Sexism 3 Essay, Research Paper
The three articles chosen for my critical examination are as follows: Jewish, Women, and Lacking Class , by B. Burstow; White Privilege and Male Privilege, by P. McIntosh; Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, by S. Pharr. These three articles have been grouped together due to a common theme they all share. The theme is invisibility , associated specifically with prejudice, privilege, and norms . Together, these three articles should illustrate the tremendous influence of invisibility, i.e. when one cannot see a problem or its origin, one cannot relate to it or to its solutions. This invisibility has directly defined our societies understanding of normalcy; and, its effects are twice as damaging as just oppression itself, for it hinders the forward progress of prejudice elimination by potentially masking its detrimental effects.
Burstow s article Jewish, Women, and Lacking Class , begins by introducing the concept of invisibility in the oppression of Jewish women. Unlike other forms of oppression, anti-Semitism is often disregarded as a true form of oppression, and this disregard is in itself responsible for a hidden level of prejudice.
One aspect of the invisible dynamic of Jewish oppression was created through historical intensification. For example, anti-Semitism was tremendously reinforced in the nineteenth century with the creation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This false document meticulously described a Jewish plot to eventually control the world. This overthrow would be achieved by the gradual takeover of financial markets and religions [Burstow 78]. Along with this affair, two centuries later, was the rise of white supremacist beliefs, particularly of the holocaust. These horrific ideologies maintained that Jews were outside of the master race , thus making them subordinate creatures along with other minorities. These two events, accompanied by various other historical episodes, caused a number of stereotypes and powerful myths to surface: Jews are greedy with money; they have identifiable characteristics; they are arrogant and loud; they are dirty etc.
Another invisible dynamic is the marginalization (trivialization) of the Jewish culture in society. The media reflects this through its particularly Christian-dominating attributes. From public holiday messages to movies, the Jewish tradition has been trivialized.
The difficulties that Jewish women principally face are anti-Semitism, sexism, and classism. These three factors, along with the hidden nature of Jewish oppression, create a dilemma that is presumably more difficult to problematize and deal with than a very obvious prejudice.
The main concept of McIntosh s White Privilege and Male Privilege, is that privileged persons of a group (usually the majority) can identify the disadvantages of the unprivileged; yet, find it quite difficult to recognize that their own advantage is that they are overprivileged.
As part of a normative group, frequently the majority, it is often taken for granted that their are unearned privileges given to you. You consider yourself neutral or normal to which everyone else is to be judged against or subjected to. If you are part of this norm , you are blind to these invisible gifts, and cannot possibly understand the perspective of the oppressed until enlightenment of some potent form. The people that fall into this category have been institutionally or systematically taught not to see it, and must be therefore, socially retrained and/or reeducated.
There is an important distinction that must be understood when examining the concept of privilege, and that is: privilege is power not strength. Having unearned privileges may open many doors of opportunity, but this should be considered an external power; for, the privileged have not worked for this advantage. Whereas, those who have had to work for those privileges, have used an internal strength and possibly have grown or learned from the experience.
The white male, in this case, is the privileged person. Not realizing the advantages hidden in various institutions, he develops a system of denial towards his own advantages and lives as a right-handed person in a right-handed world.
Pharr s Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, Illustrates homophobia as one of three major means of establishing and maintaining gender dominance. It is such an intense form of oppression, that homosexuals find themselves dividing into two groups: those who choose to hide their sexuality and therefore, live in fear of discovery; and those who show their sexuality and face the dangers of various types of abuse.
The dominant fallacy associated with homophobia is the belief that its roots originate in the bible. However, most arguments using cases from the bible to support homophobic bigots are often misinterpreted and exaggerated. For example, the issues of morality in relationships have been focused incorrectly–content rather than gender, should be the primary focus of morality. In fact, the author profoundly continues later in stating that the avoidance of gender roles, in particular, would result in the elimination of sexism.
Homophobia is used to revitalize the nuclear family and the patriarchal system. Any form of family outside this accepted norm is deviant and is therefore, a threat to those in power (men). Once a woman steps out of line , i.e. no longer performs her role, or practices submission, she becomes a threat and is labeled (lesbian). This is the source of the commonly associated and reciprocated terms: feminist, man-hater, lesbian.
The weapons of sexism, in addition to homophobia, are economics and violence. The economic weapon is designed perfectly for the male head of the household, and all men in general. It consists of: depriving women the opportunity to train for high paying jobs; then using their inability as an excuse not to give them these positions of rank; and finally, allowing an affirmative action policy to give the illusion of equality. These deprived women have no choice but to seek the aid of an economically sound man to survive. Violence, the third weapon, is used to reinforce the domineering quality of the patriarchal system. It is used as a tool for power and control for men, and leads to submission and obedience in women.
All three articles connect in many facets allowing a clear opportunity for critical evaluation. They support one another by validating the existence of various fallacies and the theme of invisibility, rendering distinct arguments against discrimination.
In Jewish, Women, and Lacking Class , Burstow establishes a very effective range of arguments, by balancing history with problematized issues. Burstow formulates a very interesting and relevant translation when she demonstrates how stereotypes of Jewish mothers are deeply affected by sexism:
We are loud; we are aggressive ; we are pushy; we have no manners at all. Translation: we feel entitled to speak without having to ask permission; we insist that our agendas be addressed; we say precisely what we think without pretense or cosmetics; we try to stay away from garbage categories; we do not lower our voices. And when we analyze, we exude strength, conviction, passion, intensity [Burstow 80].
This argument clearly shows how threatened society, principally men, feel when subjected to this strength of character from Jewish women. Their strength challenges the dominant ideologies of men and consequently seems to issue a more vulnerable state within men; thus, men are forced to use stereotyping defense mechanisms. This is a very relevant point–for this defense mechanism is used not only to thwart the positive efforts of Jewish women, but any women who simply wish to exist as men do (equal to, not subordinate to men).
This relates particularly well to Pharr s article, Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism. When a women confronts a man with a passionate difference of opinion or insubordinate behaviour, which directly challenges the man s status of power, she is termed lesbian (deviant).
A key fallacy and dilemma is identified with Pharr s use of problematization: dominant characteristics are considered normal. Heterosexism is so widely observable, that it is arbitrarily regarded as a norm . Science and logic justify that a phenomenon more often occurring than another, does not pertain to normalcy; rather, it suggests a higher chance of reoccurrence of that majority. This logic should correspond to every aspect of life and would, if implemented, eliminate all prejudice. However, as the issue stands now majority and acceptance equal normalcy (the standard); other, equals deviancy.
This fallacy is demonstrated further when examining the invisibility of white, male privilege (McIntosh). It is extremely difficult for a white male to observe his unearned privileges due to the many years of desensitization to these advantages. Over time, these subtle advantages have become normal (invisible). From a man s point of view, a women is at a disadvantage and must work hard to establish the rank of men in society. But where is the work of white men? McIntosh indicates a greater problem by issuing a new focus of deviancy: If the white male is the standard to which all must be judged , then those who are judged are considered (already) deviant (inferior). Until women and minorities attain this white male standard, they are deviant by virtue of the fallacy mentioned previously. However, women have been at a disadvantage from the beginning, due to institutions designed to perfectly template the white male. Therefore, women can never attain equality within these institutions; will remain deviant and thus, inferior. A perfectly designed system for women to laboriously slave over, and men to thrive off of.
This argument, outlined by all three authors, clearly exhibits the negative power of this system. It is this very system that is responsible for the violence against those who are seen as inferior. In the case of Jewish women and men, who were considered inferior to the Aryan race, violence was a weapon of dominance and control. White supremacists used the idea of deviancy to an extreme and massacred millions of people. The case of homosexuality challenging heterosexuality demonstrates this power as well. Heterosexual ideologies maintain that all other sexual lifestyles are deviant, thus, inferior, and must be controlled– violence must, therefore, be utilized. This violence is seen as well, when a women challenges a man s dominance , and he feels he must reissue control over his deviant woman; thus, she is beaten and manipulated like an object. Pharr summarizes this dynamic of male violence as follows:
Men physically and emotionally abuse women because they can, because they live in a world that gives them permission. Male violence is fed by their sense of their right to dominate and control, and their sense of superiority over a group of people who, because of gender, they consider inferior to them [Pharr 85].
In nearly all cases, it is the white male who unknowingly and/or arbitrarily assumes the role of the superior individual; and it is the women and minorities regarded as inferior by their deviation from the white male s system ideologies.
By virtue of the various issues raised by the articles I examined, I find many negative feelings are evoked within myself. The fact that I am a male student studying predominantly feminist issues, is, in my opinion, the most prevalent cause of my overwhelming feelings. I have lived for nineteen years as a male with unearned white privilege, and unearned male privilege. To suddenly realize that the invisibility (normalcy) of my status is the reason for the difficulty of the oppressed, is not easy to handle and accept at first.
One would assume that as a privileged person, I would eventually pick up on the detrimental effect of this system on women and minorities; however, it was not until the material in this course, that I could truly understand the merits of my status and its negative effect upon others. I am devastated and angry at myself for not realizing how unfair the social system is designed towards women and minorities. Although I never considered myself superior to anyone, I have taken my privileges for granted. What I have considered normal in the past, I never asked why it was so. In other words I have never problematized the issue of normalcy.
I have encountered a very striking personal experience when examining the issue of gender roles in the examined articles. I have always practiced typically feminine duties around the house. For example: cooking and cleaning. When other people discovered this, they commented positively. However, when females have attempted typically masculine tasks they are looked down upon and commented on negatively. I became frustrated with this constant unfair barrage of attitudes. When I problematize this issue, It became clear as to why men react the way they do to women who attempt this unusual behaviour. By disrupting the ideologies of the patriarchal system with this behaviour, women threaten the (undeserved) power of males; however when men break the trend, they have the right to do so, because of their (and societies) notions of male superiority.
The most influential of all articles was Pharr s Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism. I was truly struck when she outlined the three weapons of sexism, but particularly the weapon of economics. Our economic institutions have been developed through history to benefit myself (the white male). An example of the system s dynamics are easily seen: when a woman attempts to seek financial stability she is hindered by a lack of training and acceptance. This failure causes the women to seek a man for that economic stability and thus, makes her feel lesser of the two. To make the situation worse, a few women and minorities are given high ranking job opportunities to show that it is possible to achieve economic status if you work hard. Now those women who didn t succeed, feel even more pathetic and accept inferiority.
I am enraged at myself. I remember things I have said such as: she just didn t work hard enough , or people deserve what they get , and see only now the ignorance of my logic. These seekers of equality have not been given a fair chance from birth. It seems to come down to a genetic game of dice: oppressed or not oppressed? But by what right should certain characteristics have dominance over others?
Despite my efforts, it is still difficult to for me to see the world from another point of view. It is like trying to become left-handed in a right-handed world. Though, when I read the list compiled by McIntosh, things became much clearer. My unearned privileges, which I considered normal, surfaced to haunt me. It is truly incredible how deeply rooted and dogmatic my unearned privileges are, and how unfair they are. I have acquired an unjustified rank in society and have been taught to accept it as normal (even by those who do not believe in the system), and this is truly alarming.
Perhaps the most tragic aspect of my enlightenment, is that I realize that most other men still live in the ignorant mode of dominant ideology. The feminist movement has taken great strides, but is truly one-sided in nature. Men, or anyone in positions of unearned privilege, must take the step of eliminating their ignorance; thus, causing the damaging invisible oppressions of our social institutions to become visible oppressions. And this visibility along with a culturally accepted redefining of normal will lead certain individuals of society towards a much deserved equality.
Burstow, Bonnie. Jewish, Women, and Lacking Class . Women in Society. Comp. Linda Briskin. York University, North York: Beta Reproductions Inc., 1996. 77-81.
McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege and Male Privilege. Women in Society. Comp. Linda Briskin. York University, North York: Beta Reproductions Inc., 1996. 48-53.
Pharr, Suzanne. Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism. Women in Society. Comp. Linda Briskin. York University, North York: Beta Reproductions Inc., 1996. 82-87.
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