Sex and Gender (An Urban White Straight Male’s Perspective)

January 30, 2013 at 2:41 pm (Uncategorized)

First, let me say that I am totally unqualified to talk about this subject. Second, let me say that I am 100% qualified to talk about this subject. Why is that? Well, I am not particularly familiar with literature or research on this topic, and I come from a position of privilege. I am also a human person, so what I say and think and do is mine to decide.

I’ve been having this imaginary conversation in my head today with a potential employer. It all started in an interview when I was asked what I prefer to be addressed as–he/she/neither/something else. This was the first question after pleasantries, and I was somewhat taken aback. Not because it is not an excellent/relevant question; it is. I was taken aback because no one had ever asked me that question before.

To understand why this is had an effect on me is to go back into my formative preteen/teen years. Growing up, I found that I loved a lot of things perceived as “feminine” like musical theatre and choir. I also love football and sports, but people don’t tease you about the things you’re supposed to do. They tease you about perceived flaws, which for boys is appearing too feminine. I never saw myself that way, but I was acutely aware that plenty of people had perceptions of me that leaned in that direction.

I myself buy into that culture at times–I have called men derogatory names that deal with various parts of the female anatomy. You don’t think about what you’re doing when you do it. You just are saying things to be funny, or to tease. When you’re with a bunch of your bros evenings can often become a sophomoric farce. I never meant any harm by it, and I’m as much of a feminist as anyone, but when you think about what leads you to say those things in the first place, one realizes that they are helping to perpetuate a culture in which all people are created equal (but some are more equal than others).

We’re making progress towards a more inclusive society. I haven’t used gay as a slur in a decade, and none of my friends do either. I actively get after people who do call people gay or fag as a derogatory statement. We still have a long way to go in many arenas.

The problem is that many times we say things we have been socially conditioned to say, or make jokes we believe are funny, and the line is blurry between what is acceptable and what is not. There is a grey area and I think we have to understand what the intent is. If a friend of mine tells me to get out of my pajamas and “stop being a little bitch” and come hang out, is he/she trying to insult anyone? I would argue they are not. In a perfect world we would begin to move away from slurs that have any connotation to a group of people and make up nonsense words to describe the same things. “Jordan, stop being such a flibbertyjibbit and get your ass to the bar,” or something like that. I think the important thing is to try to educate people and know that they cannot undo years of culture yelling in their ears at once. I would prefer that we look at people’s hearts and try to understand where they are coming from as individuals before we judge them based on one errant encounter. You can color me guilty of not always doing that myself.

Back to the interview. In that moment of questioning I was sitting there dumbstruck for a moment because no one had ever asked me that question before. What did I prefer to be called? I had literally never thought about it. I didn’t think about it then, either. I blurted out something along the lines of “you can call me whatever you want.” She just smiled at me and said that she would circle the “he” option.

After thinking about it more, I realize that it is kind of strange that to be white, to be straight, and to be male is the default option for a few reasons. White people are not the majority on the planet (though they are in the US for the time being–and will continue to be a plurality through my lifetime at least, and you can argue that in the NW there are an overwhelming number of Caucasians present). There are more women than men on the planet. I guess it all comes down to power. Traditionally it is vested in men, specifically those who are white, straight, and Christian. Being three of those things I am sitting on a whole bunch of advantages that I either do not or cannot see on a daily basis.

I guess what strikes me is that it is really hard to see if you have this weight of centuries of culture and society behind you–to notice the advantages you get. I’m not saying that I cannot conceptualize the idea, but I don’t see it happening in my everyday life. I see myself as a guy who is trying to make his place in the world just like everyone else. When you’re trying to do that it is easy to ignore the broad view of history. I don’t blame people for doing it, but I think a lot of my more conservative friends and family are operating from a viewpoint that ignores exactly those advantages. There are real, measurable disadvantages to belonging to any minority group, or to being a woman. In practice we are not always living up to the ideals we ostensibly believe in. I have a lot of friends who are gay/lesbian/bi/trans, and they face unique challenges that I have not ever nor will I ever have to face.

I guess what I’m driving at here is that people deserve love and compassion because they are people. You can ignore biology and fit facts to support your narrow worldview, but that doesn’t make facts less the objective truth. If you feel like certain groups are getting special treatment, it is probably because they literally have had to point out recently (or are still in the process of pointing out) that they are EQUAL and deserve to be treated as such. Pointing out a desire for equality is not the same as wanting special treatment. I also am of the opinion that certain groups have been oppressed for so long that you have to work towards helping pull people up.

Will that make it harder for me, the straight white guy? Probably. All that frustration is, though, is a taste of not being on top. We don’t get to play the game of life on easy mode while everyone else is forced to play on the hard setting. Let’s all just try to get to normal.

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