Misusing Our Privilege in the 50 Shades Debates
|Posted by [email protected] on February 18, 2015 at 3:20 PM||comments (1)|
Wow, I just watched Eve Ensler’s TED talk on reclaiming your inner girl, and I find myself feeling humbled, enraged, and inspired, all at the same time. I am humbled by the harsh awareness of how privileged I am, that no matter what I have suffered in my life, it is nothing to that of so many girls and women around the world. I am enraged by how much I and others have been focusing on this ridiculous fictional tale of romance and kink, when there are girls and women elsewhere just trying to stay alive, trying to figure out how to educate themselves, running away from home to avoid being mutilated, enduring the harsh, torturous, repeated rapes of men who have been taught how not to feel or to regard females as less-than-human. I am inspired to take this lesson deep into my heart, my cells, my soul, and to put it back out into the world in such a way as to inspire others.
We in the U.S. do not live in the hyper-patriarchal, sexist societies found in some parts of the Arab worlds and across tribal Africa and other places. We have no excuse as to why we’re continuing to cripple our children, both boys and girls, by withholding from them the information they could use, that they NEED, to protect themselves and to own themselves. This 50 Shades movie is an opportunity! An opportunity to have 50 talks about sexual agency, about knowing oneself, about consent, and so many other things. We have a responsibility to our girls and our boys, to teach them how to develop and determine their own value system, how to use critical thinking and practice compassionate judgment regarding what’s good and bad for them.
We need to be teaching our children how to think for themselves, how to become the most empowered, authentic, and sovereign beings they can possibly be, People who are not afraid to speak their truth, to engage in the type of physical pleasure they most desire, to interact and form partnerships with whomever they happen to fall in love. Let’s re-empower our children to feel and to learn the intelligence embedded in their emotions. Let’s quit shaming them for their feelings and for being girls or “like a girl.” Let’s convince them that they have the right to self-determine, to self-identify, and to self-realize. Let’s teach them to love themselves and to pleasure themselves. Let’s convey the message that they are good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, gentle enough, strong enough, tall enough, short enough - that they do enough, they have enough, and that they ARE enough and wonderfully unique and powerful beings deserving of respect, love, and pleasure in the ways that they most desire!
I, for one, am re-committing to this mission. I am going to pull out the sexual education workshops I’d designed for teens many years ago, and I’m going to brush them off, tighten them up, and perhaps I’ll publish them in ebook form. Maybe I’ll start leading workshops again for girls and boys and women and men and all those in between to learn to reclaim their power and agency, not only in their sex lives but in the rest of their lives as well. I will continue writing and promoting my ideals. I will continue reaching out and offering my coaching and counseling and consulting services to help individuals and relationships to heal and move forward. What will you do? How can you take what you’ve learned from 50 Shades and improve the world? Will you stop at writing or reading some stuff on the Internet, or will you get out into the world and do something to change it? Will you start by turning inward and seeing what needs to change within yourself, to re-empower YOUR inner girl, regardless of your gender? Will you reclaim your powerful Self and offer your unique gifts to the world? Will you?
Words Have Power - Choose Words that Empower Others
|Posted by [email protected] on February 12, 2015 at 8:05 AM||comments (0)|
Every day I focus on the words I use. I learned a long time ago how powerful words can be. As a language major during my undergraduate days, I wrote a paper discussing how thought influences language and how language simultaneously influences thought. You can learn a lot about the values promoted by a culture (or subculture) by examining the language used by that culture. For instance, does your native language have genderless pronouns? Do all nouns have gender embedded in them? If so, what kinds of words tend to be assigned masculine components and which feminine?
Awareness is the first step
When I started doing sex education more than a decade ago, I learned to change the discussion about STIs. In encouraging people to have the “safe(r) sex talk” with prospective new sexual partners, instead of asking each other if they were “clean” (the implication being that they were dirty if they carried something), I changed it to, "Do you have anything to report regarding STIs?"
I remember playing a game with my brother and sister when we were young where we would create a city on the floor out of whatever objects we happened to have on hand (toilet paper rolls, boxes, etc.). Then we would drive our matchbox cars around the city, stopping at “stores” and “banks” and whatnot. This game was called, “Guys,” for some reason, though I have no idea which of us dubbed it thus or why. But this has carried into my adult life, so that I still unthinkingly use masculine words (like “guys” to refer to groups of people regardless of gender (i.e. in gender-mixed groups or groups whose gender mix I don’t know).
I also discovered this week that I tend to default to "he" to refer to people whose gender remains unknown, such as drivers of cars (“Wow, he just ran a red light, didn’t he?”;). I’ve been feeling dismay at these realizations because I do make an effort to change my speech. But this is what becoming aware of privilege is about - continuously checking yourself for ways in which you unconsciously exhibit negative bias and perpetuate inequality, and then making conscious, mindful efforts to change these deeply-embedded actions, words, and thought patterns.
Making the choice to change is the second step
Learning to become aware of the oppressive speech patterns you learned and then choosing to find and use less oppressive or exclusionary words is one fairly easy but very important way you can use your privilege to help others who are less privileged. Just as your word choice can change the way you think, so too can your word choice have an effect on how others think as well, especially if you're a member of the dominant class.
I teach this to my clients, too, especially those whose partner is unwilling to come in for sessions. I tell my clients to be careful of their word choice so that they tell their subconscious and their partner's subconscious what they really want them to hear. Rather than "I can't" try "so far, I haven't learned to" and see if that changes things. In discussions that have some embedded power dynamic or privilege, be extra careful. Instead of chiding your son for “throwing like a girl” when what you mean is “not throwing with enough force” - figure out how to say the latter in a way that doesn’t shame or belittle your daughter at the same time.
Will you accept the challenge to examine & change your words?
Your words, my words, all of our words have power - the power to diminish others or to lift them up. We can empower others and help shift the language of inequality that we grew up with. We can take responsibility for our utterances and thus contribute to a more just and kind society, in which everyone receives respect and opportunity at the same level, regardless of skin color, gender, orientation, relationship structure, physical ability, etc. But it does take effort, practice, mindfulness, and acknowledgment that sometimes this process can be quite uncomfortable. Will you accept the challenge? What’s one word that you can work on removing from or changing in your automatic speech patterns to reflect your value of equality? I will be working on figuring out how to change “guys” when referring to groups of people, and perhaps to using “they” when referring to people in their cars.
Tweet: Your words, my words, all of our words have power - the power to diminish others or to lift them up. http://ctt.ec/flG0H+
Let me know if you’d like to schedule a session to work on your word choices or to help you become more aware of your privilege. We can discuss ways you can work to help those less privileged, or on how to overcome inherited attitudes and actions that can be oppressive and offensive to others. We can also work on how to bring the power of word choice into your interpersonal relationships to help you and your partner(s) learn to communicate more effectively. Click here to schedule a session today!
On Privilege, Validation, Compassion
|Posted by [email protected] on January 26, 2015 at 4:50 PM||comments (0)|
I posted an article to my personal Facebook page recently, called “6 Reasons Why Being Called a Cisperson is Not Offensive,” which spawned a heated discussion in the Comments section. I have repeatedly heard or seen people responding negatively to the concept or discussion of privilege.
Why is privilege so hard to understand? So hard to accept that it exists? Part of it, of course, is that it makes us uncomfortable. There’s some “privilege guilt” at work there. We don’t want to believe that we have succeeded at the expense of someone else. We don’t want to believe that some aspect of ourselves that we have little or no control over has somehow given us an advantage in life. We often can’t even see that we HAVE had any advantages, if our lives have been particularly difficult.
Part of the challenge is that it’s an invisible characteristic and you can only really see that you have privilege in relation to someone who doesn’t. Otherwise, it’s an embedded assumption - you don’t realize that some aspect of how you were born gives you an automatic advantage in the culture in which you live, which has made that aspect the most socially preferred one to have.
Having Privilege Does NOT Mean You Have It Easy
Another issue, one that hasn’t been mentioned yet in the national discourse that I’ve seen, is that the word that we’re using to describe this concept is one that is loaded with other meaning. “Privilege” is defined as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people,” according to my Google search. And we say that people “enjoy” privilege, AS IF being of the dominant class (i.e., white, male, cisgender, monogamous, christian, able-bodied, etc.) means that you automatically enjoy life and you don’t have to work at it. And that’s what’s being misunderstood - privilege simply means that if you possess the dominant (or societally preferred) form of the trait simply by being born with it, you will unknowingly benefit in the culture that celebrates that form of the trait. For example, if you are a white male, you have a higher chance (statistically) of getting accepted into the college you want, of not being arrested for your drug use (if you’re a user), of succeeding in any career field. It gives you a slight advantage. All else being equal, if a white male and a white female apply for the same job, the white male is more likely to get it. That is the basis for the affirmative action policies. That is the reason people are talking so much about privilege today.
The American Dream can be a Harmful Myth
We, as a culture, believe in equality and individualism. We believe in the American Dream of being able to do anything you want if you work hard enough. We believe that anyone can achieve anything and that the only thing holding you back is yourself. The problem is that reality does not match this ideal. Some people, no matter how hard they work, still can’t quite make it as far as those who were born into the dominant classes. Women still experience, on average, lower pay for equal work and they hit their heads on glass ceilings that shouldn’t exist anymore.
For transgender people, the discussion is not about “putting sex at the center of one’s being” (as someone recently said in the above-referenced Facebook discussion about cisgender privilege), It's about claiming the gender that you feel you are inside regardless of what body you were born with -- and our gender IS at the center of our being, but those of us born cisgender don't think about it that way, it's not necessary --- and THAT is our privilege. We don't even have to think about which bathroom or changing room to use. We don't even think twice about what to mark down as "sex" on forms. We don't experience dysphoria every day when we look in the mirror. THIS is our privilege revealing itself.
It's Not All About You
This discussion reminds me of an unrelated one about setting boundaries in interpersonal relationships. Sometimes, when someone says, “No, I really don’t want to do that at this time,” the other person hears, “No, I reject you and your ideas.” The first person may really just be drawing a border around what they need to protect their limited stores of energy or their mental state. But the second person continues to feel butthurt about it because it still feels like a personal rejection to them. In sharing this with a fellow relationship counselor, she said that she has started including the phrase, “This is FOR me, not AGAINST you,” in similar situations in her personal life. And that’s what the author of the article referenced at the beginning of this post was trying to say. “...using the c-word is all about helping trans people and not at all about making cis people feel like shit.” And yet, that point seems to get completely ignored too often. Not everything is about YOU. And that’s hard for people to swallow.
The Importance of Validation
I found it fascinating that when I looked up the exact definition of “privilege” through a Google search, I found the UrbanDictionary.com page on “white privilege.” This page lists a number of people’s interpretations of the concept and most of them are ignorant and rude and incorrect. One person was able to convey the concept correctly and give examples, such as “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.” So another aspect of the discussion, another reason to HAVE the discussion, is about validation. There’s an excellent article available on Transgender Identity Formation by Aaron H. Devor, in which s/he describes the intertwined processes of Witnessing and Mirroring, which combine in ways to help someone feel validated:
Each of us has a deep need to be witnessed by others for whom [sic] we are. Each of us wants to see ourselves mirrored in others’ eyes as we see ourselves. These interactive processes, witnessing and mirroring, are part of everyone’s lives. When they work well, we feel validated and confirmed—our sense of self is reinforced (Poland, 2000). When the messages which one receives back from others do not match how one feels inside, various kinds of psychological distress and maladaptive behaviours can result. When the situation is especially severe it can lead to psychotic and/or suicidal behaviours. (Devor, p. 4)
Will You Choose Compassion?
So what people are trying to do, when they suggest or encourage others to use a non-judgmental term to define themselves, is to find one that does not also by extension invalidate others. Our language and choice of terminology can make those who aren’t like us feel invisible and invalidated, or we can instead choose words that are more inclusive or at least less invalidating. Our language can paint a picture which honors all of us, if we work at increasing our awareness and working at changing habitual patterns that we didn’t even realize were hurtful before. Awareness grants the power of choice. May we all choose kindness and compassion.