Moving the goalposts: The metrics of oppression and further discussion 

With so many social issues coming into the spotlight in recent years, more and more focus has been given to the issue of oppression against minority groups. Despite well documented and well defined legal rules of what oppression is, oftentimes oppressors get away with the act due to subjective nature of the topic. Photo by Life Matters from Pexels.

The metrics of oppression govern interactions between the oppressed and oppressor classes in that the two often have differing metrics, and therefore clash due to this difference. 

What I define as the metrics of oppression is the qualitative and quantitative data that constitutes various forms of oppression towards marginalized groups. Although this includes a large swath of economic, voter and map data, that’s not the set I’ll be focused on for the purposes of this article. Rather, I’ll be focusing on what qualitative data constitutes oppression.  

First things first: why am I writing this? I’m sure you all heard about the resistance to Biden’s presence on campus this past Friday, and I’m also sure you know about the reactionaries that were there. I came face to face with them. One asked me, “Are you oppressed?” to which I answered, “Yes I’m trans.” He then pushed further: “Do you face any physical abuse for being trans?” The question left me speechless for a moment, my pain invalidated by a cisgender person fabricating a metric for my pain on the spot. I dismissed him with, “You don’t know what I have going on,” and disengaged. Soon after, though, another reactionary lauded the one who had just engaged with me for being “entertaining.” This sent me into a fury, which I think is reasonable considering one cisgender person was finding my pain humorous while another was upholding my oppression by moving the goalposts of what constitutes my marginalization.  

Protests are often points of conflict between political groups, which makes them hotspots for discussions about oppression. One of the most commonly used arguments from reactionaries is the moving of goalposts, or changing what constitutes oppression based on what is convenient for their argument. Photo by Life Matters from Pexels.

Now that I’ve set the stage with an anecdote, let’s analyze this exchange. The initial question was of my oppressed status, which is a standard question for conservative reactionaries to ask to lead into intellectually dishonest talking points. The reactionary I engaged with followed this form, then asking if I had received physical abuse because I’m trans. His question was intentionally limiting, because on the one hand, if I said that speech was abuse, he would counter that by positing that words only have the meaning you give them. And if I was to say that being denied medical treatment was abuse, he would likely redirect that to talking points about children and hormone therapy, or insinuate that being denied medical care wasn’t physical abuse. In addition to these limits, his question deliberately invalidated my lived experience. Currently, I have two bias reports that I’ve filed with the Dean of Students, both of which are about hate speech related incidents, but he wouldn’t see those as valid complaints of hate directed at me. 

The issue here with my bias reports (alongside two from other trans people I know) is that they have yet to do anything to alleviate our grievances. The reactionary I engaged with likely thinks those types of bias reporting systems are a form of “cancellation” as parroted by reactionaries such as Steven Crowder and Ben Shapiro (and our very own Huskies For Free Speech), but the individuals causing our grievances have yet to be “cancelled.”  

The issue with oppressors moving the goalposts of oppression is that they can claim that those they marginalize are actually not oppressed by changing their metrics on a whim. And the issue with reactionaries like this is that they always have to win every engagement — no engagement with them will come out with you, the oppressed, as the victor. Moving the goalposts of oppression is just one tool they use to manipulate an interaction in their favor in order to confirm their worldview. 

Where to go from here? I’m not sure. There’s no real solution to bad faith arguments other than just keeping engagement with reactionaries to a minimum and advocating for the truth despite reactionary resistance. They want to shut us down, so we just need to be louder and argue more competently than them. 


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