succumbing to peer pressure

Monday, April 10, 2006

-Isms and subtlety

Last week I told my own story of reacting in a terribly insulting manner to a truly polite young black man. This happened just one day after my brother shared his own epiphany about sexism with me. A female colleague of his, an important political leader, called him up in search of a good steak house. Brad rapidly rattled off a dozen or so, then reiterated his top three choices. The woman was sort of shocked. She'd always assumed DC had plenty of places to get a high quality slab of meat, but she'd only been to a few. After hanging up the phone Brad started to wonder how she could be in the dark about so many restaurants. Then he got to thinking about the reasons why he had been to so many - unofficial, after-hours meetings, during which many important things were discussed and decided. Then he tried to remember the last time he had seen a woman at any of them. Then he tried to remember if he had ever invited a woman to any of them. Then he had his own sort of Friedan click moment.

"Megan!" he's saying to me, while we wait for the metro, "it's so...insidious! I mean, I swear to you, I'm not doing it on purpose! But it never even occurred to me to invite female colleagues to these gatherings! I never noticed that they weren't there! But they're missing out! Important shit happens and they're not there!"

And I'm smiling, because it's cool that he gets it (albeit pretty damn late in the game for someone raised in a house full of feminists) and it's like all of a sudden he gets why I get bent out of shape over seemingly minor infractions. Why I'm so vigilant. Because it's not like we have the flashing neon signs anymore. Very few places officially don't allow women. And yet many doors remain closed.

Dan Savage tells the same story from the gay perspective - "Since hatred styles itself as tolerance these days, how are we supposed to tell the difference? What do you do when disapproval, indifference, tolerance, and acceptance all look exactly the same? Social tolerance has become the norm for most straight people, which is nice, but at the same time appearing tolerant has become the norm for everyone else. How are we supposed to tell the nice straight people and the bigoted straight people apart if everyone has the same look on their face?"

So, it's progress, and I suppose this is sort of a transitional period on the way to real, actual, acceptance of all kinds of diversity and equality. But I was thinking of all the countless, tiny ways each of us inevitably fulfills one -ism or another everyday, when I went to see Crash. And I'm still waffling back and forth about whether it was intentionally heavy-handed for shock value and to encourage discussion, or whether it was clumsily heavy-handed because the writers/directors/actors weren't clever enough to do it subtly. One of the first scenes in the movie is a white woman linking arms and snuggling up with her white husband as they approach two black men. I wondered how many audience members would have noticed that, if the next moment in the movie didn't include a dialogue between the two black men complaining about her behavior. That dialogue caught me off guard, felt totally unnatural and set the tone for the harsh, cliche racist comments and actions throughout the rest of the movie. Numerous times the voice in my head said, but people never actually say that, people never do that. Is it really that much better if they're merely thinking it?

And, has this appearance of tolerance made it easier for -isms to stay deep-rooted and hidden in our everyday actions? If no one ever says it out loud, is it easier to pretend not to notice the all white neighborhoods, the job interviews at Hooters, the institutionalized and legally endorsed homophobia?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

To fan the flames:


12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ooooh, another fun article for you. It's a tad off topic, but hits another theme we often discuss:


10:43 AM  

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