Topics of value: Who’s definition of value are we really talking about?

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If you identify as a feminist, or even have any interest in feminism (which I’ll assume you do, since you are reading this blog) then you might have come across the idea of sticking to discussing “topics of value” or “topics of worth”. This frustrating phenomenon has decided to become quite prominent in my life as of the last few weeks, delegitimizing much of my writing and opinions. The statement arises when discussing a variety of topics, from feminism to cultural appropriation. The sole purpose in its usage is to devalue an argument, and thus delegitimize the person making the argument.

Firstly, let’s ask ourselves: What is value? We’re not talking about the value of a dollar, or the learning process that takes place to figure out what that means. We’re not talking about inflation rates or the recession. Everything has some sort of value in our society, and these are called value systems.

Professor of psychology, Dr. Clare W. Graves, was the first person to discuss value systems and the way they work in our societies. Graves proposes “that a value system consists of a hierarchically ordered, always-open-to-change set of identifiable ethics, morals, preferences, priorities, world views and purposes by which groups and cultures structure their societies”. To give an example of these changing value systems: 50 years ago, our priorities as a society were not so focused on exercise and a balanced diet, to consider such things in your day-to-day lives was unusual and often unheard of. Oftentimes it was viewed as a waste of time and energy, and thus, not valuable. Today, however, these topics cover the pages of every other magazine, book and billboard and thus demonstrating its worthiness to be there to the public as part of our social concern. It is a priority, it is important, thus it is okay and understandable that we are interested in it.

But who decides the value of something? Who decides what’s most important? We know the media has a lot to do with how we view a lot of what goes around us, but who decides on the smaller things? Who decides what’s an important issue or discussion at a party? On social media sites? Who has the right to place a value on that and what type of power is that person wielding in doing so?

Obviously, the more valuable something is in our society, the more importance and worth it claims. So it deduces that whoever claims the ability to place a value on something must be in a powerful position themselves. It is also an easy step to assume that the person claiming to know the value of a topic tend to be in privileged positions to wield such power: that is, people listen to them because they are of a majority = privilege.

As a writer, I’ve been told many times that I need to stick to topics of value. Usually I dismiss the comments, thinking of it in terms of someone simply not being interested enough in the topic. But recently, I’ve decided that that disinterest is part of the idea of “value” itself. What I’m discussing isn’t worthy of your or the public’s attention, so you attempt to call attention to its “unworthiness” in order to control what is being put out onto the public forum. So, let’s go ahead and have a look at (call out) some specific incidents’ where I’ve seen value systems controlled by the privileged at play recently.

On discussing cultural appropriation on Facebook with a friend, she linked me to some comments that her other friends had made on the discussion. What I found there was a lot of misinformed garbage and, as a stranger I felt that it was easier for me to call out these people then it would be for my friend who wished to maintain relationships with these people and thus didn’t want to stand on any metaphorical toes. Once I was in the discussion, shit hit the fan (again, this is metaphorical shit, not literal. Ew.) This was my first encounter with the “topics of value” argument as a white girl informed me that what we were discussing was a waste of time and not valuable. That costumes are just that, costumes, and we shouldn’t be making a big deal out of it. I think my reply was something along the lines of “so you don’t think marginalized people are valuable? Ah howeya racism”.

I thought that this was a one off, ignorant white girl thing that was said in a defensive manner during an argument, but lo and behold, it struck again a few days later. This time it was an acquaintance of mine who shared a similar sentiment towards certain feminist activities such as the protest against the male-dominated figures on our bank notes. His point was that we should be focusing on more important issues like the continuation of female circumcision.

Here there is a clear view of what constitutes as worthy of feminist energy. Here we see a man telling woman what is worthy and what is not. Here’s a man telling us simple women folk that we’re not putting our energy into the right things. Silly women folks.

We could go into first wave and second wave feminism (and even third wave) but let’s not. Let’s just say that we, as women, are working to attempt to right the inequalities in ALL aspects of society at this point. There will always be more “base” issues at play, but us feminists also need to look at patriarchy in all of its guises and fight the inequalities we see. And yes, some feminists (understandably, imo) think that having men dominate our currency is unequal. Money, the thing we use to pretty much run our country, is plastered by the faces of men. Equal? No. But don’t let me tell you what’s valuable, of course. It’s not like I’m the marginalized demographic in question, noooo, of course not. I’m totally ignorant of the harsh realities that patriarchy has on women.

(Did I make it clear enough that I’m being totally sarcastic??)

Another commenter stated recently that an article of mine concerning Halloween costumes and body policing wasn’t a topic of concern. POINTS TO THE FIRST PERSON WHO GUESSED HE WAS A WHITE MALE!

So, why am I getting my metaphorical panties in a twist with regards to this? Well it’s a total hypocritical mess that us ignorant privileged people think is justified. Think about it: We’re talking about topics that relate to power and privilege, be it feminism or cultural appropriation. When the person wielding said power or privilege with regards to a certain demographic claims that the topic is not valuable, they devalue a marginalized people yet again whilst claiming power to themselves yet again.

“I, AS MIGHTY WHITE MAN, DEEM THIS TOPIC TO BE NOT WORTH MY TIME. THEREFORE, I DEEM YOU TO BE NOT WORTH MY TIME. AND THEREFORE, MY FELLOW WHITE MEN WILL LIKEWISE DEEM YOUR QUERIES AS A WASTE OF TIME. AND BECAUSE WE HOLD ONTO ALL OF THIS POWER, OUR VIEW OF YOU AS UNWORTHY WILL STOP YOU FROM MAKING ANY CHANGES TO OUR UNEQUAL SOCIETY FOR THE BETTER. YOU MAY LEAVE NOW WHILE I DON MY BLACK FACE AND KKK HOOD”. (Ok, so the last sentence is an extreme example, but not unheard of. *cough* racist party  *cough*).

3 thoughts on “Topics of value: Who’s definition of value are we really talking about?

  1. Good post!

    I imagine well hear similar dismissals from the dude-bros of the Swedish intention to implement the Bechdel Test in assessing movies – no doubt combined with large doses of ethnocentrism and whining about “Swedish socialism” and the “nanny state.”

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  2. Some issues are more worthy than others, that’s a given in today’s society. Individuals throughout the world naturally feel differently about certain topics, but society as a whole must unite to ensure that issues of utmost importance are addressed first, such as female circumcision, which is so poorly defined as female castration in the attached article. Yes, it is fair to say that no one can dictate what we feel to be most important, but would it be of sound ethical decision to invest more time and money into ensuring there is an equal ratio of male to females printed on bank notes than it would be to ensure the eradication of female circumcision? Examples I am using as put forth by the blogger of attached article.
    I studied feminism as a University under-grad majoring in English Lit, I had one particular lectuerer who was such a misogynist that she would have banned men from her lecture, if she had the power, she didn’t (irony?).
    As stated in the article, the media are very influential, and individuals, particularly those of lower intellect often take the media as gospel. However, we must be aware that the media sensationalize almost everything, the point of the media, or their role is irrelevenet here, the focus being the ‘value system’.
    Going forward, we’ll look at privilege, i.e assumptions, ‘white girl’ – what a terrible brand, because she is a white girl of considerable comfort she would automatically fill you with terribly misinformed garbage. I am a white girl of considerable comfort, and I am very well informed, most white women of the western world are well educated. This white girl’s comment was in relation to Halloween costumes, costumes are just costumes. A young white, blonde girl dresses up as Cinderella and her middle Eastern friend dresses as Jasmine, everyone is happy because these young girls fit the role expected of them. What happens when the middle Eastern girl decides that Cinderella is the most beautiful and inspirational of all the princesses? Would she be ridiculed for dressing as a blonde haired beauty, for donning white face just to channel her hero? I don’t think so, but if the white girl dons black face, her parents are inconsiderate and uneducated, the child, she is susceptible to racism. She isn’t engaging in some pre-pubescent racist war, she’s merely mirroring an idle. Excuse her if she’s wrong, and excuse her further for not being born to fit her idle’s image.
    MAN TELLING A WOMAN?? I don’t think it’s fair to attack him because he’s male?? Just because he’s male he’s not worthy of an opinion? Equality? Misogynist? Ironic? ‘Silly women folk’, fighting for equality amongst women yet they don’t extend it to men. ‘I’m totally ignorant of the harsh realities that patriarchy has on women?’ Eh, you are totally ignorant to the harsh realities, you haven’t lived the life of a repressed woman, you were born to an affluent society, equal education rights, equal job opportunities, yeah you may have experienced the odd sexist remark, hardly legally binding, an absolutely no basis to hate men and claim sexism in Ireland.
    ‘DEVALUE A MARGINALIZED PEOPLE YET AGAIN WHILST CALMING POWER TO THEMSELVES YET AGAIN?’ Have you mentioned gay rights, black rights, male rights? Women aren’t the only repressed individuals in society, I understand you’re fighting for your people, but don’t you think there’s more important issues to address? I mean seriously, I am a woman, I too want respect and equality amongst women and men, but fighting for equality on bank notes over poverty, child abuse, female circumcision? Perhaps we should reconsider our ideals.
    I, as a mighty white female egalitarian, deem this topic to be of absolute no importance. If you fight for equality, then please fight for equality. From interpreting your article, you are fighting for hierarchy of women, men are of little value in society, men can have no say in the world of women, their choices, their opinions, yet feminism is based on the world of men, their choices, their opinions.

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  3. Thanks Marianna, I should have said circumcision actually, I will amend that!
    However, I’d like to address your other points, and just so you are aware, I did study Gender, Sexuality and Culture as a Masters degree, so I am quite informed about these issues.
    Firstly, I wouldn’t consider “white girl” as a terrible brand, it’s a demographic. I’m white and female and I don’t apologize for either, but the demographic comes with it’s privilege and it’s inequality all at once. I don’t consider any demographic as a brand, nor a terrible one and find that comment quite problematic.
    Secondly, “white face” isn’t a historically racist thing. But yes, children who want to appear “whiter” is problematic because of the western world’s view that lighter skin is more attractive. If they admire Cinderella, that’s fine but her skin color shouldn’t be her defining characteristic for the child. Black face, however, was used to ridicule and stereotype black people. Here’s a quick wikipedia article on it if you’d like to be more informed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackface
    “affluent society, equal education rights, equal job opportunities” – I’m working class actually. Born and raised on the social welfare. That was an odd assumption to make that I’m wealthy? Equal job opportunities? Are you kidding me? Have you even looked at the statistics? I’m a teacher so I know what they are in my field off the top of my head. 80% of teachers are women. 80% of principals are men. The power dynamic here is so unequal it’s frightening. But yes, you are right. I did get a good education. I don’t understand how you could hold that against me though?
    And no, I didn’t mention sexuality at all actually. But I do identify as bisexual. Oh but I am cisgendered too. Do these things devalue my argument? I’m talking very generally and using examples of certain privileged and marginalized people. Not all of them. Lots of aspects of my demographic give me privilege and likewise, strip me from privilege. Your point is that just because you are privileged, doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t listen to you. Well, that’s my point too. I am privileged in many respects. I hold many values. All of which I think are worthwhile. Likewise, I think the topics that homosexual, transgender, black people etc. fight for are equally topics of value. You didn’t mention transgender people but I don’t assume that you don’t appreciate or empathize with their plight? No.
    All I’m talking about is respecting people’s value systems and to try to avoid claiming an all-consuming knowledge about value systems because that’s dangerous territory with regards to power plays. I’m not saying that YOU don’t believe that different topics are more worthwhile then others, I’m just saying that there are other topics that people are currently interested in and just because they aren’t related to BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Obviously basic human rights are extremely important, but that doesn’t make other topics LESS valuable (i.e. that they shouldn’t be discussed at all). Perhaps they’re not topics that you would overly concern yourself with, but that’s your value system at play. The problem I was addressing is that a privileged demographic claiming value of something is just repeating the power play that the marginalized group is trying to free itself from.
    I hope this clarifies things about my article for you.

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