Study: Social justice activism is 'rife' with 'oppression'

  • A group of social justice-minded professors recently surveyed fellow activists and discovered that the field is “rife with experiences of oppression," particularly for those with "multiple oppressed identities."
  • The activists in the survey reported that even among their ostensibly-tolerant peers, they have been "heckled for being queer," tokenized for being transgender, and even silenced for being "a young feminist."

A group of university professors recently claimed that social-justice activism, of all fields, is “rife with experiences of oppression.”

In an article published Monday in the Journal of Homosexuality, Dr. Whitney Hagen of Florida Atlantic University, et al. argue that “activist communities” are hostile toward gay and transgender populations, adding that individuals with “multiple oppressed statuses and identities” are “especially prone to oppression-based experiences, even within minority activist communities.”

"I've definitely been heckled for being queer...There’s a lot of fat oppression that I’ve dealt with."   

[RELATED: Cal Stat ‘activism labs’ teach students new protest tactics]

Morrow and her colleagues reached that conclusion after conducting 20 in-depth interviews with activists in the social justice community, most of whom were apparently “queer or bisexual, white middle class women with advanced degrees.”

“Many individuals in these subpopulations are not easily placed in the gender or sexuality binary that is commonly accepted in dominant Western cultures,” the study explains, adding that a rigid binary creates “personal consequences of activism.”

While some individuals “may find social support and decreased isolation through engagement with established activist groups,” they caution that “activism is not universally helpful,” particularly for those with “multiple oppressed identities,” who “may experience invalidation, tokenism, and marginalization within activist communities.”

Many of the activists interviewed for Morrow’s study, all of whom were referred to by pseudonyms in the article, confirmed that they have faced oppression in the field.

[RELATED: USC offers free 18-week training in social justice activism]

“There’s a lot of fat oppression that I’ve dealt with,” remarked a respondent referred to as Lorrain, who added that she has “definitely been heckled for being queer, been discriminated against on a job for being queer, and for being female.”

Another activist called Noah expressed frustration with the “myth of meritocracy,” saying, “I don’t know, it’s just, like, so untrue. It just, like, completely negates, like, the way that our entire society is built on, like, the backs of poor people and people of color.”

At least half of those surveyed  “spoke to the struggle to choose to engage or not in activism” out of a fear of being disliked by other activists.

“If someone says something and it’s awkward… I feel like I should call them out on [it]… I get really shy, and I’m not good at that,” explained a respondent who was dubbed Charlotte.

One transgender activist, Bri, said that she felt tokenized by her peers, discouraged that she’s only called upon to speak when people “need a trans person’s voice for whatever.”

[RELATED: Oberlin students say bad grades are getting in the way of activism]

She also reported “not feeling at home” at meetings in the trans community, while another woman, Jenny, recounted an experience in which an activism idea she proposed was shot down by a group of older females, whom she felt were “overreacting and really kind of placing the blame on me, as a young feminist.”

Despite such findings, the study concludes by stressing the importance of activism, saying it is important for “combatting internalized oppression and everyday traumas” that yield “positive outcomes.”

Campus Reform reached out to Morrow and her colleagues for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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Toni Airaksinen
Toni Airaksinen | Columnist at PJ Media

Toni Airaksinen is Columnist at PJ Media and a Consultant at Youth Radio. She was previously a New Jersey Campus Correspondent, reporting on liberal bias and abuse for Campus Reform with a focus on Title IX, the OCR, and the First Amendment. During college, she also was a columnist for Quillette and The Columbia Spectator. Her exclusives have been featured on FOX News and The Drudge Report. She graduated from Barnard College in 2018.

20 Articles by Toni Airaksinen