More real world Privilege in Action: Casual heterosexism

I wrote about my language school for another PiA post here, but I’d like to bring it up again today. My topic here is heterosexism and it’s in similar vein to the first post and, again, about a reoccurring pattern.

We were going over a compound verb today with three different meanings: to signify a longstanding friendship, to signify a romantic attachment, and to ask to do an action together (yeah, the last one seems a little bit out of place, but that’s Japanese for you). My teacher — a very sweet and contentious woman, if a bit more conservative than I — talked about how the first meaning was between friends and wrote the word for “friend” on the board next to the example sentence. The third one was similar, although the explanation was too complex to sum up in a word so she left the right part of the example sentence blank. When she got to the second, however, I expected her to write the word for significant other (ie. the frequently used gender-neutral word for boyfriend/girlfriend) but she talked about “relationships between men and women” and then wrote the heterosexual specific word for male/female relations.

When I had an opening, I was like, “Um, sensei, wouldn’t [gender-neutral word] be a better choice? I mean, not all relationships are between a man and a woman…”

She looked at me and blinked for a split second, and then it was like a light bulb went off in her head. “Of course, of course!” she said abashedly, “[Gender-neutral word] is much better!” And she promptly changed the word on the board.

My teacher obviously wasn’t intending to exclude those of us in the class who were queer. In fact, I would wager that she never even thought that the language she was using — typical language, I believe, for adults to use in regards to relationships — could be exclusive. But, that’s just it. Privilege is having the dominant discourse be tailored to your group, to the point that you often don’t notice how certain words are exclusive of other groups.

The “normal” discourse all too often erases the experiences of groups outside what’s seen as “normal”, making it easier to ignore, minimize, and otherwise ignore/forget the existence of those groups. It’s not that most people do this intentionally; far from it. People use words which are exclusive (boyfriend/girlfriend in the context of assuming heterosexuality, mankind instead of humankind, etc) all the time, but because of privilege, these words are in such common usage that we use them as if they are all encompassing when the reality is that they are not.

For most people, when it’s pointed out to them is when they change it. This is not a terrible reaction; and most certainly is better than insisting that there’s nothing wrong with a word that has been pointed out to be exclusionary. However, in this case the best response is for us to be aware of our language as best we can, and choose the egalitarian version of a term whenever possible. Many people put down this kind of idea as being the “thought/word police” or the “PC gestapo” or somesuch, but the truth is that it’s just about using language that acknowledges and respects the basic humanity of others.

On being an anti-racist white ally

Two separate instances on live journal have really had me thinking about my commitment to be anti-racist. The first is a series of posts by my LJ friend kynn, which I won’t link to here because there’s, um, quite a lot of them. I may use one in an upcoming Privilege in Action post, though. The latter is this post by a friend-of-a-friend where the original poster asks, “Could anyone give me an example of how I… am racist?” in response to Rosie O’Donnel saying, “Everybody has some racism in them; that can’t be denied”. Despite being an interloper into his journal, I struck up a dialogue with him which spawned the comment that this post is based on.

What does it mean to be an anti-racist ally? Well, I think part of it is that we need to acknowledge that living in a system that favours certain groups of people means that, especially if we are part of said privileged group, we cannot escape internalizing some of the oppression (such as racism).

I am staunchly anti-racist and I do my best to be an ally, but at the same time I recognize the racist things I have said and done in the past, and I acknowledge that racism is a part of who I am because I was raised in a world where “racist” is the default. It may not be the “let’s lynch those n-words” level of racism, but casual racism is still racism.

I hate that there’s a part of me that’s racist. My whole life is devoted to fighting for equality, the purpose I feel I have on this earth is to help bring about equality, and yet I am racist. My knee-jerk reaction to people of colour speaking out about their issues is to be defensive, and to be angry or jealous or dismissive. Do you have any idea what it feels like to be so staunchly anti-racist and yet to know that there is a part of you that will always be racist? Let me tell you, it feels like absolute shit.

But part of being an ally is acknowledging my privilege and not letting it get in my way. It would be so easy for me to throw up my hands and say, “Well, I’m racist so I may as well just revel in it!” or, more likely, to say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it, so I should just stop trying.” But being an ally means not taking the easy road. It means calling out others even if that means you get other racist white people leaving abusive comments (yes, that happened to me… just yesterday, actually). It means accepting that you may be implicated as racist, or be included in a sweeping statement that is anti-white, or any number of things that can hurt.

This isn’t a judgment on anyone else’s situation; I’m not in a place to judge that. This is me sharing my feelings and my story in the hopes of helping other white people gain understanding to what people who talk about “white privilege” and other related subjects may be thinking and feeling when they say/write those things.

And, I guess, the other thing I would like to say that, even if you accept the premise that all white people are a little racist because of the nature of being white, that doesn’t mean that white people are inherently bad.

In the end, what I think I’m trying to say in my longwinded way is that the most important thing about being an anti-racist ally is not whether or not you’re racist, but rather how well you can consider the situations and feelings of others such as people of colour, and whether or not you are willing to, at times, privilege their opinions and experiences over your own. Because if you find that you’re willing to do that (or continue to do that, if you do so already), then it doesn’t matter if you carry within you a part that’s racist or not, because the way you express yourself to the outside world will be anti-racist.

Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities

Sheelzebub has some information on how a tech blogger named Kathy Sierra is being stalked, harassed, and threatened. It reminds me of the time that I got a threatening letter sent to my house because I had banned someone from this blog. It frightened my dad (whose house my domain was registered to) enough that I thought he might make me stop blogging. Instead I ended up convincing Dreamhost to offer privacy protection services — apparently getting a threatening letter sent to my house was a good enough reason to overcome their reservations about the idea — and life continued on as normal.

Sheelzebub hits on another point that I have thought of before, especially when I used to get all those “you’re censoring my freedom of speech!” complaints [emphasis mine]:

This is silencing. For all of the whining about freedom! of! speech! what these morons in this case, what the sniveling twits over at AutoAdmit don’t get, is that harassing, stalking, and threatening someone silences them. When someone’s too afraid to speak at a conference thanks to some graphic and nasty threats she got, she’s been silenced. And for any jerkoff who wants to go on and on about how she’s “letting them win” (because I know the concern trolls out there folks) get it straight–you’re not the one dealing with this.

I also think that flaming someone silences them. Bringing it back to Kotaku for a second (and then I seriously don’t want to think about those wankers again for a long time) — you can add sites like Destructoid, though it’s not nearly as vicious in terms of editorial content as Kotaku is — these sites silence women. Continue reading

Real world Privilege in Action

Usually I stick to online examples of Privilege in Action because I can link and quote and let the people who read it see the full context firsthand. But today I’d like to make a short PiA post that is from my very own life. You see, for the past year I’ve been attending a language school in Japan and working my butt off to learn Japanese (not there yet, but getting better). For a non-safe space I would say that my school is pretty good — the teachers are what I’d consider liberal and, perhaps partly due to the diverse student body, are pretty cool about things.

But over the terms at least once, usually more, I see practice sentences that make me upset. Everything from questions like, “What would you do if you found out your girlfriend was really a man?” to an example conversation where one of the male students in our class was propositioned by a bartender in a gay bar, and, most recently, an example conversation in which a boyfriend commanding his girlfriend to become thinner was supposed to be explained away in a positive way using the grammar we just learned.

I like my teachers, and I have to say that I probably know more than half of them in my program and have been taught by at least one third of them. As with all the others who get highlighted in these posts, I think that they are not trying to be bigoted and, indeed, when these matters are pointed out to them they are overall apologetic. But, even if they apologize for a particular example, it happens again with another non-privileged group of which they typically aren’t a part of. Or another teacher does the same thing and the cycle starts over.

Privilege is not needing to consider how non-privileged groups feel about the way you paint them.

My teachers don’t create these hurtful things because they want to keep non-privileged groups down. They don’t create them with any intent to do harm or to upset the students. They create them because they assume that everyone else is like them and thinks like them and because their group has created the dominant (and therefore default) discourse which says that it’s perfectly okay and normal to say those kinds of things.

Dealing with Tech Support [My Voodoo, Part 3]

I must confess, ever since I heard that HP had acquired Voodoo PC, I’ve been nervous about things. I’m not a fan of HP — not their printers and especially not their computers — and when they merged with Compaq that was the death knell on my involvement with them. So, yeah, I wasn’t so thrilled when my computer developed a power problem and I realized I had to deal with tech support.

My laptop had been puttering along and I had managed to find some work arounds, but during my trip home it refused to keep going. So, despite my reservations, I knew that I had to deal with tech support because there wasn’t any other way that my baby would get fixed. Continue reading

Here, have some videos

Just in case y’all were wondering (and I know you were), I was off snowboarding in Hakuba this weekend. And, because I love you so much, here’s a picture.


And don’t forget to watch the vids I took (small and short, blame the cell phone) of the festival that happened on Saturday. You can see taiko and fireworks! They’re behind the cut.

Oh, and since I now officially have my computer back and in working order (the explanation on that one is coming soon, I promise) I’m going to get back to what’s important: Final Fantasy XI. So if you don’t see the conclusion to my Beauty Myth series, or other important posts, anytime soon… well, can you really blame me? I mean, come on, I had an entire month with only my consoles to console me (no pun intended… really).

Anyway, don’t forget to go to the cut to watch the totally awesome videos I took.

Taiko drums in the darkness

Taiko drums this time with the lights on!

Fireworks… with music!

The Penis Monologues

I’m in favor of men speaking out about how patriarchy hurts them; how they’re expected to act as men, how they’re denied validity in their emotions beyond anger—and denied their full humanity as oppressors.

But it isn’t the job of women to facilitate that discussion.

Last night was the opening night of The Vagina Memoirs, an annual performance at my university as a part of the V-Week Campaign. We share our own stories. I like to think of it as social justice through performance. I’d never verbally shared my own writing before. It was awesome. Perhaps I’ll reflect more on the process after our last performance on Saturday.

We had a dialogue afterward the show, and someone in the audience made a comparison to reverse racism and asked why we weren’t including men’s voices in such performances.

My director responded rather tactfully and we plugged an upcoming show at our school called Undressing the Other: Discovering the Naked Truth About Stereotypes that traditionally is starring women of color and their allies, but for the first time this year there is a separate men’s cast. I didn’t say all I wanted to say last night because I wanted to promote Undressing the Other, so I’ll share my thoughts here.

The director of the upcoming men’s show was in the audience, and spoke out. But I was surprised no more men spoke up, especially white men (the men’s show director is a person of color) when the man in the audience compared what we were doing to reverse racism. The Memoirs cast had just made ourselves extremely vulnerable, sharing stories about our body image and femme queer identity and watching porn and losing our virginity and being raped and molested. All things that we shared in hopes that other women wouldn’t feel so isolated and alone, and yet the men in the audience wasn’t inspired enough to step out of his box and explain that no, there is no such thing as reverse sexism. Women can reinforce the status quo, the patriarchy. Women can be prejudiced towards men. But women do not have the physical or institutional power to backup that prejudice. Why didn’t anyone step up and say that?

My fellow castmembers defended their pieces by qualifying, “We don’t hate men!” I certainly don’t! Some of my best friends are men. Seriously. But I also wanted to speak up and say that I disagree: all men benefit from sexism, so yes, all men are part of the problem and are morally obligated to combat sexism, everyday. Yeah, much like I benefit from racism because I’m white and live in a white supremacist culture. I have to combat racism. It’s the right thing to do. Those aren’t two mutually exclusive struggles.

And it’s not our job as women to coordinate a show for men talking about masculinity. I think it’s great a small handful of men at my school want to be allies to women and speak out about how white supremacist patriarchal culture hurts all of us. I wish more men would instead of criticizing women like it’s our job as the minority to make sure the majority’s voices are included.

Some things you may not know about me

So, I’ve been tagged for a meme. I get tagged occasionally and usually don’t give in, but I decided to give it a go this time. Maybe I’m just trying to avoid doing a real post or thinking about how school’s going to start up again in few days.

So, without further ado, here are 5 things you might not know about me.

1. I like the colour pink.

Those of you who have read the My Voodoo series will know that my laptop (sadly now in the shop for power problems, which I will write about later) is the pinkiest pink that ever pinked. People who see it often remark, “Your laptop’s pink!!” To look at me, or hear me talk, you’d never think I’d like pink. But I do.

Truth be told, when I was younger I hated it just because of the fluffy pink femininity that it represented. And then one day (about the same time when I was examining my own rejection, and subsequent degradation, of the feminine) I was like, “You know, the only reason I don’t like pink is because I’m not supposed to like it. And that’s the crappiest reason ever not to like pink. Because I think it’s a cool colour.” And so I stopped pretending to not like pink.

2. I’m writing a novel.

And I have written one to completion already. I was trying to get it published, but due to personal differences with my co-writer that got permanently shelved. Oh well. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish this one, as I work incredibly slowly. But, hey, crazier things have happened.

3. I have osteopenia.

Which means that I’m in the beginning stages of osteoporosis and have a similar bone mass to my mother. Right now I’m taking calcium pills and having it monitored once a year. There’s been no significant change from last year, so it’s probable that I never formed up to the normal bone structure. Especially since I was put on a high dose of synthroid when I was younger (because of my thyroid condition) and that is known to leach calcium from your bones. Joy!

4. I sleep with Tails every night.

Yes, I have a stuffed Tails doll (he’s a character from the video game series Sonic the Hedgehog for those of you heretics who don’t know). I took him to Japan with me and now he sleeps with me every night. Although he’s kind of dirty and could use a wash.

5. I’m going to WisCon!

That’s right. All of you going to WisCon this year will have the golden opportunity to meet me, the glorious and wonderful, the clearly awe-inspiring, best blogger that you’ve ever read. Ever. How lucky those of you there will be!

Well, that’s it. Nothing more to see. I’m risking the wrath of the Meme Gods and not tagging anyone because I have no blog friends because I’m too lazy to check who in my blog friend group has yet to be tagged. Yes, you may all revile me for my serious breach of etiquette.

Wave Your Penis Somewhere Else

Red Square, a hub on my university’s campus, never seems to be a safe space. Today, one of the La Rouche folks (I refuse to call them La Rouchebags) asked me if I liked Lynne Cheney’s dick. I felt ill. I don’t go to school to be bullied by phallic and obsence questions.

What am I supposed to say to that?

(A side note: I noticed Lynne Cheney has her Ph.D when I double-checked the spelling of her name. Wouldn’t it be powerful to call her Dr. Cheney?)

I'm on break, go read other posts

I’m officially going on blogging break.

I need to focus on school for the time being and I have a lot of other stuff that has piled up. I dunno when I’ll be back — it all depends on how long it takes for something to get to me enough to post about it — but please enjoy other posts while I’m away.

Speaking of other posts, please read blackamazon’s post on Feminism which, among many other awesome things, has this line:

Feminism would rather do the right thing than be right.

Those are words to live by. Seriously.