Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Does Not Equal


The difference between sexism and racism

One is acceptable; the other isn’t.

Imagine if the host of a popular TV show on dog training had made the following remarks:

“Black people are the only species that is wired different from the rest. They always apply affection before discipline. White people apply discipline then affection, so we’re more psychological than emotional. All animals follow dominant leaders; they don’t follow lovable leaders.”

He would probably be fired, don’t you think? But professional dog-trainer/fucktard Cesar Millan made precisely these remarks about women — substitute “woman” for “black people” in the paragraph above, re-conjugate the verbs as necessary, and voilá: the Cesar Millan Theory of Gender. Somehow I don’t think he’s going to lose his job. He’s just a crazy colorful Latino, right?

Before I type anything further can I list a few things that "[sexism] is acceptable; [racism] isn't" does not equal? Because I think it's going to come in handy later. "Sexism is acceptable; racism isn't" does not equal:

  • "Sexism is a bigger/worse problem than racism."

  • "Racism is no longer a problem, or it's so insignificant a problem that we can safely ignore it."

  • "I am a guilty white liberal abusing my privilege."

  • "People of color get away with sexism all the time while here I can't even say the n-word."

  • I do think Dr. Socks' point could have been made better in two ways, because I am presumptuous like that:

    First, by not boiling it down to "this is the difference." That's a little too essentialist even for me.

    Second, that word "acceptable:" Acceptable to whom? To how many? In which contexts? What constitutes "acceptance?" Is it possible or likely that white people might judge whether an event is "accepted" or "tolerated" differently than people of color, based on differing experiences and backgrounds?

    I may be misreading the whole post, but it seems to me this is a question of thresholds of acceptability, and if that expression seems unnecessarily word-wonky I apologize. But the problems with putting the Dog Whisperer's quote into an acceptable/not acceptable binary are many, not least of which is that those whom racism targets are naturally going to object to any white person implying that racism is more unacceptable--and no wonder, because the further implication of that is, the racism people of color experience and see tolerated, excused, defended, or minimized by whites isn't, in fact, tolerated or hell, maybe even in existence at all.

    People don't like it when you imply that their experiences either didn't happen, or didn't generate the response they saw generated, and whether you meant to imply that at all doesn't matter, because "racism is less acceptable than sexism" IS a valid inference to take from "sexism is acceptable; racism isn't." Or, what Tia said yesterday:

    So especially on occasions when you get a basically uniform chorus saying they experience some aspect of society as harmful, and your response is that it is not important, you're wrong, and you're being a dick. If you think it might be a little important, but not quite as important as we say it is, you’re still wrong.

    I do not mean to imply that Dr. Socks is saying racism isn't important (I covered that above, right? See, I knew that would come in handy), but rather that if several bloggers of color object to your phrasing, it might be that the problem is your phrasing.

    I said "thresholds of acceptability," but maybe that phrase is no good, either. Here, though, is what I mean by it: I think sexism has a higher acceptability threshold only in that public figures can afford to be more overt when making sexist remarks than they can when making racist remarks. The level of subterfuge and verbal camouflage needed to mask their intentions, correspondingly, is lower. Thus, a host of a popular television program can say women are a different species and not lose his job. Meanwhile, Trent Lott couldn't even get Republicans to sanction his remarks at Strom Thurmond's birthday:

    One of the great patriotic emotions of our time, it seems to me, is to be eager that everyone in our country come to feel as secure and respected as everyone else. Part of that--just a small part but a meaningful one--means no speaking in racial code words by political, cultural or religious leaders. Period. Or anyone else if that's possible.

    I believe that Trent Lott spoke at the Thurmond birthday party in racial code words. And a man who does that should not, half a century into the modern movements for civil rights, be allowed to continue as the face of a major political party in politics.

    What follows from that, however, is that not only does racism having a lower acceptability threshold not diminish the problem of racism, it in fact positions racism as the more insidious problem, one tougher to fight precisely because it is no longer as overt. Barring "an end to racism" as a choice, I do not know what people of color would prefer: An outright, slur-using racist, or a racist who covers her racism in so-called politically correct language. I do know, again barring "an end to it" as an option, that I personally prefer my sexists up front and in my face. I'd rather be called a bitch than be told I "seem unusually angry;" I'd rather be told my sex can't think logically than be told I'm "being irrational;" I'd rather be labeled a feminazi than be told I'm "making too much of the issue;" etc.

    If I have to deal with sexism, and apparently I do, I would rather dispense with the fucking code words. If I have to unearth and examine and explain the ideas that underlie and form the basis of someone's sexism, that wastes my time (here you should recall that I am very lazy). If someone tells me women are a different species, though, I can just go, "Right whatever, but maybe you should check your taxonomy, asshole." See how much more efficient that was?

    Feminists can strive to make sexism less acceptable in the mainstream, but I don't know that doing so will make its eradication any easier to achieve. If anything I think that's when it's going to get worse, not better. If there's going to be any comparison and contrast between racism and sexism--and I kind of wish there weren't, because--oh hey look, it's Tia again:

    Do not draw up a bunch of hierarchies about which form of oppression is worse than which other. When you do this, you’re not responding to a claim that what we experience is the worst thing ever; you just show up and start talking about why what the women say they experience is not as big of a deal as X, Y, or Z.

    --but if the discussion must be had anyway, it ought to be HAD, not cut off at the root with "check your privilege." What Violet's trying to say might be coming from privilege and it might not. Maybe it could have been worded better and maybe it was worded exactly as she intended. But even if she's saying it is easier to be overtly sexist in our society, that's not really good news for anybody, least of all women of color, because if the fight against racism has been any example, it's only going to get tougher to eliminate once it goes underground. So for every Trent-Lott-resignation equivalent, there are going to be, depend upon it, hundreds of thousands of was-it-or-wasn't-it incidences of veiled sexism that have to be unpacked before they can even be confronted. And if anyone can somehow get "she's minimizing the problem of racism!" from that, well then I give up.


    Rob said...

    "An outright, slur-using racist, or a racist who covers her racism in so-called politically correct language."

    Or no language at all. I think most people have broken the codes that apply to them. The overt racist/sexist is a dying breed as are the quieter ones that speak in code. Good riddance but their successors are even worse.

    Darleen said...

    This is a quick first impression...

    One - Cesar's first language is not English

    Two - Cesar is engendering a lot of resentment from the kind of dog trainers who anthropomorphize dogs while taking lots of $$$ to "train" them (I agree with Cesar's statement that dogs are dogs and when we take away their "dog identity" and make them into "little people" we are taking away their natural dignity)

    Three - race is a biological myth. Gender isn't. So separating out real sexism from natural statistical differences is difficult, but necessary and possible.

    Four - back to Cesar again - I happened to see him interviewed by Charlie Rose and he said in the dog world a female could be pack leader depended on the personality of the dog, not the gender. Anyone here watch Meercat Manor on Animal Channel? The head of that pack is a dominant female.

    Five - yikes, gotta go to work. Later. :-)

    belledame222 said...

    The thing of it was, was, "check your privilege" imo isn't nearly as hostile/whatever enough to warrant "you can't read" (which is a big button-pusher all by itself, for good reasons I do believe, intentionally or otherwise, especially when that actually -hasn't- much been applied, well, in many other cases--and i've been reading VS for a while, i like her, but that was...odd, at best), much less shutting the whole thing down.

    and it's that, the level of defensiveness this provoked, even more than the original posit, that makes me inclined to agree with the POC protesting this. She's let far ruder threads go on for far longer.

    And anyway, even assuming i did agree that there was a distinction between what she's saying here and the whole "gender trumps race" kerfuffle as started by g-m-r (i do not type that name aloud and for very good reasons) ages ago, who is by the way right in there as well and which posit i along with others had big huge problems with--nubian was right, polite, and got clobbered for it--why, why the need to make these pronouncements? Seriously, why? Is this some sort of contest? And since when is it a "fact" that oh whatever it was, I don't know but there's more charge going on here than meets the eye, is all I know.

    And you know, again: well, what context exactly are we talking about? (and by the way i wonder what set this off just now? haven't been following) Even if it's just "what's more acceptable to SAY?" If yer talking about a locker room full of guys of various ethnicities, then yeah, no doubt, overt sexism's way more okay. If you're talking about a nice polite group of white ladies--and yse i have been in such groups--well?

    but you see, the other part of this is that it -may- be easier to protest that in such cases the racism isn't there, on account of the nice white ladies are just that: POLITE.


    and sometimes, well, not even that.

    besides all that, what rob said.

    And in fact "gender" -is- very much considered fluid, a myth, etc., even if "sex" is not--queer theory has been talking about this for decades.

    belledame222 said...

    o yeah, and: the nice white ladies may well be discussing this earnestly in a cafe or suchlike, all the while completely oblivious to the not-white woman silently waiting for them to finish so she can take their plates already, clean up, finish cleaning the bathroom, go the hell home.

    which, and if she suddenly piped up, just a bit angry, to join the conversation (hey, waitrons/janitors don't do that!) well, what then?

    i expect a reaction pretty much like that one there.

    because, you see, the fact that VS has never encountered any or most of these voices before, many of whom are quite prominent within the loosely defined WOC blogosphere (and accusing bint a. of not having reading comprehension is simply beyond laughable: she's one of the most perceptive, acute, -fair-, albeit no-bullshit, people virtually around), well, y'know, that may well also be something to consider.

    As bint said, before the whole thing got shut down, it's not that it makes VS a BAD PERSON.

    but that should have been clear, dammit.

    i mean, that was -mild-, -civil-, as they say; i can't wait to see what oh say maxjulian makes of this, or what would have happened if he'd gotten in there before the freeze...

    Darleen said...

    all the while completely oblivious to the not-white woman silently waiting for them to finish so she can take their plates already, clean up, finish cleaning the bathroom, go the hell home.

    Hmmmmm.... no implicit racism there...none at all..nothing to see, must move along ...

    (amazingly, I see melanin-challenged waiters and waitresses serving the melanin-enriched all the time)

    And is "sex" what we are using today? I thought teh word was "gender"?

    I have no trouble discussing the nature differences between men and women if we could settle on terminology.

    Gower said...

    The entire line of discussion is pointless. Racial and gender differences are a completely different issue because there really are basic differences between men and women that fall along those lines.

    Darleen said...

    btw.. if "gender" is a myth, then there'd be no transgendered (transmythed?) and Dr. Money's frankenstein experiment on tragic Bruce/Brenda Reimer would have worked.

    ilyka said...

    Oh, Gower. Have I got the blog for you! Go here for the login info. Hopefully no one's changed it or anything mean like that.

    The rest of you, no offense, but I have vowed not to read any comments until I finish my finite state machines homework. Sorry. It's just that Gower is like special.

    belledame222 said...

    Yeah, I see plenty of non-melanin-challenged waitrons too--I may be joining their ranks soon, who the fuck knows--but uh yeah, you know, in fact there are certain patterns wrt who works where and in what rough percentages, ever notice? No? Well, I do, here in NYC at least.

    and yes, the Bruce/Brenda thing was a cock-up, but...ehh. I could go into that one more thoroughly but I have a feeling it would start getting into dancing-on-pinheads territory, which queer theory can already veer off into the abstract as it is. Perhaps "myth" is less the word than "construct;" one could also say the same thing of "race," and many do.

    belledame222 said...

    iow, the biological reality is really not the only or even main point here, either in the general area of "gender" or in the sex/race distinction, particularly as regards "who it's more acceptable to bash overtly." The fact that something is a social construct doesn't make it any less "real."

    belledame222 said...

    And is "sex" what we are using today? I thought teh word was "gender"?>

    Very basic: "sex" is used for the biological; "gender" is used for, well, everything else.

    Gower said...

    Oh I am special. Trucks lifted overhead hourly.

    Being the courteous gentleman I helped out with your little blog and even changed its look to something more 'female friendly' since I know how poor girls are at programming.

    You don't even need to thank me or anything either.

    And isn't it kind of ironic for you to link to a post about the Duke case which was proven to be a complete sham? Not that you retracted it or anything because that would be... what's the word I'm looking for?



    ilyka said...

    Dude, turning the background color IRRADIATED PINK is not "programming." It's "obnoxious."

    I kind of like the Hello Kitty .gif, though.

    belledame222 said...

    okay, who or wtf is this anyway?

    goddamit i know or knew a gower from elsewhere. i thought. maybe. maybe it's the damn deja vu acting up again. you're not he are you? don't answer that.

    anyway, Ilyka, enjoy your class, drop in when you can.

    belledame222 said...

    not only am i afflicted with constant deja vu

    not only am i afflicted with constant


    --i am big with the irony impaired these days, i think. or irony-irony impaired? and personally i'm so recursive i OFTEN disappear up my own asshole, but these days i am more inclined to just blink slack jawed at whatever it is and go, "um. dude. that's fucked up. say, I really like pudding." anyway that NEON pink is hurting my inner eye, much less with red lettering on it, i have to go lie down now.


    Gower said...

    It's properly female-friendly now, wouldn't want the chicks to feel unwelcome. I would have added a sparkly background and a breast cancer ribbon but the pink would drown them out anyway.

    And you're all free to think of the fat girl as your own personal avatar.

    Gower said...

    Belle, you probably knew me back from my days in Paris. I painted old churches and pawned new cats. There was a bout of tuberculosis and then we all went off to fight the Swedes.

    More to the point I'm me. I'd quote Popeye but I oppose him as a symbol of the patriarchy on principle.

    belledame222 said...

    oh mais oui! how could i 'ave forgotten! the church, the turpentine, the sodden yowling feline who nonetheless looked quite fetching in spilled droplets of Cerulean Blue. i was the Rubenesque woman in the Lillian Russell get-up; I had just eaten your companion and was contemplating your own hollowed-out, tubercular, sore-raddled frame with an eye half compassionate, half hungry, half bemused. Wait, that's three halves. Never mind. Who the fuck are you? never seen you before in my life.

    ilyka said...

    Who the fuck are you? never seen you before in my life.

    See, I TOLD you he was special.

    belledame222 said...

    But can he play "Melancholy Baby?" So few can, these days.

    Gower said...

    And if you're that hungry that you eat your men instead of a slimfast shake, you won't see me ever again either, baby.

    belledame222 said...

    How can we miss you if you won't go away?

    Gower said...

    You could try taking a swing at me

    belledame222 said...

    I keep saying I really need to start charging for that kind of shit, esp. since it is a particular talent of mine. also, why reward SAM behavior?

    "Hit me! Hit me! Stripe my ass, mama!"