In the great gender debate, it is probably unquestionable that women are better communicators, more compassionate and are generally more empathetic. The very existence of Oprah and her massive success and wealth testifies to this. She is a woman that has built an empire on listening to people, really hearing their story. By doing so she has educated people with information that helps us better understand each other. Can we also say about women, that we are better at manipulating the modes of communication, and bending words, and redefining a situation, sometimes to our own advantage? We saw both these things in the great queen of communication and her posse at the Golden Globes this week.
When I was a young woman, I was very poor and essentially homeless. Watching programs like Phil Donahue and later Oprah, helped me. At a time in my life when I felt like all the odds were stacked against me, hearing that others were facing issues really helped. Oprah was a role model that made me look higher. But what really pulled me out was finding moral certainties, and anchoring my life to them. The discovery that I was loved, radically and without measure by God. The finding of my community and what Oprah would call ‘my truth’. My life could almost be on one of her shows, except that my ‘truth’ is quite different from her ‘truth’.
Let’s go back to the great Oprah Winfrey Show for a minute to look at the formula. If, for instance, Oprah was talking abortion, it may go something like this. We would be presented with some poor young girl, who was maybe from a minority. The child had been raped (let’s say by her father), and was pregnant. This child, would testify that she will kill herself if she is not able to have an abortion. However, in the white male dominated state where she lives, it is illegal to have the abortion, lets say, without the fathers consent. Even if she did get the consent, she would have to drive 100 miles in grandad’s old truck to get to the clinic. The story would go on to say that the family’s welfare cheque wouldn’t stretch to the petrol, or the abortion clinic fee. In addition the poor wretch was too young to drive.
The next piece of the puzzle, to make truly Oprah TV, would be to search the United States for some poor sucker evangelical pastor, who was willing to come on the show. Pastor Dopey would say that it was morally wrong for this poor wretch to rid herself of the rapists incestuous ‘group of cells’. Not only that, the pastor would say that a child should not have a medical procedure without parental consent. Then he would put the nail in his own coffin and say he would not abide an abortion clinic in the town. And if the Oprah gods would truly smile, he would use the term ‘slippery slope’. This man was usually so white he could be Nordic, dressed in an ill-fitting and cheap suit, and have the oratory skills and the intellectual capacity of a ‘b’ grade wrestler.
It becomes a simple story of a religious dope and a rapist taking opportunity from a girl child. The child has a story not dissimilar to the billionaire in the room. In fact, the only thing preventing this child at this point, from becoming a billionaire like Oprah, is the evangelical in the cheap suit, and his ignorance. If only he knew better, he would do better.
One week after the show, massive public funding would become available for a planned parenthood clinic within 30 miles of the child’s address. Here, mostly poor black babies could be eliminated from our future society. The child having rid herself of the spawn goes on to live, very much the life one would expect. Not at all like the billionaire, because the billionaire is remarkable. Oprah is exceptional, especially in her ability to take what we understood was a concrete moral truth, and making us question our understanding of it.
In the dialogue of Oprah there is a great deal of truth, her truth and my truth. Depriving poor children of opportunity will keep them down. I was poor and I was able to drag myself up, but it wasn’t just opportunity that allowed this. Often poverty breeds poverty and privilege breeds privilege. It wasn’t the education that dragged me from generational poverty (It was after all only a Humanities degree). I stopped being oppressed when I abandoned the currency that disadvantage brought. Currency that Oprah tries to spend concurrently with her billions.
When I first walked into a church, I met for the first time in my life, kids brought up in stable Christian homes, who had been handed more opportunities than I could imagine. They had cars, nice shoes, a hug at the end of the day, money for text books, someone to cook for them, a home, electricity for free and encouragement. I can’t remember how I learned to look at these kids without envy. Somehow, I learned that if I positioned myself as a victim, I would anchor myself to poverty. This was one of the truths that set me free. I couldn’t hold both the victim-hood and opportunity in my hands. This intersectional politics where you layer people with disadvantage, and attribute it to them as leverage, is poison.
Intersectional ideology tells us that the greater the victim status, the greater the power to bend moral truth. These statuses used to be based in class and life experience, now they are almost exclusively ground in race, gender identity, and sexuality. From this we get a new ‘truth’ of ‘privilege’ and the responsibility that comes with it. Actually, this is an old truth but it is given a racist and sexist re-working. The truth is that with great power comes great responsibility. Luke 12 says, “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required”. This is a two thousand year old truth about privilege, straight from JC Himself. Jesus considers privilege to be a position where ‘much is given’. And these people hold grave responsibility in society.
Oprah needs to abandon the moral leverage that comes with victim-hood. She can’t hold victim leverage and her billions in the same set of hands. She is now the person of whom ‘much is required’. And if she had used her privilege to bring Corey Feldman on the stage, in an Oprah like exposé, to tell how kids are trading their bodies for opportunities, in the flesh trade that is Hollywood, that would be something of bravery. And great TV. But the personal cost of that would be very high. Just as it was for those who were in positions of privilege and called out the slave trade. Because anyone in a position of privilege during slavery, shared a street, a community and a social circle with those who’s livelihoods depending on the industry. To speak against it came at a real cost. Given the opportunity Oprah was not prepared to pay that price.
A favourite phrase the ‘my truth’ generation is that ‘both things can be true’, I use it myself. But it doesn’t apply here. Either the straight white male Corey Feldman is telling the truth, that young boys and girls (regardless of race) are systematically selling their arses for opportunity, and getting sexually exploited in Hollywood, OR, Oprah and the women in black are telling the truth. This ‘truth’ is that straight white males hold the privilege, and are responsible for the exploitation which is mainly happening to wealthy women. In the latter version women are being grabbed by their private parts and being paid less than men, and the President is the King of abusers. And the media are the truth tellers. The same Hollywood media, sponsoring the event, who have refused to expose any issues of the sort. The hero’s of Oprah’s story are the brave and virtuous women in black, who hold no responsibility that comes with those “to whom much has been given”. Because they don’t actually hold the ‘privilege’.
By redefining the truth of ‘privilege’, powerful women have abandoned the responsibility that comes with it. And are thus able to turn their back of the rape, sexual assault and systematic abuse of privilege that is Hollywood. Parents have entrusted their children to them and they have literally screwed them, and they use the platform of the red carpet to talk about the gender pay gap. You are the worst example of what women in power are capable of, and I for one am ashamed to be part of the same sex as you.