Thursday, 21 February 2013

Am I a racist?

So when I was at school, I asked my friend if he was called a chink. Or I just called him a chink. Or some other variation of that, but I think I hazed the memory in my head Professor Slughorn style because after, my friend assured me that it was definitely not cool to call a Chinese person chink, and I was damn ashamed of myself.

It's always been at the back of my mind, to clarify why I'd been so ashamed, and also why I thought it was ok to say that to my friend in the first place. Firstly, I genuinely didn't know. I'd never ever spent an afternoon googling what was 'ok' and what was 'not ok' to say to various people. The thought of having a name for another human based on anything other than how they identify themselves to the world was a foreign concept. So whatever was said, was said partly out of ignorance, but I'd like to think it wasn't the kind of ignorance that creates more ignorance in spite of itself.

Secondly, why should it be offensive if I didn't mean it in an offensive way? I am a loud advocate of equal rights, niceness is priceless and no other person is worth less than I am, based on gender, race, sexuality, height, weight, hair colour. If I say something without the historical context behind it, it just becomes another word, doesn't it? This isn't true. Language and it's ever changing significance exists for us to communicate and progress. If language was stagnant, these words wouldn't be offensive to begin with. As a user of language, you're an advocate of whatever language you use, and if there is a meaning to a word you use, that negatively generalises an individual or a group of individuals, you're not just ignorant, you're a bully.

Fast forward from my bout of ignorant racism, and I'm in a taxi with the same friend, as a taxi driver tells us he doesn't think they should be broadcasting with such ferocity the murder of the British family killed in France, "because they weren't really British". I look across at my quite obviously English-speaking Chinese friend, and observe as he's basically told that because he doesn't have English lineage, that if he and his family were violently murdered, there is a a group of people of the mind set who doesn't think he's worthy of English newspapers, despite being born and spending majority of his life here.

If I hadn't had the good fortune of a friend who perhaps hadn't worked out the damage I was doing by throwing around these terms so didn't send unrelenting rage my way, my thinking might have been much different.

Ignorance of racist terms is a small excuse, and if you get caught out with it, have the good grace to educate yourself.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Flicks for Chicks

I really, really love movies. I'm not necessarily an avid observer of the classics, I haven't seen everything on the IMDB top 100 list, and zombies will always scare the bajeezus out of me. The reason I love to watch films, sometimes repeatedly, is for the story. I read a study on the relevance of stories when it comes to the morals of a society, researching the importance of stories being passed down from generation to generation. You tell stories to children to keep them safe, and the use of metaphors when trying to drive a point home adds an extra layer of unrelated context that fits perfectly with the situation. Whilst stories update to fit the times, the underlying messages often stay the same. If you do bad, you'll suffer. Careless actions will often cause harm to those around you. True happiness creates happiness.. The list goes on.

Whilst films will never be a substitute for books (you shouldn't just feed your imagination with preprocessed stuff, you should challenge it to create) films still carry across those basic morals of story telling just as well as books do. They're the modern day travelling troupe, carrying the tales of history forward, to tell the next generation of the lessons already learnt.

One of the things that got me into being a bit more critical of the ideas portrayed in film and television was a visit to see the nutcracker one christmas, and these guys (If you're reading this article, and don't have about 3 hours spare, don't click that link. Pure unadulterated genius). Whilst the writers at do take the subtext of the subtext of film and television and give it a DEFCON1 level of serious consideration in their diner discussions, they got me thinking about the difference between films that are easy viewing, and the films that would actually be good for my psyche. As for the Nutcracker, for anyone who hasn't been to see it (or went and still didn't have a clue what happened) check out the synopsis on wiki. What struck me about the version I saw at the London Colosseum, was whilst the hero had several bells of christmas pudding knocked out of him, our heroine stood whimpering, doing precisely nothing about it.

With this in mind, and considering the detrimentally damaging explosion of Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, I think it's now doubly important to really study the themes being fed to people, and particularly young girls, through the mode of film.

In the next blog post, I'm going to have done some serious film/tv research (woe is me), looking for films at the extremes of both ends of the spectrum. I'll put together a list of reviews, specifically studying the criteria of what that film teaches the viewer.

Until next time!

Why our feminist rights go hand in hand with LGBT-phobia.

I think it's true of a lot of women when I say that for myself, I'm still learning the various ways that I'm being oppressed as a woman. I was even reluctant to write that sentence for fear of being ridiculed and labelled as an angry feminist. I'm not angry. In fact most of the time, I feel I'm quite passive about the negative experiences I have as a woman. I am regularly no more peeved than I would be if I saw someone else in the lunch queue receiving a bigger pile of chips than me. It irks me, but I never used to do anything about it.

Now, in being exposed to all the facts and figures of the inequality of the sexes (because that's what feminism is really about, equality) like the 30% difference in pay, or the expectations of childcare, I'm getting more curious about what the route of the problem is. There is the historical context of how things have always been done, and I used to think that was it. We just hadn't shifted out of the old ways yet. This doesn't quite make sense though, because there must have been an underlying cause that made it happen in the first place, and what makes it a persistent problem today.

I know I seem to be generalising a worldwide problem here, feminist issues being as extreme as basic human rights in other parts of the world, but LGBT rights being on the same kind of spectrum, I figured there must be a link.

I didn't really start to think about this until I met my current classmate. He's a normal guy, watches TV, studies Graphic Design, lives with his mum. And you could say it's quite a normal thing, however wrong, that gay men make him feel uncomfortable. I've come across it more than once, where people are more comfortable with gay women than they are gay men. Straight men watch lesbian porn, and girls get drunk and "experiment" and this is all acceptable behaviour in modern society. I was having a conversation with the previously mentioned classmate about feminist issues after a contextual studies class discussing Laura Mulvey's theory "The Male Gaze", and find that he's quite open about the fact that women are more suited to "feminine" roles such as taking care of children, or primary school teachers. When I asked about the position of a head teacher, he said it would probably be more suitable for a man to be in a position of power.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A guy in his early 20s having such archaic beliefs on the position of women in the world. A man with a similar exposure to the world as me, growing up in the same place and with similar interests when it comes to popular culture and line of work. He's basically telling me that if he and I were working for the same company and a promotion opportunity came up for a managerial position, that he would have the upper hand regardless of skill because he's a man and better suited for it.

With this level of thinking in mind, I got to thinking about his extreme homophobia (He's been known to jump 10 feet out of his seat if a male classmate so much as brushes his shoulder). The physiology involved with sexuality and gender identity is something I'm interested in, but I am in no way an expert, so bear with me on the stereotype. If you were to imagine up a stereotypical gay man, you'd imagine him with effeminate qualities. Not everyone would, the experiences of people being so varied, but your average human being would. And this is because they are the qualities of a gay man that stand out. They stand out because of how the brain works. When the brain is scanning the environment, it notices the changes in something familiar, and when something is unfamiliar, it feels uncomfortable and tries to rationalise it as simply as it can, very often without conscious thought. To any kind of person, the qualities and characteristics that stand out in a person are the ones that don't quite belong, from their own unique view of the world.

I think the link between homophobia and female oppression is simple. He thinks it's less to be female. He thinks that if you come out a girl, that your position in the hierarchy of things, no matter how hard you work at life, will always be lower down than a man's position. Women can and do wear typically men's clothes, and it's seen as empowering, but it's less acceptable for a man to wear a dress. I don't think this kind of thinking comes from active thought or observation, neither do I think it's the malicious degradation of women's ability to accomplish in life. I think it stems from the same kind of thinking that had girls reading Housekeeping Monthly and the men conditioned to work and keep a family in the 50s. A man's job was to keep a woman, and bring money in. If you did any less, you weren't "manly", and if you weren't "manly", you were "girly", applying derogatory connotations to all kinds female identifiers. The fact that gender identity is such an unknown subject (I certainly wasn't taught it at school), means that people are unaware of it, despite their own private experience of their own sex, because they are conditioned to be a certain way due to their upbringing.

Unfortunately, the outcome of this is that female qualities belong in women, and for them to exist in men, causes upset in a man's mind, making them think that these men are lacking.

I've been heckled before for speaking out about gay rights, with people saying that there are bigger issues in the world than the right for marriage equality. But if you imagine an entire world of people not realising the full spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity, but actually being forced by social propriety to act and behave a certain way, the repercussions can be felt in all aspects of human behaviour.