Thursday, June 9, 2016

Everyone Else's Burden: The White Man's Privilege

A knowledgeable viewer critiques, not just consumes, and can differentiate between real life and make believe. We always say art imitates life, but art also imitates fantasy and pure drivel, which can be destructive if mistaken for reality. The more mindful and observant we become in our viewing practices, whether we're watching films, the news, or advertisements, the more critical we will become and able to recognize some things in life that are false, indecent, or just plain wrong. We will also be able to put ourselves into the shoes of others and call foul when people are being dehumanized, when the powerful try to pass off their oppression as normal and say, "That's just the way real life works."

The Brock Turner case has me thinking about male privilege and how men and women are treated differently. All day I've been thinking about Brock Turner's former high school teacher writing to the judge and saying he would trust Brock Turner with his daughter. When I read that, I thought, Really? You would trust a rapist to go out with your daughter?! I wonder how your daughter feels about that! Then I realized this high school teacher puts women into two categories: the good girls who don't get raped, i.e. his daughter, and the bad ones who do. So in other words, he's blaming the victim. 

The short film, "No Bikini," shows how girls are groomed for their lower status in life, corralled into strict gender roles, and given clothing that either teaches them to be modest and submissive or an object of beauty to go on display.

When I was younger, I cut my hair short and dressed like a boy. I felt safer as a boy, more confident. I think about those days the same way the narrator in the film reminiscences about her six weeks of boyhood, six weeks of bliss. Today when I was expressing my anger and dismay about the Brock Turner case to a man, I said, "We still have a long way to go. In America, there's fast forgiveness if you're white, male, and upper class. You can rape an unconscious woman and get away with a light sentence." The horrifying response meant to be a joke was, "I'm moving to America!" Only in a rape culture would such a "joke" be uttered.  

When I showed this film to students, I asked them to consider the following questions: How does Ms. Delaware treat boys and girls in her swim class differently? How do the swimming styles differ between boys and girls? If Robin hadn't undergone a change, would she have been able to achieve the same level of confidence and skill? What was the mother's reaction when she learned about Robin's achievements? Would the mother's reaction have been different if Robin were a boy? How so?

By refining our critical viewing skills, maybe we can start to notice and criticize some troubling aspects of a culture that is stratified by white, male privilege and has stripped the right of women to feel safe.

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