In the progressive movement, there tends to be a sharp division between victims and allies -- if you are a victim of something, the rules are different for you than they are for allies. Likewise if you are an oppressed minority, the rules are different from someone who is more privileged. Privileged people are supposed to do all the work to understand those who are oppressed; they can't speak for them; they're supposed to listen. Intersectionality is the understanding that people can be privileged in some ways while oppressed in others. For instance, a white person may be privileged due to skin color, but oppressed due to poverty. So because of that, they are supposed to listen to black people on the subject of racism, but they're allowed to be central in a conversation about poverty.
I don't really have a problem with all that. I learned early in life that a good joke punches up -- that it's funny when someone respected or powerful is the butt of the joke, but when you pick someone disadvantaged, it's just mean. But there's a new trend that's beginning to worry me.
See, in a competitive culture, everyone wants to be powerful. You hide your weaknesses and try to be brave, because peers will be merciless. Ours is more about a preferential option for victims -- we try to be extra nice to people with an obvious disadvantage. But the problem is, soon everyone wants to be a victim. After all, that's how you get sympathy.
And that's how this new trend got started when everyone started claiming to a victim. Men? Victims. White people? Victims. Christians? Victims. It doesn't matter that these people have (in our country at least) the vast majority of both political and economic power. They can always point to some disadvantage they have. Men, for instance, commit suicide more often than women. White people are accused of being racist sometimes. Christians get mocked in ways that, in our country, polite people never joke about Muslims. Basically people from dominant groups are arguing that political correctness -- the protection of "victim" groups -- has turned them into the new victims.
I find it pretty infuriating, because the hidden assumption throughout is, "We are being oppressed, so in order for things to be fair, we need more power than we have." Which is a reasonable thing for a group that is actually being oppressed to say -- I mean, yes, black people could stand to have more money and women should hold more public offices and people should harass immigrants a lot less. But if you're not being oppressed, it raises the question of what you actually want. If you are speaking for straight white males and you claim that your group is being oppressed, what can possibly be a corrective that will satisfy you? You already have most of the government and the CEOs of most Fortune 500 companies and most judges and most police officers and on and on and on. What do you want, one hundred percent straight white males? Or are you just concerned that some straight white males care too much about women and minorities, to the point of ever hiring them or awarding them custody?
I guess I have three main points here.
First, it actually matters whether or not you are being oppressed. Microaggressions like jokes or wearing your culture's clothing are no big deal generally if you're not being oppressed. Irish-Americans generally can laugh at St. Paddy's Day jokes because they're not meant seriously; but one hundred years ago those were dead serious and Irish people would never have laughed at them. The difference is that when you're denied jobs, service in some businesses, and a position in respectable society, those jokes hurt a lot more. So I don't think it's hypocritical to say that you shouldn't make black people the butt of jokes, and at the same time say that white people should have a thicker skin if they hear an occasional joke about themselves.
Second, suffering and oppression are not the same thing. Oppression suggests that something is unfair, that the oppressed person has a lack of power which needs to be rectified somehow. So I will freely agree that a man who identifies as incel is probably suffering. I empathize with it. But I can't agree that he is oppressed, because he has everything reasonable for him to have: a free shot at convincing someone else to love him. We all have that, but we can't have anything more without encroaching on another person's freedom. To call himself oppressed suggests that he doesn't want women to have freedom, and obviously women feel threatened by this.
Third, maybe it would be better if, at least when talking with the general public, we phased out all this talk about victimhood, oppression, and privilege and talked instead about fairness. Everyone should have the same things, and any small differences should be about making up larger differences. If we talk about fairness, it soon becomes clear that fairness is the last thing (for instance) that MRA's want. They want every situation where things are unfair for them to be rectified (no domestic violence shelters for women unless men get one too! equal custody!) but they generally want to keep any inequalities they benefit from. That's a distinction that can be lost when we're busy arguing about privilege (a word many conservatives find offensive) or who the real victim is. It's possible that men are victims of some things -- weaker friendships, poor mental health, a lack of role models -- and women are victims of other things, like rape or discrimination. So it's not a matter of victims and oppressors, heroes and villains, as it is about rectifying things in our society that cause unhappiness -- preferably without taking away anything from anyone else.