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Clawed my way up

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Clawed my way up is an excuse for sexism used in some geek discussions: "I clawed my way up all on my own, why can't you?"

Essentially, this argument is a denial of the effect of privilege on success. The person making it argues either that:

  • they, despite being oppressed in some way (often but not always experiencing poverty in childhood), are now very successful, and anyone who isn't is lazy
  • they, despite being oppressed in some way, never took advantage of any scheme designed to ameliorate oppression (such as scholarships targeted at certain groups)
  • there is no such thing as institutional privilege, there's just people who work hard and whining people who don't
  • that natural selection operates at the level of success in society, and by attempting to ameliorate oppression, society is in fact doing itself harm

There are various problems with these arguments:

  • oppressions don't map perfectly to each other: someone who experienced, say, poverty can't map their experience onto someone who isn't white or is a woman, etc (see Oppression Olympics)
  • the experience of people with intersecting oppressions is generally discounted
  • it is unlikely in the extreme that the person speaking did not in some way benefit from privilege: for example, access to enough resources for the child to have a computer (perhaps a cheap secondhand one, but nevertheless), access to a library and time to read any books borrowed from the library, household members who did chores while the person speaking studied, etc.
  • it is at least unlikely that the person did not in some way benefit from schemes designed to ameliorate oppression, examples include but aren't limited to: free or cheap public schooling and free or cheap healthcare.

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