¡Viva la opresión!

Recently I have been struck by the profoundly embedded nature of certain –isms.

Most people would agree that, in the professional world – the glass ceiling, wage differentials and the occasional sexual harassment lawsuit not withstanding – sexism is a phenomenon that rarely rears its ugly head. ;-)

Seriously, most women would probably agree that their male colleagues don’t apparently treat them any differently because they are women. Their professional opinion and expertise are respected. Their voice is heard and considered. They are not (obviously) leered at. Most men would spontaneously agree that they see no difference in ability and potential contribution between their male and female colleagues.

Similarly, most people would agree that differently abled people are not sufficiently catered for by society. When our privilege is pointed out to us, we feel ashamed and we agree that more should be done. We even vow to try and be more inclusive ourselves, to think about the difficulties that the blind person, the deaf person or the wheelchair-user confront daily.

Yet, those are conscious thoughts. Reasoned reflections. They are not knee-jerk reactions conditioned into us. The reality is very different.

I was recently involved in organising a professional networking event, including presentations and a cocktail buffet. Each person on the organising committee (the gender split was 50/50) contributed according to her/his abilities.

However, come the night of the actual event, who poured the drinks and handed round the nibbles? Who kept an eye out to make sure everyone had whatever they needed in terms of sustenance? Yep. The women.

Now, to be fair, I’d say that women are probably simply more likely to think about these things. It’s like the last toilet roll being an automatic trigger for us. How much this is due to gender genetics and how much to how we were brought up is moot. But I’m not letting my male co-volunteers off the hook. They have eyes, don’t they? They see us serving and it doesn’t occur to them to lend a hand? And my female co-volunteers? No, it didn’t occur to them either that all the people serving were women, until of course I pointed it out.

And I intend to point it out more vociferously at the next meeting because, while I was pouring wine in anticipation of the end of the presentation, I wasn’t able to give that particular talk my attention. While I was handing round canapés, I wasn’t able to network properly and, indeed, I was casting myself in a non-professional light.

Think about it.

Think also on this story my eight-year-old told me: a fellow student recently broke his leg and has a cast. He now has to walk at the back of the line, because he takes more time getting up the stairs to the classroom on the fourth floor and the other kids can’t be held up.

In addition, my child has just learnt that she will need glasses. She informs me that she will not wear them for gym because glasses are not allowed in gym class.

What do these attitudes teach my child and her classmates about solidarity towards differently abled people? What do they teach the differently abled children (whether their difference in ability is permanent or temporary)? Ah yes. Leave behind those who are weaker. Let them deal with their own problems. The only thing that counts is that the majority get to carry on doing the things they’ve always done, the way they’ve always done them.

Harrowing, isn’t it?

6 thoughts on “¡Viva la opresión!

  1. Seriously, most women would probably agree that their male colleagues don’t apparently treat them any differently because they are women. Their professional opinion and expertise are respected. Their voice is heard and considered. They are not (obviously) leered at. Most men would spontaneously agree that they see no difference in ability and potential contribution between their male and female colleagues.

    It depends on the field. When it’s a male-dominated field like, say, IT, being treated differently for being a woman is to be expected, and men make up justifications for why it’s acceptable, including making arguments from evolutionary psychology.

  2. I agree, Restructure!, though I wouldn’t have cited IT as an example. How about the petrochemical industry? Now there’s a male-dominated field. In my experience, IT falls into the “most people” category.

  3. My five year old asked me why “the girls never win” on the Food Network competition shows. So I had to explain a bit about sexism and how it is like racism (which we had already talked about). I don’t want her to feel that doors are closed to her. Horrible that something should be so obvious to her at this age.

    About the glasses – I wonder if shatterproof glasses would be permitted? I can understand potential safety concerns with ball sports etc.

  4. Wow. Very thought provoking- especially about the women, and the differently abled kids at school. I have a friend who recently died who was an African American gentleman who dedicated his life to helping deal with accommodations and the Americans for Disability Act. Only because of him was I aware of how resistant many businesses and governments are to making the changes that they are supposed to make. Very very sad that the kids at school are suffering the same fate.

  5. Somehow we tend to get up and help serve naturally. Is it because we are naturally caregivers and caretakers?

    The comment that stood out for me was
    “But I’m not letting my male co-volunteers off the hook. They have eyes, don’t they? They see us serving and it doesn’t occur to them to lend a hand?” True, why do they not pitch in? In this day and age it should be more natural.

    “Seriously, most women would probably agree that their male colleagues don’t apparently treat them any differently because they are women. Their professional opinion and expertise are respected. Their voice is heard and considered.” This I disagree with, but perhaps I am cynical. I tend to see a touch of disrespect in every conversation with my male colleagues. I feel that somewhere, deep down, they still wonder what we are doing at the adults table…

    Beth

  6. @Lori: Food Network disappoints me on oh so many levels, that being one of them. They also have a lot of racefail – in terms of representation, to be sure, but my favourite example is the outcome of the most recent Food Network Star series, which was won by some white woman whose culinary talents seemed like nothing so much as the offspring of Sandra Lee and Rachel Ray. They had some competitors of colour, but the white woman still won. Ugh.

    The only thing that counts is that the majority get to carry on doing the things they’ve always done, the way they’ve always done them.

    Harrowing indeed – it’s an erasure of your existence, or at best, a “seen but not heard” mentality that negates your personal agency and denies your worth, relegating you to the closet of Problems That Will Magically Disappear if We Refuse To Talk About them … and I dunno ’bout y’all but it’s getting awfully claustrophobic in here…

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