Monday, October 10, 2011

It Would Be My Privilege

I'm a regular reader of The Blag Hag and generally enjoy Jen's blog.  I do however find it hard to relate when she starts talking about feminism.  I often find myself rolling my eyes and thinking that she really needs to get a life.  Harsh I know, but my opinion nonetheless.

One such occasion related to a post by The Friendly Atheist (another favourite of mine).   Hemant had written a post discussing an interview with Kari Byron from Mythbusters.  He ended the post with "This whole post was really just an excuse to post a picture of Kari."  It was an obvious tongue in cheek comment about someone that Hemant admires for her mind and views but who also happens to be a very attractive woman.  I read the comment and laughed.

Jen's response was "only appreciating a woman for her looks and not for her intelligence is not a joke - it's a negative mindset that joking helps perpetuate."

To this my response was "Enough already!" <eyes rolling>

These posts were written several months ago and I had pretty much forgotten about them until the fairly recent "Elevatorgate" scandal.  A good summary of all the craziness that ensued can be found here.  In short, Rebecca Watson (Skepchick) was propositioned by a man she didn't know while alone in an elevator with him in the middle of the night after a conference.  All of the comments surrounding this situation really got me thinking.  The one that really tipped the scales for me was Jen's response to Richard Dawkins after he pretty much blew off Rebecca Watson's point that this incident made her feel at best uncomfortable and at worst fearful.

With that background, I'll get to my point.  Jen pointed out that Richard has the privilege in this situation of being a man and therefore couldn't possibly fully understand what it feels like as a woman to be vulnerable to a man:  "You don't live in fear of rape, knowing that one wrong misinterpretation of a couple words could lead down that road."  I, as a woman, completely understand how Rebecca felt in that elevator.  It's the same reason that I don't go out alone at night.  I acknowledge that most men are probably good, but what if I happen to run into one that wants to hurt me?  How can I defend myself against someone who is most likely larger and stronger than me?

This concept of privilege in turn got me thinking about feminism.  In my fairly sheltered life I haven't really had the misfortune of having to deal with much sexism.  I have been taught all my life that women are equal to men.  I found myself in a profession where men and women are fairly equally represented.  Of the four managers in my department, two are men and two are women.  The Assistant Vice President is a man, but the Vice President is a woman.  I feel no sexual discrimination whatsoever.  It never really occurred to me, in this day and age, that this was in any way out of the ordinary.

Then I thought about the life of The Blag Hag.  Jen is a student at the University of Washington working towards her PhD in Genome Sciences.  She's a scientist.  Now how many female scientists can you think of?  Not one other than Marie Curie actually comes to my mind - not a good thing.  She is in an extremely male dominated field.  I would hazard a guess that she feels sexual discrimination first hand on a regular basis.  It's no wonder she's so much more sensitive to it. 

So in the end, I realize that my privilege has blinded me to the fact that gender discrimination is alive and well.  We women need to continue fighting for equal rights and respect.  I still strongly disagree with Jen's reaction to Hemant on the Kari Byron comment - it was after all an innocent joke from a man who consistently shows respect and admiration for women.  In taking a step back though, I can now see where Jen is coming from and why she reacts the way she does to situations that I find trivial.  Perspective is a good thing.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On The Subject of Bullies...

I was recently talking with someone about the bullying that was happening when I was in school (elementary through high school).  I had always known that some kids, myself included, had been teased or picked on, but I was completely unaware of the violent behaviour with which some of my classmates had to live.  I wasn't totally naive - I knew that such things existed, but even now I find it very hard to accept that these situations were happening under my nose.  I can only imagine the daily hell that those kids endured and I sincerely hope that in the end they were able to get out from under it and move forward without too much lasting trauma.  No one of any age deserves this type of abuse.

I was never a popular child, but I seemed to be able to get along adequately with most people in all of my schools.  Even in high school I generally felt comfortable whether I was talking to the Athletes or the Keeners or the Druggies.  I think having a few close friends made the day to day grind easier to maneuver.

I do remember one incident in grade 8 that has stuck with me for both good and bad reasons.  I was walking across the school field on my way home after school and was in effect swarmed by a boy and his friend.  They were on their bikes and were riding circles around me while verbally taunting me.  It really scared me and I guess I kind of snapped.  As the main boy rode past me I did a kind of roundhouse kick and knocked him over and yelled at him "FUCK YOU!"  If you knew me then you would know that this was completely out of character for me.  Swear words did not come out of my mouth....ever....especially that caliber of swear word!!  I then took the opportunity of their surprise and ran home, crying the whole way.

Upon arriving my mother insisted I tell her what was wrong so I told her the whole story, including some prior incidences with the same boy.  She immediately called the school and I was mortified.  How embarrassing to have my mommy fighting my battles and everyone would find out about what had happened and what I had done.  Yes - you heard that right - I was concerned about what people would think of MY BEHAVIOUR!!!

The next day I was called down to speak with the Vice Principal.  The boy was there too.  I was terrified that I was going to be in trouble and I was embarrassed about what this boy had put me through.  She sat us both down and asked me first to tell her what had happened.  I was completely honest and told her everything - even the part about the dreaded swear word.  She looked at me for a moment and then looked at him.  I waited in fear.  She then turned back to me and said "I would have done exactly the same thing.  You can go back to class now."  

That moment changed my life.  The Vice Principal showed me that I was allowed to stand up for myself.  Not only allowed, but encouraged.  She empowered me and I have held on to that power to this day.  It fuels my fire when I see injustices in the world.  It gives me the strength and confidence to stand up and say "NO!"  It's also given me a loud mouth and opinionated personality.  Some may find my soapbox irritating or obnoxious, but to those people I proudly say "Bite me!"  :)

That boy never bothered me again, although he did start to pick on a friend and I again stood up to him with my new found confidence (albeit with far less violence) and I'm pretty sure he didn't bother her any more either.

Bullying is something that I know goes on daily in our schools and even thereafter.  I hope that people of all ages can find strength in my story or from friends or authority figures.  The bullies are generally in the minority so if we all band together to stand up to them how can they possibly win???