Stage 3 and the Moral Privilege of the Oppressed

One of the characteristics of Stage 3 on The Five Stages of Masculinity is that it offers for the first time an analysis of systemic oppression. This is crucial in gender politics because it shows the oppression of women via patriarchy and atypical men via homophobia and hegemonic masculinity.

As I have argued elsewhere, one of the limitations of Stage 3 is that while it correctly identifies systemic oppression, it wrongly conflates this with individual oppression. In other words, it does not do justice to the fact that a woman can be systemically oppressed while individually privileged, and that this can result in a net privilege that is greater than a man who enjoys the systemic privilege of patriarchy, but little else.

The assumption of oppression at Stage 3 carries a further problem. Even if someone is actually oppressed—which is frequently the case—this does not necessarily mean their analysis of their oppression and proposed solutions to it are correct. Too often Stage 3 retreats into the logic of “we are oppressed, therefore we are right”: it assumes a moral privilege that it believes cannot be justly denied.

Certainly, there is a moral obligation to listen to the oppressed, but this does not extend to uncritically accepting their worldview. The assumed moral privilege of Stage 3 often becomes an obstacle to progressive thought for two reasons: first, it prevents people who are worried about furthering oppression from critical engagement; second, those who perceive themselves to be oppressed are blinded to the limitations of their own argument.