Illustration by Marlenne Jasso
“In this country, lesbianism is a poverty - as is being brown, as is being a woman, as is being just plain poor.” – La Guera by Cherrie Moraga
Cherrie Moraga is a Chicana, feminist writer and activist who wrote the article La Guera (The White Girl). The article discusses her experience having the privilege to grow up as a light-skinned Chicana, while also addressing the fact that she was still oppressed because of her sexual preference.
The definition of oppression, according to Merriam-Webster is the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.
Cherrie recalls how, “the joys of looking like a white girl ain’t so great since [she] realized [she] could be beaten on the street for being a dyke”. Cherrie’s article effectively explains how we all have different sources of oppression and many ways in which we confront or deal with them. Personal poverties may often lead those who are oppressed to take advantage of privileges which may ultimately lead to them taking on another persona or assuming the role of their oppressor.
Most of us women have experienced several forms of “poverty”, a part of our life that links us to feelings of inadequacy or absence. For me, my poverties are a physical lack of money, being a woman, being Latina, and being vegan. These qualities often separate me from the societal “norm” or standard. The norm tends to embrace a certain idealized notion of the cis-gendered, straight, white male. In the U.S., the people who get the most amount of acceptance and power are white, straight males. For example, in the workplace Black women make 64 cents for every white male dollar, Latina women make 53 cents for every white male dollar. Straight white males do not make up the majority of North America’s population, and yet due to the embedded patriarchal values of our society, which are perpetuated by the media, this group of individuals are seen as powerful and credible sources of information, when this should not be the case at all. The “poverty” of our western society often seems to be the lack of minority representation in mass produced media. This lack of representation causes women like myself and other minorities to be seen as “others” - which in turn, ultimately leads to oppression. It seems as though humans often fear what seems foreign to them or what differs from the norm.
Moraga later states how, “it is not really difference the oppressor fears so much as similarity”. This emphasizes how those who are oppressed sometimes take advantage of their privileges. For example, a dark-skinned Latino may feel oppressed because of his race and color of skin, so he takes out that anger towards women who are oppressed because of their gender. Our social structure gives a man more privilege over a woman of the same race simply by being a man. This creates race and gender as forms of poverties for women. He may begin to objectify women and start to become like his oppressors who are racist towards him. Taking advantage of our privileges is an endless cycle of oppressing others for their form of poverty.
This dangerous cycle shows how, “we have taken the values of our oppressor into our hearts and turned them against ourselves and one another”(Moraga). This can often be seen on social media platforms. Women putting other women down for small things like showing “too much” skin or showing “too little” skin. We must not take on the role of our oppressors, but rather put an end to the cycle. We should be uplifting to each other and supporting one another because, at some point, all of us women have been oppressed due to our gender, race, sexual orientation, class, etc. Moraga emphasizes this when she says how, “we women have a similar nightmare, for each of us in some way has been both oppressed and the oppressor”.
In order to avoid putting others down and instead put an end to the cycle of oppressive behaviour, we must first complete a self-examination. Look inwards before acting outwardly. According to Moraga, before we can support one another, we must confront our internalized racism and classism because “it is looking to the nightmare that the dream is found”. She suggests that we all come together with acceptance because that’s the only way we can surpass and rise above society's low expectations..
Instead of attacking one another because of our differences, we should celebrate our differences. I’m not saying we should be color-blind and completely act like these differences don’t exist. Rather, we should be accepting and respectful of each other’s race, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, identity, language, dialect, gender, etc. and support each other in order to break down the norms of society. In order to do that we must put an end to the cycle of oppressive behaviour and leave the past behind us in order to grow.
I’m going to end with the words of Moraga, “the feminist movement must be a movement of such survivors, a movement with a future”.