I'm going to do my best to not turn this entry into an over-the-top absurdist rant, and address the undercurrents influencing today's topic, grappling with the well-intentioned, serious ask being implied by the activism on offer – but it's not going to be easy.
Because today I'm writing about this:
This specific tweet represents a larger trend within Social Justice Land. And while it's not often this bad, there are too many examples of this argument gone awry to list them all.
It's become common enough that it's become a meme among many anti-woke types, from conservatives to leftists alike.
But today I'll be focusing on this iteration of it (which, in case you you aren't following, is directed in response to the unmarked military officers arresting/kidnapping protestors in Portland, and soon to be in cities all around the country, a terrifying example of proto-fascism happening right now, in real-time), because this is more than enough to work with.
So, what's problematic about this activism?
Let's start with the obvious: the idea that structural representation among people enacting war crimes is somehow more just, or something we should desire and critique an absence of, is laughable.
This (perfect?) political cartoon by Sam Wallman succinctly blows that argument up:
I wish this would go without saying: violence is wrong, even if it's perpetrated by the "right" person. But, alas, here we are, saying it anyhow.
People in the replies to this tweet, as well as other people in my Facebook feed and elsewhere, are amplifying this comment in earnest. They're saying things like "this is toxic masculinity in action."
So what else is going on here? Is there more to this than simply saying "the gender of the nazi doesn't matter, their behavior and ideology does?"
I think so.
If I wanted to make Today's Tweeter's case as compelling as possible, here's what I'd argue she's arguing:
- The fact that there aren't any women stormtrooper federal agents is relevant because we're socialized toward certain behaviors, stances, dispositions, etc. based on our gender.
- If more federal officers were women, or if these soldiers were reporting to a commanding officer who was a woman, that might lead to different behavior (e.g., being less violent, more tolerant).
It's not that she's saying "I want diversity in my state-sponsored violence." She's saying, "I don't want state-sponsored violence, and diversity is the way to get there."
Does it matter that #1 isn't true? Not really. Some people are arguing back with her about this, as we always see in absolute statements about gender like this one (#NotAllMen), but I'll argue that is missing the mark?
The crux of this tweet, and the larger sentiment it represents – the one that's memeified within anti-social-justice-circles while being largely codified within – is that swapping out the people enacting the injustice will prevent the injustice from being enacted.
If we give power to different people, they'll share that power more equitably, or abuse that power less, and the result will be better for everyone who it historically wasn't good for.
And we make this case in a very particular, power-inverted way: we should be replacing people who hold dominant group identities with people who hold minoritized identities.
The more intersectionally-oppressed a person is, the better they'll be in that role for social justice.
In theory, I think that makes a lot of sense!
I first wrote about this in my essay "Trickle-Down Social Justice." Here's a relevant quote from that essay:
The theory behind the theory of Trickle-down Social Justice is that marginalized people will look out for other marginalized people, and dominant group members will keep on dominating. If marginalized people are granted power, even just a chosen elite few, they’ll share that power with others, and it will show up in the form of material improvements in those other people’s lives.
So, what do you think?
In practice, would having more women among these federal officers – particularly in higher levels of command, or even better a woman commander-in-chief – lead to them violating fewer civil rights, acting less violently toward protestors, and generally being more just, somehow?
Or is it more likely that this argument is a distraction? An example of how the gender lens isn't going to get us closer to social justice, but distort our view of the path there?
Or – even worse – how likely does it feel like this type of thinking won't only not get us closer to living social justice, but actually stand in the way?
For example, is a collective act of scapegoating? Are we identifying the wrong problem, and uniting around "solving" that wrong problem? If so, it seems inevitable that such activism would lead to injustice flourishing, only now with a newfound support of people who would otherwise be standing in the way.
Here's my take: I don't think the problem with the proto-fascist military abducting people is their gender. Or their race. Or any other identity trait other than the ideological bent toward, ya know, the proto-(fucking)-fascism.
At this point, I'd even say it would be more of a problem, or something more worth highlighting as a concern, if the stormtroopers looked like a university stock photo of diversity and multiculturalism, instead of being straight, white, cisgender men.
The fact that 4 out of 5 CEOs of the top US defense contractors are now women feels relevant here. These are companies profiting from dropping those not-actually-cartoon bombs. I saw feminists unironically share that article when it was news, celebrating the "progress" being made with "yasssss queen!" takes.
And now, two years later, we know that we've been dropping more bombs than ever. Yas queen, indeed.