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Getting In, and Challenging to Change the Game

One of the easiest and most consistent things I have done, that unfortunately most of us do, is root for the team, play arm chair quarterback, casually observe, or accept the role of a bystander. We don’t think that is what we do, but it is. Somehow we convince ourselves that we are too busy to take a stand, or not significant enough in what we may bring to the game to make a difference when we very well could be the difference.

Many of us aren’t sophisticated enough to actually always know how we offend others, but when someone points out the various ways that we do, if we have been comfortable doing it for any length of time, we listen to their critique, but don’t “really listen” to the point where we own what they are saying as applicable to us, and seriously undertake the effort to change. When someone told me that using the term gypped was referring to some of the transactional manners of Gypsies, I immediately stopped using the term. However, when I correct young men about their use of the term girl in the context of a story they tell about grown women, they tell me I am getting too politically correct. I agree, while too much political correctness threatens to make everyone fake, there are some things we need to overcompensate towards to find the real. When we casually continue to frame our women as girls, what are the psychological or sub textual overtones or implications from this act? Might we subconsciously be situating our women as lesser beings, in some ways making it easier not to see them as equals? Is this a gendered concern? When men tell stories about grown men, do they refer to those men as boys? Unless it is in the context of “my boys” the answer is no! Conversely, when women tell stories about grown men, do they refer to them as boys? Well, before you answer that, let’s just recognize that both men and women succumb to this dysfunctional behavior at times, so no one should have their chest or breast out too far. The larger point is, upon recognizing it, how many of us are ready to get in the game, and challenge for change?

I remember what someone once said to a date of mine at a dinner party in Los Angeles. We were the only two black people at the party, and my date was in a casual conversation with a woman when the woman casually tells my date that at times her husband treats her like a “nigger.” Now my motivation to change the game isn’t altruistic, as if any action is or could be. But my motivation to change the game could be rational as opposed to appetitive, though they both would be personal. If I attempt to change the game I am not only doing something that benefits me, spreading the seeds of social justice about so that others can reap what I sow, as well as myself since I would ultimately be living in a better world without all the hateful drama that overburdens us. But also perhaps I could be modeling actions that others might want to emulate. When I am around a guy or guys, and one of the guys starts in on some tirade wherein casually telling a story or making a point, he continues to casually berate women, though he doesn’t necessarily mean to do it, I can enter the game by asking him why were the women in his story being constantly referred to as “bitches” or “girls?” When I have done this, some of the people in the mix get irritated because I derailed the story teller. Others think, “Oh, here he goes.” But I believe more and more people enjoy the fact that someone is challenging the story teller to be even more creative and less stereotypical in telling her/his story.

Everyone doesn’t necessarily know that referring to women as girls, wearing attire that might make others uncomfortable or criticizing other’s attire because it isn’t what we would wear, flaunting our size, economic status, or educational accomplishments, all contribute to a dysfunction that tears away at any sense of team or team building. When most of us are introduced to the thought that these things are painful to others, many of us try to change. But how many of us are prepared to not only change ourselves, but strap on the equipment and get in the game. If the game is life, and we can’t help but play it, shouldn’t we be playing a game that we can win? Hate, and anything that contributes to it, is a loser’s game. That is why the game plan for it is always developed in the shadows or whispered, but seldom shouted. If people who hate, or perhaps hate is too strong a word, how about dislike, or don’t care for others, have a difficult time describing why they feel that way, perhaps the reason is something that should really be considered. If everyone who hates actually took the time to critically engage why they feel so negative about this or that, perhaps they would discover how ridiculous it is too carry around all that negative energy. Half the people we hate aren’t thinking twice about us, so we spend all this energy thinking about them, and they are living life to the fullest, oblivious of their haters.

Are you a player in this game called life, or a benchwarmer, who when given the opportunity to play, or make a play, you don’t take advantage of it. I guess some people are just happy to be on the bench, close to the game.

Did I just describe you or someone you know? How so? How could you or them change? What’s preventing you or them from changing? How would your life be if everyone who has given up some aspect of their privilege to make you more comfortable had not done that? What type of world would we live in if everyone had your attitude about giving up a bit of their privilege to make others more comfortable?

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Comments

Hi J. W.!

You are such a prolific writer! Much too logical and prophetic for a right brained "girl?" such as I. I agree we all slip up from time to time and bite our tongues for acting obtuse.
As for the term "girl". J. W., I'm from strong French ancestry and grew up with a French grandmother who always referred to women as girls. Guess it's a cultural thing. "Girls day out" ... "Girls lunch" ... "meeting with the girls" and I, to this day, have Board meetings with the "girls". You see, the French (and I) do not mean this term as anything derogatory. Age is not a big issue with us. Age is relative. My friends and I are considered "seniors" - a term I dislike intensly - however, we're all young at heart. Good excuse ... maybe not ... but, what the hey ... life's too short.
Now, there are words I'd never use. Not only, would they disrespect the person about whom I was speaking , but would show my lack of intelligence and, without doubt, my ignorance.
There's a saying ... when we're younger we're so concerned about what people think about us; Then, we reach an age when we don't care what they think ... alas, when you reach my tender age, you realize they haven't given you a thought all along.
I like what you have to say. Ah, to be 20 again and attend your lectures. Now, for you, that would be a real treat! Logic vs illogic ... although, I know I'd be a better person for it.

Lynda

*** Lynda, You are so funny/intriguing to me. I enjoy reading your responses as much as you do my postings. If you want someone to believe how illogical you may be then you need to stop demonstrating how logical you are in the same response.

Some people would say as a woman you could call other women girls and not have any problems doing so because you are inside the culture. Others might try to paint you or anyone who uses so-called derogatory/belittling language (like blacks with the Nword, gays with fag, etc.) as someone suffering from self hatred/internalized oppression. But your contextualizing your articulation of the language within French culture gives you a free pass, or does it?

Until next time "woman!" *** -- J.W.

PS:

Within the "culture" J. W... hadn't thought of it that way, but you are correct.

Years ago, the P-R Sports Editor had hired new writers. To wit, I was particularly impressed with one of his new people (probably one who adored the NY Yankees!). I told him, "Bob, that new "kid" is really an exceptional writer."
Bob looked at me as though I had two heads ... "He IS NOT a KID. He is a MAN!"

Mea culpa! Yes, a free pass only applies to us within a single genre or, as you say, culture!

Until the next time, J. W.!

Lynda

The use of words is a powerfu idea that people need to consider. I think most people know when they are using a word to oppress another. The word "girl" in my culture(ethnically mixed but also part French) is definitely used in a derogatory way sometimes. "Oh your such a girl" used when a man or woman was crying. Or "you run like a girl" to belittle a man for not running well or not being athletic. "Or we are having a girls night out" What are we twelve? I think the use of this word gets handed down generation to generation. People stop thinking about what it means or don't care and use it anyway. Using words as an oppressive technique works so well because you are sending that message over and over to the other person and that person is internalizing it. Maybe more of an open mind and some sensitivity would be nice?!

*** D100, which is why the Nike commercial where they feature the phrase "you run like a girl" is so extraordinary. It puts value on a phrase that too many of us dismiss as harmless fodder, but that, as you so articulately implied creates a self hatred that is often very hard to see. *** -- J.W.

Courage. I really think it takes more than just a desire to change the game, it takes courage. Yes it is a big step for people to understand the power of words and the changes that need to be made. But it is an even bigger step to spread the "word". JW, you mentioned a situation of friends (men) talking and one of them referring to women as "bitches" and "girls." The fortitude and courage needed to stop a conversation with your friends to correct (possibly educate?) them is ENORMOUS. From personal experience, the reactions usually range from apathy to anger.

This is why I would like to give a quick point of advice. People tend to follow societies stereotypes even more closely when they are together (pack mentality possibly?). But one on one....? Think of all the most intimate and life changing discussions in your life. Chances are they were with one other person. So my advice to anyone wanting to change the game...build up the courage to do so and start with just that one person. Whether it's your significant other, your best friend or your mom or dad. Better to start somewhere than no where at all.

*** E, first and foremost, like Victor Laslo said to Bogart in Casablanca, "Welcome back to the fight, this time I know our side will win." It has been too long.

I agree with your advice. If each one reaches one and teaches one, we can advance the cause greatly. *** -- J.W.

Hmmm.... is calling oneself "girl" or "boy" really a form of self-hatred?

I guess I can see it either way. It seems to me that when my wife and her friends have a "girls night out", they are harkening back to a time when they really WERE girls... a point in life when the only thing that mattered was spending time with your closest friends... something about referencing that period when we learned about loyalty and camaraderie. Perhaps I am off...

(That said, someone recently referred to my wife as a "good girl" and the steam coming from my ears was visible.)

Men seem to use the term "boy" in much the same manner, although if I am being honest with myself I realize that by saying we are with "the boys", we are attempting to skirt expectations of maturity and rational behavior. Somehow it is okay to stay out too late.... or get in a fight.... or participate in any other behavior unbecoming of a mature human male.... if we couch the experience in being "with the boys."

Consider the classic power ballad, "Beth", by Kiss. Even though the right thing to do is to go home and be with Beth, Peter Criss still sings this last line:

"Me and the boys will be playing all night."

Is this self-hatred?

Doesn't seem so. Rather, it is another example of what men can (mostly) get away with by playing dumb. Boys will be boys.....

for as long as we can get away with it.

*** Chris, I agree with you that every use of the terms girl and boy aren't self hatred, but certain uses are none the less quite problematic. My biggest concern is that when the term girl is used so casually, when a woman deserves to be verbally respected as an equal the term girl can be levied against her in a non-threatening threatening manner that almost makes her feel as if she is wrong for taking umbrage with its use and wanting to be called a woman instead of a girl. *** -- J.W.

Boy, girl, call me whatever, I don't really care. For the record, I'm 33 and I guess technically a man, but honestly don't care how I am referred to. I think when one feels comfortable in one's own skin and truly happy with the person he or she is, it no longer matters how others refer to them. Some may say I can make this statement because I am white and appear in good health and am therefore privileged and don't know what it is like to be referred to in a specific way. Of course, one would be ignorant to say this as I happen to fall into several groups with my own mental-health issues, a daughter who is part black and part white and a son who would be considered mentally retarded. But I think one needs to consider the backgrounds of the individuals making certain statements before jumping to conclusions or growing angry about certain comments taht, in the scheme of things matter little. and even then, I think if you are truly happy with yourself, or love yourself as Osho would want us to do, then comments from others matter little. So call me boy girl, man whatever, doesn't matter

*** Steve, you know what I like about you is your consistency. You proudly wear your awareness of your privilege and feel good about the fact that you can articulate your way around it because of other forms of social injustices that you have had to engage. But what you fail to process as you dismiss the necessity for dialogue about language like "girl" and "boy" is that it isn't about you, a privileged 33 year old man who "doesn't care." It is about those that don't necessarily have that privilege, at least in some contexts, and that do care about it. Since you went there, I will to. It is about people like your son, whom you say "who would be considered mentally retarded." The same people who cavalierly toss about the term "girl" towards a grown woman will be tossing out terms towards your progeny and others like him, if we don't start to care, and change the game. *** --J.W.

No better place to “get in the game”, but at the beginning, I guess. In a previous incarnation, I worked for a very large national company dispatching truck drivers around the Northeast. I worked with a gentleman that was in his early sixties. Many times when he worked with the drivers, he would call them ‘boss’, “yes, boss”, “there you go, boss”; reminiscent of Morgan Freeman in “The Shawshank Redemption,” asking his new employer if he could use the restroom, “bathroom break, boss?” Freeman’s character used the term in the sense that he was less a person as a parolee, an African American in a predominantly white society or a clerk working for another person. I have always been disturbed by my coworker’s use of the term. He was not in a position that was subservient to the drivers and he was older than the people he worked for (and with); he didn’t seem to have had a life that generated the self loathing that I always felt his use of “boss” was symptomatic of.

So many terms minimize people and their position; my sister dates a very fine man, he is not a “boyfriend”, nor is the male partner of a man I know his “boyfriend.” They have been together for over 20 years, and not since they were boys. Which reminds me of a phrase another person has used to describe homosexual men, “happy boys”; are these “happy boys” going through a youthful phase, or maybe not able to make mature decisions about their sexuality? Why would they be any happier than other young men?

I learned a lot from my mother. Always call someone Mr. or Ms., out of respect. At least until they ask you to call them by their first name. My mother also told us that “kids” are baby goats, not children. Mom is always angry to hear someone “runs (or throws) like a girl,” I just point out to the offender that “of course she runs like a girl, she IS a girl,” or “no, he throws like himself.” I have been in the position to work with teenagers in the last few years, and always try to call them “ladies and gentlemen.” It is one way to communicate that I know they are not children and that I have optimistic expectations about their behavior. I call them Mister or Miss, and use their last name in hopes that they get used to hearing the title and also use it when they address someone in public.

Just when you think "girl’s night out" can’t get any worse, here’s one last one, I have female relatives in Europe who attend pre-wedding parties for the bride and her friends called… (choke!)… “hen parties”.

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