Saturday, June 7, 2014

June 7: Confessions of a Misogynist

I just read this article and it lined up perfectly with a discussion I was having with my wife this morning and so I guess I'm going to write about it.  Living in India has caused a radical change in my world view and it is one of the last world view changes that I expected.  Many people who come to India find themselves in some Himalayan Ashram or decide that they are going to redecorate their house with a more bohemian flair.  Some people are impacted by the effects of education, corruption, and employment on systemic poverty.  Some people visit India and their life is change in a long-term fashion.  Some come back as a radical new person for 3 weeks before Starbucks and Game of Thrones slowly massages them back to where the only visible transformation are the 2 stamps in their passport.

I had a similar transformation when I moved out to the Midwest but looking back on it now it was very incomplete in the way in which it affected the way I thought and acted.  I was riding down the L in downtown Chicago and saw a road crew working on the street and I felt something inside of me shift.  I saw a white woman shovelling gravel on the road crew.  This really felt out of place and I quickly realized that it was because I had never seen a white person on a road crew.  Growing up in southern California that place was almost always taken by usually a Hispanic and sometimes an African-American.  I felt a cascade of images flood through my mind and realized that I had assumed certain jobs based almost entirely on a racial basis.  The backs of kitchens, agriculture, and road crews.  I even remember telling my friend about the experience later and saying, “and there was not only a white person, but a white woman.”  I voiced the gender aspect of my base assumptions but only identified the race based thinking as the problem at the time.

I want to be clear here I was not offended that a white person was on a road crew, I wasn't thinking that this was “Hispanic work.”  Simply seeing a white woman in the role opened my eyes to assumptions I did not know I had.  My father really tried to instil in us a respect for other cultures, languages, and cuisines.  We were not raised in a family where racial slurs were in any way an acceptable thing.  In my naivete, though, I did tell what I would consider now racist jokes not realizing the harm that such simple things are capable of.  I told jokes about Scot's being cheap & being overly amorous with their livestock, what's the difference?  I have since realized how powerful speaking those kind of things can be on one's subconscious.

I was definitely more guilty of outward misogyny than outward racism through my jr high and high school years.  It was not that I disliked girls as the name implies, quite the opposite.  I felt like the feelings of rejection that emanated from them somehow justified me in some of the jokes I told.  My friends would banter jokes back and forth about the girls we were to afraid to actually interact with while listening to MXPX belting out our hurt to GSF.  I realized one day that the sexist jokes were beginning to manifest themselves as sexist thoughts and that was a road I didn't want to travel to far down.  What was left, and really was there from the beginning, was an underlying assumption about women and what they deserved.

I was one of those people who are found throughout American culture when they read a headline, “That's not sexist.”  “They need to get over it.”  Living in India I have seen girls raped and lynched and politicians saying simpley, “boys will be boys.”  I see mothers of raped and murdered daughters beaten by police for demanding justice.  I see girls burned, beaten, and abused because their dowry wasn't high enough.  I've seen human beings delegated to punching bags and baby factories simply because they carry 2 X chromosomes.  I've held beautiful girls in my own arms that were found in the trash or buried alive because of their gender.  One girl has a smile that lights up the room but will never be accepted in this country because she was thrown in the trash due to her genetics and the maggots ate of that precious child's nose.  Let me tell you, that will make you a feminist very quickly.

I look around me here and the marketing, movies, television, music are all playing the same tune.  All very obviously communicating that girls are objects of affection and entertainment when appropriate.  One of the common themes in films here are love triangles.  When the boys do are the center it is bravado, when the girls...“well what do you expect.”   If I were to filter my Facebook wall by posts done by Indian nationals 50% would be divided into 2 totally contradicting categories.  1 would be how wonderful their mother is.  The other would be how girls are A) stupid, B) materialistic, C) liars.  It drives me insane.  I see people on the same day saying that these rapists should be mangled in horrible ways and 4 hours later posts an attempt at comedy ripe with the same objectification that led to the rape they are decrying.

“Khusrow, a joke is not the same thing as rape.”  Yes, I agree.  By very definition they are not the same thing.  What I am seeing more and more is that the underlying assumptions and attitudes that the joke is based on and reinforces is the same underlying attitude that leads to men thinking they can take from woman whatever they want.  We can't expect to tell the jokes and the rapes just stop.  We can't expect prejudice to go away until we stop acting prejudiced.

It takes some intensive effort to look at trial records by race and corporate hierarchies by gender and not see a problem.  The trick is that all evidences of discrimination can be used as evidence to fuel discrimination.  You could have easily said in 1840 that there were many more black slaves than authors and many more white authors than slaves.  Therefore white people are smarter and meant for more intellectual pursuits and black people are meant for hard labor that is less academically stressful.  The problem with that logic is the philosophical and socio-economic systems in place created that inequality.

“If I put chicken in this machine it comes out as goo, therefore chicken WILL turn into goo.”
“What if you just don't put the chicken in the machine?  Then it won't be goo.”
“How can you even suggest that?  Look at this goo!  That is what happens to chicken.  It is right here, dripping from my hands!  You can't deny that this is chicken and now it is goo.”

In India the issues are easier to see because they are more grotesque but it has helped me see patterns in America that passed me by because they were so common.  I know your favorite nurse is a man, your favorite doctor is a woman, and your best friend is black.  But let's just assume for a moment that there are things in your life you miss.  Things you think and say that without consciously being a party to it, are reinforcing a system that does immeasurable harm to a majority of the population.

The say no to bossy movement really struck a cord with me.  I did say my daughter was bossy when she wanted everything to go her way, but I said this same thing about my son.  What it did for me was help me to see that she had real skills with helping other children to understand their role in the game that is currently being played.  Obviously that gift, like all good things, can be taken to a detrimental extreme but here is a real strength that my daughter has.  Every strength is a weakness and it is my role as a father to not squelch a gift out of my daughter but to balance a weakness to be the most optimal tool she will have for success.  I would never criticize my son for building towers because he should spend more time reading.  Why would I tell my daughter to not be a leader if that is what she is made for? I just need to help her be the best leader she can possibly be and help my sons be the best whatever they ares that they can possibly be.  We need to be active members of our society and helping those around us be the best Z that they can be because they are a Z.  Help them be a painter, mathematician, friend.  

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