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In which firecat discusses her isms

I've studied feminism for decades and have long believed that feminists—starting long before I was born and continuing today—have discovered some really important things about what my world is like and have done things to make my world better for me as a woman and better for a lot of other people too (although not all people).

Steeping myself in feminist viewpoints for a long time has made me pretty sensitive to gender-biased behavior among people I know, and gender bias in the media. (And has spoiled my enjoyment of a few authors I used to really like.)

Nevertheless, I have lived my whole life in a culture that privileges men over women and people of other genders in a number of ways, and I have internalized the assumption that the public sphere belongs to men. So despite decades of study, if someone mentions a person involved in making public policy, and I don't know who they are, and the name I hear doesn't strike me as "obviously feminine," I tend to assume they are male.

So I just saw a news headline, "Clinton stresses two-state solution," and my first thought is that Bill Clinton said it in a talk somewhere, and it takes me reading the first few words of the article, "U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton stressed a two-state Israel-Palestine solution..." to realize who the story is talking about. *DOH*.

Despite decades of being involved with feminist thought, sexism is still so deeply rooted in me that I automatically envisioned Bill Clinton when I saw the name Clinton, even though Hillary Clinton is in a more prominent position in government now.

I have made some effort to learn about race issues but I haven't worked on that nearly as much as feminism. So I'm sure I have many more automatic assumptions about race than I do about gender.

When people who I think came from more or less the same upbringing as mine say they aren't racist or sexist at all, I really wonder where they got the module installed that erases all of the conditioning they received.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 4th, 2009 02:44 am (UTC)
A few weeks ago, I was looking at a Google news page with something like six headlines having to do with a Clinton. I tested myself on each one--I think there was an obvious one about his foundation, but the rest could have gone either way. The ones I thought were her. exerting her authority as Secretary of State were actually him.

It was very odd.
Mar. 4th, 2009 03:14 am (UTC)
It seems mildly noteworthy that very few of the headlines say "Hillary stresses two-state solution". That would be less ambiguous, but Secretary Clinton deserves the gravitas of a last name when conducting the foreign policy of the United States, and I am glad that she got it without any resistance (that I could see, at least).

It actually takes me two moments when I see the headlines. One to be confused, and one to do a little chair dance. Someday I'll be used to how cool this administration is, but not yet....
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(Deleted comment)
Mar. 4th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
yeah, but then a whole slew of different problems.
Mar. 4th, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
Despite decades of being involved with feminist thought, sexism is still so deeply rooted in me that I automatically envisioned Bill Clinton when I saw the name Clinton, even though Hillary Clinton is in a more prominent position in government now.

I catch myself making those sorts of assumptions on occasion as well. It happens less often than it used to, but I still want to kick myself when I spot it occuring again.

Insidious programming is insidious. Ugh.
Mar. 4th, 2009 03:29 am (UTC)
The one male in my feminist theory class made the comment this morning that "nobody in this country is discriminated against anymore." I hardly know what to do with that.
Mar. 4th, 2009 03:30 am (UTC)
Well, he certainly needs the class...I hope he learns from it.
Mar. 4th, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)
I am sadly convinced that he's not even doing the reading and is there because he delights in pulling my chain. If he continues not to turn in any written work, I'll be displeased but justified in handing him his F.

But the rest of the class is a joy and I'm learning a ton.
Mar. 4th, 2009 03:41 am (UTC)
If he gets an F maybe he will learn something a little different from what I was originally imagining.
Mar. 4th, 2009 06:40 am (UTC)
Is ridicule not apppropriate?
Mar. 4th, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
I wish it were, but no, not in a classroom setting. And not if my goal is for him to learn anything. In fact, I've had to reprimand him for ridiculing others. "Why would you want to do that?" in response to someone who is vegan is not an invitation to conversation the way he delivers it.

I need this class to be a safe space for everyone and that includes him, which means I need to figure out how to tone him down without shutting him down. It's a challenge. The class goes much better the days he doesn't come. But I have been absolutely refusing to back off of the open discussions of sex even when the women in the class point out that it makes him uncomfortable. Sex and sex habits are so much at the root of male/female dominance issues that I won't just gloss those over. But making him uncomfortable is different than ridiculing him. And I hope that he will learn something even if it won't be as much as I'd like.

Me, I'm learning, too; so that's good.
Mar. 4th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
While I'm willing to believe most of what people say about themselves, experience suggests that people who say they aren't racist or sexist at all often fail to see the many, many ways in which lifelong acculturation can lead even the best-intentioned of us to do, say and believe things that are just plain wrong.

I'd *like* to not be racist or sexist (or agist, or classist, or any number of other isms). It's what I aspire to. But I still catch myself making assumptions that demonstrate just how far I have to go to get there.
Mar. 7th, 2009 04:46 am (UTC)
Nod. Part of that is the majority-serving idea that it's not racism/sexism/etc., unless it's either malicious or terribly blatant, or some combination of the two. I'm obviously not consciously, or maliciously, or blatantly sexist/racist/etc., but I do have a lot of things that catch me unawares... often because I haven't thought about them, because, duh, I don't have to.
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Mar. 4th, 2009 03:45 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting.

I know what you're trying to get at when you say "un-seeing of everyones differences," but I think that viewpoint can create problems it doesn't intend.

I don't want a world where people don't see differences. And based on my own experiences as fat and as a woman, and on what I have heard from some people of color, it seems that when a mainstream person doesn't see differences, they sometimes end up acting in ways that reinforce racism, sexism, or other isms.

Because some of the experiences of people who bear the brunt of prejudice are actually different from the experiences of people who don't, and being unaware of that doesn't help undo a prejudiced society.

I want a world where people respect and pay attention to each other, and that means acknowledging that other people have different life experiences, rather than assuming everyone is the same.
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(no subject) - firecat - Mar. 4th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 4th, 2009 03:37 am (UTC)
I also do this with the name "Clinton", maybe after a few more months my brain will make the switch. I often do this in literature too. When I first start a story, if the author does not use a gendered pronouns and the name doesn't clue me in, I see the person as male until there is other evidence. DOH is right. I know better. I have done work on feminism, but damn, this stuff goes deep.
Mar. 4th, 2009 04:05 am (UTC)
I've been doing that with "Clinton" headlines too, and then I feel embarrassed too.
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Mar. 4th, 2009 04:11 am (UTC)
I agree. Someday I hope to experience the reverse situation, and see if my assumptions are different. But for various reasons that might be a while in coming to pass.
Mar. 4th, 2009 01:56 pm (UTC)
I was going to say something similar. In this particular case, it isn't necessarily sexist to immediately think of Bill rather than Hillary when one reads or hears "Clinton" in a political context, because for eight years, it usually was Bill. Those connections get made, and the brain doesn't easily give them up. It was several years into Bush II's presidency before the picture in my head for "President Bush" stopped being the father and turned into the son.
Mar. 4th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
I was also going to say something similar -- "Gates" in headlines is persistnently "Bill" to me, rather than "Robert", for instance. Yes, this leads to odd readings at times.

Though not as odd as when I was scrolling through headlines and combined the beginning of one with the end of the next to get "Nazi row bishop without GMail for four hours".
Mar. 4th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
Mar. 4th, 2009 05:43 am (UTC)
Hmmph. I know perfectly well I'm racist, sexist, classist, ageist, and a whole lot of other stuff too. How can I not know? I have to live inside this brain and hear what I don't let out for everyone else to hear. That and not acting on my more unfortunate thoughts is about the best I can do to counteract the programming that happened before I was old enough to defend myself. That happened in northeastern Oklahoma in the 1950s, so there's a lot to not let out.

Mar. 4th, 2009 05:45 am (UTC)
Well said, and great icon!
Mar. 4th, 2009 10:11 am (UTC)
By the way, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, USD(P) Is also a woman - Michele Fluornoy.

Mar. 4th, 2009 05:47 pm (UTC)
My parents endeavoured to raise us without prejudice, but they had their blind spots and I've spent my life examining my own thoughts for traces of unwanted 'isms.' For instance, most people in California refer to anyone of Latino descent as 'Mexican.' When I realized that many of them were from Central and South America, I changed my language.

Now that I am most often the only white person in the room I am having ample opportunities to learn more about other cultures and destroy my own assumptions - or so you would think. But pretty much most of these people want nothing to do with me, trapped, I am guessing, in 'isms' of their own which tell them I'm the enemy.

As for the Clinton thing, I think most people will do that a time or two before we get used to seeing Hilary first. But I agree that it's at least as much because he was the more prominent Clinton for 10+ years and she is relatively new in that position.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Mar. 4th, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this post.

I remember the first time i ran across that internalized sexism and realized it. Reading one of the less than scholarly books about early matriarchal cultures (Merlin Stone?), i ran across an assertion that women invented writing. A "scholarly" scoff was my first reaction, and then i realized the deeply embedded sexism in the scoff -- in me! -- and i think i cried.

If they ever tell you where they got the module, i'd like a copy.

My most recent recognition of cultural conditioning has come in the context of reading someone defending appropriation of "Native American spirituality." I think that because Christianity is an open religion, those of us from the dominate Western culture tend to believe all religions *should* be open. Early Christianity was the opening of a Jewish cult to those who had not been circumcised: it did not require "becoming Jewish" as a prerequisite. Roman Empire era pagans seem from my reading to have , in general, a practical attitude of appeasing the local gods just to cover all the bases, that's just as much an imperial assimilationist attitude. I wonder if most religions/spiritual practices through out history have been tribal and closed. I feel so much *judgement* in my mind about the idea of a tribal and closed religion, that i suspect it's conditioning that shapes my understanding of spiritual practice that way....

Mar. 5th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)
My most recent recognition of cultural conditioning has come in the context of reading someone defending appropriation of "Native American spirituality."

That's a really interesting analysis, thanks for posting it.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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