Girly Thoughts

January 23, 2009

The “I think I’m ok, therefore I am” fallacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — judgesnineteen @ 11:19 pm

It goes like this: someone brings up a type of oppression, and a member of the oppressed group says “I don’t believe in opposing what you’re talking about.  I’m a strong enough person that I don’t need xyz/I believe I’m a person of worth even if xyz doesn’t happen.”

I’ve come across two examples of it recently.  First, a woman saying she’s strong enough that it doesn’t hurt her to read gender-exclusive language (that is, when authors say “he” to mean “he or she” and “man” to mean “people”).  Second, a black woman (via a forwarded email, so take with a grain of salt) saying that she didn’t vote for Obama because she doesn’t need there to be a black president in order for her to know she’s a person of worth.

I’m not saying that either of these people, or the other people who use this “I think I’m ok, therefore I am” argument, don’t actually feel ok with themselves.  If a woman can read a book full of sexist language and come out feeling like she is just as representative of human beings as men are, more power to her.  If a black person can see a sea of white faces in government and feel like they can grow up to be whatever they want to be, more power to them.  And since oppressions often work, like most things in the real world, on a probabilistic rather than absolute basis, I can’t guarantee that they won’t achieve just exactly what they want.  But knowing you’re ok is only part of the issue.

Let’s break down the effects of oppression into two sides: the internal and the external.  These people are talking about the internal; they’re claiming to be completely resistant to the psychological effects of oppression.  They may not be familiar with the doll test and other studies in that vein, which tend to show that people DO internalize the negative messages they get about themselves.  Or maybe they are familiar with those studies and they just find themselves to be out of the ordinary, unusually resilient and self-assured.  Which is a great thing to be.

But that’s just the internal side.  We still have the external to deal with.  The external is that which you cannot control.  Eleanor Roosevelt said that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”, but regardless of whether or not that’s true, there ARE other things people can do without your consent.  Loving yourself won’t always stop someone else from hating you.  And if that hateful person has power over you, they can hurt you, physically or financially or otherwise.  So maybe YOUR mind doesn’t need changing, but you can bet that there are minds out there that believe that not all human beings are of equal worth, and among them, there are some who have the power to act on their prejudice.  Admitting this is not “playing the victim”; it’s facing the reality of an unequal distribution of power.

If sexist language, and underrepresentation of black people in government, and so on and so forth, allow and help people to  maintain their prejudices and foster new ones, then these things matter regardless of how strong you are.  If making feminine pronouns and black voices more prominent and frequent helps people to accept women and black people as a normal part of the human race, then these things matter regardless of how happy you are with yourself.  I personally believe that exposure does help to change those subconscious prejudices, probably because I believe that exposure to lopsided stimuli helped create the subconscious prejudices in the first place.  So I do think these things and other similar issues matter, a lot – although I would not vote for a black man just because he’s black, which should be patently obvious given that I didn’t support a woman just because she was a woman.  But still, now that the election is won and we DO have a black president, I’m glad that we will FINALLY see a black face in an unfamiliar position – the top – and start to get more and more used to the idea of white people answering to a black person – not because I’m a self-hating white liberal, but because we ARE used to seeing black people answer to white people and there’s no good reason why our experience and our sense of what’s normal and acceptable should be so uneven.  And I’m getting increasingly impatient to see a woman, an atheist, an Asian person, and more in that position and other positions that they’re usually kept out of.

So, that’s one less argument I’ll be accepting in debates.

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6 Comments »

  1. i love how you broke down & analyzed this fallacy because i’ve totally encountered it before.

    & for some reason this fallacy reminds me of how the only latino pundits CNN has on regularly are super-totally republican, as if they are accurate representatives.

    Comment by la mestiza — February 19, 2009 @ 7:03 am | Reply

  2. Thanks! And yeah, in parallel with what probably happens with the republican latino pundits, I’m pretty sure the only reason the story of the black woman got to me was because white men were using it as an excuse – “See, she’s says it’s ok!” Very annoying.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — February 25, 2009 @ 4:01 am | Reply

  3. Great post JI9! I
    I’ve seen similar things happening in Iran. In my school, which was one of the best all girls’ schools in Tehran, we had sex education classes-but classes which can really damage girls’ self esteem. We were taught at age 12 that it is girls’ & women’s responsibility to cover ourselves modestly because “Allah” had made men in a way that they easily lose their self control when they see uncovered women. Even though I don’t believe in this Allah, surely a believing teacher’s role is to teach girls’ in her care that boys should practice self restraint, rather than girls’ be compelled to dress like human genitals in the sweltering heat of Tehran, because men are like beasts? I’ve seen quite a few women justify the hijab in this way, not only that some Iranian women even justify that its perfectly all right that Iranian law bars a woman from becoming President, or that a girl gets half the inheritance of her brother according to Iran’s laws, based on the Shariah.

    I think, all oppressed or marginalized people, be they women, Blacks or Muslim women in theocracies’ have an obligation to speak up, especially whenever & wherever they are in a position to do so because they have a responsibility towards the younger generation. A teacher in a school in Tehran should teach young girls in her care that they can dress & do as they please, & boys should be taught self restraint. So should a mother at home or anyone else.

    Comment by Shaheen Khan — March 9, 2009 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

  4. Thanks for your input, Shaheen! It’s terrible that they teach that in school. I can understand some women wanting to wear the hijab, but it’s incorrect, harmful to women, and offensive to men to teach that men can’t control themselves when they see uncovered women. (Did anyone ever ask why Allah made men so weak? Haha just wondering.)

    “Like human genitals”…that says so much. I think some people (not just in Iran) really think that’s what we are.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — March 21, 2009 @ 12:32 am | Reply

  5. J19-Did anyone ever ask why Allah made men so weak? Haha just wondering.

    Shaheen-Sure, loads of times at home, can’t ask that sort of thing in school, this was Iran, our parents might even be arrested.However, a good thing came out of all this, more than half my classmates including myself ceased to belief in Allah, while many Christian or Jewish girls continue to believe in a very sexist God simply coz they don’t know how sexist He is, they’ve simply been presented the rosy side of things.

    As to why Allah made men so weak, there might be two plausible reasons. The most plausible reason is that this Abrahamic God simply doesn’t exist, He was an invention of men to control women, He simply ordered whatever men liked. Man wanted to marry a virgin, He ordered non virgis to be stoned on their Father’s doorstep & various other sexist stuff & while the Christian off shoot made this Abrahamic God a bit less sexist, with Islam this God was back to its full former sexist glory.

    The other far less probable reason is that this God really does exist, he’s a misogynist brute & has authored misogynist texts which justify men feeling so suspicious that they can feed dangerous mud water to their wives, or so horny that they’ll rape any uncovered woman.This is next to impossible, in all probability this God doesn’t exist, He was\is man’s imaginary spokesperson.

    I’m glad I’m out of Iran & openly an atheist & I’ve met many Iranian non believers where I stay now.

    Comment by Shaheen Khan — March 21, 2009 @ 10:57 am | Reply

  6. more than half my classmates including myself ceased to belief in Allah, while many Christian or Jewish girls continue to believe in a very sexist God simply coz they don’t know how sexist He is, they’ve simply been presented the rosy side of things.

    So true!! I’m glad you’re happier with your beliefs and your location now, hope things are going well for you!

    Comment by judgesnineteen — March 24, 2009 @ 2:18 am | Reply


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