Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Isms and Oppressive Societal Systems

So my day has just been soured with a discussion about the power of -isms.  Racism and sexism to be specific.

When I say soured, well, let me summarise the discussion:

A black man made light-hearted jest about how he'd spent last week surrounded by 8 menstruating women - and survived.

He got a barrage of abuse about how it was a terribly sexist thing to say and perpetuates the oppressive system of gender stereotyping.
I shouldn't have to explain to you how dehumanizing the 'crazy hormonal woman' trope is.. I shouldn't have to tell you that sexism banks on the 'irrationality' of 'hormonal' women in order to make us seem less logical and more emotional, ie more 'crazy'.. It's not funny even when men think it is.. Don't forget that you will never have your hormones used against you to make you seem less sane and capable of rational thought..
I was left looking at this and saying "Wut?!!"

Maybe it's an older woman thing but we use men's hormones against them all the time.  It's a commonly acknowledged 'truth' that men are like linoleum - if you lay them right the first time, you can walk all over them forever.  At least half of the media advertising that is aimed at men is designed purely to get them thinking with the wrong head and if that isn't using their hormones against them what is?  Sex sells and it sells to men most commonly.

It continued and the original chap was cast as the Terrible Misogynist Oppressor making jokes at women's expense - worse than what I've just posted above.  I commented at this point.  I felt that this woman was projecting her own issues and that commenting on a fact doesn't not equal prejudice.

Apparently letting the little -isms slide because it's come from someone who "doesn't really mean it" is what enforces the big -ism mindsets and institutionalises the oppressive systems.  This is offensive to the educated and empowered women out there.

As a strong, educated and empowered woman, I found the rampant sexism in this woman's post to be more offensive than his observation.  Let's be honest, when we're menstruating, women usually are more moody, sometimes irrational and sometimes just downright crazy.  My teenage daughter went through a patch of going into a violent rage with only the merest provocation (and sometimes none at all) when she was pre-menstrual.  Denying these facts - or implying that they're faulty through some sort of "everyone knows" pseudo-science - is to demean us as women.  And the hardest thing for me is that women are the worst for doing it.

I struggle with the way women are expected to be in the workforce.  I remember a woman I worked with who had every fourth Monday off work.  It didn't take a lot of guess work to figure out why, but she was quickly labelled as 'unreliable' and 'needed to get it sorted' and 'it's not an excuse for anything these days, there are all sorts of medicines and products that allow you to just soldier on.'  Why should we?  Why should we pretend that it doesn't happen?  Why are we expected to be the same every day of the month when the truth is that we aren't?

When did we become so de-feminised? (Yes I think I just made up a word).  It's come from many of the feminists, sadly.  To so many in our modern society, equality with men has come to mean we're the same as men, indistinguishable without some sort of genital examination.  That's just not true, it's not fair and it's dishonouring us as women.

This dreadful conversation then went into the realm of totally crazy - she can't be sexist, she's a woman.  Just like black people can't be racist.  I was then further insulted by being told that I was going by dictionary definitions rather than academic ones and better educated than me people understood the underlying truths of those statements in ways that I really was just not smart enough to grasp.  (Not quite those words, but that was the message).

And it went around again to institutionalised -isms and oppressive systems and then white privilege.  And I was insulted based on being a white woman, but it wasn't racist because "people of colour cannot be racist".

What is now being taught in university is that the isms can only be instigated and perpetrated by the Oppressive System, since any examples of said behavior by the oppressed are reactionary.

I bowed out of the conversation at that point.  If this is what Universities are teaching, the Gods help the next generation - they'll need it.  I'm not the oppressor, how is it reactionary when aimed at me?

The "racist and white privilege" complaint brigade (and worse, those who make claims to being educated and smarter than the rest of us) seem to have missed something.  The couple of hundred years of American slavery is apparently the Ultimate Oppressive System.  We can't possibly compare it to many more years of Feudalism or Vassalage or Serfdom or the Pogroms or the Inquisition or the Holocaust.  We can't be playing games of "more persecuted than thou", we can't even see the "ethnic cleansing" between black tribes that is currently happening in Africa as being remotely similar.   No one can complain about any of these things or even discuss them, unless you're part of the oppressed.

All of these isms and this kind of reactionary (or should that be over-reactionary) responses are missing a simple concept.  One simple thing that if people could grasp the world could be a better place.  But they don't, and then we either have the silly overdone histrionics like the conversation that spawned this blog post, or we have apologetics from people who see their own race or gender as the root of all evil and I find myself feeling embarrassed for them whenever they start apologising for how they were born.

What is this simple concept?  We're different and that's okay.  It's okay to notice that we're different and sometimes to celebrate our differences.  It's not okay to treat someone as less than you because of those differences.  Being pro-Women doesn't have to mean being anti-Men.  Being proud of your race doesn't have to mean you're discriminating against or oppressing other races.

I attended a friend's Pacific Island Graduation ceremony.  This was a special occasion held at the Christchurch Town Hall for the Pacific Island students who were graduating from University that year - it was organised by the Pacific Island group on campus and the only requirement for membership to that group was Pacific Island birth or parentage - ie, Samoan, Tongan, Fijian etc.  This was separate from and in addition to the standard graduation ceremony that all students have.

My friend commented that she felt a little sad because if she'd been a white New Zealander she wouldn't have had this extra ceremony.  She also commented that she felt sad that you could never create such a group - it would immediately be labelled as racist and white supremacist and you'd be getting death threats.  And she was right.

But it can't be racist because it's not white folks doing it.  Just like women can't be sexist and other such idiocies.

I read a Ruth Rendell murder mystery.  Race was a huge part of the plot.  There was a comment that has always stuck with me. 
How would you know when someone is truly not racist?  When they're told that the person they want is that black fellow over there and they have to ask which one.  The one with the yellow tie. 
So being not racist is to be colour blind too?  How can you tell the colour of a tie if you can't see skin colour?  Is being aware that there is a different skin colour being discriminatory about it or oppressing that person?

I don't want the world to be Melting Pot like the song says.  I like that we're all different.  I don't see being all the same as a worthy goal for humanity.  If we were all the same the world would be a boring place.

I like that men are men and women are women and all the variations in between.  I like that men and women are different, they look different, they think differently, they have different strengths and weaknesses, they smell different, they often react differently to situations, to threats and to emotional events. 

I like that black people are different to white people and different again to those from Asia and the Pacific Islands and Australian Aborigines.  I like that Germans are so fundamentally different to Italians in so many ways.

I love learning about these differences, I love finding the similarities too but I don't believe that those differences should be ignored or we should pretend those differences don't exist.  I think our differences make us special.  I know that there will always be those who think that different equals a threat, but there are fewer of them now than there were.

It's okay to be different.  It's okay to celebrate those differences.  It's time we did more of it.

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