Monday, November 9, 2015

Because we hate you

I probably don't have to add another voice to the throngs of people guffawing over the ridiculousness associated with supposed Christians' outcry over the Starbucks holiday cup design, but bear with me here.

If you haven't heard, here's the summary: Every year, Starbucks reveals a new "holiday" design for their cups for the season, and usually they feature snow, ornaments, or some other somewhat-secular-but-honestly-pretty-Christmassy art. This year, they have a plain-ish red gradient. And some wingnut decided this decision by Starbucks executives is indicative of a War on Christmas (along the same lines as previous years' interpretation of "happy holidays" replacing "Merry Christmas" as attacks on Christian morals, etc.).

I'm not writing about this because I want to analyze the ridiculousness here, though. I'm writing about this because it's a pretty good recent example of a consistent phenomenon amongst privileged people.

Which is to interpret lack of special treatment as an ATTACK ON YOU.

Folks with certain kinds of privileges are so used to being catered to that when it does not happen without question, it actually feels like someone is declaring hatred. That a major corporation did not explicitly decorate its cups for Your Holiday indicates that they are actively trying to hurt you, rip something precious away from you, deny you something you deserve.

No acknowledgment is made that secular corporations aren't obligated to support any particular religious holiday. No acknowledgment is made that failure to support a holiday does absolutely zero to impede others' celebration of it. No acknowledgment is made that non-participation in a holiday does not indicate a statement against it or the religion that celebrates it. No acknowledgment is made that every other religion is left out if a single global design supports one holiday and not any others. And no acknowledgment is made that even though it is the least explicit of the designs so far, a red-and-green cup is STILL more "Christamassy" than it is anything else. People who are upset about Starbucks not releasing an explicitly Christmas design would not be upset if they didn't actually believe they deserve special treatment for their holiday, though. They would not be acting like this if they didn't believe they were under attack. They would not be making a huge deal out of it if they didn't think lack of explicit catering to their holiday indicates that this corporation is trying to destroy their religion, their values, or their freedom.

It obviously leaves the rest of us scratching our heads, though.

The other places I've seen this lately is in groups of white people insisting they're being shamed for their skin color/culture if any statement about the value of black lives is uttered, and in groups of men insisting they're being devalued and attacked if women are uplifted or protected.

When the Black Lives Matter movement was created in response to a consistent cultural demonstration that black lives apparently do not matter, angry white people flipped out assuming that this was an attack on them. Their primary response was to a) remind everyone that ALL lives matter and b) squawk that they themselves are not racist. To automatically "see" a group of people trying to assert their humanity in the face of racist crimes as primarily a commentary on white people is kind of amazing, honestly. They didn't say "we matter more" or "only we matter." They just said "we matter." And if you believe mattering is about rising above you or giving you the finger, you're responding to something that has nothing to do with you as if it's primarily about hating you.

As a white person, my job is mostly to get out of the way, don't make it worse, and when possible, point to the black voices who are saying the elegant stuff that's important about this movement. It is not my job to explain why I'm one of the good ones, explain why it's not white people's fault, or bring up what black people should do different if they want to matter more. This isn't about me (except for the bits where I participate, knowingly or not, in the status quo persisting), and I shouldn't try to make #BlackLivesMatter about myself.

I can say something a little more eloquent about the sexist nonsense, though.

When surveyed regarding, say, the issue of last name changes for married people, many people regardless of gender believe that a woman changing her last name to a man's is a neutral act. A woman keeping her own name is not a neutral act; it's a feminist statement. A man changing his name is not a neutral act; it's a symbol that he is "whipped." But a woman changing her name is "neutral." It either doesn't mean anything about the man's status being higher than hers OR it means that if his status is higher than hers, that's how it's supposed to be in a "balanced" relationship.

Taken out of historical context, a man keeping his name and a woman keeping her name--or both of them hyphenating their shared name--is the "equal" option. But many people still "see" it as evidence of imbalance, and some people asked to defend their belief have said it suggests the woman does not know her place, wants more recognition than she should, is "uppity," or is dominating the man in an unbecoming way. You often don't ask why a woman changed her name to the man's. But women who don't change their names or choose hyphenated names are asked to explain why they made this radical choice. What does it mean that you didn't want your family identity obscured by a new name? What does it mean that you want the name you grew up with to continue being used? What does it mean that you want a symbol of your marriage to include both of you? Hey, why are you so selfish?

People don't really ask why the man is "selfish" enough to want his name to represent both married people. It's not even considered selfish. It's literally considered a neutral act, and anything else suggests the woman wants something that should not be hers, hates men, doesn't respect marriage, is impractical, or "wants to wear the pants." I obviously don't believe women who change their names in marriage are losing their identities or buckling to pressure, and I obviously don't believe there is automatic male selfishness being displayed if the man's name is chosen to represent the couple, but I DO believe that when people try to shame women for NOT changing their names, they are perceiving a literally equal act as an attack on men.

And it goes on. "He" is considered neutral by many established English conventions. "Guys" and "men" is considered a neutral group title, and can be used to describe groups of men or groups of men and women. But if you ever tried to come up to a group of men and women and used the phrase "all right, let's go, ladies!" you'd get all kinds of confusion and possibly outbursts and protests. If you call a mixed group "guys," that's cool, even though technically that's only some of them. If you call a mixed group "ladies" even though that's only some of them, you're insulting the men in the group.

Some people shrug and say "what's the big deal?" Indeed, I don't mind being part of "you guys." Because I've been trained to feel that "guys" can be neutral, even though when you say "some guy" you don't ever, ever picture a woman. I've been taught to feel that the default is male and that that's okay when we speak in generalities, and I've been taught to feel that a genderless stick figure is a man unless it has a skirt on. I've been taught that a cartoon character is a boy unless it has lipstick and eyelashes and probably boobs and a bow on its head, even if it's an alien or an animal that doesn't have eyelashes or boobs. Male is neutral. Female is marked.

How can we make sure people know it's a girl hot dog??
Simple! Lipstick, boobs, lady hair, high heels, and a purse.

And again, why do we care? Well, if you spend your whole life being told that male is default, that has an effect on you. If you're male and you're consistently told that man is person but woman is woman, you get a different message than if you're female and you're consistently told those things. "A man walks into a bar" jokes aren't generally about the man being a man. If you start the joke with "A woman walks into a bar," you assume her being a woman is important to the joke, and if it isn't, you may be so distracted by the mention of her gender that you try to figure out how being a lady figures into the joke and miss the punchline. If you mention she's a woman, it's probably not incidental.

This isn't harmless, or at least it isn't neutral. And when people tell us we're making things up or "shouldn't" care, they're just reinforcing that either we need to get used to groups that include men and women being defined by the men or that we need to be okay with always being the marked gender. It isn't just a matter of language. Books about boys are marketed as kids' books. Books about girls are marketed as girls' books. People who aren't boys or girls (or men or women) are expected to just acknowledge that they're "really" one of the two, or accept that there aren't enough people like them to matter when we discuss representation. Girls are encouraged to enjoy and identify with stories about both boys and girls, but boys aren't asked to enjoy entertainment that's primarily about girls; it's not "for" them, and it's actively offensive and gross and girly and weird (and the marketers will probably cover it with sparkles and paint it pink to make sure boys don't think it's for them). They'll grow up believing whatever is in those girl books is vapid and silly, and that the girls who enjoy them like vapid and silly things, while the stuff marketed to boys is logical and scientific and realistic and important. Girls may believe that stuff about themselves too.

Asking a boy to enjoy a book about a girl might very well be taken as a direct insult to his masculinity. They didn't ask him to try to be a girl. They didn't ask him to stop identifying as a boy or liking things boys like. But ask him to read a book about a princess or a superhero team of all girls and you might as well punch him in the gut because you're actively insulting him. (This is a generalization, of course; lots of boys like these things, but many of them will be teased or harassed by other boys.) Shannon Hale sometimes writes about these kinds of issues. She's noticed that because her books frequently have girls on the cover, she's perceived as a "girl" author and when she does school visits sometimes they only ask the girls to attend it. She's also noticed that when she mentions "boy" interests she'll get applause and crowing, while as soon as she mentions dolls or stereotypically girl interests the boys will start shrieking and booing, as if to announce that THEY DON'T LIKE THAT GIRL STUFF BOOOOO, and this is acceptable even though the girls don't boo the robots. They aggressively attack female-centric stuff, but it's not because they actively hate it. They haven't even tried it. They're interpreting it as a direct attack on boys existing in mixed spaces. If they have to tolerate or read or think about "girl stuff," it disgusts them and is unreasonable and is hurting their perception of themselves as male.

I mean, how many dudes have you heard of who don't want to be caught dead holding a lady's bag while she goes to the bathroom or don't want the plastic bag from the store to be pink or have flowers on it? Because OH GOD SOMEONE MIGHT QUESTION THAT HE'S MANNISH ENOUGH. If he TOUCHES or is SEEN WITH something that might be associated with women. He's preemptively perceiving that other men will see him like this, and he sees himself like this. It's actually pretty frightening.

This all goes back to people perceiving that they are being actively attacked and hurt if they are not prioritized. They wouldn't see an equal male/female cabinet as remarkable and clearly some kind of political FEMINIST AGENDA if they didn't feel that the natural order of things was for women to be significantly underrepresented. They wouldn't feel that this is UNFAIR or WRONG if they didn't believe men deserve to sit in most of the seats. This is how they act when it's literally equal. They're livid. They're freaking out. They think things will change for the horrible if women get equal representation. It's like when people flipped out over women getting the vote and insisted "a woman's vote can only either double or cancel out the vote of her husband!" But not one thought is given to how women felt about being incredibly underrepresented in government, and how they continue to feel when their percentages are usually in the teens and early twenties in governing bodies. Men are furious and remain convinced that this GYNOCRACY is going to upend some natural order, but they don't believe women have any reason to be upset if men are overwhelmingly running the government. They think it's an attack on them when women are equally represented, but they think we're whining about nothing if we say "hey, maybe this is a bad idea for half of us" to a group of 85% men as a governing body.

And all they can think is that it must be about hate. They must HATE your religion if they won't print cups with your Christian holiday. They must HATE your majority race if another race needs a movement to protect themselves from unspeakable violence. They must HATE your maleness if they won't default to it.

People who are overrepresented in these situations should take the opportunity to listen to the underrepresented. They should take a moment to examine why they believe themselves the default, the deserving, the central. They should ask themselves why "a woman walks into a bar" implies that the woman's womanness is central to the joke. They should ask themselves why, when black lives are consistently under attack, they react to "black lives matter" with "wait, why are you demonizing the rest of us and saying WE don't matter?" They should ask themselves why they expect companies across the world to actively cater to their holiday or else they must be saying they hate you

We don't hate you when we try to love ourselves. We don't hate you through the action of not prioritizing you. We don't hate you when we do something that's about us.

But we'll probably start if you don't stop.

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