Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Blogging against sexism

It's blog against sexism day here in the blogosphere, organized by Vegankid, as much as such things are organized.

Here's a great post from Flea, very apropos for today.

I don't know what to say today, and I've been thinking about it all day. How do we fight sexism? Sexism is so structural, so much of everything in U.S. culture, intertwined with racism, classism, imperialism, colonialism, heterosexism. How do we fight any one part of the structure without taking it all down? And do I really, from my rather privileged position in the power structure, dare to take it down? Do I dare to fight against my white privilege? My middle-class educational opportunities and the subsequent benefits? My property ownership? My ability to use enormous amounts of resources for my personal pleasure?

Because I'm sitting here in a warm house, and it's cold outside, so I'm happy to be sitting in my warm house, and I'm sitting on a couch with my laptop computer which cost more than the annual salary some people can earn in a year, and I'm blogging against sexism. That's the idea, anyways.

When what I really should be doing, if I'm serious about this whole thing, is reducing my impact on the world (in terms of resource usage), because sexism doesn't just affect middle-class white women, but it hurts women who are poor, especially in developing countries, women of color, and women without educational opportunities a lot more than it hurts me. What I really should do is turn off the computer, sell the house and buy or rent something much smaller (either renting or buying is problematic in its own way, really, and being homeless doesn't seem beneficial as an alternative), and put my own resources (time, skills, energy) to better use, and use fewer of the overall resources.

I try to take baby steps, and try not to fear losing my privileges in hopes that others will gain some. And more, I fear what happens as we hit the Malthusian wall harder and harder.

And recognizing that I fear losing privilege helps me understand why even emphathetic men still fear real change or mis-recognize their privilege so they don't have to own up to it. That doesn't mean I give them a pass about sexist crap, but that I try to recognize the systemic issues, too. But it means I don't get to give myself a pass, either.

So, my baby steps today. I taught three classes. I taught Lacan in theory, his essay on Poe's "Purloined Letter." In first year writing, we brainstormed about essay topics. And in Chaucer, a group of students led the beginnings of our discussion of "The Miller's Tale," that most incredibly structured, and yes, sexist, of narratives.

One of the hardest things for me as a teacher has been to admit that I'm a sexist. I was raised to be a sexist, and I've read research on how teachers at all levels treat male and female students differently, and I recognized that I do it, too. The good thing, there, is that in recognizing my sexism, I can work against it. I can become more conscious of how I treat students, and try to push them all to learn as much as possible, treating them as gendered individuals, valuing their genderings. I think I'm a better teacher for all of my students, female and male, because I think about how my sexism enters in.

How do you teach Lacan (or Freud, for that matter) without teaching sexism? I try to show how sexism is inherent in their system(s), and problematic within the system(s). I try to show that sex isn't sex, but a signifier within the system of signifiers. But I'm not convinced, and I don't think my students understand the distinction. On the other hand, we'll soon be reading Barbara Johnson, and then Virginia Woolf, and bell hoooks.

Chaucer, well, "The Miller's Tale" is a wonderful way to see how medieval English culture valued females in certain ways, and conceived of especially very young women as rather amoral, and incapable of real moral understanding. At least in Chaucer's tale, Allison isn't punished for her amorality, and her willingness to have sex with Nicholas, or to make Absalon kiss her ass (unlike, say, the ways that some "moralists" today want to punish women for having sex by making them responsible for the "consequences"). We didn't get to talk about that aspect of the tale yet, but we're heading there soon enough.

We did talk about compulsory heterosexuality in the "Knight's Tale" because really, considering a tale that begins with a war-enforced marriage, and then basically tells the story of a woman who has to marry even though she doesn't want to, you have to talk about it. In a way, Saturn prompting Arcite's death shows that the patriarchy is willing to kill even its own sons to enforce heterosexuality.

And I talked to colleagues, male and female, and shared my super secret knowledge of Romeo and Juliet performed by Peeps (which really, with the Peeps oriented religious holiday coming up, is totally appropriate, right?), and the even more secret Lego Bible stories (both of which are just slightly less secret than they were before, I suppose). Laughing at the patriarchy is so much more fun when it involves Legos.

So, baby steps. Joy and laughter when possible.

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