There has recently been an explosion in the blog-sphere about a particular incident that was subsequently highlighted by Rebecca Watson and has featured numerous blogs and posts from a variety of sites and bloggers, and the underlying theme revolves around white male privilege (more links to the discussions are on the following pages).
Link with you tube video
The situation has been described at length in the above links and from my perspective, I am trying to get my head around why this particular incident has been focused on and my thoughts lead me to some wider issues that have been addressed on blogs recently.
Essentially, a guy propositions Rebecca Watson in an elevator at 4am by asking her back to his room. To be fair, all that was said originally is that guys really souldn't do that. However, from my perspective (bearing in mind no harm was done) it seems a case of A felt X therefore A's feelings get to dictate B's actions. This has now expanded into discussions of male behaviour.
I think in this case, the guys behaviour was certainly poorly chosen and open to misinterpretation. But was it misogyny and sexism? Does someone expressing an interest in an individual they are attracted to become sexism if the recipient does not like it? Do the circumstances dictate whether it is sexism or not, for example, location? I think all reasonable people acknowledge that the answer is probably no, and yet here we have this type of situation being used as an example of (white) male privilege.
Do we regulate people's behaviour simply because we do not agree with them? The outcry revolving around the elevator incident stems from a perception, quite possibly a correct assumption, of sexual intent. A guy propositioning a woman is not sexism, it is not repression of her rights, it is not an attack, it is not harmful. Where those things are a problem they should be addressed, but this is not one of those examples. A proposition may be complimentary, flattering, reciprocated or uncomfortable, awkward and coercive depending on the individuals and circumstances in question. It was quite clearly not a rape or anything that will cause lasting (if any) effects to Rebecca Watson. If we chose, as feminists, to go down a route of dictating to others what each of us wants personally (and this will be very confusing as not everyone thinks the same way) then why should we protest at things like the bans on gay marriage that are based on the same type of argument, that the concepts and ideas resulting from a certain action will upset people who disagree with it?
What some the recent feminism posts (http://skepchick.org/2011/06/ai-tell-me-how-i-should-feel/) white male privilege (blinded-by-the-white and why-blindness-is-not-equality) posts seem to revolve around are vast generalizations and forcing a group of people to be accountable for the actions of individuals, and it is this that I have a real issue with, whether the topic is sexism or racism or the perception of privilege.
Individuals have a variety of different challenges in life, some are good at social interaction and some are really bad at it, others will be born into a wealthy family and others into a poor one, and we are all born with a range of abilities, disabilities, strengths and weaknesses etc. etc. Not all white men benefit from the perception of white male privilege, and not all individuals in minorities are at a disadvantage. There ARE societal ills that cause trends in populations, such as lack of educational opportunities etc. There ARE prevalent perceptions in society that makes being a member of the "in" groups problematic. There IS misogyny, sexism, racism, discrimination against people with disabilities etc in society, in organizations, from individuals. Yes, THESE issues should be addressed and I am not arguing that these things do not exist, they do. Should not these issues and the factors causing them be what is addressed? Are not education and information the best weapons against this type of thing, rather than cowing those who fit into whatever generalization is topic of the day? White male privilege is sexist and racist in itself, using gender and race to select people and make judgments about them , regardless of whether it is positive or negative, is still racist and sexist. A work colleague of mine claimed that he hired someone specifically because she was a woman and women are better at doing certain tasks, according to him. A prime example of sexism and one I made a point of illustrating to him. These things are in place. That said, sexual attraction to another and expressing it, no matter how poorly done and how badly the circumstances chosen to make the move in, is not sexist and it is not accessing a gender privilege. here is some news, women do it to men as well. Women do it to other women, men to other men, humans do it to humans regardless of their gender and orientation.
Suggestions stemming from the generalizations of male behaviour and intent are the forcible modification of that behaviour. Society already forces behaviour modification with regard to passing certain laws and punishing those who transgress. There is a role for this in keeping innocent people safe. But that role is correctly limited and governing non harmful human interactions seems a futile effort and bordering on immoral (and yes, I think the elevator incident has been inflated out of all proportion). Why is your perception the correct one? What makes it correct? Why do you have the right to dictate how other people behave when looking for a partner or in communicating with you or in living their own lives (providing no harm is done to others)?
While there is pressure in some skeptic circles to actively address some of these issues by employing positive selection procedures and by castigating anyone who might disagree, no matter how slightly, I for one will decline. I am not going to use racism and sexism in order to defeat it. I am not going to ask others to do something that I will not do myself. At the end of the day, there is only one person we can actually control, and that is ourselves. How much we allow the opinion of others to influence us is our choice and it is always good to keep in mind that another may well be perceiving the situation in a very different manner from our own.
Skeptical kinkster musing on whatever takes my fancy!