Washington, DC (PT) – Let’s face it, our culture loves hyperbole. It’s literally the best thing ever. But there is one specific instance of hyperbole that has become commonplace recently, and that is the use of the word “oppression.”
Bear with me. Oppression is a word that has been used to great effect in America’s history. Slavery, Jim Crow laws, socially-ingrained homophobia, all of these include some aspect of real oppression. People were beaten, abused, and forced into subpar and unequal conditions because of bigotry and hate. These instances stand in stark contrast to the most recent epoch of oppressive behavior in our history, the Age of the Gendered Restroom. Those little signs on the bathroom door in malls and gas stations are now, somehow, oppressive. To be clear, I do not care what bathrooms people use. It’s ridiculous that this is even an argument in society. However, unlike bathroom signs, words are important. They are heavy. They have meaning.
Oppression, as defined by Merriam-Webster, means an “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power” or “something that oppresses especially in being an unjust or excessive exercise of power.”
In my view, what we’re dealing with is discomfort. People who feel less comfortable in one place than another. And that is absolutely fine. We can have this discussion on the basis of discomfort all day long, but as soon as we equate discomfort with oppression, we’re hurting people. People who are actually oppressed need that word to remain powerful and unsullied by “first world” contrivances. They don’t need to fight against our conception of oppression as a bathroom sign when trying to relate their real, everyday struggles against dictators, military regimes, social paradigms, laws, or whatever power is actively unjust or cruel to them in their world.
In fact, many of those who need the word most are LGBT people outside of the United States. In many countries, being transgender is a legal impossibility and a social stain that can lead to all manner of abuse and, frankly, torture with no recourse for the victims. These people, oppressed by regressive or religious regimes with no respect for their personhood, let alone their bathroom habits, are the ones who are truly hurt when American interests throw around words they don’t understand. The fact that some will use this same word to describe their feelings when they’re refused a cake or the bathroom pass they want is disheartening and embarrassing.
I would submit the following: If you have a single minute of a single day to consider the discomfort a bathroom sign causes you, you are not oppressed.
The quality between men’s and women’s restrooms isn’t different, by any reasonable standard. No one is being forced into a measurably worse situation than anyone else. The sinks don’t run dirty water in either, both have drains and places to sit while you unleash the fury of that Quesarito you thought was a good idea at lunch. Point being: This isn’t the Jim Crow south. And this principle cuts both ways. Those who demand their tinkle-time experience remain genital-exclusive love to plaster the phrase “child molesters” all over comment sections and message boards. Without considering that some children really (not hypothetically) do get molested in this world, they describe the event as though it has already interrupted their peaceful peeing. The endless strings of “what if” followed by various heinous acts do nothing but devalue the real experiences of victims.
While we may hold hyperbole in high esteem in our culture, I think it’s important that we consider what exactly our words mean when we’re describing our situations. Perhaps we should consider whether our words are actually suited for us. Perhaps we should recognize that stripping the voices from the already near-voiceless doesn’t make us crusaders or heroes, it makes us the assholes.
What bathroom we use may not matter, but the words we use truly do.