Monday, February 4, 2013

Through The Eyes of the Privileged

Like most Americans, I spent Sunday night watching the NFL Super Bowl. I was not surprised by the blatant and gratuitous sexism (and occasional racism) in the infamous Super Bowl commercials. I was expecting to see some breasts selling Budweiser and some pole dancing to advertise a show. Women were exploited, marginalized, and objectified in almost every commercial, just as I expected. Sexism is alive and well. I joined many others on twitter by calling out the sexism with the Miss Representation tag of #NotBuyingIt. We used social media to call on companies to end their sexist campaigns and stop perpetuating the obvious issue.
I honestly don’t know why I was so surprised by what happened next.
I was attacked. My inboxes and my cell phone lit up with snarky, sarcastic, and downright hateful messages. All of them were from middle class, white, cisgendered, heterosexual males. “You’re a hypocrite for not calling out the commercials that make men look dumb!”
“Women have more privileges than men, feminism is just reverse sexism!”
“Why are you always complaining about women having it rough? You can do whatever you want in America if you just work hard enough!”
“What, no comment about the taco bell commercial making old people look bad?” “Everybody’s life is rough, you people need get over it!”
I could go on.
I have gone from disbelief, to fury, to bewilderment. Maybe I’ve been out of the Fundie bubble for too long, but are there really still this many people who don’t believe that sexism and racism exist? I mean there are FACTS out there, people. 37% of African American children and 34% of Hispanic children live below the poverty limit, compared to 12% of white children. Women are still making only 75% of what a man makes in the same job. Despite major growth in minority college enrollment, Hispanic and African American highschool seniors are still significantly less likely to be able to attend college than their white peers. The list goes on and on. You do not have to look far to see the glaringly obvious inequalities in our society. And yet so many people choose willful ignorance.
As a cisgendered, white woman married to a man, I am well aware of my privilege. Because I happened to fall in love with a man, I was able to get married without any problem. This allowed me to get enough financial aid to attend college.  Unemployment statistics, evidence of workplace racism, and stories like this one would suggest that my skin color made me more likely to be hired. I am also less likely to be the target of hate crimes than say, a trans woman or an African American teenager. I know this. I do everything I can to educate myself on the difficulties faced by my fellow human beings, and I stand up against inequalities wherever I see them with passion and empathy.
This is why I don’t understand the garbage in my inbox. Are all of these guys just completely uneducated on the issues of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc? Do I need to lend them a few biographies written by someone in a minority demographic? Did they fall asleep in history class and miss the parts where we wouldn’t let women vote? Where we trafficked in human flesh for over 50 years after the civil war? Where we displaced, raped, and murdered thousands of Native Americans? 
 Are they sincerely ignorant like I and my fellow former-fundies used to be? Or are these guys so high on their cloud of privilege that they can’t see destructive inequalities and discrimination that define the reality of so many millions of people?

14 comments:

  1. Let me try and defend my fellow white dudes for a second.

    Perhaps the snarky comments you received were extra rude and voluminous in number because the writers had consumed much more beer than they are normally accustomed to, and were operating on impaired judgement.

    Also, when you get a large group of guys together for a 'macho event' like the Superbowl, our IQ's generally drop by about 25 points. :-)

    Or maybe they are just always ignorant.

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    1. Kalvin you should really take a look at what feminists bloggers go through on a daily basis.

      The sorts of comments Sara got actually sound pretty tame compared to many I've heard of. (see below) Your comment though does a good job of pointing out what a privileged position we men are in. I can post whatever I want on any topic and not have to worry to much about it. People might disagree but no one is going to threaten to rape me and my daughter in an e-mail that contains my address and her school.

      As guys we have the privilege of not having to worry about that sort of abuse. Actually it's even beyond not having to worry about it. We have the privilege of not having to know about it.

      That is a perfect example of how this blindness to privilege works.

      **********

      ‘They want you to shut up,’ I explained. ‘That’s the point of a rape threat. They want to silence you. They want you to shrink down very small inside a box where you think they can’t find you.’

      It took a few years to reach this point, but I finally have, the point where I do have concerns about my physical safety, and have had to reevaluate certain aspects of my life and work. I’ve gotten those emails that send a long chill down my spine and create a surging feeling of rage, mixed with helplessness. People have sent me my social security number, information about my family members, identifying details that make it very clear they know exactly how to find me. They have politely provided details of exactly what they’d like to do to me and my family, they send me creepy things in the mail.

      http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/11/on-blogging-threats-and-silence/

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    2. Beer doesn't make you a racist or misogynist, it lowers your inhibitions about revealing the nastier underbelly you have. Let's take ownership of our thoughts, shall we?

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  2. Cross posting to your blog as well:
    Privilege is a hard thing to see because you first have to admit that your successes aren't solely your own. You have to be willing to admit that you have benefited because of your gender, color, sex, height, weight, or wealth.

    That is a hard thing to do. It doesn't jive with the story we like to tell ourselves about our accomplishments being the product of our efforts not the unfairness of others.

    Have you seen Tim Wise's talk about privilege?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5OkHysPNog

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  4. Philip, you are right that I am pretty much unaware of the hateful and threatening comments directed at feminist bloggers.

    Thanks for posting that example as it gives me some perspective.

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    1. I'll fess up to the fact that all this is pretty new to me as well. A couple years ago though I had a conversation with my wife about how often she worries about being raped on a daily basis and it really opened up my eyes.

      For example I'm about to head out into a dark parking lot and head to the grocery store which also has a rather shady parking lot. Not a worry for me because I'm a guy. Worst that might happen is I'd get robbed but even that's less likely. My wife would have a very different set of concerns. Not that she considers it a major worry but it's a lot more of a concern than I have.

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  5. Lol I can't help but think that maybe Kalvin has a point though.... Nevertheless beer doesn't make people threaten your personal safety. You have to be a pretty rotten person all around for that level of despicableness.

    I think many men have become angered at all the perceived "privilege" they see being offered to women and minorities, not realizing that even despite that we still struggle to attain the level of respect, independence, and income that men have long been accustomed to. In applying for scholarships, I have been astounded at how many are specifically for women or underprivileged students. And yet the whole reason I need scholarships so badly is that I could never make more than $10 an hour without a college degree, and most men can. They can make more money in less time as well, which allows them to offset their college expenses more while attending school.

    A lot of this seems like common sense, considering that men are able to work at jobs like construction, with comparatively high pay and shorter job duration. But then you think about how difficult housekeeping is, and most people won't pay more than $10/hr for that even in an affluent area. That's pretty exhausting work. So there really IS a big discrepancy.

    I'm sorry there are so many jerks out there, Sarah. It does get pretty depressing to realize how crappy humanity is.

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  6. It's also pretty much false equivalences because when feminist complain about rape culture and all that implies, some men need to made the conversation about them and we'll shout misandry because men are ridiculed in TV series or because they have it worse in custody hearings (which are good points but not what the conversation was about and it's not like feminism doesn't fight for men's rights too). All this also reminds of that famous sentence: "Men are afraid, women will laugh at them, Women are afraid men will kill them".

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  8. Doug, I agree with you that we should take ownership of our thoughts. Sarah was surprised by the volume and acidulous nature of the responses she received and I was trying to point out why an event like the Superbowl would be conducive to people replying in such a way.

    It is also important to remember that some of these same people might be more open to learn about what Sarah was twittering about if they were in a more sober mind and away from a 'macho' environment.

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  9. Hi Sarah -- I can't believe I missed that you have a blog, and that you commented on mine like six months ago... I completely share your anger against the sexist Super Bowl commercials. Part of the reason I Netflix everything -- it's not just the Superbowl commercials. The old cliche that sex sells is misleading; what it really means is "a woman's objectified body sells." Two people being mutually fulfilled? Not so much.

    I do think its worth taking a minute, however, to consider negative images of men in the media in the context of the blatant misogyny. Take "How I Met Your Mother", for example, my own personal guilty tv pleasure. If you want to talk about objectification of women, you don't get much worse than the way Barney Stinson treats females. Even though the other characters mostly respond to it with mild disgust, the show makes it clear that most of the "chicks" are just stupid bimbos anyway, not worth our sympathy. And even though Barney is settling down now, part of me still feels like its just the same old classic "ravished woman" story -- guy treats girl (or multiple girls) like dirt, then easily gets rid of her so he can have his nice life with the nice woman who is actually deserving of his respect, unlike all those other sluts. Maybe I'm just missing the ironic sexism again though? ;)

    But my point in kind of a round about way is that I think that misandry in TV perpetuates misogyny. Barney may be sweet and adorable as well as sleazy but I think that has more to do with NPH's acting and persona than with the character. Barney the character is really just a douchey obnoxious man-child, like so many tv characters, with a sex obsession added on for fun. and he gets a free pass because he's a man and "men are just like that." Men just can't help it -- they have less self control than children, less control than animals, really. If this isn't an incredibly degrading and hateful idea of manhood, I don't know what is. It seems self-loathing on some level. Men have sacrificed their own humanity for the "right" to treat women how they please. No one wins. The dehumanization of women and the dehumanization of men are inextricably linked. Feminism is NOT just about women, it's about all humanity. Which is why its so utterly stupid when guys tell us to shut up about the feminism thing. Everyone is allowed to be more fully human when women are treated with respect. Keep up the good tweeting. The jerks who attacked you are products of this nasty cycle and hopefully one day they'll wake up and take responsibility for themselves.

    And maybe someday I'll break my HIMYM addiction so I can be consistent to my own principles. Sigh. :P

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    1. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes!!!!!!!

      I agree 600% Not only does media and culture dehumanize women it dehumanizes men and tells them to be manly they must treate women poorly, suppress human emotion, and think only with their penis. Its the same thing with rape culture. Blaming women's clothing for a rape basically says that men are animals and nothing more. I have a post in the process right now called "Men Can't Not Rape?" Haha

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