's quality of life

  • use a good bit of free time that I would've used to learn to dance or used to earn a few more bucks writing reform-supporting letters to policymakers instead

  • make sure, every time I get promoted or complimented at work, that there isn't someone lower-class or a minority or fiftysomething who deserved it more. Speak up if there was.
    (OUCH! Could lose me money that seems pretty darned essential at the time!)

  • do much, much more--I could go on and on.
This isn't easy. I guess I want to say to men reading Mr. Shakes & Zuzu that I know how hard it is to adjust to new patterns--this winter I fell back into driving as soon as the weather got cold, even though the roads were clear. And I'm trying to make new habits as a childless youngster with a sturdy economic support system!

So I get it if one day you criticize a buddy for talking about his girlfriend as if he considers her inherently inferior to him and the next day you accept a promotion you suspect your female teammate deserved more.

No, it wasn't right to do that. It's never right to do wrong.

But it is human.

And I can tell you from experience that failures don't have to throw you back into old habits forever.

I can tell you from experience that continuing to hear & read why other people (in the case Shakes & Zuzu are advocating, women) need you to keep doing what you tried your best to do will keep you going if you let it.

(I suppose you could decide to make it get you mad at those other people for being so "needy" instead, but why? What moral good does it do? And, as Mr. Shakes points out, what practical good does it do?)

The internecine warfare that occurs between women and men, people of color and white people, straights and gays, as they all squabble like schoolchildren in an attempt to gain or deny rights, is exactly what those in power want. They promote it, they foment it, they do everything they can to aggravate it, because they know that if we were all ever to get our fucking shit together, and demand that the society we all live in and contribute to should be fair and decent to everyone, then the egregious wealth and power that they enjoy would finally meet its end.

I read theory about what I'm doing wrong in my treatment of other classes and what I could to do counteract the tide of wrongs against them to keep me going. Shakes & Zuzu suggest you read feminist theory, and I suggest that the reason you should is to keep you going.

Click to read one more fabulous quote that just didn't fit in anywhere else

Zuzu wrote:

Another example of [the attitude Mr. Shakes is encouraging men to abandon towards feminism and its tenets] is class anxiety, and the idea that if you get an education, you should be making more money than people who don’t have a degree.


A lot of people on New York One, a local cable news channel, demonstrated in man-on-the-street interviews that their resentment about how much the members of the TWU got in comparison with themselves was directed at the blue-collar transit workers, and not at, say, their own white-collar employers [who were the ones in charge of their salaries]. This is the kind of thing that keeps people from collective action, and keeps the people in power pulling the strings.

(all boldface & brackets mine)

1 comment:

Katie said...

Thinking about sustainable, cost-internalizing practices that take a lot of time remind me of what I made for dinner last night (very good for other people; took me almost 2 hours because of all the cutting & scrubbing).

Now I'm hungry!

*in Cookie Monster voice*

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