Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The enlightened, empowered (wo)man's burden

This post blew up on Reddit, as well as Jezebel.  I have seen it shared on Facebook, many, many times in the last month.  Stepping out of the much discussed oppressiveness of holding a woman to unrealistic standards of beauty, or how a woman is defined, I want to point out the eventual amazing apology post by the original poster.

I want to describe it as an unlikely occurrence, an unlikely apology, but I am forced to reevaluate my sample size.

Have I encountered sexism? Sure.  Honestly probably every day.  Have I ever really tried to take a moment and explain to the offender the shortcomings in their actions or thoughts?  Have I explained how it makes me feel, or how I interpret it?  Quite frankly I haven't.

When someone makes a sexist comment against women, or a racist comment against Indians, or any type of comment against any of my affiliations, I rarely engage in level headed discussion.   I am not usually one to fly off the handle, but nine times out of ten I will walk away from the person.  I may even be perfectly friendly with them in other regards, but I just write them off as they should know better in this regard, or agree to disagree.

Though we may have no responsibility to educate others, or to make ourselves vulnerable to attack or retaliation on the off chance this person might reconsider their views, this apology opened my eyes to the power of trying.

One more person, and now after these shares on social media, hundreds of people, are that much more tolerant of the Sikh faith, and that much more knowledgeable.  Maybe one less man will be harassed and called a terrorist for wearing a turban, and one less woman will feel imprisoned by societal standards of beauty.

When people's views are in diametric opposition to yours, it is often natural to attack or retreat, rather than to engage.  Often the person isn't evil, but merely misinformed.  In striving to make the world a better place, if we each take the time to relate to one another, tolerance would be inevitable.

An anecdote from my personal life is from middle school when a girl said one of the dumbest things I have ever heard in my life--"You are the only Indian girl I am friends with.  The other ones are sooooooooooooo weird."  I had to explain to her that in our little tiny Elk Grove school, I was the only second generation Indian girl in our grade.  The 2-3 other Indian students were recent immigrants.  It is not that they were weird, or that all Indians are weird.  They were just adjusting to American culture and she found it easier to find commonalities with me.  I introduced her to some of my other second generation Indian friends.  Slowly as we progressed through the years into high school, she began understanding: those very same Indians she was convinced were so weird, became more adjusted, and she had had more exposure to them she became more tolerant.  It was a slow and tedious process, but rather than writing her off as a racist, I excused her behavior as ignorance and helped educate her. As a consequence I think the world is a better place.

Being tolerant of offenders, coupled with courteous dialogue, isn't the same as rolling over and playing dead, but possibly the ultimate beacon for change.


KSergent said...

Wow, I feel like I learned so much from reading that article! I think the world would be a much more tolerant place if people took a few minutes to learn about other cultures everyday.

"When people's views are in diametric opposition to yours, it is often natural to attack or retreat, rather than engage." I definitely agree with your point. If the woman that picture had written a scathing message back to the man who posted it, he probably would not have listened or learned. It also would have be easy for her to ignore the post, writing him off as ignorant of her culture and not worth her time.

Her approach is a great example of how we can all effect change by educating others in our everyday lives.

tzey said...

I also read that Reddit comment from Jezebel. This is a situation that i have for sure been in. Sometimes when you are the only brown face in the room and someone makes a joke or comment I go through this inner dialogue. "Is it worth it to say something, do I want to be that girl thats too sensitive". Then leaving the room not saying anything do i feel like a sell out.

What battles do you choose.

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Here's an earlier post on the topic of female body hair and women's attitudes toward it that might be of interest:

Heather said...

"What battles do you choose. " This is the question currently floating around in my head. Especially because many of sexist comments/action make women vulnerable. So at a time of vulnerability to then have to confront the perpetrator, you are making your self even more vulnerable. In a physically safe space (classroom), the choice seems easy. What about at a bar? on the street? dark alley?