Question & Answer: Race

race-question-answerEvery now and then, the topic of race and racism comes up in discussion. Like religion, politics, and war, race is one of those “taboo” subjects, but also one that gets people talking. Sometimes the topic is introduced when someone haphazardly makes reference to race or ethnicity in an unrelated discussion. Other times it is purposely made the topic of discussion. Either way, people want to know — what is the big deal about race?

In years as a blogger and commenter in the blogosphere, I’ve found that many of the same questions and comments come up about race and racism. Given this I’d like to dedicate some time to answering a few of these common questions about race in the United States and the world. This will be my first question and answer post, using a compilation of questions I’ve been asked or seen asked in discussions about race. Feel free to add your own questions, comments, and answers below:

Question: Why are non-white people so defensive about race?

Answer: What I have found is that how defensive a person perceives others to be about race is proportional to how likely they are to make offensive remarks related to race. That is, the more likely a person is to think and act in ways that could be seen as racist, the more likely they are to view others as being defensive about race.

On another note, it is only natural to be more aware of prejudice that affects us, whatever the issue. While when something does not affect us, we may ignore it or not even notice. Simply put, non-white groups speak up to prejudiced comments and behavior because few others will.

Question: How am I supposed to know if something I said or did could be seen as racist? I don’t have a lot of experience with people outside of my race; I don’t know if something could be offensive.

Answer: You’re not expect to know — it is expected that you’ll make a few slip-ups on racial issues. However, you are expected to learn from these mistakes and recognize that they are mistakes and why; not excuse them away or put the blame those who called attention to it. That is, if you’re mostly tolerant and unbigoted.

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What’s Feminism Got To Do With It?

superhero-girl“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

–Rebecca West

As mentioned in the past, according to dictionary definition, I am a feminist. I support equality between the sexes in all realms of life. I make no apologies for disagreeing with those who are opposed to equality for women, including those who don’t realize their views are in opposition to this notion. I may not agree with all feminists or feminist theories, but to me, feminism as a general principle is a no-brainer — why would I not support uplifting change and improvement in the lives of women?

However, it seems that in disagreement, the words “feminism” and “feminist” are used to dismiss or belittle opposing views. Don’t understand someone’s opinion or don’t like it? If they happen to agree with a woman or mention anything favorable about women, you don’t have to. Just call them a feminist. At this point anything they have said or will say is rendered irrelevant nonsense. They are a feminist, how could anyone take them seriously?

This may come as a surprise to those who routinely use the “feminist” dismissal: but sometimes it’s just not about feminism. While a person may agree with feminist principles and even identify as a feminist, feminism does not have to be at the core of every opinion they may have. Feminism is merely one influence on their mindset which is created from the entirety of their life’s experiences and personal biases.

Sometimes It’s About Fairness

While feminism is concerned about equal rights and fairness towards women in particular, sometimes people oppose or align themselves with an issue in the name of fairness in general. Such people are in favor of people being treated justly and respectfully, regardless of their gender. If the people in question happen to be women, it’s simply a coincidence — if the situation involved men, their sentiments would not change. Thus feminism has nothing to do with it.

Sometimes It’s About the Person

All people have their likes and dislikes, and those could include other people. So people may agree (or disagree) with an issue because of the person espousing it, and at times that person may be a woman. This has nothing to do with one’s feminist leanings, but one’s personal leanings.

So, a woman supported Hillary Clinton for the United States presidential nomination? Does it have to be because she is a feminist? Could it be that she is in favor of Hillary’s views, or even Hillary herself?

Sometimes It’s About Widening Discussion

Great discussion occurs when all sides and views are presented and debated. An opposing viewpoint may be presented for the simple reason of increasing the depth and breadth of discussion. Whether or not this view agrees with feminism or the person presenting it as a feminist is irrelevant. It just has nothing to do with feminism.

What do you think — what does your feminism (or lack of) have to do with your views?

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Slut-Shaming

slut-signs

Slut-shaming is the common practice of shaming, condemning, harassing or ridiculing a girl or woman for sexual actions or thoughts. Slut-shaming arises from the continued double standard in expectations for men and women in expressions of sexuality. It is premised on the belief that a woman who engages in sexual behavior at her own will is less than or inferior to a woman who abides by societal expectations of proper sexual behavior for women.

Slut-shaming need not include the word slut or its synonyms– any act of discouraging or insulting a woman for expressing sexuality is slut-shaming. And while the definition of a slut is of a woman who is sexually promiscuous, a woman does not have to engage in sexual behaviors often, or at all, to be slut-shamed. Girls and women are slut-shamed for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • Acknowledging sexual feelings
  • Dressing in a manner which is considered provocative
  • Spending time with men who she is not in a formal intimate relationship with
  • Being raped
  • Engaging in any form of intimate behavior with a man or men
  • Being disliked or resented by other girls or women

Women Slut-Shaming Women

Men slut-shame as a way of wielding power and because they can and always have: men can not be slut-shamed as women can be.  Women, however, are also often the perpetrators of slut-shaming. But why do women slut-shame? What could they possibly gain from it?

In many cases, women who slut-shame have internalized societal expectations of female sexual expression and are often afraid of being slut-shamed themselves. They tend to believe that by discouraging sexual behavior in other women they can increase their own worth in the eyes of others, and themselves.

In this way, slut-shaming becomes a way to compete: women gain approval from men and the community at large for their “pure” behavior in comparison to the sluts of society. Even if they engage in private behavior which could be seen as “slutty”, they publicly reinforce the idea that overt female expression of sexuality is simply wrong.

gossiping-womenOther women believe that slut-shaming is necessary to protect women as a whole. They believe that direct expressions of sexuality encourage unwanted advances from men and send messages that a woman may not intend to. They discourage girls and women from blatant shows of sexuality as a response to what they believe are the even more direct expressions of sexuality of men.

But what women who engage in slut-shaming fail to realize, or don’t care to recognize, is that they are encouraging their own oppression. By consciously belittling women for expressing their sexuality in a way which is comfortable to them, they reinforce a system which constrains and polices women’s actions while allowing men a fuller range of expression.  They also support the notion that a woman’s worth is in her sexuality — or lack of it — and that this worth is rare and not assured.

To slut-shamers, slut-shaming may seem innocent or just not so bad, but the effects of slut-shaming are wide-ranging. Women who are slut-shamed feel and can be ostracized, and question themselves and sexuality in general.  They don’t feel open to express themselves sexually in context because they are worried about what others may think or say of them. At the extreme end slut-shaming indirectly encourages rape and forced sexual acts since women are too afraid to report rape for fear of being thought of as a slut or being embarrassed. In sum, slut-shaming negatively affects not just the women who are slut-shamed but all women.

What are your thoughts on slut-shaming? Do you slut-shame?

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The Question of Men’s Rights Activism

mens-rights-activismA small, yet vocal group of men around the globe identify as Men’s Right Activists or Advocates, or MRAs for short. Men’s Rights Activism seeks to raise awareness of and defend the rights of boys and men, and is a part of the larger movement of masculism which refers to all groups focused on men’s rights issues.

Some see Men’s Rights Activism as the male version of feminism, or further, the male response to feminism. MRAs generally aren’t as well-known as feminists, but MRAs and men who support men’s rights issues can be found in their own spheres, offline and online.

While some believe Men’s Right Activism is completely unnecessary, on the surface of it, Men’s Rights Activism is a noble concept. MRAs defend issues which many people don’t know exist or don’t see as issues at all, such as parental rights and custody. But digging deeper, learning about MRAs and their mode of operation, it isn’t clear whether Men’s Rights Activism is really about protecting the rights of men or about opposing the rights of everyone else.

On the Attack

Instead of being a self-contained movement, some portions of Men’s Rights Activism tends to respond to issues raised by feminism. Self-identified MRAs attack legitimate issues presented by feminists, in the belief that these issues violate the rights of men. And in doing so, MRAs attack the rights of all women, not just those who identify as feminists — all women are affected by their opposing women’s issues.

Anti-feminist MRAs create a division between the rights of women and the rights of men: you either support men’s rights or you support women’s rights. You can’t support both, and by supporting one you are opposing the other.

Misogyny and Femiphobia

A number of Men’s Rights Activists blatantly support misogyny in society or openly display misogyny in their groups. Some claim that Men’s Rights Activism itself is an anti-woman movement and has been since its creation. But Men’s Right Advocates passionately oppose misandry, so how could they support misogyny?

Related to its misogyny is the undercurrent of femiphobia in many MRA circles. Self-identified MRAs are contemptuous of men who they view as feminine and ridicule displays of stereotypically feminine behavior by men in and out of their ranks. Such men are mocked as “manginas”, a term created from the words “man” and “vagina”.

Men’s Rights Allies

Male Rights Activists are involved with a number of groups outside of their central movement. Some of these allies are in direct opposition to the rights of certain groups of people, such as PUA, a male seduction community whose techniques are based in manipulation, and white supremacist groups mired in racism and anti-Semitism.

Some MRAs claim to  support the rights of all people to defend issues which affect them. They say that all people, even those involved with what are seen as hate groups, have the right to speak out. But how can MRAs claim to be for equality while choosing these allies?

Is Men’s Rights Activism about equality for men or about inequality for everyone else? Again, it isn’t clear what MRAs are truly concerned with.

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The Male-Identified Woman

male-identified-womanEncouraging sexism, opposing gender equality, and setting societal progress back centuries. All at a location near you.

The male-identified woman is a woman whose beliefs, mindset, and attitude favor the male gender, often at the expense of the opposite sex. She may be traditional or modern, classically feminine in appearance or more masculine. But all male-identified women support what enhances the status and lives of men, and opposes what increases equality of the genders.

The male-identified woman often comes from a background where the male point of view was greatly emphasized or de-emphasized. In the first case, she may have had a mother who, willingly or unwillingly, took second place to her husband. The male-identified woman learned through her upbringing that a woman must always defer to men and respect their desires.

In the second case, the male-identified woman may have had a father who was absent (physically or mentally) and a mother who was head of the household. She grew to resent her mother’s rule and came to associate with the male presence she never had, finding refuge in the thoughts and actions of men.

The male-identified woman can be found everywhere, and is not difficult to recognize as she tends to be predictable and follows a pattern of behavior. A woman is likely male-identified, if she says or does several of the following:

  • Encourages women to take part in relationship dynamics which advantage men such as polygyny and decreased emphasis on female income and education
  • Blames feminism for every male-female issue and/or proclaiming those who disagree with her to be feminists
  • Engages in male-oriented forums or websites
  • Is overly obsequious or fawning over any men around her
  • Claims to have no female friends
  • Joins men in their complaints about women
  • Claims every gender difference is based in biology, especially if that difference favors men
  • Claims that men are naturally advantaged in several areas
  • Argues with women who oppose sexist practices

If you run into a male-identified woman (and you will, if you haven’t already), don’t attempt to argue with her or point out the flaws in her thinking.

Usually the male-identified woman is unaware of just how oriented she is to the male sex. She sees her views and values as “wise” and “common sense”, and competing views as the opposite. She’s likely held her beliefs for years and sees them as the only correct ones. She has no desire to change her mind — in most cases, she will try to change yours.

If you disagree with something the male-identified woman has said or done, the best you can do is offer your point of view and hope that others, and maybe she, can see its merit. Don’t push your views. You don’t need to — for the most part, the male-identified woman is fighting a losing battle.

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When Age Isn’t Just a Number: Younger Women, Older Men

hayden-panettiere-boyfriend-wladimir-klitschko

Actress Hayden Panettiere (21) and Ex-Boyfriend Wladimir Klitschko (35)

Love comes in all forms, shapes, sizes, and numbers. At least we’d like to believe so. In the real world, love tends to be restricted by personal and social beliefs.  Some of these social norms have been around for ages, like that which considers large age differences between intimate partners to be taboo.

Despite the general lack of acceptance of large age gaps between partners, the idea of younger women forming intimate relationships with older men is not considered to be as taboo as the reverse. In fact, in the vast majority of heterosexual relationships where one partner is considerably senior to the other, the older partner is the man.

However, most sources show that relationships composed of younger women and older men are inherently unequal and ultimately more harmful than helpful for the women who partake in them. Because the partners, consciously or unconsciously, often have motives besides pure love, the relationships don’t improve, but detract from women’s self-worth and well-being.

Other Motives

While in relationships with older men, much younger women tend to see their relationships as happy and rewarding. They say they feel more mature than their age or that men their age are too immature and have little to offer them. Researchers say that this notion that these women have of themselves as different and, perhaps better than their age mates, is usually given support by her older partner who will praise her as special and extraordinary.

Other times, women are simply looking for a father figure as women who partake in research involving these relationships readily admit. A woman from an abusive or poverty-stricken home may be looking for stable grounding in an older and more established man.

Motivations aren’t so helpful on the men’s side either. Some older men who find women their own age to be too demanding or jaded seek refuge with younger women. They believe that younger women will admire them and truly love them, instead of expecting so much. In other, more notorious cases, older men see younger women as naïve and exploit the women’s lack of knowledge and experience to their own gain.

The Results

In sharp contrast to their testimonials while in these relationships, women who were involved with older men as young adults tend to regret these relationships later in life.

These women feel that they were manipulated or somehow taken advantage of, and feel that these relationships negatively affected their sense of self-worth and ability to trust. Regardless of whether their relationship was unhealthy in more obvious ways, women tend to feel like they were somehow victimized.

It goes without saying that every relationship involving an older male and younger female is not unhealthy and devoid of true love. But given the mounting evidence, perhaps the idea of younger women dating older men should be looked at with a more critical eye?

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The Big, Bad F Word — Feminism

feminist-movement-venus-symbolWhat comes to mind when you hear the word “feminism” or “feminist”?

Feminism is loosely defined as the belief and promotion of equal rights for women in social, political, and economic arenas. Formal feminism, also known as the Women’s Movement, began in Western society in the late 18th century and continues today. Without feminism, the daily lives of Western women would be very different. Yet feminism and feminists are given a bad reputation. So much so that mentioning the “F-Words”, or worse claiming to be an F-word, is enough to cause a person to be looked at with suspicion, disbelief, and disgust.

Most people, when asked, would never state that women shouldn’t have equal rights. Yet less than 30 percent of all American women consider themselves to be feminists, compared to an even smaller 25 percent of Western European women. This suggests that either women don’t truly believe they should be equal to men, or something about the word “feminist” causes women to shy away from claiming the title.

So why is feminist such a bad word? Researchers involved in a 2010 study claim that popular stereotypes are to blame for the bad image of feminists and feminism. The British survey asked women about their ideas on feminists and feminism. Their responses showed that they associated feminists with mostly negative stereotypes. But what’s more interesting is that most of these connotations have been shown to be false.

1. Unfeminine

The survey showed that women believed feminist women were traditionally unfeminine in manner and appearance. They believed they were less likely to shave, more likely to wear men’s clothing, and have a generally “ugly” appearance.

This popular stereotype has not been supported by past surveys. Women who align with feminist principles or consider themselves feminist are not rated by others to be less feminine or appealing than non-feminist women. In fact, one study found that feminists are more likely to be in a relationship.

feminist-femininity2. Man-Hating

Women included in the survey believed that feminists dislike men and have issues with traditional masculinity. This is similar to results of surveys with men, who tend to also believe that feminists have issues with men.

However, in a study that was shocking to nearly everyone but feminists, feminist women were found less likely to be hostile toward men. Non-feminist women had a greater tendency to ambivalent and even hostile feelings towards men. Researchers say that the non-feminists’ belief and adherence to traditional gender roles leaves non-feminist women feeling frustrated and constrained, resulting in more hostile feelings towards the opposite sex than women who believe in equality.

Not only are feminist women not man-hating, but their relationships also tend to be healthier. In one study, their male partners report greater stability and more satisfaction in their relationships.

3. Lesbian

Non-feminists in the survey believed feminists were more likely to be non-heterosexual, and usually lesbian. They compared the image of a “regular”, non-feminist woman to that of a feminist, who was a manly, ugly lesbian.

Studies have resulted in mixed conclusions on this matter. Some report slightly higher levels of lesbianism among self-identified feminists, while most do not show any relationship between the two. Perhaps women who self-identify as feminists are more likely to be lesbians — of course many (heterosexual) women don’t identify as feminists despite believing in feminist principles.

And as previously mentioned, in a recent study, feminists were more likely to be in a heterosexual relationship than non-feminist women.

Seems like a few adjustments need to be made in perceptions of feminism.

Which of these (mostly false) stereotypes did you believe? And why else do you think feminism has a bad reputation?

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Traits of the Equal Relationship

scales-equality

Many people hope that their relationship or marriage will be one that is mutually supportive — a relationship of equals. Less actually achieve an equal partnership because they or their relationship lack the essential traits to support a mutual relationship.

What are some of the basic features of an equal relationship or marriage, and an equal partner? Ideas about equality in relationships vary, but what follows is a compilation of the most mentioned traits from studies, surveys, and polls across the world.

  • Conflict

It may come as a surprise that conflict is found in the most equitable relationships. But shouldn’t these relationships have the least conflict? Not really.

Conflict in itself is not what promotes equality — it is the ability to accept and manage conflict that creates an equal partnership. If one partner refuses to discuss their differences or is unskilled at handling conflict, the other half will be forced to compromise for the sake of the relationship. This may happen several times in the course of a relationship, and inequality is created.

  • Androgyny

Research has found that a combination of masculine and feminine traits in both partners helps in creating equality. In addition, androgyny is correlated with overall marital satisfaction.

Androgyny makes one more comfortable with expressing or taking on roles typically assigned to the other gender. A male partner, for example, will see no issue in expressing his feelings directly, or helping out with household chores.

  • Belief in Nurture

One aspect that has been found repeatedly in equally, mutually satisfying relationships is a belief that nurture plays a stronger role in creating human personality and behavior than does nature. In other words, few “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus” supporters find themselves in equal relationships.

A fundamental part of establishing an equal relationship is the believing that men and women aren’t locked into different, unequal mindsets and skills. It is easy for a guy to dismiss his partner’s feelings as unimportant if he believes that women are innately over-emotional.

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Hyphenated Surnames and Stay-at-Home Moms

battle-of-sexesIn several of the discussions between AJ and me about marriage and family life, the issue of names has come up. More than once in such conversations, he has expressed that he would never agree to my hyphenating the last names of me and our children. AJ believes that a wife and children having double last names shows that the woman “wears the pants” in the marriage and heaven forbid anyone, especially himself, think of him as an emasculated, purse-toting pansy! Since I rather like his name and have no desire to hyphenate my married surname, his opinions don’t bother me. However, I find his strong reaction to this idea to be strange. Is a woman wishing to keep her last name upon marriage asserting her will over her husband’s? I’d never thought so, but his ideas add another perspective to the matter.

Another marriage and family life issue that we’ve recently discussed is that of a wife being a stay-at-home mother. I have little desire to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), but I admire them. It is no easy task to take care of children, cook, and keep the home in general order; it sure seems more difficult than many 9-5 jobs. I wish my mother would have stayed at home, at least for my first few years, instead of hiring the nanny from hell to take care of me (more on that at a later date), and I plan on taking a leave of absence from my career for my children’s years before schooling. Bringing up the topic with AJ, however, I was quickly notified that telling a man you’re dating that you want to be a stay-at-home mom is essentially telling him that you want to leech off him and his hard work for the rest of your life. I didn’t think so: is a woman who dedicates her life to taking care of your children, cooking your meals, and cleaning your clothes, a blood-sucking parasite or a welcome helping hand?

What are your thoughts on stay-at-home mothers and hyphenated last names? Do you know anyone who does either?

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