I am NOT just a “Feisty Latina”: Microaggressions in everyday life

I would like to start off by stating that when I am vocal about racism, sexism, and other problematic language; I am NOT to be dismissed as just another “feisty Latina”.

As a Latina feminist, living and going to college in DC, I live in a place predominantly surrounded by liberal individuals who understand the dangers and evils of prejudice. This complicates the way in which power dynamics are viewed, discussed and how their role in my life, and the life of the individuals with whom I interact, is interpreted. In a predominantly white, higher-to-upper middle class, social-justice-oriented institution, it is sometimes hard for me to explain my experience of the subtle, insidious effects of sexist and/or racially-charged microaggressions.

The word “microaggression” (Click Here to Learn More About Microaggressions) was coined by Chester M. Pierce in the 1970s, and several psychologists have since worked with the term. More recently, Derald Wing Sue defined microaggressions as: “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people.” Microaggressions are usually said without negative intentions, by people who have the privilege of not being aware of how or why their words are hurtful. Peggy McIntosh expanded the conception of privilege- the exploration of how groups can either be systemically advantaged or disadvantaged from gendered discussions to racial discussions. In her working paper, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’(1989), McIntosh acknowledges her own discovery of her privilege when she writes: “As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.” A particular sore spot is the mentioning of white privilege (see “White Privilege the Invisible Backpack” for more information) and extensions of it, which come in the form of offhanded, offensive language. Microaggressions are usually casually brought up, with no intention of being insulting- they are, however, offensive, even if they are unintentionally so.

As McIntosh mentions, it is hard for people to recognize their own privilege. This leads to people perpetuating racism or sexism in ever-so-insidious ways, even if they do not intend on being offensive. The fact that microaggressions are not intentionally offensive makes it hard for those who are less privileged, or who are triggered or insulted by them to explain how or why they feel their identities being belittled, challenged or otherwise insulted. At this point in history, it is increasingly rare for people to say blatantly racist, sexist or homophobic slurs without natural social sanctions serving as consequences for those statements. However, the mainstreaming and generally privileged nature of “whiteness” in American society still allows for the perpetuation of racial and/or sexist stigma through the use of microaggressions- most of which come from the oversimplification of or the same ignorance of the complex nature and connection of race and identity in communities of color, that fuel racism.Personally, as a Latina, my experience of being a minority is new, and has been limited due to the fact that I was brought up in Miami, FL. In Miami, I was surrounded, mostly, by Hispanic people like myself. At the time, I did not recognize the privileges that came from being a member of the demographic that was a local majority.

In an environment in which I am new to being a minority, and some people are not used to minorities, or Latinas, it is difficult for me to pinpoint and express the ways in which I’ve been affected by microaggressions. Recently however, a friend who actively tries to understand me and my culture offhandedly called me a“feisty Latina”. I laughed at this, because I am proud of my reputation of speaking up for what I value, and I am proud of my heritage. I was not directly hurt by the statement- but it did make me more conscious (and self-conscious) of my identity contingencies. Identity contingencies, as described by Claude Steele in his book Whistling Vivaldi, are “the things you have to deal with in a situation because you have a given social identity”. Steele argues that identity contingencies affect us when they are compounded by stereotype threats, which are instances in which you are aware of a stereotype about one of your identities and refrain from doing things that would affirm those stereotypes. This played out, in my personal life, later that night.

Alex, his friend John and I went out for a late-night dessert was when I discovered just how insidious the effects of microaggressions can be. At the shop, my friend Alex and I were looking at books together while John was browsing in a nearby section. Then, some man came up to us, looked at me from head-to-toe, pointed at me, and told Alex he had a “hot friend” (me). The way the stranger looked at me, with a perverted look in his eyes, and then didn’t acknowledge me infuriated me. I could not believe how he could simultaneously pour over my body so intently and act as if I don’t exist; it felt like objectification at its most revolting. I wanted to coolly tell him that it was not acceptable to be disrespectful. I wanted to yell at him that he was being a misogynistic ass. I wanted to say something- but I didn’t. The first thought that raced through my mind was to make sure I wasn’t overreacting or just being feisty. That identity contingency, which I usually ignore, rendered me unable to respond to this strange man’s disrespectful behavior. THAT is the threat that microaggressions pose- they are so subtle that they go unnoticed, but ultimately lead to self-policing behaviors. Racism is not as overt as it once was, but it is pervasive. Racism has become so ingrained in our society that although we may know there is more genetic difference between people of the same “race” or “ethnicity” than between people of different “races” or “ethnicities” we still divide people along those arbitrary lines. We still assume that the “feisty Latina” and “angry black woman” stereotypes have some validity. Racism looks differently now, it is systemic, ingrained in our thought and is usually a result of self-policing which results from the fear of validating negative stigma about one’s own race/ethnicity.

What I learned from it all:

I was NOT being a feisty Latina. I was being a human, who was angered by racist and sexist language.

 

 

References

Sue, Derald Wing; Capodilupo, Christina M.; Torino, Gina C.; Bucceri, Jennifer M.; Holder, Aisha M. B.; Nadal, Kevin L.; Esquilin, Marta. Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice. American Psychologist, v62 n4 p271-286 May-Jun 2007.

McIntosh, Peggy, ‘White privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’,Peace and Freedom (July/August 1989), 9-10; repr. in Independent School, 49 (1990), 31-35. http://people.westminstercollege.edu/faculty/jsibbett/readings/White_Privilege.pdf

Steele, Claude. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. W. W. Norton & Company, 2011. Print.

“Tough Guise” and “Women’s” Issues: A critical look at American Masculinity

On Thursday, April 3, 2014, American University hosted Jackson Katz, to discuss the role of men in sexual assault and gendered violence prevention. Jackson Katz led the discussion at the “More than a Few Good Men: A Lecture on American Manhood and Violence Against Women” event.

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion, American University’s Athletics, Women’s Initiative, the Panhellenic community and AU’s Peer Educators for the Elimination of Relationship and Sexual Violence (PEERS).

This event was introduced by Karrie Diekman and Daniel Rappaport (read more about his role as a Sexual Assault Prevention Coordinator at AU here), who introduced the event as a kick-off event for the events that will take place in April, as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Jackson Katz is a leader in gender violence prevention education. He is also the founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) one of the original bystander initiatives. It is a gender violence prevention program that targets athletes as leaders in the violence prevention and bystander intervention fronts of sexual assault prevention.

Intro to Jackson Katz, a TED talk from the past:

The role of men:

His opening argument is that on a political, social and emotional level, men are following the lead of women who have led the fight against sexual assault, and gendered violence prevention. He explains that “there is no doubt that men and boys have been helped by their [the work of women] efforts” to prevent these issues. Later, he explains the connection between labeling these issues as “women’s issues” and “gendered” issues can be confusing; and how in our patriarchal society, it prevents men from seeing past their privilege and acknowledging their role in preventing these issues. Following this, he explained how the language used to describe sexual assault, and it’s passive nature, perpetuates the idea that men are not the issue (Ex. rape is discussed passively: “a woman was raped” not affirmatively, as in the statement: a “man raped a woman”.

“You can’t take gender out of the equation”

Katz explains that using gender-neutral language in fields where men are dominant, is pragmatic. He explains however, that erasing “gender” doesn’t get rid of gendered issues, it erases their importance. The erasure of the “gendered” nature of these issues, he explains, is that it serves men, who leverage more power in our society.

“It’s embarrassing to be congratulated for doing what men should be doing”

He conjectures that in a society in which it is unremarkable for men to stand up for women, less assault and gendered violence would exist. The problem is, he is, that the perpetrators of these issues are much more normal than people want to expect- this makes people uncomfortable, he explains, because it forces people to reflect introspectively about their own capacity to partake in such behavior.

Race and Violence

Katz connects racism to violence against women by explaining that “when a man of color does it [is violent or assaults women]” issues are seen as a problem associated with their race. On the contrary, stereotypically, when white men assault women, whether it be sexually or violently, the violence is rationalized by blaming it on alcoholism, childhood drama, and mental health issues.

Feminism and “Feminazis”

Katz opened the discussion on feminism by discussing how in-congruent it is to believe in American, egalitarian ideals and not self-identify as feminist:

“if you are an american, and you believe in justice, freedom and equality, and you are NOT a feminist, then please explain your ideology”

What does “feminazi” mean? It is an amalgamation of the words “feminist” and “Nazis”. Feminists are some of the great “anti violence leaders in the our time, and of all time”. Nazi’s were the “embodiment” of the anti-Semitic, homophobic, genocidal glorification of masculine cruelty.

He later went on to say that feminists should not be demonized because:

“Feminists don’t hate men, they expect more from men because they have higher expectations of them.”

Masculine Push-back and Being a “Beta-Male”

Katz explained how men push-back against him.  He has been called names like “man-gina”, “beta male” or “Katz-trated” all of which get at the root of the issue of standing up for gendered violence. All of these names they equate compassion towards women as feminine, and violence towards women as masculine.

The Denouncement of Sexual Harassment in the Australian Army: 

Jackson Katz used the video to demonstrate the behavior that he hopes will be mirrored by leaders in all aspects of life which are affected by gendered harassment, assault or even slurs.

Risk Reduction in the Name of Prevention

Katz explored how risk reduction was promoted in the name of prevention, at the expense of depicting women as victims and men as perpetrators.  As an activist, in his twenties, he worked to try and find out how to invite men to prevent sexual assault.

Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP)

This program was the first program to utilize the bystander approach to include men in the conversation of sexual assault without labeling them “possible perpetrators”. He capitalized on the social capital of collegiate, male, athletes by targeting them as advocates for change. He explains that by strategically targeting men who have standing among their peers, he empowers them to challenge the broader understanding of masculinity and misogyny in their peer groups.

Wanna read more about Jackson Katz’ activism and MVP? Read his article Reconstructing Masculinity in the Locker Room: The Mentors in Violence Prevention Program (by clicking here).

Changing Culture

Jackson Katz stated that he makes a point of pointing out to his son, and the men he work with, that violence and violent behavior are not symptomatic of strength, so much as symptomatic of weakness. He argues that standing for justice and non-violence IS STRONG and that masculinity needs to be redefined. He responds to arguments that teaching men to stand up against violence is emasculating, by explaining that  by teaching boys to be emotional, sentient, socially engaged human being, he is not emasculating them, in fact, he is empowering them.

Tough Guise: Media Representation of Men *trigger warning for sexualized violence*

Jackson Katz created a video about the depiction of men in the media which perpetuates the idea of a narrowing, increasingly more violent embodiment of masculinity. See a clip here:

 

Women in the Museum!

I took this picture in the American History Museum

I took this picture in the American History Museum

In order to celebrate the beautiful weather we had yesterday, in DC, I decided to run down to the National Mall and enjoy the scenery as the winter ends and the spring begins. Once at the mall, I decided that I wanted to go see what was going on at the National Museum of American History for Women’s History Month (MARCH).

Do you know what the National American History Museum is doing for Women’s History Month? 

Nothing special.

I was very disappointed to hear that the museum wasn’t highlighting women differently in order to celebrate the women who have contributed to our country’s progress. Then I thought: have women just not contributed enough to our country’s progress as men? I knew that couldn’t be it so I decided to walk through the museum and document all of the times in which women are highlighted or mentioned throughout the exhibits. When I went through all of the exhibits I couldn’t help but notice that individual women were hardly highlighted. Yes, often there was mention of how “the women” helped the war effort during WWII, or how “women” were delegated to home life, or how “women” were helped by the introduction of electric kitchen appliances. “Women” were spoken about in plural, and usually, and the “women” that were anonymously depicted in the pictures that were paired with the general statements made about them, appeared to be white and middle-to-upper class.

To conclude:

Women HAVE contributed to America’s progress, and they SHOULD be more represented. Women are being more included, but people need to be more educated about what women have contributed to our history. History is HERstory too.

I took note of the women(and women’s organizations) highlighted by name (I may have missed some of the women, and I sure hope I did because although the list seems long, I literally had to scour the exhibitions for the mentioning of women):

Lucrecia Mott

Susan B. Anthony

Alice Paul

Rosalind Franklin

Mary Pickersgill

Columbia (I wrote about Columbia in my post about The Statue of Freedom which was modeled after her)

Lucy Caldwell

Harriet Beecher

Margaret Caldwell

Ladies Anti-Slavery Society, 1836

Ipswich Female Anti Slavery Society

Catherine and Mary Lynch

Mary Scott & her family

Girl Scout

Juliette Gordon Low

Rachel Carson

Julia Child

Gabby Douglass

Mary Walker

Eleanor Roosevelt

The Importance of having Women, like Columbia, on Top!

The Statue of Freedom

Who is Freedom? Freedom is the statue of a woman who stands atop the U.S. Capitol building.

Why does it matter that she’s on top?

Freedom, who is prominently located in the heart of DC, is one of the few statues of women. In fact, according to “America Needs More Stone-faced Women,” less than 8% of public statues honor women! There are many statues in DC, but  few of them depict women!

According to Bill O’Leary’s “Gender inequality, in form:

9 out of the 100 statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection are of women.

Our nation’s Capitol, a symbol of American, democratic, values has a woman standing on top of it, but contains few other representations of women within it. The Statue of Freedom is a rendering of the Goddess of Columbia, which is usually seen as the personification of the United States of America. I am baffled at the fact that women are given that much symbolic significance, yet they are not equally represented in statue form, or in our legislative bodies.

As Barry Schwartz points out in his article “Iconography and Collective Memory: Lincoln’s Image in the American Mind.”  “Arguments about statues often turn out to be arguments about the past and its legacy.” Statues are made to commemorate prominent historical figures, so that they will be remembered and so that a collective memory of them will be established. The fact that we have so few commemorative statues of women in the Capitol makes me question a couple of things:

  • Were women throughout history just not relevant enough to commemorate?
  • Do the lack of statues depicting women of achievement add to the inequality women face today?

In response to the first bullet, here’s a crash course on influential American Women from US history, explaining that there is MUCH to be sculpted in honor of women:

It’s nothing new, but people in the U.S. are FINALLY starting to pay more attention to the fact that women are vastly underrepresented in American legislative bodies. As per the Center for American Women and  Politics, in their Women in the U.S. Congress Fact Sheet: “Women currently hold 99, or 18.5%, of the 535 seats in the 113th U.S. Congress.”

What do statues have to do with power and the amount of women in Congress?

EVERYTHING. Culture reflects what society values, if our Capitol building primarily reflects the value of men, and the accomplishments of men throughout history, it will be less welcoming of women leaders. Women have less power in the United States, and the lack of statues reflects that.  After all, the lack of statues speaks loud and clear:  the accomplishments of women aren’t as celebrated as the accomplishments of men.

We need to commemorate the women who have shaped America, so that more women will run for office, take their power and change it for the better!