The switch from -ism to -phobia and what it means.

Here’s a great article from Trouble and Strife, which can always be counted on for in-depth analysis, looking at the new tendency of activists to talk about -phobias instead of -isms, and how it has the consequence of reducing structural oppression to a simple-minded, individualistic analysis of “hatred.”

Yet just as ‘ism’ words have yielded to ‘phobia’ words, this understanding of the structural and systemic nature of oppression seems increasingly to have yielded to an analysis which is more and more focused on hatred as the driving force behind it. In the criminal justice system, for instance, there is now a category of ‘hate crimes’—offences motivated by hatred of the group the victim belongs to—which are treated as more serious and punished more severely than the same offences committed for other reasons. As Liz Kelly has pointed out, this approach does not help to deliver justice for women and children, because the ways in which they are most often victimized do not fit the definition of a ‘hate crime’. Domestic violence, child sex abuse and rape are not rooted in fear and loathing of women or children as a group, but have more to do with men’s feelings of superiority and entitlement, their assumption that women and children exist for their benefit and may be controlled, exploited and abused with impunity. These are not crimes of hate, they are crimes of power and domination; but that in no way diminishes their impact on the lives of those who are or may become their victims.

From a radical feminist perspective it is crucial to hold onto the understanding that oppression is only sometimes about hate, but it is always about power—about the structures and systems that serve collective political interests. The language of ‘phobia’ obscures this: it personalizes the political by concentrating on the feelings an action expresses rather than the interests it serves, and it pathologizes prejudice, representing it by implication as the irrational response of (some) individuals rather than the product of a system that benefits some groups at the expense of others.

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