The perniciousness of kyriarchy

Human beings have lots of ways of discriminating against each other. Simone de Beauvoir asserted, too obviously correctly, that if it weren’t for sexism and the other forms of discrimination we already have, we’d find others,[1] and it’s not hard to see how this works when we see people lobbing accusations of “white privilege” or “male privilege” or “straight privilege” or any other form of “privilege” at each other.

The importance of kyriarchy is in an understanding of any oppression as not simply one form of oppression in isolation but rather as part of an interlocking system of oppressions. This is an understanding that the problem isn’t just racism or sexism or homophobia or transphobia or whatever other phobias you can come up with. It’s all of them together. It’s an understanding that the problem isn’t with the acknowledgment of a single oppression but rather with the failure to properly treat other oppressions as interrelated.

A mistake I see Ta-Nehisi Coates making, even as his work is often brilliant, is that he focuses on race even when he is really writing about an intersection of race and class.[2] Audre Lorde begins to attack the problem as she struggles to get mainstream feminism to deal with race, sexual orientation, and other forms of subalternity as something more than an afterthought.[3]

By obscuring the multiplicity and complexity of oppression and focusing on a single oppression, as we do when we talk about “white privilege” or “male privilege” or any other form of “privilege,” what we in effect seek to do is to preserve those parts of kyriarchy that work for us, that is, to protect our own privilege.

Inherently, this comes at the expense of other subaltern groups. It is a bigotry that drives a wedge between “us” and “them.” I might be stuck driving for Uber and Lyft[4] in Pittsburgh where rents in desirable areas increasingly approach U.S. west coast heights[5] and thus, again, facing homelessness as my only prospect for “retirement,”[6] but hey, I’m white and I’m male and I’m straight and I’m comfortable with my gender identity, therefore I am “privileged” and utterly excluded from concern.

I’ve cited Blacks and mainstream (white) feminists as examples, but I’ve seen an attitude that only “our” grievances should be prioritized with nearly every subaltern group that I’m aware of. It’s an attitude not of diversity or inclusion but rather of exclusion.

This attitude prevents us from uniting with other subaltern groups to build an inclusive movement[7] and thus functions to preserve the position and privileges of the wealthy white males who are truly powerful.

But even more profoundly, it reproduces the hierarchically invidious monism of authoritarian populism (the larger part of Donald Trump’s base).[8] Turning on each other, we expose ourselves as little better.

  1. [1]Simone de Beauvoir, “Women as Other,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 345-347.
  2. [2]David Benfell, “The trouble with reparations isn’t what you think it is,” Not Housebroken, June 11, 2019,
  3. [3]Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 449-451.
  4. [4]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d.,
  5. [5]The Glass House apartments on the south shore of the Monongahela, opposite downtown, and not even a particularly desirable area, are currently listed in the range of $1,610 – $5,780, according to According to the same source, rents in Squirrel Hill generally exceed $1,000 – $2,000 per month. Rents exceeding $4,000 are not uncommon.
  6. [6]Ryan Deto, “Pittsburgh is one of the most gentrified cities in the U.S.,” Pittsburgh City Paper, April 4, 2019,
  7. [7]Amy Chua, Political Tribes (New York: Penguin, 2018); Amy Chua, “How America’s identity politics went from inclusion to division,” Guardian, November 9, 2018,
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).

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