Posts Tagged ‘microagressions’

N is for Not Thinking

University is back in session for the 2013-2014 school year, and apparently some students can’t make it through frosh week without being stunningly offensive. Which is bad enough coming from random students, but worse when it comes from the student president.

It’s a pretty common line to get hurled at feminists, especially in discussions of rape culture, to say that not all men are rapists. But stuff like this is why that doesn’t matter, because men who aren’t rapists are still quite capable of legitimizing sexual assault through other means. Now, I can believe the guy when he says that he never really thought that much about the words before, but the fact that he and other students were saying them matters more than whether or not he meant to say “raping drunk teens is good”. What we say and hear has an effect on how we think, and this chant is a pretty blatant example of rape culture to boot. I can’t get past the fourth line of it–“N is for no consent”–and I’m not sure what is the more disturbing aspect of this incident–students repeating this chant for years without realizing that hey, this is endorses rape, or that someone came up with it in the first place. When we talk about rape culture, we’re not just talking about people raping, or sexual harassment. We’re talking about this kind of unthinking parroting of ‘edgy’ material that some people find funny and others find frightening. I have my own twisted sense of humour, but this goes beyond funny for me because this kind of stuff actually happens. Regularly. It is taking horrible experiences that too many people have to deal with and making light of it. As a bonding mechanism, no less.

In a startling contrast, just a few days earlier and a few miles away, rival Dalhousie University posted an anti-rape video (Two, actually).

SMU, you lost this round badly.


When ‘guys’ means ‘gals’

Even video games I love by companies that know how to do gender right can disappoint me, it seems. I’ve been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic lately, and while BioWare is one of the few companies that understands things like privilege and that girls do indeed play video games, there’s still the occasional moment that reminds me that as a female, I’m considered ‘other’. I don’t really blame the game companies for this, since for the most part the game does handle gender well. The moments that do appear tend to be things that are so ingrained into our culture and language that they’re easy to miss.

The moment that grabbed my attention most recently was a line talking about ‘you Havoc Squad guys’. Unfortunately, the response I wanted was not given to me, that being to look down and ask what ‘guys’ he was referring to. I’ve also had an ongoing gripe about the use of male pronouns as gender-neutral–I constantly get referred to as ‘sir’, and all Sith get the ‘Lord’ title, regardless of gender. Unfortunately, English doesn’t have a lot of good gender-neutral pronouns, and living in a culture where ‘male’ is considered the default in most situations means that when trying to pick a word that can refer to either gender, the male term usually gets used. (Though at least English doesn’t give a gender to all nouns, like French or German. I’ve never understood what makes a table feminine)

One of the frustrating things about the fight for gender equality has been the persistent idea that ‘masculine’ is better than ‘feminine’. As a result, a lot of effort has been spent on bringing women ‘up’ to the point of men. One of the effects of this has been the dropping of female terminology, and using male terms for both genders when a gender-neutral one isn’t available. Ironically, this expression of equality is making women invisible again.

Ridding ourselves of gendered terms is not going to be easy. But equality isn’t just about allowing women to be more masculine, it’s about breaking down gender norms entirely.

Language and Microagressions

Geek Feminism has a good post up right now titled I feel like you are trying to tell me something, which lists various ways that our world can often tell females (especially geeky females–geek culture is at least as sexist as society at large, but less likely to admit it) that we’re ‘other’, that male is the default and being female makes us part of a special group, nevermind that we’re half the population.

Language is often an issue for members of oppressed populations. For one, it often contains unpleasant reminders that we are not members of the privileged class. Also, language can affect the way we think. This can be used for good purposes (many social justice movements are trying to reclaim or change problematic language) but often reinforces the status quo. A few examples:

  • Though language is slowly adapting, terms like ‘police officer’ and ‘firefighter’ are still sometimes replaced with ‘policeman’ and ‘fireman’
  • Peach or light tan colours are often labeled as ‘flesh’ or ‘nude’, othering people with darker skin tones.
  • Transgender individuals often have problems with people using the wrong pronoun
  • The disability community has been pushing for ‘person first’ language, replacing ‘disabled people’ with ‘people with disabilities’ and other similar changes

These things are termed ‘microagressions’ because they are small, tiny things that aren’t always noticed, and are frequently wholly unintentional. That doesn’t stop them from othering people, though, and reminding oppressed individuals that we are not the assumed default of white, straight, able-bodied, cis-gender, (add adjective here) male. Changing language is an important step towards true equality.