Forms of Backlash towards Resistance against Sexism, Rape Culture, and Racism

Kari Schott from Jordan High School, in Utah, created quite a controversy through her Young Democrats Club bake sale. The Young Democrats Club sold their cookies for a dollar to boys and 77 cents to girls (Carlisle). It was meant to raise awareness about the wage gap between men and women in America. Some commented that it was a clever way to put a light onto the issue but not everyone responded positively.

The bake sale has initiated a lot of discussions, both online and offline, about gender equality. Unfortunately, the Young Democrats Club fails to go past the ideologies of the second wave feminism, in that they see gender as a binary structure. They also fall short in acknowledging wage gaps for people of colour and for the LGBTQ community.

However, rather than focusing on the bake sale, I would like to highlight the way some reactions from Jordan High School, as well as from the comment section of the news article, are expressed. Interestingly, they bear the same pattern that occurs as responses to other women’s rights issue, such as rape culture, and social injustice like racism. Therefore, this article serves as an example of the nature of intersectionality of these issues.

Victim blaming is commonly seen in discussions about women’s rights, such as wage gaps and rape, as a response to justify the offenders’ actions. One of the comments on the article criticizes that women do not take high paying jobs. The commenter is accusing the victim for putting the misfortune on themselves, rather than examining the big picture and seeking systemic flaws, which inhibit women to get promoted to higher positions. Similarly, fingers are often pointed at rape victims for being under the influence, dressing inappropriately, and being out late. Victim blaming deflects the attention from the crime and the offender and reinforces dehumanization of gender and sexuality, which subjects them to further violence and abuse (Wolfe) (Faludi).

Another common reaction is questioning the validity of the data, thus, the existence of the problem itself. This is a response, by a Jordan High School student, taken from the news article:

“…I believe in their standing for a cause, but I just don’t believe the statistics they’re using are correct. I would love to have a debate with them, about what they believe in…” (Carlisle).

By using words like “believe” and “debate”, he illustrates the statistics as something questionable and can be proven false. In fact, I was able to trace a US government document that supports the data. A commenter of the article also suggests that wage gaps do not exist:

“So roughly half the people feel one way and half feel the other. Got it. I’m a hiring manager, I have all the salary data… I know we can’t underpay anyone and expect to keep them.” (Carlisle)

Again, by using a word like “feel”, the comment suggests that the problem is a matter of perception and emotions. On the contrary, by stating his position and authority, the commenter hints legitimacy of his personal experience in representing the entire condition. These remarks that reject the existence of problems are comparable to those made about racism in Canada. Well-known for our hospitality and multiculturalism, Canadians can easily assume that there is no racism in Canada. With thousands of Indigenous women disappearing, the false representation keeps others and Canadians ignorant about Canada’s race problem. By the way people word and present themselves, they can rephrase a fact as something arguable and deny that injustice exists in the first place.

In another news article, Schott states that several students called her sexist (Catalfamo). They argue that charging men more for the cookies is discrimination against men based on their gender, which is sexism. This idea that sexism can be directed towards the majority by the minority is analogous to the concept of reverse racism, where racism is directed towards white people by people of colour. A Video by Aamer Rahman covers issues, such as colonialism, imperialism, and privilege, to effectively explain why reverse racism does not exist (Rahman), which can also be applied to “reverse sexism”. The oppressors of both sexism and racism exist through privilege and power, which the minority group does not possess. Thus, “oppression” by the minority does not hold any real social implications on the majority. Some backlash, by suggesting the dictionary definition of sexism and racism, which defines them as discrimination against people based on gender and race, respectively. However, they fail to recognize the historical and social context the terms carry in real life. Sexism and racism cannot merely be defined as prejudices but a social hierarchy that systemically reinforces itself to assure the domination of a certain group. By illustrating victims as oppressors, these notions have repercussions similar to those of victim blaming.

Adverse reactions against movements to eradicate sexism are found in many forms, such as victim blaming, disregarding the existence of the injustice, and “reverse sexism”. Unfortunately, they are often obscured by nuances of language and are challenging to identify at first glance. Nonetheless, these reactions intersect with those of other social issues like rape culture and racism. Therefore, it is important to closely examine the phrasing and wording that can further contribute to oppression of minorities.

Word count: 880

References

Carlisle, Randall. “Gender equality bake sale causes stir at Utah high school.” Good4Utah (2015).

Catalfamo, Kelly. “Bake sale ignites gender controversy in Utah high school.” The Salt Lake Tribune (2015). <http://www.sltrib.com/home/2308842-155/sandy-students-use-bake-sale-to>.

Faludi, Susan. “Introduction: Blame it on Feminism.” Faludi, Susan. Backlash : the undeclared war against American women. New York: Crown, 1991. xi-xxiii.

Majority Staff of the Joint Economic Committee. Invest in Women, Invest in America: A Comprehensive Review of Women In the U.S. Economy. Government document. Washington DC: United States Congress, 2010.

Rahman, Aamer. Aamer Rahman (Fear of a Brown Planet) – Reverse Racism. 28 November 2013. 5 April 2015.

Wolfe, Lauren. Eight reasons why victim-blaming needs to stop: Writers, activists, and survivors speak out. 17 December 2012. 5 April 2015. <http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/blog/entry/eight-reasons-why-victim-blaming-needs-to-stop-writers-activists-and-surviv>.

Systemic Justification of Violence

From the moment of birth, people are bombarded with images and instructions on how they should grow up to be. Adults, mainly parents and teachers, as well as the media, discipline young children on how to behave to comply with the social norms. Whatever fits the social norms is considered to be natural and should be treated as being “human”. However, once an individual’s presupposition of what it means to be human is challenged, the individual’s sense of justice is skewed. This distorted perspective often leads to dehumanization of marginalized people and, ultimately, violence against them.

One of the many emerging problems of today’s society includes violence against transgender women, especially against trans women of colour. In western society, the binary gender system, which views gender with two rigid options of male and female, both of which are grounded in a person’s physical anatomy, has deeply rooted into its culture (Gender Spectrum). When such preconceived notion is questioned, for example by transgenders, individuals do not consider transgenders to be fit for society, justifying their violence against them.

Laverne Cox, who is best known for her role in the Netflix television series Orange is the New Black, shares her unjust experiences as being a Black trans woman in the United States.

“… these found me attractive, because I’m a woman. Then they realized that I was trans and it became something else.” (Cox)

The black and the Latin men expected to see a woman, but when they realized that Laverne was trans, their reaction immediately changed. It is not to say that catcalling is appropriate even if Laverne were not a transgender. However, when their expectation is overthrown by the fact that Laverne is transgender, they have dehumanized her into either the “b word” or the “n word”. Laverne is no longer considered a respectable human being, but rather a target for sexual harassment, which could have easily turned into physical violence.

It is also important to be aware that dehumanization occurs not only to transgenders, but also to all minorities, such as women, people of colour, including indigenous peoples, and disabled people.

Objectification of women is widely found in mass media and is deeply embedded in men’s socialization to value women less than men. Women are treated as properties, thus dehumanizing them, which creates an environment prone to violence, such as domestic violence (Porter).

Similarly, the European settlers’ definition of being human is being white and Christian. By using the term ‘savages’ to categorize First Nations, they dehumanize the indigenous people and attempt to justify treating them as less than human (Newcomb). Residential schools and mass murder of indigenous women are the results of such legitimization of violence.

Furthermore, social construction that privileges able bodies creates a contrast with the disabled people and illustrates them to be inferior. The disabled bodies or minds are depicted as being flawed and in need of repair. Such perspective further dehumanizes them and normalizes unjust treatments against them, which can at times be in forms of violence.

Unfortunately, none of the violence mentioned above stand alone in reality. Focusing on Laverne Cox’s speech again, this is what she describes her street harassment as:

“That moment when I was called the b or the n word, it was a moment where misogyny was intersecting with trans-phobia, was intersecting with some racist stuff.” (Cox)

Even though it is violence against one person, the underlying motive for such animosity targets Laverne’s various labels she carries as a black trans woman. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the intersecting nature and the overlapping root cause of violence against marginalized people.

It is easy to dismiss violence and oppression as few extreme cases. However, those positioned higher in the social hierarchy are systemically made unaware of their privileges (McIntosh). By disregarding these brutalities can contribute to the social norms that further condone such dehumanizing outlook on marginalized people.

For those reasons, acknowledgement and action from the privileged are crucial in preventing violence against marginalized people. However, this proposal is far from suggesting that the marginalized have no accountability. There are far more people who do not fall under the “perfect model” that society creates. If they can relate their experience as a marginalized person to certain privileges they may also possess, they can better understand the process of how their distorted perspective on marginalized people affects their behaviour towards them.

As Dr. Cornel West once said,

“…justice is what love looks like in public.” (West)

In order to bring justice, every person needs to deconstruct and reformulate the social norms, in a loving manner, so that they encompass and embody marginalized characteristics as simply being human.

Word count: 778

References

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” 7 December 2014. Everyday Feminism. 8th March 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/&gt;.

Gender Spectrum. “Understanding Gender.” n.d. Gender Spectrum. 8 March 2015. <https://www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/&gt;.

McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack.” 1989. PDF. 11 March 2015. <https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf&gt;.

Newcomb, Steven. On Historical Narratives and Dehumanization. 20 6 2012. 10 March 2015. <http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/06/20/historical-narratives-and-dehumanization&gt;.

Porter, Anthony. National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCDSV). 11 8 2014. PDF. 9th March 2015. <http://www.ncdsv.org/images/EndingDV–ACalltoMen.pdf&gt;.

West, Cornel. “PRESIDENT’S FORUM Dr. Cornel West.” September 2009. Hobart and William Smith College. Webpage. 11 March 2015. <http://www.hws.edu/about/presidentsforum/west_speech.aspx&gt;.

Reelout Film Review: “Lilting”

Writer-director Hong Kaou’s feature debut, Lilting, is a quiet and delicate chamber piece about two unlikely acquaintances overcoming barriers while grieving the untimely death of their loved one. Despite the film’s lack of character development, its cross-cultural narrative can reach out to a refined niche. 

The film opens to Kai (Andrew Leung) visiting his Cambodian-Chinese mother, Junn (Cheng Pei-pei), at her London retirement home. Complaining about being locked up, Junn is concerned that she is excluded from her own son’s life, and she is right. Kai is keeping his mother in the dark about his homosexuality and the real identity of his “best friend”, Richard (Ben Whishaw).

The conversation is deeply affectionate and almost dream-like, and it is later revealed that the opening scene is Junn reliving her last moments with Kai. As a nice little touch, the interaction is subtly different every time it is replayed.

Feeling responsible to take on Kai’s role, Richard tries to reach out to Junn by hiring Vann (Naomi Christie) to translate for Junn and Alan(Peter Bowles), a fellow British resident who has budded a flirtation with Junn. This yields a minor comic relief during the film’s deliberately slow pace, maintaining the mood from getting too sulky.

Kaou tries to convey a compelling message about the emotional connection, even without a common language. Contrarily, Junn is isolated from the other English-speaking characters as well as the (presumably English-speaking) audience. Kaou leaves out the subtitles when Vann is translating, and Junn’s innermost vulnerability is only conveyed through monologues, which are never translated to the other characters. Junn is also devoid of the choice to withhold the translation of some of her dialogues, which the other characters often do, marginalizing her even further.

Kaou’s depiction of homosexuality is also worth giving some attention. In most scenes where Kai and Richard are together, they are either naked and in bed or are intimately touching each other. It is possible to omit the hypersexualization without affecting the plot, but Kaou chooses not to. The film also pursues the androcentristic illustration of white gay men, who are mostly better represented in popular culture than, for example, black lesbians.

Racial subtexts in sexualization are also prevalent throughout the film. Junn’s racial preference, pointed out by Kai, and Kai’s choice of white British man as his partner suggest a racial hierarchy, where Asians supposedly advance in status by acquiring a white spouse.

Kai: Is he(Alan) English? (Junn nodds) You like pale skin. Dad was half white.

Vice versa, Junn mentions Alan’s behaviour that possibly stems from orientalism, which hypersexualizes Asian women.

Junn: I can talk rubbish and he still thinks I’m an exotic beauty.

Whishaw plays febrile, soft, and teary Richard exquisitely, however, the writer-director does not extend the role any further. Given Whishaw’s previous works, such as Skyfall and Cloud Atlas, it is unfortunate that his broad acting spectrum is not used to its full potential. Similarly, best known for her martial-arts in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Cheng plays equally one-dimensional Junn, who is predominantly rigid and grumpy until just before the end of the film.

Although peripheral to the plot, the short take of the senior home effectively conveys the alienation most marginalized people feel. The shot begins with a zoom-in on white elders peacefully engaged in their activities. Then the camera focuses on Junn, who is hunched over at her tea alone, with a frown on her face.

Reflecting on the scene, a comment made by Richard comes to light.

Richard: I’ll doubt that they have mid-century furniture from Cambodia.

What is meant to make the residents feel “at home” not only does not apply to Junn, but also makes her feel even more distant from the community.

The juxtaposition of Junn against the other white elders reminds me, as an immigrant, of the memories of being overly conscious about my differences. The emotion of total disconnection from the world can only truly be comprehended through experience. As a result, marginalized people, by race, gender, or any other way, can viscerally resonate with the desolation Junn bears throughout the film, Lilting. 

Aside from the film itself, the upbeat atmosphere of the Reelout Queer Film Festival has also contributed to the positive cinematic experience. Despite the vicious weather, a high number of people came out with excitement and enthusiasm. The modest scale of the theatre created an air of intimacy with the festival director as well as a sense of connection with the fellow audience members.

Prior to the feature film, a quick interactive raffle prize and a short film took place, which helped to liven up the mood. The short film has also broadened my perspective on the different genres of motion picture.

As my first participation in a film festival, Reelout Queer Film Festival was a delightful experience that opened new doors to diverse culture and community.