Omnipresent Oppression

See the short introduction to these essays and the rest of my sociomedical essays here.

I have met some people who honestly claimed that there is no discrimination or oppression in Finland, or the rest of Western society. Some have not denied all of it, but did deny the existence of things like ableism or gender inequality or have tried to minimize them. As a peculiar coincidence, all of these denialists have been white, able-bodied, hetero/cissexual, (at least nominally) Christian males.

We are quick to condemn homophobia, racism and the atrocious lack of women's rights in many countries, but let's face it: even the Western world still treats many groups of people in an abominable way, including (but not limited to) sexual minorities, people with disabilities and the elderly. Even those societies which supposedly give equal rights to everyone are still very far from it. Accessibility and similar things are still seen as extra work, not opportunities.

Those not subject to oppression frequently do not notice it. Even worse, many do not realize their own repressive attitudes. Just as frankly as people claim discrimination does not exist, many claim to be tolerant towards minorities while they are anything but. They tolerate ethnic, religious and other minorities as long as they fit a certain image. Gays are okay, as long as they are not too flaming queer. Call such a person a homophobe and they will get angry. They are tolerant, they insist. And maybe it is not a fair judgment; their phobia is against diversity and as such humanity as a whole.

Which groups of people face the harshest oppression varies, but there are some that tend to be affected more severely than others. Usually the worst affected are those who are a part of more than one minority, or who belong to a minority and are women. Feminist theory calls this "intersectionality". The people themselves usually call it "being treated like shit".

Sexism is a peculiar type of oppression, because it mostly affects women who technically are not a minority, but in many countries even the majority. Sexism is also one of those things that people refuse to see, because it is everywhere and the type of discrimination that people try to see as the reverse the most often. Of course, men can also be the victims of sexism, but far more often those claiming reverse sexism have no idea what they are talking about.

Sexism is also more than just men vs. women. Not everyone wants to "genderize" themselves at all. The best solution would be to get rid of the mandatory "gender" altogether. In the future our fixation on gender will likely be seen as weird as we see the Indian caste system - just like the fixation on nations, nationality and nationalism - arbitrary categories for something as complex as human beings.

One group of people not commonly seen as subjects of discrimination is the elderly. Many people do know that in institutions they commonly face poor treatment and even abuse, but somehow they try to justify it. It happens on a wide scale, so it must be okay, right? (Many of the same people express a wish to die before they get old, which would obviously solve the problem, for them.) The elderly are a particularly interesting minority, because at the moment almost everyone is thought to be a part of it, sooner or later (whether this will actually happen due to advances in medical science related to aging is another thing).

One of the worst "blind spots" in discrimination in the Western world is ableism, also known as disablism. Many people have never even heard of this word, even though it can be seen everywhere. Perhaps the lack of the proper word is the reason why many cannot fully see the extent of this type of oppression, as people cannot conceive something they have no words for. Activists often claim gay rights only got a foothold after the word "heterosexual" was established.

Ableism is pervasive even - or especially - in the healthcare system, which should be on "their side". All types of disability are discriminated against, but a lot depends on the disability. Wheelchair users and other visibly disabled persons are often seen as mentally retarded, even if they are not. They are viewed as passive, genderless, asexual objects and are often called "wheelchair bound". Then again, people with invisible disabilities experience problems with both being disabled and not being seen as disabled. The social model of disability even suggests that disability is more or less a social construct.

While homophobia remains an issue in many Western countries, both at legal and social level, transgender people face much more oppression. They are often lumped together with the "LGBT" (or LGBTIQ, for intersex and queer) group, but many transgender people feel gays and LGBT organizations tend to be transphobic ("interestingly", in many U.S. states discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal, but discrimination based on gender identity is completely legal). Intersex people, often pejoratively labeled "hermaphrodites" are one of the most invisible and shamed minorities, which in many countries are not even allowed to exist and may face operations against their will.

Polyamory is still very much a taboo in most places, even though it has been a known practice of some people for thousands of years. It is associated with porcupines and harems, Mormons and hippie communes, but it can be something very different. Some "polys" couple freely, others form life-long relationships with more than just one person. Why should it be a problem for others? At the moment the situation is so medieval that children are even removed from their parents, just because they happen to have more than just two parents. As a result many people have to live in secret relationships, even though we live on the 21st century.

How long will it take the society to acknowledge the fact that sexuality is not limited to man/woman, he/she, heterosexuality/homosexuality (or even this axis complemented with bisexuality) and relationships with two persons? We are able to see the spectrum in most issues, but sexuality and gender issues are mostly seen as extremely black and white, and from an extremely conservative and bigoted perspective.

There is also one group that we are so used to discriminating against that there is not even a word for such oppression: the homeless people. They are the victim of most of the common cognitive errors, especially the just world hypothesis and the separation of humans to "us" and "them". The homeless are homogenously viewed as mentally ill, drug addicts, drunks, bums, supposedly groups of people who deserve what they get. They are the other. They serve as a reminder that your life is pretty good after all, and you will never be one of them.

Yet anyone can end up homeless, whether they believe it or not. It is a good example of a minority that can be, that should be transient. But it is difficult to get back into the other world once you lose your home. Dehumanizing treatment becomes internalized. When people treat you as worthless, you begin to feel worthless. You will start to think your homelessness is really your fault, just as you may begin to think that maybe your disability really is your fault. Even worse, these ideas will become you.

One of the worst situations is when you are homeless and a part of another minority. Sexual minorities are often the worst group affected by homelessness. They are often socially isolated and they are very often kicked out of their homes by their parents, who love their children until they become an other. Again, transgender people fare the worst. Many shelters do not accept transgender people, or insist they are housed among people of their birth gender, placing them at grave risk for rape and other types of abuse. Shelters often fail to accommodate disabled people as well, nevermind that they are also at a greater risk of becoming homeless.

Then there is ageism, sizeism and other discrimination based on looks. Many people do not even see this as discrimination, because the idea that e.g. fat people are somehow worse than others and abusing them is perfectly fine seems so ingrained into us. And there are those minorities that most people have never heard of, like the transabled or the otherkin, but the instinctive choice is to be suspicious of them. There are numerous different ways of human self-identification and self-actualization, besides obvious physical and social categories, and while their sanctioning in different cultures varies, some are always considered more acceptable than others.

Minority communities tend to be more accommodating of other minorities. Events and communities gathering to sexual minorities often pay more attention to accessibility, while communities for disabled people are often more aware of sexual minority groups. Still, discrimination also arises inside of minorities. This is perhaps most often seen among women, who frequently act sexist towards themselves.

Bisexuals may be shunned by gays and heterosexuals alike, while some people are not black enough or disabled enough for the tastes of some people in their communities. One surprising and sad thing to note is the amount of transphobia in the LGBT community. Disablism is rampant even among disabled people. "Some disabilities are more real than others", as one disabled person put it, as her own disability restricted her walking and she felt that disabilities that did not affect "ambulation" were not as real as others.

Reverse discrimination is a highly controversial issue. On the other hand, ethnic minorities can be racist and women can be sexist towards men. But can a true minority ever "discriminate" against majority? Others suggest that reverse discrimination is justified, since it tends to be a response from the most repressed minorities.

The place where oppression shows up the best is suicide statistics. Transgender people in particular have massive suicide rates. Another group with one of the worst suicide risks is those with schizophrenia. Depending on the statistics and estimates 10-25% of schizophrenics die by suicide. Is that not tragic? Sure, the illness itself is a massive contributor, but the way they are treated by society surely does not help.

For most of us it is impossible to imagine how it feels to suffer from the illness that singlehandedly associates with "madness" in most people, often with violence, too. Schizophrenics are frequently abandoned by their families, have difficulty forming intimate relationships and can rarely get proper care for their physical ailments. If they express suicidal feelings, instead of being asked why, they frequently just get more drugs or the doses of their current medications are increased.

Suicidal people in general are yet another discriminated minority that is rarely talked about. This group is not synonymous with the depressed or mentally ill as is often assumed, as many depressed people are not suicidal, and importantly many suicidal people are not mentally ill. They have no voice in the society, they are suppressed and oppressed. If they speak out about their thoughts, they will often be sectioned. At least in most Western countries other minorities can speak out without being imprisoned.

Suicidal people are another good example of how it is possible to silence people by labeling them as mentally ill. Traditionally this approach has been widely used, to suppress e.g. slaves, "sexual deviants" (including anything from homosexuals to "nymphomaniacs" and "frigids"), anyone acting outside of social norms - and, of course, women. This approach is seen as something of the past, but still happens all the time.

Suicide is the ultimate endpoint of oppression. But where does it start? Most discrimination is easy to explain: it is essentially us versus them. Most people believe their sexual orientation will not change, that they will not become disabled or fat or fall in love with two people at the same time. They are likely aware that they will grow old at some point, but they try to avoid thinking about that. Such ideas are inconvenient. Oppression is all about privilege and privilege boils down to convenience.