Subtle Shifts

July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

A little while ago, The Rumpus published an incredibly powerful piece by Dylan Nice called Truth In Nonfiction: A Testimonial about the impact Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant” had on Nice”s perspective. Here is just a taste:

I’d been raised in a culture that believed the world would be much simpler if the elite left quit trying to make it complicated. But here was an essay written by a troop on the ground in a seventy-year old occupation, who acknowledged the systems of control were far too complicated to remain wise, let alone noble…I was a hunter and familiar with being a poor shot. I could see the elephant in the distance, feel the crowd behind me, watch myself load the shell in the chamber, my hands shaking. I understood Orwell was a man who did not want to act rashly, who considered each party involved, knew there was no real urgency in killing the elephant, but killed it anyway because the inherent inadequacy of the individual in a world of larger, wealthier, more powerful forces…What happened while I read Orwell’s essay eight years ago was small…In the span of a few thousand words over a half-century old, the world got bigger for me in a quiet way.

This is basically a road map for overcoming stereotyping. Nice starts his essay by describing his background and how he was raised to think about the world and Democrats (socialists), Al Gore (“baby killer”), and people who belittled the Bush administration and the war on terror (cowards and fools). And stereotyping can go both ways – it is beyond easy to assume that everyone who thinks differently than you is the same in some unforgivable way. Generalizations become fixed identities become the basis for discrimination, and the process needs to be consciously interrupted if anything is going to change.

I interact with veterans as part of my job, and I also volunteer as a rape crisis counselor, and going into both positions I had a lot of preconceived ideas about what kind of people I would be working with in both roles. Some of them were true – most of the veterans I see are men – and some of them weren’t – I have yet to advocate in person for someone under 25 – but even so, at the start all I had were stereotypical expectations. When did that change? When I met actual individuals and started working with them.

That’s exactly what happened for Nice: his stereotyping about the “elite left” changed when he got to know Orwell through his essay. Nice could empathize with Orwell (and use his common background in hunting) to imagine what it was like for Orwell to face a crowd of people and an impossible task of controlling an elephant, knowing the crowd’s presence would force him to act but feeling hopeless about the situation and his power to control things in a world that leaves the individual “inherent[ly] inadequate.” Damn that’s powerful. All it took was figuratively walking a bit in Orwell’s mud-sticking shoes.

So. Human interaction. Let’s get on that.

P.S. There’s also an awesome sketch of the definition of fem-i-nist by MariNaomi over at The Rumpus.


Reviews: In Defense of Women

July 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

I got completely sucked into Nancy Gertner’s memoirs, In Defense of Women, which cover her career as a lawyer and some of the major cases she worked on until becoming a Federal District Judge. Her cases spanned first-degree murder charges, sexual harassment and discrimination, and many civil rights violations of disadvantaged people.

Throughout the book, Gertner talks about what it was like for her to work in a highly male-dominated profession from the 1970’s onward, career ambitions and other life balances, and her determination not to just play it safe to get through difficult situations. (I’ll leave out the “having it all” reference that has gotten so much online attention lately, but she goes into those issues in the book too). Sometimes that involved wearing red suits in court, other times advising a client not to plead guilty for lesser charges when the situation didn’t call for it. Always it involved being awesome.

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Words from Benjamin Franklin Gates

July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

A long weekend full of adventures without internet access makes for a very quick post. I’m easing back into the week with a bit of National Treasure, so here’s some food for thought:

“If there’s something wrong, then those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action.”

Longer post to come tomorrow!

Ironic Humor is Ironic (Ironically)

July 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

I had a conversation with a very good friend of mine over the weekend and, after catching up on her latest adventures and attempts at basil lemonade-making, we spent a long time talking about the legitimacy of our reactions to questionable jokes/attitudes/comments.

I’ve been thinking about humor a lot lately, particularly the kind of humor that involves politically incorrect ideas related to sexism, racism, etc. How can you tell when something is genuinely funny because it plays with controversial topics and when it is just lazy, thinly-veiled “ironic” stereotyping?

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The more things change…

July 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

the more things do not stay the same. At least that’s how it should work with cultural shifts. Maybe the original truism is relevant for personal reflections on relationships or life courses, but not so much with social movements. I hope.

So how can mainstream norms regarding gender, sexuality, inequality, race, class, and so on shift? Or be completely reworked? Or just thrown out altogether? How does change happen?

Attitudes change in response to things like persuasive communication, cognitive dissonance, or social influence. Classical or operant conditioning are more structured ways of actively trying to change behavior. (If you aren’t way too wrapped up in The Office and haven’t had a change to watch Jim classically condition Dwight, it’s a pretty entertaining demonstration of psychology.)

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This is What a Feminist Sounds Like

July 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

For those of you just stumbling upon this, my name is Kate and I’m a feminist. Stick around if you’re interested in discussing sex/gender, the media, pop or the wider soda-less variety of culture (I spent my childhood summers in North Dakota, that’s a Midwest joke), politics, social change, or anything else on your mind. I also have big plans to share pictures that make me smile. The latest is this gravity-defying goat:

Because how else are we going to shift the dominant paradigm of society, if not through the sharing of goat pictures? Seriously.

So. This rest of this is going to be short and sweet – why is it important to me to identify as a feminist?

I’m a feminist because…

  • I believe men and women – and people for whom those labels do not fit – are equal. That’s pretty much the heart of it. There’s a really interesting discussion going on right now over at Feministe about what equality would look like.
  • women are systematically disenfranchised in a variety of ways, and that isn’t going to change unless we talk about it and work to change it.
  • I believe in the rights of marginalized groups in our society.
  • accepted gender norms influence so many aspects of our lives and do not make sense in so many ways…why did the colors of the toy a girl happens to be playing with in this adorable ad change into this?
  • the top Google autofill suggestions after “why feminism” are “is wrong,” “is stupid,” and “is bad” (I was going for “is important to me“). Ugh.
  • power works to maintain the status quo, and feminism works to transform systems that won’t change themselves. I’mma explore that further, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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