Media and non-normative identities: relation to blurry morality lines

Morality to most people sounds like an obvious topic. It goes without saying. You have an obligation to be your best self. A good person. That narrative is so prevalent in our society that it is a tension line in many of our portrayals, and it guides our self-reflection.
How can I be a good person?

Even the question: How can I be a good person? You’re not wondering how to choose the best course of actions. This is your identity. YOU ARE the good person, or you fail to be it. Many people think one can even be reduced to one’s actions. Functionally, there’s really no difference right? Since all I can see of you is your actions, how could anything else matter? You are what you do.

Others are not so certain of the answer to the question, or even that the question is the right one at all. Morality in itself is still an open question. What is one to do, and how?
There are several schools of thought, and this piece is not to discuss a possible answer. I will leave the reader to decide this for themselves.

However, we will discuss here how certain aspects of morality are intrinsically linked to other areas of identity portrayal. Specifically, this piece seeks to look at the fluidity that seems to interact across various axes of identity.

But first, let us lay the groundwork.  

 

Normative identities exist as archetypes.

You know what a normal person is supposed to be. Even if you actually can’t really pinpoint a true image or even point one in the streets, you know when you act how far you are from a normative line. We have books and diagnoses meant to act as guidelines within which to act, or more specifically, away from which not to stray.

This being said, you probably didn’t read those books.

You probably integrated norms via media and socialisation. This self-reinforcing cycle created a near infallible template for you to follow without actually making conscious the details of the rules. Beautiful osmosis.

Media has a nifty way of giving you the rules, like it would help a machine learn.
It gives you countless examples, and brands them as positive, or negative (I’m oversimplifying), and you get to infer the rules on your own. The beauty about all of this is that you do it subconsciously, since the examples are niftily hidden in entertaining narratives.

But can those examples truly give you a specific set of rules? Certainly they can’t be that similar?

That’s where archetypes come into play.

Writers can be original, but they use plot devices that are meant to make us understand their intents.

Intelligible codes that allow you to see the underlying messages and follow an action along without wondering if the poetry is about fish or transcendance.

Archetypes are the type example of a concept. Like a perfect bundle, the prototype of a category.  They are the most intelligible part of a code, and are thus a self-reinforcing recognizable pattern.
The more recognizable it is, the more it is used, the more recognizable it is.  Archetypes are thus attractive methods of representations.

We have many archetypes on different subjects, but usually one at the top of a hierarchy for each.

When writers of a show on TV create their characters, they use those archetypal templates and fill in the gaps with details useful to their plots.

 

Purity and virtue ethics

The archetypes of interest here are those related to gender.

You’ve probably heard of the Whore/Madonna dichotomy.

Women can be placed within these two (again, this is an oversimplicfication, there are other archetypes) categories, and their associated characteristics will follow the template of structure.

The whore archetype is a highly sexualised character. She is not reliable, and considered to be an object. This type of character is usually very strongly associated to loose or negative morals. Usually, those morals are anti-conformist, anti-traditional, and end up leaving her off with negative consequences.
But she is not outside of the value structure alltogeher. This type of woman is still desirable,and conforms to an esthetic. She willingly partakes in the pleasures. She is still fragile and to be protected, or at least would need it. This type of woman may be against a certain form of purity, but is not necessarily entirely villified.

Whatever happens, this type of character is fixed. The whore is the whore, and cannot be the Madonna. Only a drastic cut can turn her into something different, but more likely than not, the character will stay within the whore paradigm.

On the other hand, the Madonna character is not desired but highly valued. The Madonna exudes purity, conformism and tradition. This is not a sexualised character. Her morals are spotless, and in fact act as a guide for others to follow.

Clearly, these characters embody different aspects of the virtue ethics.

They are people to be or to avoid being. They are good intrinsically because of the virtues they embody, or bad intrinsically because of the virtues they fail to adhere to. The good or bad that befalls them, or even the people around them is not the main focus. The rules they follow are also not imperative. It is what they are.

And so these archetypes integrate morals and virtues in the character itself. In its personnality.

This is where we find the importance of purity.

If a character is pure, they fulfill this most important virtue.

Purity is achieved by certain ideals which are always contextual but considered to be universal.

For instance, virgins are understood to be devoid of sexuality and thus emblematic of purity.

Sexuality is considered to be sullying.  For a woman at least.

In this way, morality and gender intersect keenly. Since purity is a state that is supposedly perfect, there is no way to achieve it once it is lost.
You can strive towards it, but it is a constant effort.

You have to constantly strive upwards towards purity if you wish to profess to that virtue. You cannot at once be both pure and impure, but you can tend on a continuum, and people will recognize the striving towards one side or the other, simplifying the state to the intent.

You strive to be pure? Your actions speak to that? Then you are functionally pure.

The same is true on the other side.

 

Hierarchy of identities, archetypes and morality

The gender archetypes are not just for the feminine side. There are also masculine archetypes.
Those are allowed more variety.

This variety still strives upwards, but it does so over a hierarchical pyramid.  Arguably the same is true for the feminine archetypes, but the extremes are much stronger.

This pyramid goes as follows.

The top of the pyramid embodies a certain amount of virtues, all in one big bundle.

There are many masculine virtues such as strength, courage, will, intelligence etc (please note that I am not suggesting women cannot be or embody such characteristics, simply that they are majorly portrayed in media and literature as masculine traits, which in itself is problematic). Sometimes, some of the virtues are a bit contradictory. For instance, a man supposed to embody the virtue of strength should try to rely on this virtue instead of his intelligence in order to resolve a conflict.

So the archetype of the perfect virtuous man can be broken down into subsets of virtues, creating a lower tier of archetypes. The second level of the pyramid thus has men who embody some virtues, but are also lower than the top because they do not have the other virtues. This creates a number of subcategories of archetypes.

This can go on with even less embodied virtues, and thus more subcategories, and levels of the pyramid.

Regardless, if a character is one of those archetypes, he is supposed have these virtues intrinsically, or strive to develop them more. Whatever movement is shown basically just confirms the virtues alsready present in the character.

There is no real movement.

At least, most of the time.

 

Morality as an intrinsic part of identity?

Morality as the underlying justifying foundation to the hierarchy, illusion of validity.

As we can see, these characteristics are mostly believed to be intrinsic to the character. It is what the character is, not what he chooses for a while.

That’s an easy plot line.

How do you identify good and bad, if they are simply functions of contextual choices?

It becomes difficult to uphold a system if people in themselves cannot be held to morality standards, and their actions are simply those on trial. You cannot punish an action. You can try to stop an action, but you can only punish a person.

Therefore, it is much more convenient to assign the goodness or badness to the person themselves.
We can punish them or value them at will, and easily follow them as examples.

Our hierarchy of archetypes is based, as we saw, on virtues.
Why are these characteristics specifically considered to be virtues?

They are useful. They serve a purpose. To  make matters simpler, we say they are good.

As a general rule, we consider someone is good if they are brave.  Our hierarchies are not just accepted as. We justify them by the moral structure that we apply beneath it. This whole structure is thus static, because a static structure is more easily intelligble. When things don’t move and repeat, it’s easier to read them.

 

Set boundaries strongly enforced by society

There’s possibly a social imperative for consistency through time. Iinearity perhaps?

As the archetypes are intelligible, so do our actions need to be.
One single action is not meaningful on its own. Actions and codes are meaningful in a structural frame, in relation to other actions codes. Thus, it builds on itself to go in one directions.

There is more to it than simple intelligibility. There is a strong incentive to keep you in a single category.

Meaning, you are strongly adivsed to be good, but if you failed at some point, you are branded rather permanently, to keep you away from the “good side”, lest its pool be tainted. Since these catagories are supposedly intrinsic, fluidity from one side to the other is a troubling notion. If one can move, then one IS not something. One just does something.

The moral and gendered boundaries are thus strongly enforced.

Where you are on either side of those lines gets integrated in your personnality, and you begin to identify with it and justify it for yourself. Just like Nietzsche proposes, where you are on a side becomes the good side, no matter what flip you have to make to your perception in order to be on the “good” side.

People become ensconced in their positions and enforce others to stay with them on that side. Groups are formed around these archetypes.

Specifically it seems people are either one or another type of morality.

One is either good or bad, and is intelligible in this way.

We respect a criminal with a code (Ocean’s 11, The godfather).

It might be perhaps another way to promote commitment, and reduce social empowerment and mobility. You don’t want too much unrest.

Too much mobility.

 

Is it possible to move?

But like we should know by now, the human cannot be easily contained.

It is possible as we saw to move within the boundary of a morality line. You can become more of the same thing.

More rarely, you can cross that line once. Either you fall from grace, or you can be redeemed.

But usually, this can only happen once. People will not believe you can be redeemed twice.

“Fool me once”… etc.

Now, once you change, as we’ve seen, you lose your group. Hence strong morality lines serves as cohesive for group membranes as well.

Kegan proposes stages of moral and value appraisal. The first stages are not absolute morals, but they are enacted as absolute rules.

The later stages are a gradual abstraction for morality rules dictated by a group to dictated by the self, until an individual is capable of making decisions without having to rely on a set of rules. Arguably, very few people reach the last level (level 5) within which an individual may in fact mix and match his own set of rules when it is useful to him or to a purpose she sets herself.

Kegan and his 5 stages portray the difficulty to simply adopt a different set of morals, and how different genders are associated with a different hierarchy of morals.*

You can read about Kegan’s 5 stages of development here:

How to be an adult – Kegan’s theory of adult development. 

The 3 last stage of kegan’s development are the most interesting ones.

But they have also been criticized for their gendered hierarchical nature.

Indeed, the 3rd stage is the stage during which an individual cares most about the value structure of their own group, and acts in order not to be expelled from the group. This entails that the values themselves are not specifically important, and were they to change within the group, the individual might change accordingly.

This does not often happen, but it may.

This level is associated to pro-social behaviors that women tend to favor. Hence, according to this theory, women are usually at a lower level of development.

In level 4, the individual disassociates somewhat from the pressure of the group and integrates the value structure on its own alleged merit. The individual upholds values because he believes them to be good, and may even draw the ire of a group if it is in line with his moral values.

This is a level associated to potentially anti-social behaviors favored by men.

According to this theory, men are thus higher than women on the developmental scale.

But we are still left with this elusive 5th level, during which an individual may shed the necessity for a strict set of values and make their own set, understand that values are rules that can bend and may be shed when necessary.

We will return to this point.

The most important idea here, was simply to show that the hierarchy of morals was connected to the hierarchy of genders. Usually, these hierarchies and positions within them tend to stay relatively fixed, but the system seems to have built within it the possibility for movement.

So far, we have mostly been talking about normative representations. But what of non-normative representations? Although rare, they do exist and allow for beautiful paradoxes in the system to be highlighted.

Marginality in general is often portrayed in conjunction with rebellion against the mass, and thus with often alternative sets of morals.

Marginal, non-normative individuals tend to be ambiguous in nature. After all, normativity is simply another word for intelligible. The more intelligible a concept is, the more likely it is to become normative. If it does not become normative, it becomes a stereotype, and can thereafter be reinterpreted and owned by the group it targets (take for example the term “Queer”), but nonetheless, it is part of our stated reality. It is normative NOT to be the villified intelligible sides of reality.

On another note, usually, what is intelligible but villified is often erased from public exposure. Invisibilisation is one way that the normative mass may enforce a certain way of being, highlighting once again the importance of intelligibility.

Marginal individuals will tend to stray out of the intelligible in rebellion against the most common discourse. They will embrace novelty. The invisible will become them, and thus they create a new form of discourse. When they are portrayed (however rarely), it can be tricky to make them intelligbible. How do you portray what does not exist as a code to be understood by most. How do you portray “glubnark”, if no one knows what it is? How do you make people understand “glubnark” without minutes of exposition, and weave it into your narrative?

(playing with this notion, Rick and Morty introduce the Plumbus, and leave the audience mystified).

So ambiguity can be presented by mixing around already known codes.

For instance, mixing around codes belonging to masculinity and codes belonging to femininity.

And so we find that when there exists a hierarchy of masculinities, associated with its set of moralities, and femininities, associated with its set of moralities, and that these two system also exist in relation to one another, on a hierarchical stage of morality as well, it can become clear that ambiguous characters do not really permit clear morality lines.

Just like genes swap sides in the formation of sex cells to mix up the arrangements of your parents genes, so do the morality lines associated with each system.

These systems of gender exist structurally, which means only in relation to one another, and not as absolutes. Take the system apart, and it has no absolute meaning, and somewhat starts to fall apart.

 

Hence, the ambiguous characters exhibit the limits to that system, as though there existed clear sides to morality and only certain people with oddities could exist in the in between.

There exist multiple examples, in various genres, of the sort of ambiguous gendered and moral characters.

We have seen above the wonderful “HIM” from the powerpuff girls, although he is perhaps an exception as he is radically portrayed as evil (Mind you, evil from a very specific moral standpoint, which we will not delve into here).

We can start by looking at the clever Bugs Bunny.

He responds to contextual needs by applying gendered norms appropriately. He will interact in a semi-sexual manner with different genders as suits his needs. But you could not quite label Bug Bunny as a “GOOD” person. He delights in hurting his foes, sometimes unprovoked. He toys with them needlessly. He oscillates from prey to predator in each episode. He will avoid or enact violence as suits his will.

Bugs Bunny clearly shows that his morality lines can shift, enough that he stays surprising to the viewer who expects a constant morality line. 

Bugs Bunny has a hierarchy of moral puzzle sets that he can take in and out. Rules within rules that can be plugged in as seen fit. Bugs Bunny is one example of Kegan’s 5th level of development.

 

Tara, from United States of Tara is another example of shifting morality lines in direct relation to her gender.

She shows it even more plainly since her gender does not simply oscillate from male to female, but also within the gender pole hierarchies as well.

Whe is at times a mother, and at times an adolescent “loose girl”. She can be a loud but overall peaceful man, or a murderous young predator.

Her attitudes towards sex, relationships, institutions, violence and truth can and do shift with her various gendered personalities.

Her character though, is oddly unified.

All these aspects of Tara are contained in one body, and one group relationship, that surrounds the mental health of Tara. She is the ambiguous line shifting character.

 

Bugs Bunny and Tara are not the only ones. We will not examine them all, but we can still name examples such as Jack Randall from Outlander, or Jessica Jones.

There exist more.

If one comes to your mind, do not hesitate to mention them!

Arguably though, contextual morality might be useful and in fact closer to the reality of people’s actual inner lives. People are not, in fact, truly linear. People most of the time try to bend their own understanding of the rules to match what their innermost desires would want them to do. Or they simply decide that they can sometimes be exceptions to the rules. Simply in terms of gender, people negotiate their own daily, in every interaction and context they encounter, even if perhaps not in extreme variations.

But if you promoted this sort of idea,  then you’d need to teach people how to apply their capacity for change, lest they become too uncontrollable. If you think you have leeway (at least through rationalisation) , you might be tempted to make things easier for yourself and reduce cognitive dissonance, align you life constantly with desires, and refuse to follow a social order.

It is thus logical that our mainstream discourse is one that portrays linearity as the common ground.  

 

 

 

Mahault

Advertisements

The dating conundrum: try being a Trans woman…

Dating.

 

When you’re happily in a relationship, you forget what a privilege it is to share time and space with someone who is willingly doing it.

You can take for granted every little aspect of possibilities that get added when you are not a human alone.

 

Not everybody has these privileges, and there is an entire culture dedicated to trying to fix this gap. Dating apps, and websites, groups and events. Advice books and columns. Therapists, retreats, gurus, pickup artists.

Everyone has the magic solution, if you could just follow these easy steps.

 

The problem is, there isn’t actually a magic sauce.

Theoretically, you could see the strength in numbers. Statistically, the more you date, the more likely you are to find someone willing to spend some time with you, but there are some issues with this idea as well.

In truth, dating, and love, are fields just as intersectional, if not more, as the rest.

Attraction is the most justified scene of all our prejudices and cultural notions.

There are ideals of mates, and there follows a hierarchy of potential qualities, or lack thereof.

 

In dating we have the epitome or the nexus perhaps, of our cultural codes, put in action for their very own sake. This is where they come into light. Every other field within which hierarchies can form attenuates it by its own idiosyncratic set of norms.

For instance, the workplace does show to be influenced by racial or gendered norms. But those are only moderators over the norms of performance and the workplace hierarchy (however skewed and replicating patriarchy it lay be). You may be as normatively beautiful as you could, if your performance (or use of soft skills) is null, you may not last very long in that particular hierarchy.
However, dating is where all hierarchies take their meaning.

We are evolved.

Evolution pushed us in a direction of sexual selection.

How this one is done is a complex process which has become heavily codified by millenia of meaning making.

Regardless, at its base, we seek to maximise our profits when we select a mate that may also entail offsprings.

All the codes thus serve for us to find who may be the best fit as a potential mate.

Now, keep in mind, these are somewhat subconscious processes.

You may not look for someone to conceive with.

You may simply be looking to get laid.

But these are recent developments. The codes are a coat of paint on a very very old machine.

 

If dating is easy for you, this is wonderful news. But it may highlight a sort of privilege you may not have been considering.  

Your general adherence to the cultural ideals.

 

I had the chance to speak to a Metis Native, Trans lesbian woman, by her own identification.  

She did not want to be identified by name , however, this is how she depicts herself.

 

Having spoken to her, I believe this is actually pretty accurate.

She shared with me the specificity of her situation when  it comes to dating.

Her identity places her at the intersection of many axis of complexity.

Being Trans, fitting the normative ideal associated with cis femininity is an issue.
Being a lesbian, she struggles with the simple issue of finding partners that also identify  withing that sexual orientation, which is a minority to this day.

Being metis native, she struggles with latent issues of racism, namely the potential dismissal as a potential partner or the ftishisation of her identity.  

 

I initially responded to one of her posts on facebook, and she decided to answer my questions.

For the purpose of the article, let’s call her Mira.

 

Mira

I keep going to clubs thinking it’ll be fun and I’ll meet fun people. Optimistic me needs to stop being so fucking delusional, no one’s interested.

/rant

 

Mahault Albarracin :What kind of clubs do you go to?

Mira

Tonight specifically, Unity. Which now that I’m chill and not anxious and overthinking, makes it obvious. I don’t know why I was surprised no one cared I existed, it’s the Unity.

But generally, any place not straight.

 

Mahault Albarracin: What do you mean no one cared? no one came to pick up on you?

Mira

Just a generalized experience. No one ever seems “into me” or and anxiety makes me think people move away when dancing because I’m bothersome or ugly or something, which I know is just my mind being a jerk. Not that I would care normally, it would even suit me that no one would approach me in any other situations. But seeing others in my life getting approached so often and so easily makes me feel like there’s something wrong about me.

Of course, this is almost made worse by being aware that this is purely just extrapolation and exaggeration of my mind trying to justify my lack of luck, when it’s very likely just that, lack of luck and me just not encountering people who are interested by people like me, probably. Chances are I didn’t do anything wrong at all, and neither did anyone. They’re just not interested in me. Me attempting to be social, dressing nice, dancing well, etc. will do nothing to change that.

Ah, the joy of ease of access to social media when being emotionally compromised.

My relation to dating in general is very, well, dull in a way. I’ve simply just never been very lucky save for one absolute blessing (which honestly is also not perfect, and things I can’t change still affect this relationship in ways that are hard to handle.)

One thing I figured with time is that luck, coincidences, or lack of either is the primary source of relationships.

There is inevitably someone somewhere that is into what and who you are. And I’m not talking about somewhere in the world, but somewhere locally. But the chances of them meeting you in a context where you’re both emotionally available, with the proper will to meet someone new, and good circumstances giving a reason to socialize with them are low.

Some people are luckier than other, whether social and emotional availability is more common for them due to their nature (extrovert traits, neurotypism, natural attractiveness, etc)

Others, which is basically my case, have the opposite of luck. I’m not particularly visible/noticeable nor beautiful. I’m an introvert by nature. I’m on the autism spectrum. Dressing well, developing dancing skills, and so on to attract people doesn’t really work in my case. I’m surrounded with people who are sexually successful, with people consistently being attracted to them. Some of which being of the lucky type, but others being like me technically with only slight variants. Which brings my mind to wander in odd places.

I’m autistic, ‘gifted’, trans, and lesbian. I guess whatever mixes best haha

I’d say this is very much so a direct result of what happens when high intellect, queerness and and desire to be sexually active crosses path.

Having strong logic and analysis skills makes handling a biological/emotional situation worse, sometimes. Because you know exactly what causes you to feel the way you do, but it also means you’re aware there’s nothing you can do about it. Ignorance can truly be bliss, I suppose.

Very often, I become victim of what I jokingly call “nerdzoning”. People connecting so strongly on an intellectual level with me that they cannot see themselves being physical with me.

Thank you for your interest in my experience by the way, it’s odd to have someone be interesting in my nerdy rant against the dating world.

——

As you can see, dating is a function of how one perceives themselves in a complex dynamic web of interconnected codified interaction cues.

Even within the circles that advertise themselves as open to your specific brand of existence, it does not mean you will actually fit the norms.

Every scene has its own set of specific hierarchy idiosyncrasies as well.

You can see this in Bear gay bars, or Kink clubs for example. The types most favored differ with the sub-community you are part of. Nonetheless, certain greater ideals always shine back through the tapestry and make it difficult for some people to connect.

 

The ending of this article may seem bleak, but the truth is I’m not sure yet how to get around this.

As I mentioned before, attractions seem pretty justified for those who live them, and are often subconscious processes.
Being aware of our own prejudices is a first step, but I’m not certain it actually changes the way you perceive others along this codified hierarchy.

Perhaps it will allow you to see other people for who they are on your own hierarchy, one that you choose, as opposed to one chosen for you.

Knowledge is power after all.

LIVING WITH DISABILITIES AS A WOMAN

Women with disabilities are one of the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups –  they experience double the disadvantage because they face the challenges and barriers created by society  in relation to being a woman, in addition to the social attitudes towards people with disabilities. The intersection of gender inequality and disability creates a situation with multiple levels of discrimination and disadvantage. Women with disabilities experience high levels of disadvantage in all areas of our lives – health care, overall wellbeing, support services, employment, social relationships and housing. Being a woman, we live with daily challenges relating to sexism, gender inequality related to our careers, education and opportunities. These challenges are severely magnified when you are a woman who has disabilities.

Research has shown that women and girls with disabilities are TWO times more likely to experience violence throughout our lives. Did you know that approximately NINETY per cent of women with intellectual disabilities have been sexually assaulted? Yup, that’s right – 90 freakin’ per cent.  And all women with disabilities experience alarmingly high rates of all forms of violence and abuse from a range of perpetrators – they continue to be assaulted, raped and abused at twice the rate of women without disabilities and men with disabilities.

As a woman, I am unfortunately another statistic. I have been in situations of gender-based, indecent, family and intimate partner violence and assault. I have been hurt and sexually harassed by strangers and have been assaulted by a current partner, and as a person with disabilities and complex health needs, I have felt (and believe that I was) undeserving of respect, love and human dignity. I accepted the mistreatment at the hands of people who claimed to have loved me, thinking it was okay because I was not good enough due to my disabilities and surgical scars.

One of my disabilities and the reason for my chronic pain is actually as a result of the gender based violence I suffered at the hands of someone whom I said loved and cared for me but ‘just had temper problem’. I excused his actions and protected him against persecution because I normalised the behaviour. I didn’t stand up for myself because I believed that it was okay, that it was acceptable and it was a normal part of life for people like me.

Image result for australia

In Australia, intimate partner violence is the number one greatest health risk factor for women aged 25-44. It is the single largest driver for homelessness for women and takes a profound and long-term toll on women and children’s health and wellbeing, and society as a whole.

As recent as 3 days ago, it was announced by the United Nations that the ‘most dangerous’ place for women is inside their own homes, as more than half the female murder victims from last year were killed by their partners or family member. The gender-violence related study revealed that women comprised 82 percent of intimate partner murders. SIX women are killed every hour of every day in the world and in Australia, each week a woman is killed by their former or current partner.

Understanding violence against women, particularly women with disabilities and the challenges that we face is just one part of working towards a world where people, specifically women with disabilities are respected and violence for all women is stopped. The significant social problem is entirely preventative but to prevent and reduce violence faced by women, we need to understand it.

 

I hope this article has helped to enlightened to challenges and struggles faced by women with disabilities around the world.

 

 

Akii Ngo

Comedy Night or why women aren’t funny.

Related image

 

Women aren’t funny.

 

Every time I hear this phrase, it makes me vomit a little bit.

I actually didn’t know this was a thing before a few years back, when I saw the actual documentary by Bonnie McFarlane.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3992752/

It’s a heartfelt look at her life as a comedian, and I wonder sometimes if she actually does ask herself the question.

The movie traces the struggles and stereotypes women face in the comedy world, and perhaps in the world at large.

Women aren’t funny.

Image result for standup

This had never struck me.

My mother had always made me laugh.

I had never noticed a discrepancy between my female and male peers in terms of humor.

I had always known of female and male comedians in France, and my lack of knowledge in different cultures precluded any further judgement.

I actually thought of myself as rather good humored.

Where was this coming from?

 

Nowadays,  I’ve come across this stereotype many times, and I’ve started to form a hypothesis as to why this might be.

When you listen to male and female comedians, you hear a drastically different narrative.

Men will talk about aggressive topics, and pick someone to make fun of, whether present or not, interspersed by penis jokes.

 

Women will rather tend to try to make you relate to a situation.

Create a bond over something common.

 

Bear in mind that most humor is meant as relatable somehow, but there are different ways to relate. For instance, talking about a your own penis is relatable only vicariously.

Talking about a societal problem known to be shared by many people, and not specific to the comedian is another.

To put it another way, there is relatability in exclusionary terms, and relatability in inclusionary terms. A joke about your penis (or a vagina) is meant to exclude anyone who does not have one. A joke against a specific group is meant exclude that group.
A joke about a common experience is meant to include people within that experience, but does not exclude anyone else. You get to relate through metaphor and extension. Talking about a shared struggle excludes no group.

So in a sense, you could argue that your penis or vagina joke is meant to include those with that shared experience. But we know that those groups are based on non-transferable characteristics, and serve as segregatory symbols. For instance, what is the first difference you think of when you think of men and women. Yep, you think of their genitalia.

It’s the most obvious marker of difference, and limit between the groups. It’s the most difficult to push aside. When you make a joke about your penis or your vagina, you are purposefully cloistering your group.

 

Now.

I’ve heard women talk about penises and vaginas, and men talk about common experiences.

Nothing is absolute.

But there does seem to be an average difference in tone.

 

And I believe this explains why you hear so many men say “women aren’t funny”.

 

This lies in the flawed assumption about where humor rests.

Humor is not intrinsic to the statement.

Humor rests in the reason for your laughter.

 

For instance, laughter is a mystery to science.

It seems to be a socially evolved mechanism, but it serves no biological adaptive purpose.

We laugh for different reasons, one of which is to signal to the aggressive majority that you are part of it, which entails that you will not be the one under aggression.

You are part of the dominant group, and you are signaling it.

 

Another reason to laugh is to signal that your aggression is not a real aggression. It is a mock aggression, meant to tighten bonds.

 

Notice how both of those reasons so far relate to aggressivity.

 

Laughing is also a way to dehumanise the target of your laughter. If you laugh at somebody, you are more accepting of them suffering. They are not a person anymore,

 

There may yet be other reasons.

 

But this may be a seed of answer.

If male comedians focus on aggressive humor, and men laugh for aggression related purposes, it may be understandable that they don’t find female comedians that do not have aggressive humor very funny.

 

There’s another side to this story.

 

I never found most male comedians funny.

I found them rude, insensitive, punching down, often gross and repetitive.

I found most of their humor cheap, and unappealing to me. I couldn’t relate to any of it.

Again, there were exceptions. There are exceptional story-tellers like Louis CK or Ricky Gervais. But even they sometimes fall prey to the off Penis joke, or slightly rapey homophobic vibe.

I used to put this aside thinking perhaps I was in fact just too politically correct? To put it in other terms, perhaps I didn’t need any more triggering bullshit when I was trying to relax.

But the more I think about it, the more I feel there may be another reason, related to different humor and laughter purposes.

 

This is when a female comedian of talent is a breath of fresh air.

 

 

I am travelling for a time in Chiang Mai.

This city in Thailand is a little jewel, and If you haven’t been yet, I thoroughly recommend it.

If you are a digital nomad, there is always something to do in the evening.

Last saturday, I decided to attend a semi-social event called Comedy Night at Corner’s Bistro.

It’s an open mic type event where would be comedians get to perform and try out their new material.

I went with no expectations.

And I wasn’t surprised by the many penis jokes, bestiality jokes, lesbian sex jokes and so on.

The odd story about child trauma was in fact rather funny in a tragic way, but that’s often how it is with humor.

 

Then the most wonderful thing happened.

 

A woman, announced by the host as having been forced to come on, stepped in the center of the temporary stage.

As soon as she stepped on, she set the tone for her brief but effective set.

She explained that this entire set had been crafted within the evening, and would make white men incredibly uncomfortable, and that would be ok.

She anchored her humor in intersectionality, explaining how white privileged men come to thailand to benefit from the luxury that the different economy allows them, and hope to easily rope on a Thai woman to become their toy wife.

Except, she pointed out, karma is a bitch, and thai women are woke to that.

She satirised the unfortunate turn of events for white men who can afford to buy their new thai wife a house, and leave on business, only to come back to  changed locks and a thai stranger comfortably living in their new luxurious home with their wife.

She took the time to explain, with acid in her tone, that reparations come in different forms, and not always from the ones who caused the initial harm. But since white men have caused so much of it, and benefitted so strongly, it seemed like the thai women really were only enacting poetic justice.

 

She really did make me laugh.

I wasn’t the only one.

There were a few cringing white boy faces.

To be honest, if I’d been a white boy, I probably wouldn’t have been laughing.

 

But when I think about it, I wasn’t laughing at the white men’s misfortune.

Truly, I wasn’t.

Laughing is a way to dehumanise, we’ve already seen this, so it may explain in part why I didn’t start crying over their demise.

But I laughed because I was happy for the thai women and their empowerment.

This is why I think Seheri Swint, the comedian propelled in front of us that night, was so brilliant in her set.

She appealed to different kinds of humor.

There was a form of aggression towards entitled white men, and a relation to community and relatability through the thai women.

She wasn’t just hitting a group, she was propelling another group. This was triumph, and justice.

 

To sum up, I don’t think men only laugh for one reason, and women for another.

I don’t think men only have one type of humor and women another.

I laugh at many things, unrelated to however I identify one day.

But I do believe we are socialised based on the gender we are assigned. And this socialisation pushes us to seek out certain things over others. It pushes us to find comfort differently.

I find comfort through a community that promises a shared relatable emotional experience. I don’t specifically enjoy aggressivity. Someone else might, and they’ll find other things appealing.

The idea isn’t to segregate or consider one to be better. It’s to understand that if you don’t think one thing is funny, may not make it intrinsically funny or not. That’s why standpoint is important.

Your vision of reality isn’t wrong.

It’s just an incomplete picture.

It’s a necessary component of a larger mosaic.

 

 

Mahault

Girls and Boys, Broad and Narrow

I just finished helping out a friend of mine in her computer science assignment. In fact, she didn’t need help, and I don’t understand why she asked. Her code was slick.

We’re both immigrants, albeit from different countries, and we both arrived in English Canada at the age of 13. We’re both in our final year of an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience, we both used to be pre-meds, and we both have a secret passion for the hard sciences: math, physics, computer science. We both regret not pursuing this passion, and we’re both trying to figure out why we chose biology, a ‘soft’ science.

It’s hard to tease out gender from culture from the pressure to perform imposed on all immigrants. We tried to go back in time and sort it out, step by step.

In Canadian high schools, the word ‘interdisciplinary’ is being stressed over and over. Unlike in our home countries, there is a pressure not only to be good at math, but to also excel in biology, English literature, and psychology. In my home country, I did well in all courses, but I defined myself by my ability at math. Once I arrived in Canada, teachers shifted my focus to the ‘softer’ subjects. By the time I got to grade 11, I was afraid of taking computer science and physics. These subjects looked so hardcore to me. I almost dropped computer science before attending the first class, but my father put his foot down. “You’re taking computer science, and I don’t buy your BS. Of course you’ll be a good programmer!”

It was my favorite class, ever.

My father insisted I’ll excel at those hard sciences because he was a math and physics major, and he knew I had his mind. I had someone who pushed me, but my friend – her parents never pushed her. As a result, she is taking her first computer science class because it’s required, in her final year. But she loves computer science, and she always knew she loved math.

For some reason, it seems that boys are just not put to this pressure, to be interdisciplinary, and are not subjected to the aversion to math that girls are trained to cultivate. I don’t know why and I don’t have the numbers to prove it, but I feel it in my bones.

We were both girls and we were both smart, so everyone around us said: we should become Doctors. To the child of immigrants, Doctor is the Golden Standard, and especially if you’re a girl. Most of all, because it’s a prestigious job, but our parents can also see us in this job because they’re used to this career being 50/50.

I asked my friend what she thinks her parents would have wanted her to be was she a boy, and without a hesitation she said ‘engineer’. Doctors and engineers. The immigrant standard.  Meanwhile, I know that a male version of me would have been an engineer for fact. My brother, who performed just as well as I did in math in high school, is now pursuing a math and physics degree.

So we were heading to medical school and needed a degree that will cover the prerequisites, and we also wanted some prestige, to prove ourselves as immigrants. So we enrolled in Neuroscience, a limited-enrollment degree in McGill. Now we regret it.

After two years and a half into the degree I realized that I am just not passionate about medicine, but more importantly, that I can be passionate about other things. The change of career trajectory made my parents believe I’ve lost my mind, and it required a lot of conversations to convince them that I am better off this way. I am now in my final year and fighting to move to a more quantitative, analytical field. I know it’s not the end of the world and that I’m still young, but I’m angry at myself for spending 4 years of my life doing something I felt meh about, instead of finding a passion first and then pursuing it.

So here are two factors that went into my choices, that I wish I realized earlier:

The first, is the idea that passion is taught. When I first chose what I wanted to do, I very consciously picked up ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth and learned about the steps to becoming specialized and committing to one thing. I think that Canadian schools are teaching students about interdisciplinarity and stress well-roundedness for good reasons: specializing as early as high school is not a good choice, and for most people, being well-rounded is good. But I think this indoctrination is overwhelmingly directed at girls, and I think it prevents them from searching for and fostering a passion.

Another part, is that fostering a passion is a privilege. As immigrants, we weren’t told to follow our dreams, we were told to prove ourselves. As a result, we pursued a career rather than a personal interest. After three years in university I am finally letting myself develop a passion for science for the first time, for the pursuit of knowledge itself.I’ve been saying I should have been doing math and computer science double major for 2 years now. I would have enjoyed these courses more, but I knew that my grades would have been lower, so I remained in neuroscience so that I could have the GPA that will allow me to go to medical school.

You will so often see men who study a narrow subject, and there seems to be more social acceptance for specialization in men. There is more leniency if a boy has a limited vocabulary and dysfunctional social skills, but is especially good at something; think of the Insufferable Genius Trope: how often have you seen it on a women?

I don’t think women are pushed to develop and pursue a passion; I think women are encouraged to be jacks of all trades; to be dilettantes.

I am now on the cusp of my education: I managed to remain unspecialized for 4 years of interdisciplinary education in Neuroscience.  I want to specialize, I want to master something. And I want it to be a hard science.

 

By Noga

 

Photo by Irvan Smith on Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

 

 

 

Women in Undergraduate Degrees: This is How to Get Research Experience

It’s not a secret that women are underrepresented in academia, and especially in STEM. For these reasons, it can be especially hard for a woman to find a role model: a mentor, who comes from a similar background and can describe to you the rules and incentives of the game in a language you understand. When I first got to university, I got into research because at the time, I wanted to become a physician, and research was a prerequisite for medical school. I also did research just because I knew enough to understand that it was a respectable summer job. In retrospect, these were the wrong reasons to get into research, but since I didn’t have a mentor, it took me especially long to understand the beauty of the pursuit of knowledge, as well as how to do research right.

This guide is made for anyone who has had little resources going into academia, and for women in particular. It takes you through the first steps of searching for a – good – research position and for the incentives to look out for.

 

The Point of Research (And Science in General)

 

The one quality you will find in any good researcher is that they are dedicated to answering a specific question. It sounds so straightforward, but it took me years to realize how important it is to train yourself to see everything from this lens. Much of research is boring and repetitive, and the only way to stay motivated is to have the end goal, that is: answering your question. Every good Principal Investigator does it.

 

Before you begin looking for a research placement, you have to choose one to three questions that the answer to interests you most. Here are a few examples:

 

  • “What changes occur in the brain when we learn? And, once something is learned, how is the information retained in the brain as a memory?” (Eric Kandel, Nobel Prize Laureate)
  • “Do worms get Attention Deficit Disorder?” (from here: http://biology.mcgill.ca/faculty/dent/)
  • “Can the future of antibiotic resistance be predicted?” (from here: https://kishony.net.technion.ac.il/)

 

For instance, my personal question is:

  • How can I use a systems approach to understand and prevent the spread of infectious diseases?

 

To formulate a question, think about what is the most interesting you’ve recently learned in class, what books you’ve read in the past, what you’re good at, and how you usually think. You’re studying a certain discipline. What attracted you to it on the first place?

How to Look for a Lab

 

On your university’s website, look for the department where research regarding your question might fall. There is always a list of faculty members. Go methodically, looking at one researcher at a time. Try to get 2-3 names. These are the people you want to email.

 

Make sure the researchers are Principal Investigators, meaning, that they have their own group and that they take students. Usually professors (full professors, assistant professors, associate professors) will have a group. You can also usually see a team roster on their website.

 

Here are secondary things you should take note of:

  • Look at the lab roster. How many people are there? If there are over 20, you might get very little contact with your professor and you might get less mentorship. If there are less than 5 and the lab didn’t open this past year, it might be a red flag.
  • In the lab roster, look at the Master’s and PhD students to post-doctoral students ratio. Master’s and PhD students usually need more mentoring, so labs headed by good mentors will usually have more PhD and Master’s students than post-docs. Labs with hands-off mentors will usually have more post-docs, since post-docs usually want to be left alone to pursue their own research.

 

However, don’t join a lab because…

  • you think the professor is really cool (but you’re lukeworm about the research)
  • Your friend is working there
  • The professor is very well known

 

Issue: What does Assistant/Associate/Full Professor Mean?

 

It took me years to understand the difference between full, associate, and assistant professors. The meaning varies, but practically, it means how senior the professor is: assistant professors usually don’t have tenure, and full professors always do. In the past, I’ve been told that it’s better to get mentored by a young professor who hasn’t gotten tenure and is hungry for publications, and I’ve also been advised that it’s better to get mentored by an older, seasoned professor who has more experience in mentoring and will be less pressuring. Clearly, there are pros and cons for each.

 

Writing the Email

Here are the rules:

 

Paragraph 1: where you study, what your study, what year you’re in, what your GPA is, any research experience or scholarships you might have.

 

Paragraph 2: why you’re interested in THEIR work. Here you want to feature your question and explain in one sentence why you’re interested in this question. Then, mention how their research comes into place, and try to refer to at least one research paper they wrote. Highlight one question you have about the paper or a main theme you see in the work (Ex: “I like how you apply a novel approach by x, y, and z”)

 

Paragraph 3: what you want to do in their lab. Is it research for credits, volunteering or a summer placement? Ask the professor to meet with them to discuss it in detail soon.

 

Don’t forget to attach a transcript and a resume!

 

There is a good example for graduate school letter here, but I think it can be easily adapted to an undergraduate letter: http://theprofessorisin.com/2011/07/25/how-to-write-an-email-to-a-potential-ph-d-advisor/

Issue: I have no experience

 

Everyone had no experience at one point or another. Don’t feel unworthy: I know people who got into world-class, amazing labs with no research experience. Just ensure that you show your enthusiasm and illustrate to the best of your ability that you understand what is done in the lab.

 

If you have no experience, you might want to ask to work as a volunteer at the lab, or pursue a research project for course credits (almost every university has this option). The advantage of that is that the professor will be more willing to take you if they’re not taking a monetary risk. Money if often stingy in academia, and at the end of the day, what you do in the lab matters more than if you got paid or not. It’s a good stepping stone for paid work.  Also, I will recommend pursuing a research project over volunteering just because it will give you more responsibilities and will keep you motivated.

 

Issue: Multiple Professor replied to me. How do I say no?

 

For a long time I felt uncomfortable saying no, until I had to scramble for a lab to do my honours project in within the bounds of one week. What I learned is that professors are used to it. One of my bosses even previously told me, “students are flaky.” Believe me, there will be no hard feelings, and they won’t feel betrayed.

 

Simply send an email thanking them for the opportunity and for their time, and say that you’ve received an offer at a different lab and that after long deliberation you decided to pursue it instead. If you stated your goals in your original email, you can refer back to them and explain you found a place that better suits your interests.

 

You should, however, visit all the labs and see what they have to offer before saying no, because you really never know. I was interested in bioengineering and went to interview at a worm lab. The professor was extremely kind, and when I told him what I’m interested at, he offered me to build microfluidics devices together with him. This type of experience would have been more useful than the experience I would have gotten in most bioengineering labs.

 

Visiting The Lab

You have sent an email and received a reply from the professor. Yay! Now is the next step: visiting the lab. The way it usually goes, is that the PI will discuss potential projects with you, and after deciding on one, will invite the graduate student responsible for this project to meet with you and discuss the details. There are a few things to watch in this interaction.

 

First of all, most times you will have no idea what the professor is talking about when they describe the project to you. That is completely normal. If you feel comfortable, you can ask them for clarification. It might make you look more engaged and interested than smiling and nodding, but don’t feel ashamed to smile and nod either. You do want to watch out to see if the professor is really trying to explain the project to you, even if they don’t succeed. That is a good litmus test for whether they are a caring mentor or not.

 

You should also watch out for the number of projects the professor offers to you. If they offer you only one project in mind that has nothing to do with the interests you expressed in your cover letter, it should be a red flag. It might mean that they’re simply looking for someone to do incredibly repetitive grunt work.

 

In reality, you will spend most of your time with the graduate student, not the professor. You want to make sure that the graduate student will be a good mentor and someone you will chime well with, so pay attention to their level of enthusiasm about taking you in.

 

You want to see as much of the lab as possible. Some labs have score boards, or funny quotes and comic strips glued to the walls and the doors. You want to be in that type of lab. Look to see whether they talk to each other often. Ask whether they ever have lab outings, and whether they celebrate birthdays. Overall, you want to make sure that the lab is an environment where you will feel comfortable, because you will spend a lot of hours here, and might have to ask every member of the lab for help in one point or another.

 

Issue: Gender in the Lab

 

Engineering labs will be dominated by men and biology labs will be dominated by women. That is a whole can of worms we can get to later. From personal experience, I advise that you don’t start at an all-male lab unless you feel very comfortable among men and know the professor and some of the students very well. That is especially true if this is your first lab. Being female and the least experienced person in the room can lead to uncomfortable situations.

 

In terms of your mentor, the graduate student whose project you’re working on, at least from my experience, gender does not matter. Patience does. If they treat you as an equal and let you ask stupid questions, you will be alright. However, I do think it’s true that if you’re more similar to your mentor (and that does include whether you’re of the same gender) you will probably chime well together better.

 

Issue: Don’t over-promise

 

When I first began working at the lab, I agreed to take on projects I couldn’t do, committed to staying in the lab for longer terms than I ended up staying for, and generally didn’t know how to say no. Though I don’t have the data to prove it, I feel like this might be a more common experience when you’re a woman and your boss is a man.

 

Over time, I learned that doing it is extremely destructive. Even if you feel uncomfortable saying no, you should do it, or at least point out hurdles you might face and asking what resources you will have to work through them. From experience, if you don’t say no in the beginning, the problem will balloon and balloon until it leads to an even more uncomfortable situation.

 

Finally: Get a Role Model!

It’s really difficult to figure things out without a role model, and it can be very difficult to search for one. Some people also might feel too shy to ask for help. Don’t.

 

Here are a few ways to find role models:

  • There is someone doing what you want to do that you found through an online search? Don’t be afraid to email them. Worst case, scenario, they don’t reply.
  • Join the local group of women in science (ex: Lean In, Scientista), there are often female professors who get heavily involved in the group and love dispensing advice.
  • Ask around in your community. I personally am a member of a group called Effective Altruism. When I decided to pursue the career I chose, I posted on their Facebook group asking for advice. I got a ton.

 

Conclusion: Women in Research

 

To do research well you have to be passionate about one cause. Little girls aren’t necessarily encouraged to be focused at one passion, but it’s never too late to search for it and pursue it. Research can be extremely rewarding, and there are definite advantages to having more diversity of viewpoints in research. It affects what questions are being asked and answered, even in STEM.

 

By Noga

 

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

Intersectional feminism: response to an adolescent as an introduction

There is an unfounded view of millennials as a disenfranchised generation. They are considered entitled, apathetic, and self-absorbed. But this is not at all the experience I have. In fact, I believe this to be purely a stereotype. And the problem with stereotypes is that even if they have no basis in reality, they tend to be hard to shake after they pass a certain threshold of social endorsement.
This is why exposing every instance of counter-examples to these stereotypes, and giving them a voice is so important.
So, to give you a bit of context, a young girl in high school asked a teacher friend of mine if she could be referred to someone knowledgeable on the topic of feminism and intersectionality. She then proceeded to correspond with me over a number of months, culminating in this series of questions.
I thought the questions, as well as the answers could be of use to more than a brilliant teenage girl. In fact, this is probably applicable to any woman who wants to make a difference in her world. So here is the final exchange.

The answers provided here give a good introduction into the topic of Intersectionality. They stem from my academic standpoint, and are thus phrased in that way. I will in the future post more detailed answers for each section.

t-chick-mcclure-609572-unsplash

What is your definition of intersectional feminism?

 

Intersectional feminism is the specific understanding of positionality in relation to different identities that create very specific experiences that cannot be understood as separate subsections. These different identities compound and create problematics that specific to that intersection of experiences. It was a framework mostly developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, in relation to black women and the violence committed against them.
You can read more on this topic in this article: Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241-1299. doi:10.2307/1229039

Or you can watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViDtnfQ9FHc

      Do you feel like intersectionality is a useful, necessary approach to feminism? If so, why?

It is indeed necessary since without that understanding, the term woman becomes slightly meaningless. Femininity is plural, existence is being a manifold. The commonalities are important, but they serve to highlight the different ways in which people experience oppression, and need to be addressed in that fine grained way. This is how you become more inclusive.

      Which group of people is the most impacted by discrimination considering all aspects of one’s identity?

You cannot measure levels of discrimination, mostly given the fact that so many other aspects come into play. Besides, the intersectional movement is not about the competition of the most oppressed. Instead, It’s a dynamic model that helps you understand the various ways the individual navigates different contexts. However, poverty is usually a big risk factor. So any population within that demographic gradient is usually more at risk. Add to this any other axis of oppression and they have a tendency to co-influence one another. Being oppressed leads to more poverty. More poverty leads to greater risk of suffering the negative consequences associated to oppression.

      Do you think the current feminist movement is doing a good job at including everyone? If not, which group is the most left out?

Feminism is a broad spectrum, and you couldn’t really identify one major trend within it. However, like everywhere, there are usually proportions. So a very well represented group are white cis able women. on the contrary, a much smaller group would be trans women of colour for instance. This is not to say that white cis able women do not support trans women. Our society does nonetheless promote certain values that are deep rooted, even in the feminist movement, like essentialism. It seems that trans women of colour, can find it difficult to access a wider platform, perhaps even more so if they are also associated with prostitution,.

But I believe efforts are being made in that direction.

      Are there any issues related to intersectionality that are often overlooked but should be given more attention?

There is one aspect often overlooked. Intersectionality seems to focus on oppression. So one is considered at an intersection only when they belong to oppressed groups. But I believe intersectionality could understand more nuanced positions that include access to power and not only exclusion from it, and creates difficult situations to navigate for people within those intersections too. For instance, being a black gay man is being oppressed through racism and homophobia. But they retain a certain power when confronted with lesbian women. How does this dynamic unfold? It’s uncertain, and I believe a wider understanding of intersectionality to include access to power may help.

      How are the economic, cultural and political environments affecting the marginalized communities right now?

Marginalized communities by definition always suffer from mainstream political, economic and cultural environments. However, there is more and more push by powerful lobbies to defend these communities’ rights. And mass media is making their voice easier to carry.

 

      Does the notion of privilege over another human being due to overlapping identities really exist? If so, how?

Privilege is defined as the preferential treatment some individuals are given within certain structures, or the power they wield over other individuals in an asymmetric context. For instance in a room full of men socialised to take space, women may tend to yield it, and lose expressive power. As to whether the concept of privilege has a rooting in reality: we have data about discriminatory practices, gendered differences in opportunities, belief in stereotypes. We have data about the subjective feeling of discrimination depending on minority status, as well as records of actual crime and violence of a discriminatory nature. We also have data on the mental health effects that this discrimination has on people within oppressed community. All this data combined paints a picture whereby people that fit the hegemonic discursive categories can come out with a distinct advantage even if they themselves to not work to actively push oppressed communities down.

      Does the government have anything to do with the current lack of equality? What do you think of the belief that they’re upholding a system to further oppress minorities?

Institutions do promote discursive practices through structures. In concrete terms, they can make it more difficult to access ressources, or withhold rights. The rise of the far right across the world has rendered the fight for marginalised rights particularly important and salient in today’s culture.

      If the answer to the previous question is yes, what are the power dynamics and laws in place that reinforce inequality in our modern society?

One particular law that makes it difficult for people in non-binary identities, or fluid identities, or transitioning identities is the necessity for gendered identification, usually in coherence with sex assigned at birth. The process of change is difficult, and cannot be done several times easily. This poses a constant weight and challenging discourse to these minorities, and makes it difficult to foster intelligibility (the capacity to translate a concept) to create communities. But that is just one of the many examples of laws that can have an oppressive effects on communities. The war on drugs has been specifically created to target people of colour, and we see the results today with a significant proportions of prisoners being men of colour under drug charges.

 

      What do you think are the biggest differences between mainstream (white) feminism and intersectional feminism?

 

Mainstream white feminism as it is defined usually promotes the needs of a specific subset of the human experience, namely cis white middle class able bodied women. These women do face challenges, but they may not be contextually relevant to other women in their particular experiences. For instances, white women fought very hard to have access to birth control and family planning. But those concerns were not necessarily shared by women of colour who were forced into contraception and even sterilization. The same difficulties were lived by disabled women or trans women who have had to suffer sterilization against their will, or to simply access treatment. Thus white feminism could not properly encompass those needs, and sometimes refused to acknowledge that these concerns needed to be addressed at all. The movements are changing and growing, but those are examples of political aim differences.

 

–    Has the fight for social justice gotten any better in the recent years? Or has it become stagnant?

The fight for social justice is constantly being driven forward by academic research and grassroot involvement. Again, social media has made it more possible to express diverging opinions but also to police people who express them.

One thing that has perhaps been a little problematic, and is being questioned now, but had a necessary passage in the feminist movement, was the call-out culture. Specifically its violent nature. Call-out culture was a clap-back against the silencing that oppressed minorities have suffered. They pushed back violently against a blanket of invisibility, tone-policing, and theft of their voice. But the call-out culture has become oppressive within its own circles, silencing its own members. Activists with a positive message become afraid to express themselves for fear of being aggressively silenced. Everyone needs to learn and grow, and you should listen when someone tells you something about your message. But we need to think collectively on the emotional impact of  the way we express ourselves towards members of our communities who are most likely also already suffering from aggressions outside of them. Arguably, this should in time expand to people outside of the feminist or oppressed communities since the goal is not to harm anyone. But it should start with compassion within our own ranks.

 

     Should we strive for equity or equality? Why?

Since every situation is different, as exposed by intersectional theories, equality is not necessarily what we are looking for. Equality would mean giving everyone the same chances, the same starting point. This a gross oversimplification. But consider the following. We all have different abilities, emotional resources, experiences. Starting from the same point would not mean that our bagage allows us to go the same distance. For instance for similar capacities in the workplace, women will still end up with more responsibilities in all spheres of their lives, and overall be held back. Consider someone with a mental illness. giving him similar opportunities may not be enough, because that person does not have an equal amount of resources to spend on such opportunities. Each situation requires careful consideration for the limiting aspects.

 

      How would you explain systematic oppression to teenagers?

Systematic oppression is the constant difficulty people within marginalized identities and subgroups face in every sphere of their lives, upheld by institutions like the government or the media. It translates in knowing that everyday, at every step, your life will be a little more difficult.

 

      What can we do as a society to not contribute to marginalization of certain groups and discrimination towards people with multiple identity factors?

Counter discourse is a powerful tool to increase the intelligibility (ease of understanding) of marginal identities, and their normalisation. Through normalisation, public opinion shifts in favor of those communities and they can become part of the mainstream discourse, institutions. They get access to the resources they need, and the representation they seek. Pushing the voices of individuals within marginalised communities by reading their publications, buying their art or products, and sharing around you what you have read goes a long way.

      What do you think a young teenager could do to help the movement?

If you’re referring to feminism in general, a young teenager can educate herself, and grow to become a leader in the communities she is part of. She can be a model for other teenagers by making sure her voice is heard with a positive message. She can also foster communities by creating feminine spaces to support each other.

If you’re referring to intersectional feminism, I wouldn’t call it a movement so much as a framework within which to understand experiences. In this case, you can help movements that apply this framework by making more people aware of it so that the groundwork is laid. The more a framework is understood, the more likely it is to have an impactful message. You can also try to apply it to your everyday life to have more empathy towards the people that surround you, and understand their specific life circumstances. Inquire about the needs of those around you, and have compassion for yourself as well.

 

 

Intersectional feminism is not just a framework that applies to research, or even for that matter, to feminism. It is the basic way to unite our communities through shared understanding. It is the way we will advance everyone, in their particular situations without making anyone, or any problem invisible by prioritising an idealised and illusory identity marker with political aims.

I really hope these answers helped the young girl, but mostly I feel hopeful. It seems that these discourses are seeping deeper into the fabric of our culture. And if they start so young, our future is bright. This doesn’t need to stop at adolescents. It’s never too late to change the way you approach other people. Every woman, every Queer person, every identity can benefit from having more empathy towards the people around them.