Kiss5Tigers

The 5 Tigers represent the big things in life. This blog is about facing them.


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Isms and Whiteness

I’ve been thinking a lot about isms in the past 24 hours.  Before I start, I want full disclosure that I am white cis het female over the age of 50.  I am a product of my environment in many ways.  I am trying to transcend that, but sometimes I get caught in verbiage I don’t understand or old ways of thinking.

I belong to several online support groups.  Two of them have a high overlap of people so there is an issue that started in one group that spilled over into the second group.  That issue was around perceived racism and observed name calling.

Now I will be honest that I didn’t see much of the original thread.  What I caught was a friend of mine trying to defend his position, and another person issuing personal attacks.  I understand a third party made a comment about ISIS that other people took to be islamophobic.  My friend took the position that it was basic human stupidity not racism, based on the third party being a Fox news enthusiast.  You may agree or disagree with Fox news, but they do have a particular perspective to their reporting.  Another person felt that my friend was being racist and supporting a racist.  At some point the thread disintegrated to such a degree that an admin pulled it down so I am unable to review it.  My friend got banned from the site.

My friend went to another site, and mentioned that he was banned.  Of course people wanted to know why and he told his story.  Obviously he told it from his perspective.  The other person almost immediately chimed in that he was wrong and became personally insulting.  The second group tried to get her to tone it down and stop being so rude, but she would not.  Someone moved to ban her from that site.

The other person went back to the first site and stated that a bunch of racist women were supporting my friend.  That of course got the people at the first site riled up.  So now we have two people having a disagreement that has escalated to involve two forums.

Here’s the thing, it brings up questions for me about how to talk about racism and other isms.  The big question for me is, who gets to decide when something is racist?  Is it the person on the receiving end?  Or is it the person who committed the faux pas?  Because it feels like if it’s the receiver, then there is no room to make a mistake while if it’s the committer then there’s no way to call out someone’s bad behavior.

But what if the person who committed the ism is a POC and the person who got offended was a white man?  And what if the POC rather quickly escalated to bullying behavior?  Is this prejudice?  Group one is very supportive of the POC to the point where it has been suggested my friend is gaslighting, and sealioning.  (Apparently sealioning is when you argue with someone who is trying to leave the situation, that is, arguing to argue, posturing.)  On forum number two, the dynamic is almost the opposite, with the most vociferous people defending my friend and even suggesting we ban the POC.  I don’t know her except for this interaction, and I’m not impressed with her.  She gets heated rather quickly and doesn’t seem to be able to defend her position beyond name calling and stating that certain things are obvious.  Oh, and that she doesn’t owe a random white man anything.  So she played the race card twice.

I am so frustrated by this whole situation.  My friend may well be racist, I don’t know him that well, but I think if he is it’s more institutional racism, not a personal bias.  He has been fair with me and I don’t see him being intentionally racist to other people.  Of course if we agree that the person on the receiving end gets to decide, then the POC would no doubt find him guilty of racism.  If we agree that it’s the person making the faux pas, then there’s no way to call out my friend on the part that he’s getting wrong.

He thinks I am not supportive because I don’t argue directly for him.  I will do that with the admin, not on the general website.  I don’t want to stir things up any more than they already are.  And I do support his right to stand up for someone else’s right to make a mistake.  I get that we want to be allies for POC, women, LGBTQ, and all the rest of what used to be called minorities.  I also get that my friend is being vilified for something that I can’t prove he did.  And he claims he did not do.  (I can’t prove he didn’t do it either.)

I’m so confused.

It’s not the responsibility of POC to educate white folk, but on the other hand if someone is having a problem, it’s incumbent upon them to speak up in a way that the issue can be addressed.  If I don’t know I’m being sexist, someone has to tell me, and probably that would best come from the offended party, even though in another way they don’t owe me anything.

What is the best way to handle situations like this?  Ignoring it only lets it escalate and hurts my friend.  Getting involved has only made me upset, although I don’t think I’ve come across as very upset because I am trying to be diplomatic.  Also I have mostly been asking questions, since I could be completely out of touch.  That happens as one gets older.  I don’t see engaging with the offended person since she was rather vitriolic with my friend.

It just makes me sad.

 


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The Finkbeiner Test

A while ago I wrote about the Bechdel Test for helping determine sexism in popular culture, particularly movies.  Movies however are not the only medium with a trend toward biased depictions of women.  Science reporting, and indeed reporting in general, can tend to talk about women as if female participation in the great wide world is a bit of an anomaly.

Writer Christie Aschwanden was asked to write a piece for Nature magazine about astronomer Ann Finkbeiner.  Aschwanden was tired of writing pieces that basically said “this amazing person is ALSO a WOMAN” and which then went on to talk about the “unique” challenges of being female in whatever field.  (Really, does anyone ask a man how he manages as a single father, or whether he finds it difficult to balance his family with the demands of a career?)  So Aschwanden made the decision to treat Finkbeiner as a scientist and write an article about her work without discussing her personal life.

Aschwanden determined that there are 7 basic topics she wanted to avoid.  In applying those guidelines to other science reporting, she dubbed these standards “The Finkbeiner Test” in honor of the scientist she was sent to interview.  So if you want to talk about a woman who has reached a high achievement in her field, and you are concerned that you may be talking a little too much about her gender, ask yourself if you have touched on any of these issues:

  • The fact that she’s a woman
  • Her husband’s job
  • Her child-care arrangements
  • How she nurtures her underlings
  • How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
  • How she’s such a role model for other women
  • How she’s the “first woman to…”

Those may be important topics to discuss in certain circumstances.  It may help women to know how other women balance their lives, or that they are not alone in facing institutional sexism in the workplace, or even that it’s possible to have a career and a home life both.  However, if the publication has a general topic (Nature magazine, for example, covers science), then there is no reason to mention someone’s personal life.  Gender is not germane to scientific discovery therefore it is unimportant in that context and does not merit a mention.

We can recognize sexism and institutional sexism, and we can move forward away from it.

 

for more information:  http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/finkbeiner_test_gender_gap_fem.php?page=1