A friend and I were recently lounging at the top floor of the public library musing about social and economic discrimination. The discussion initially started in the context of a temporary exhibit about the stride for more social equality for LGBT persons in the Netherlands in the past 50 years. We were wondering, somehow, which of the various possible fights for more social equality had the most impact.
We were considering:
- Sexual orientation / romantic preferences
- Economic class
- Race / skin color
- Cultural affinity
- Education level
- Physical handicap (e.g. missing leg)
And asking ourselves: what is, for our contemporaries in the local cultural microcosm, the ranking between these characteristics that a typical person is most likely to use to rank people on their social scale?
This is not a trival question, because we quickly sensed that this ranking differed at least between cultures. For one, we both agreed that locally gender matters much more than skin color, that is a black man (all other things remaining equal) probably would fare better than a white woman, whereas in the US (for example) this would not be true because there race matters more than gender.
Also we couldn’t initially agree on the ranking—he was arguing this is “obvious” and follows traditional expectations of the feminist / queer right movement (gender before sexual orientation before everything else) whereas I was of the opinion that economic class mattered more, at least in the local culture.
So we had to apply some methodology to this. We did ranking by case-by-case comparisons.
(Disclaimer: the content that follows reflects a random discussion between two random, biased individuals. Your mileage may vary.)
- gay woman vs straight man - man wins; gay man vs straight woman - man wins: gender > orientation.
- gay rich woman vs straight poor woman - rich wins; gay poor woman vs straight rich woman - rich wins: economic class > orientation
- rich woman vs poor man - woman wins; rich man vs poor woman - man wins: economic class > gender.
So this tells us that locally at least,
economic class > gender > orientation.
- black gay man vs white straight man - straight wins; black straight man vs white gay man - straight wins (here at least): orientation > race.
- black rich man vs white poor man - rich wins; black poor man vs white rich man - rich wins: economic class > race.
- black woman vs white man - man wins; black man vs white woman - man wins: gender > race.
economic class > gender > orientation > skin color/race.
- black educated man vs white uneducated man - black man wins; white educated man vs black uneducated man - white man wins: education > race.
- educated woman vs uneducated man - man wins; educated man vs uneducated woman - man wins: gender > education.
- educated gay person vs uneducated straight person - gay wins; educated straight person vs uneducated gay person - straight wins: education > orientation.
- rich educated person vs poor uneducated person - rich wins; rich uneducated person vs poor educated person - rich wins: economic class > education.
economic class > gender > education > orientation > skin color/race.
The next step was “cultural affinity.” We didn’t consider “ethnicity” which commonly encompasses both race and cultural affinity, nor did we consider “cultural origins” because this improperly accounts for cultural integration. In the Netherlands, the most well-known cultural affinities are that from otherwise well-integrated folk who maintain their identity as Surinamese, Indonesian, Turkish and Moroccn.
And so we went:
- white Turkish person vs brown Dutch person - Dutch wins; white Dutch person vs brown Turkish person - Dutch wins: cultural affinity > race.
- gay Turkish person vs straight Dutch person - straight wins; gay Dutch person vs Turkish straight person - gay wins: cultural affinity > orientation.
- educated Turkish person vs uneducated Dutch person - Turkish wins; educated Dutch person vs uneducated Turkish person - Dutch wins: education > cultural affinity.
economic class > gender > education > cultural affinity > orientation > skin color/race.
- neuroatypical black person vs neurotypical white person - white wins; neuroatypical white person vs neurotypical black person - black wins: neurotype > race.
- neuroatypical gay person vs neurotypical straight person - straight wins; neuroatypical straight person vs neurotypical gay person - gay wins: neurotype > orientation.
- neuroatypical Turkish person vs neurotypical Dutch person - Dutch wins; neuroatypical Dutch person vs neurotypical Turkish person - Turkish wins: neurotype > cultural affinity.
- neuroatypical educated person vs neurotypical uneducated person - educated wins; neuroatypical uneducated person vs neurotypical educated person - educated wins: education > neurotype.
- neuroatypical woman vs neurotypical man - man wins; neurotypical woman vs neuroatypical man - man wins: gender > neurotype.
- neuroatypical rich person vs neurotypical poor person - rich wins; neuroatypical poor person vs neurotypical rich person - rich wins: economic class > neurotype.
economic class > gender > education > neurotype > cultural affinity > orientation > skin color/race.
- black person with missing leg vs white person with legs - white wins; black person with legs vs white person with missing leg - black wins: handicap > skin color/race.
- gay person with missing leg vs straight person with legs - straight wins; gay person with legs vs straight person with missing leg - gay wins: handicap > orientation.
- Turkish person with missing leg vs Dutch person with legs - Dutch wins; Turkish person with legs vs Dutch person with missing leg - Turkish wins: handicap > cultural affinity.
- neuroatypical person with missing leg vs neurotypical person with legs - legs win; neuroatypical person with legs vs neurotypical person with missing legs - neurotpical wins: neurotype > handicap.
- educated person with legs vs uneducated person with missing legs - legs win; educated person with missing leg vs uneducated person with legs - educated wins: education > handicap.
- man with legs vs woman with missing leg - man wins; man with missing leg vs woman with leg - man wins: gender > handicap.
- rich person with legs vs poor person with missing leg - legs win; rich person with missing leg vs poor person with legs - rich person wins: economic class > handicap.
economic class > gender > education > neurotype > handicap > cultural affinity > orientation > skin color/race.
Some salient / notable points:
- skin color/race at the bottom of the ranking is probably special to the Netherlands. It’s notoriously more important in most other places.
- Dutch society is still very much more xenophobic than it has issues with queer folk. Again this tends to be the other way in most other places, although perhaps this tends to change lately.
- most of the discourse about gender equality assumes that gender dominates all social ranking and often forgets about economic class. (Not surprising considering most such discourse originates in the USA where discussing economic class boundaries is not done).
- the big surprise perhaps in this ranking is the revelation that neurotype is a pretty big deal. One better be gay and neurotypical than straight and neuroatypical.
There remains much to be studied on the topic of intersectionality.