In this essay Nathan Palmer provides some helpful suggestions for how to deal with personal social privilege and strategies for reducing social inequality in general.
Have you recently been told that you need to, “check your privilege”? Has someone just told you that they experienced something you said or did as a microaggression? Did you have a conversation about race, sexuality, religion, etc. go horribly wrong? Are people upset with you? Are you trying unsuccessfully to convince everyone that, “that’s not what I meant”?
I feel you. I’ve been there myself more times than I care to admit. As a white, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied man I have most if not all of the social privileges a person can have. Getting “called out” about your social privilege is not fun, but it can be a learning experience, if you let it be. Here’s some strategies for how to make the best out of these uncomfortable moments.
Start by Actually Listening
When those around you tell you that you words or actions are hurtful or exclusionary, it’s very easy to bunker down behind all of your defenses. If you try with all your might to convince everyone that they got it all wrong, don’t be surprised if they try just as hard to convince you that your social privilege is real and creating problems. Instead of getting defensive, try to really listen to what those around you are saying. Hear them and repeat back to them what you think they are saying.
Accept That Other People Experience The World Differently
When discussions of privilege or discrimination come up, it is only a matter of time until someone of privilege says, “you’re seeing things that aren’t there.” First, we have a name for that; it’s called being delusional. Second, it’s unlikely that people of color, women, gender-sexual minorities, etc. are all suffering from the same collective delusion. So if it’s not a mass collective delusion, then how can two people see things so differently?
This weekend in Melbourne, Australia, Ronda Rousey will defend her mixed martial arts (MMA) bantamweight championship against Holly Holm in the main event of UFC 193. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is marketing UFC 193 as a women’s revolution in sports. Not only are Rousey and Holm – two women – squaring off in the main event, but in the co-main event, Joanna Jędrzejcyk defends her UFC straweight title against Valerie Letourneau. UFC 193 will stand as the first major event in combat sport history where the main event and co-main event are both headlined by female fights. Still, one must ask, even with Rousey’s rise to stardom, how far has the UFC has come with respect to gender equity? In this post, David Mayeda examines the UFC’s inclusion of female fighters and argues UFC 193 symbolizes the limitations of liberal feminism.
Roughly four years ago, UFC President, Dana White, stated soundly women would never fight in the UFC. Less than two years later, he signed Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche to compete in the UFC’s first women’s fight for the newly established bantamweight championship. Prior to Rousey’s entrée into the organization, women, including Rousey, had been competing in MMA. Still, the UFC was and remains the most prominent MMA ogranization, and since her victory over Carmouche, Rousey has shifted the way society views MMA.
At present, the UFC includes two women’s divisions. Rousey is champion at the bantamweight level (upper limit of 135 lbs), while Joanna Jędrzejcyk – a 6-time world champion in Muay Thai – stands as the strawweight champ (upper limit of 115 lbs). Although male fighters still outnumber female fighters at UFC events, the inclusion of female competitions in the UFC is now very normalized. However, at this weekend’s event in Melbourne, Australia, female fighters are truly taking the spotlight, as Rousey, Jędrzejcyk and their respective opponents will close out the card in the two main event matches.
Unsurprisingly, the UFC is marketing the event around these shifting gender norms and capitalizing off Rousey’s ascent to mainstream celebrity status. As seen in the promotional video, above, representations of Rousey, a two-time Olympic judoka and bronze medalist in 2008, and Holm, a 19-time world boxing champion, revolve around girls’ contested climb into combat sport greatness, as they disrupt notions of socially acceptable femininity through their childhood and adolescence….
A common denominator among active shooter events is the gender of the shooter. In this post, Ami Stearns talks about the theater shooting that occurred right across town two months ago. She illuminates the association between males and gun violence using sociological theory.
I had been living in Lafayette, Louisiana, for less than a year when the theater shooting occurred. In the aftermath, two young women, along with the gunmen, had been killed. My new community erupted in shock. How could this happen here? Unfortunately, active shooter incidents, such as the incident in Lafayette, seem to be a part of the American landscape. Federal agencies describe an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a conﬁned and populated area.” We recognize these massacres by their geographical names: Columbine, Newtown, Aurora, the University of Texas… these proper nouns of everyday places are now metaphors for senseless, indiscriminate, and horrific violence.
We search for explanations in the face of these types of crimes. Public figures swoop in to the scene of the tragedy to deliver comforting words and promise that such an event will never happen again. Talking heads debate access to mental health resources and suggest stricter gun laws. Religious leaders lament the breakdown of family values while historians suggest America was founded on a subculture of violence that makes mass shootings inevitable. Often, pop culture is blamed- video games, music, and films. Earlier articles on Sociology In Focus centered on explaining mass shootings through the theoretical lenses of structural functionalism and symbolic interactionism. While entire books could be written on many of the factors above, this particular post will focus on one factor so obvious, it is frequently overlooked: gender.
FBI data analyzed for active shooting events within the years 2000-2012 found that ninety-four percent of the perpetrators were male. Other studies, using a more broad period of time, estimate that as many as ninety-seven percent of the shooters were male. (A Mother Jones data set also reveals that the racial backgrounds of the majority of the shooters between 1982-2015 were approximately sixty-two percent white, but I will leave the discussion of race within these tragedies for a separate post). While these active shooter events are, admittedly, extremely rare, the extraordinarily high rates of males involved in these events demand a more critical exploration….
In this article Nathan Palmer discusses Viola Davis’s historic Emmy win, her powerful acceptance speech, and what both have to teach us about the racial structure of media in the United States.
Last week, Viola Davis the How to Get Away With Murder star became the first African American woman to win an Emmy for best leading actress in a drama. In her powerful acceptance speech, Davis made one of the clearest structural explanations of inequality I have ever heard:
- “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Davis’s cogent argument illustrates the widely documented and long standing unequal racial structure within Hollywood. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s take a step back and discuss what social structure is and how it affects our lives and our communities.
Structure is All About Opportunities
Sociologists are always talking about how social structure influences individuals and groups. However, despite sociologists incessant use of the concept, we have done a rather terrible job at defining what it means (Rubinstein 2001)….
There is an unwritten rule for women: hide your menstruation and any products associated with it. One woman recently decided to break this rule while running 26.2 miles through London without a tampon to stop her flow? In this post, Amanda Fehlbaum examines the reaction to Kiran Gandhi’s run and argues that people’s discomfort has to do with maintaining civilized bodies.
As a person who has completed four half marathons, I take inspiration from reading stories about other runners and their reasons for taking take to the road. Recently, the story of Kiran Gandhi’s experience at London Marathon made international news. The tale of Kiran’s run could have gone unnoticed among the 37,675 racers were it not for the growing spot of blood between her legs. Kiran consciously ran without a tampon for 26.2 miles.
This is the stuff of nightmares for many women. Menstruation is a taboo subject- to be hidden from sight at all times. The concealment of one’s period has come to be a cultural norm or a behavior that is expected of girls and women. I would venture to guess that many women share my adolescent experience of burying a package of maxi pads under the rest of the groceries and hoping that the cashier at the checkout stand was a woman (heaven forbid it was a male classmate!).
Why Did She Do It?
There were a few reasons that Kiran ran without a tampon. As noted on her blog, one reason she let her period blood flow was because she did not want to worry about changing a tampon. She wrote, “It would have been way too uncomfortable to worry about a tampon for 26.2 miles.” Tampons have to be changed every 4 to 8 hours depending on the heaviness of the flow and the absorbency of the tampon itself. Kiran would have had to find a way to have tampons on hand throughout the race, plus a way to adequately wash her hands before and after insertion. If you have spent any time in a port-a-potty, you know that the experience is neither that pleasant, nor is it the most sanitary environment.
The second reason Kiran ran without a tampon was to combat the stigma of periods. Menstrual blood has had a bad rap for quite some time. The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder thought that menstrual blood could ruin crops, dull steel blades, drive dogs mad, kill bees, and sour milk! While our ideas about periods have progressed to be less damaging, there is still an idea that periods are dirty. Kiran had this in mind when she ran. After the race Kiran wrote:…
Words matter, but how much? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath examines the other ways in which gender-based signage remains in Target even with the elimination of gender-based words.
Target recently announced that it intends to remove gender-based signage in the toy aisle and the bedding aisle. Almost immediately the Internet reacted with both praise and criticism of Target’s decision.
At first, I thought this was wonderful. There really is no such thing as a “girl” or “boy” toy. Toys are toys, but as a society we tell a child what toys to play with based on our stereotypes and by the toys we put in front of them. After my initial reaction, I thought about it some more and decided I need to actually visit a Target before making up my mind.
I was at my local Target two weeks ago and observed workers restocking the toy section. Then I heard Target’s announcement and thought they must have been rearranging due to the new signage. If there are no signs indicating “girl” or “boy,” then they must be reorganizing the toy aisles to reflect this. Wrong!
I went back to Target a few days later (after the announcement) and did notice some rearranging had taken place. I can only really comment on the Lego section as that is the section in which I spend the most time and money. My Target has had Legos in two aisles. In one aisle, Legos fill both sides. In the second aisle, Legos fill one side (the side closest to the other Lego aisle). The Lego aisles are placed in the middle of the toy section.
Let me first describe what the toy section looks like as a whole. At one end of the toy section, one can find toys for infants and toddlers. Next, you will begin seeing toys in pink and purple packaging: Disney Princess, Barbie, My Little Pony, Monster High, My Generation dolls, and a few others. Then the Lego section appears. Finally, the packaging turns more blue: Superheroes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Matchbox cars, Nerf Guns, and so on….
Recently The Nobel Prizing winning scientist Tim Hunt made some controversial and sexist remarks about “the trouble with girls” in science. In this essay, Stephanie Medley-Rath uses her daughter’s STEM camp experience to argue that the real trouble in STEM fields is not with girls, but with sexism.
This summer my daughter attended a STEM-themed day camp. While STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, I really think the S could stand for sociology, but nobody asked me. The day camp was open to any child, but really it was mostly the children of middle class parents who were able to attend. The camp cost a fair amount of money and required parents to drop kids off at 9am and pick them back up at 3:30pm. There aren’t too many working class families that could both afford the tuition costs and have work schedules flexible enough to handle the drop off/pick up times. While I could go on about the social class implications of this STEM camp, I want to focus on gender.
In sociology 101 classes we often talk about social class, gender, and race individually, but in reality each of us lives at the intersection of our class, gender, and race. To this end, sociologists emphasize a concept called intersectionality. What this means is that there are many characteristics that influence our life chances. You are probably most familiar with race, class, and gender stratification. But these things do not exist in isolation. For example, I know what the world is like for white middle-class women because I am one and have been one my entire life. Race, class, and gender work together. People perceive others on the basis of all of these things. As you have also learned in sociology, however, sometimes one of these characteristics becomes the most salient or trumps the other characteristics….
In this essay Nathan Palmer uses last week’s landmark supreme court ruling to discuss heteronormativity and what it means to embrace diversity.
Social change is often a painfully slow process until it becomes instantaneous. After decades of activism by marriage equality advocates and the LGBTQ community in general, the U.S. Supreme Court in an instant made the right to marry anyone, regardless of their gender or sexual identity, legal in across the country. For those concerned with social justice, this was a week to party.
Unfortunately, sociologists often make for crummy party guests. We tend to look at everything with a critical eye and I found myself unable to turn that voice in my head off Friday as I read through the Supreme Court’s majority opinion. This decision, which written by Justice Kennedy, provides good examples of something sociologists call heteronormativity and offers us a chance to think about what we mean when we use terms like equality and diversity.
It’s Either Marriage or a Lifetime of Loneliness
Reading through the majority opinion, which was written by Justice Kennedy, I was struck by the multiple times marriage was presented as the only way to avoid a “lifetime of loneliness.”…
In celebration of Father’s Day, Ami Stearns argues in this post that the gifts we buy, or are encouraged to buy, for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day reflect deeper assumptions about what our society thinks it means to be a mother and a father.
It’s time to go buy your dad a tie! What are you getting your father for Father’s Day this year? One Father’s Day when I had no money, I decided to concoct some homemade barbecue sauce on the stovetop for my dad. I don’t even remember what ingredients I used, but for years afterward, Dad would bring up how good that jar of barbecue sauce was and ask if I could make it again (I was never able to recreate it, for some reason). Barbecue and men just seem to go together, don’t they?
The gifts that are promoted on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day often reflect society’s conception of what roles mothers and fathers are supposed to serve within the stereotypical heterosexual nuclear family. There are perhaps no other holidays that are quite so stereotypically gendered. Hanukkah, Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries have us seeking out unique gifts that are tailored to the recipient’s particular personality, likes, or hobbies. But Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gift ideas appear to fall back on socially constructed family roles….
In December 2012, a young woman from New Delhi, India was sexually assaulted and murdered by six male perpetrators in such brutal fashion that the tragedy provoked nation-wide protests and drew extensive international media attention. The incident also inspired British filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, to produce a documentary titled India’s Daughter (see trailer here). As part of the documentary, Udwin interviewed one of the convicted perpetrators, who declared the victim should not have resisted and was responsible for her own victimization because she violated feminine norms by dressing inappropriately and staying out late at night. In this post, David Mayeda uses Edward Said’s system of Orientalism to analyze a discussion on India’s Daughter that took place earlier this year.
TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.
Edward Said is one of the most influential academicians in the Humanities and Social Sciences. His system of Orientalism has been fundamental in assisting scholars to rethink how we understand discourse directed towards people of color and conversely, those of European descent. As described in Said’s seminal 1978 text, Orientalism entails constructing representations of non-European, colonized groups in negative ways across a range of mediums (military documents, popular media, academic study). Throughout this broad discourse, non-European cultures are framed as dangerous, backwards, inferior, simple, mystical and/or uncivilized, and lacking cultural diversity.
Coupled with this definition of “the other,” comes the implicit understanding that those who are not Orientalized must be by comparison, uniformly safe, forward thinking, superior, advanced, scientific and/or civilized. To this end, Said argues that when western European powers define “others” in disparaging ways, they are simultaneously coming to understand themselves in opposing, positive terms.
Said contends further that an Orientalist system served as the foundation for British and French colonialism from late 17th century until World War II, and American neo-colonialism in the post-World War II period, though Said acknowledges Italy, Spain, Portugal, Russia and Germany relied on Orientalist practices as well.
It is in this regard that Orientalism is so important as a conceptual framework, because without first Orientalizing non-European cultures, colonizing powers could not justify taking possession of other countries and imposing economic and educational systems that benefitted colonizers at the expense of the colonized. Understanding themselves as higher cultures, western Europeans assumed the right to bring said lower cultures along, no matter how grizzly the means….