Geek Feminism Wiki

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 an "clawed my way up" 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 (also see you want privilege)
  • that natural selection operates at the level of success in society, and by attempting to ameliorate oppression, society is in fact doing itself harm.

Issues with the argument[]

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, 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.