Sunday, June 03, 2007

It's Not All About You

(A recent discussion made me think of the story that this post begins with. I've shared it in comments before, but I decided it deserved it's own post, so here goes.)

One of the interesting things about going to college is the experience of having friends who are in Psych 101 do experiments on you. It's really fun to try and guess what they are really about, because of course they almost never tell you until they are done, because that would mess up the experiment.

First-year at college a few friends of mine read a story to me and some other friends of ours and told us that there would be a memory test at the end. The story was about a high school kid arguing with his English teacher about his grade. When the story was done we were asked all sorts of questions about what had happened. We only got one question wrong each, and it was the same question.

"Was the teacher a man or a woman?"

We all said "woman"....

....but the story never said.

Because, this being a liberal all-women's college, the experiment was not a memory test at all, but a lesson in internalized sexism.

We all do it. All of it. The sexism, the racism, the homophobia, you name it. If it exists, we pretty much all do it. It doesn't matter if we are male or female, gay or straight, rich or poor, black or white or any other color, we all do it. The only way to stop doing it is to recognize it and name it every time you see it. And even then, really, you never actually stop doing it, you just do it less.

We usually don't mean it. We usually don't see it. And we definitely usually don't mean to be unfair or cruel. But we all do it. And it usually is. Even if we don't see it. Especially when we don't see it.

So when you hear someone toss around terms like "male gaze", "the patriarchy," or "colonizing" or when someone says that something is sexist, racist, homophobic, classist, etc. remember that they may not talking about you any more or less than they are talking about themselves.

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