Category Archives: Equality

The myth of “freedom of opportunity”

I grew up in an area that many people deem to be, quote, “ghetto as fuck.” My high school was right across the street from a park notorious for drug deals, my freshman class’ count was over 1,000 while less than 600 of us made it to graduation day, etc. I have always noted post-High School that I was lucky to have the teachers that I did have; while none of them said it out loud, it was quite clear that they were training us to succeed based on our hard work, talent and intelligence because, after all, very few of us had been born into any chances and even fewer would be able to get by on their looks.

While in high school, I was introduced to the idea of “freedom of opportunity.” Supposedly, this was an “American value,” the idea that everybody deserves the same chances in life, and that what they do with said chances determines their future success. In this way, the onus falls onto the government to provide the opportunity, and the people to use the opportunity.

It’s a lovely idea. And it’s bullshit.

I don’t claim that this is bullshit based on personal experience, which would be easy enough to qualify but does not carry enough weight. No, I’m calling bullshit based on facts and figures.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently published their findings regarding the amount of money an American makes over their lifetime from their employment. The following is a chart detailing pay gap:

From http://kaysteiger.com/

The obvious implications are that, as we have known, men make more than women. While this obviously makes my feminist heart sink, it is the rest of the study that makes me even more angry.

According to these findings, “[African Americans and Latinos] make close to a million dollars less [than Whites]” over their lifetime, even when working the same amount of time and the same position as their white counterpart.

These charts show the results of people from all walks of education, from those who never completed high school to those who have completed post-doctoral, professional degrees. Even those women and people of any other race or ethnicity than “Caucasian” who reached the top are earning far less than their white, cis-gendered male counterparts.

This doesn’t even take into account this simple fact: while women have, technically, surpassed men in numbers of recent college graduates, people of color are statistically less likely to reach a higher education level than a high school diploma. While being Caucasian at my high school technically put me into a racial/ethnic minority within that pool of students, there were far more Caucasian teachers and staff at my high school than there were teachers and staff of color. The reason why “freedom of opportunity” can never be a reality is because, for many cultures, family trumps education. Statistically, many families of color cannot afford to send a son or daughter to college when the family needs money at that moment. Many high-school students, graduated or not, find it much easier to take over the family trade and help their parents rather than to make the immediately-“selfish” decision to further their education. And the trend continues.

Perhaps we should call it what it is: we don’t have “freedom of opportunity,” we have “freedom of white people to make themselves feel better by pretending that offering specialized scholarship opportunities is the same thing as making a culture in which everyone has the same opportunity to succeed.”

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My privilege is showing.

What I am about to write is important to me, and I think it’s very important to my blog for me to take note of my biases, my privileges, my experiences. I live with scientists, and have been posing the question to them recently: does your personal experience, your bias, your privileges, your experience, do these things factor into how you interpret or accept new data?” This is important to the field of science. And, turning it inwards, I note: this is important to life.

My background is not very interesting, nor is it very significant. I am a white female, born into an almost-middle-class, Southern Baptist family. The first year that my class was administered governmental standardized end-of-year tests (first grade, I believe?) I was the only student to score in the 99-percentile range (all of my scores were in the 99-percentile range). From this point on, I was treated as an intelligent child, which cushioned me from many of the hardships that children face from struggling with academics and being chastised for it. I was never treated as less capable (especially in math) because of my sex-chromosomes, though I did witness this happening often to other cis-females in the class. In fact, I was often asked to give private, after class tutoring to other girls who were struggling in math (never the boys, however). While I lived in very close proximity to a low-income city until I left for college, I actually lived in a city which is considered to be much safer, more quiet, more calm than its adjacent, surrounding neighbors. The most opposition I ever faced was some light bullying from older girls in Elementary School (stopped when my sister bravely stood up to them for me) and then again when I was teased for dressing like a boy in Junior High (from the same girl from before, again stopped when I mentioned that my same sister was currently serving time in a juvenile corrections facility. Apparently this implied threat of her eventual presence was more than enough). My own mind is what gave me more opposition in my life than any other person.

While I have faced incidences of relative injustice in my life (all very light, all very small) I have to admit that I have been very, well, privileged. I was born without fear of racism or racial discrimination, I was born without and have never experienced physical handicap, I was insulated from much gender discrimination by virtue of being considered “smart” (something with implications that is infuriating, of course), I was born outside of and have never lived in poverty, and my relative heterosexuality (I’m very queer and much more than incidentally attracted to women, though most people don’t know this because I have never acted on it) has insulated me from personally experiencing homophobia. Honestly, the only aspect of myself that puts me into a minority of any kind is the fact that I am an atheist, and it’s not like puts me at any threat of bodily harm, generally. Also, while I have faced some instances of being discriminated against due to mental-health-related issues, this has had very little effect on me.

I don’t even need to say that my life has been easy, relatively- it has been easy, and that’s that. Obviously I have faced difficulties in my life, but any sort of discrimination is not something that I come face-to-face with on a daily basis.

The fights and battles that I am interested in fighting are, largely, not my own. I fight for reproductive rights, because I believe that, without adequate reproductive rights, the people who are hurt the most are people who are of color, live in poverty, and have fully-functioning vaginae and uteri. I fight for queer rights, because there is no reason to discriminate against somebody based on their sexual/gender identity, their sexuality, or anything else that makes them supposedly “other.” I fight for people of color, not because they need a white person on their side, but because the inequalities have not been erased, because we still live in a society and a judiciary system that still perpetuates the problems and the stereotypes that give people of color more to fight against. I fight for disability rights and against ableism, because everybody should have equality of opportunity, and because the need is still there. I fight against poverty, nationally and globally, because it is a travesty on the part of the human race, and because it is connected to everything. I fight for education, because I think that it is the key to change and to progress.

I fight because I care. I fight because I am a humanist. I fight because it’s moral and ethical and true to my values.

But I have to understand- though I am willing to fight, I first have to listen.

So I invite people to share their stories. Their own experiences, the prejudice they have faced, their own privileges. I meant it when I said that education is the key to change and to progress, and it starts here.

The problems with “nice guy” syndrome

Richard Dawkins giving a lecture based on his ...
"Freethinking" is not always equal to "understanding." #listenup

(While this could certainly apply to other groups of male-identifying persons and also non-straight persons, I’m going to focus this point on cis-gendered, heterosexual men.)

As somebody who played an instrument in the low brass and was even low brass section leader in marching band for two years, and also as somebody who is aspiring to work in male-dominated industries (web design, academia) I have been lucky enough to meet a variety of men and get to know many different male minds. I would never say that I have a full understanding of the way men think, but I would say that I know some general male traits and actions, and I know what men have said to me. Everything I say in this post is directed at the group of cis-gendered, heterosexual men who identify as “Nice Guys,” and believe me when I say that there are many, many of them.

The “Nice Guy” is not necessarily defined by his actions, which may include being a good listener to the females in his life, “always being there,” and other things that are supposed to set him apart as “better” than the other cis-gendered, heterosexual men that a woman may meet, though these are what a “Nice Guy” would use to define himself. All of these things may seem nice, and they will probably earn him many good, female friends. He just loves women so much, you see. However, once the female he has been “nice” to informs him that she’s not interested in him romantically or sexually, all of this love seems to fall away. Suddenly, she’s a bitch who is obviously going to go bang some asshole instead of you and that makes her stupid and ungrateful.

Why does this happen?

Because, under the surface, Nice Guys are “nice” because it’s their way of trying to attract women. They believe that if they treat a woman “better,” that she will sleep with them, perhaps go out with them, marry them, or any other reward they are seeking. When the woman doesn’t immediately realize how much “better” he is, the man becomes immediately enraged, suddenly assuming that she isn’t smart enough to see that she only likes assholes.

If you don’t see what’s wrong with being a Nice Guy, it’s this: despite your “nice” actions, you are still living under the assumption that how you treat a woman entitles you to some sort of appreciation, or some part of her body. If you haven’t noticed by now, this makes you an asshole, too.

I understand that, for many men, it’s difficult to imagine what makes a woman upset when she gets whistled at/yelled at when walking down the street. “It’s a compliment.” For many men, it’s also difficult to see why getting hit on feels degrading in some circumstances. “It must be so difficult to be wanted.”

Obviously, voicing an interest in another human being isn’t just understandable, it’s essential to our survival. At some point, a person must show interest in another person, and if the second person reciprocates interest then a lot of good can happen. But that doesn’t make all attention good; context is key here. If a person is at a place that signals their availability/desire for finding attraction (e.g.: Speed Dating, an online dating website, a singles mixer, a singles church group, etc.) and they are approached, and then if they voice reciprocal interest, then asking for a date/later meeting time/coffee/etc is perfectly acceptable. If you already know a person and have grown feelings for them, and then present your feelings and they reciprocate, then you probably have the go-ahead to ask for a date/later meeting time/coffee/etc.

From my perspective, there are very few other scenarios in which getting hit on doesn’t feel like an invasion, or inappropriate, or rude, or just downright uncalled for. Getting yelled at on the street isn’t fun; it’s frightening, especially if the car circles back to do it again (this has happened to be often), and it’s also giving a clear message of “I’m going to assert my dominance over you and make you out to be a purely sexual object because it’s culturally acceptable for me to do so.” Being listened to/treated “nicely” by a man who gets angry when you turn him down sends the message: “I’ll be nice to you as long as you reward me in the end.”

And, for the record, if a woman spends her time giving a panel about treating women well in the atheist community, then later makes it clear that she is going to bed, this isn’t an invitation for you to ask her to have coffee with you in your room whilst in an elevator. Whatever the intentions, this is still a power play, and it sends the message of: “I’m going to show my interest in you while you’re vulnerable and I have the ability to trap you in an enclosed space with me.” I’m not saying that Elevator Guy had intentions of hurting her, and I can perfectly imagine him thinking of himself as a nice guy, if not a Nice Guy (“I’m so much better because I like her for her brain and not just her body”).

I wish I could call him an Uninformed Guy, but the fact that he attended her panel says that he isn’t uninformed, he’s just clueless. As are many men. Because, for the record, what we need to be fighting for is eliminating all forms of oppression, not just the most extreme forms. Yes, Muslim women being mutilated and stripped of their rights is tragic, and we should be fighting against it. But we should also be fighting against all forms of sexual oppression, even the most clueless forms, the forms that Richard Dawkins himself is perpetuating. I personally don’t understand the paradox of any atheist man viewing himself as oppressed for his (lack of) religious views, and fighting for more awareness- and then having no compassion or understanding for sexually oppressed persons, some of whom live in a society that has a more active role in limiting women, and some of whom live in a society that has made some changes but still has a long way to go. That would be like somebody saying “hey, we have one atheist active congressperson, and also there have been books about atheism that were successful, so we’ve made it and we don’t have to fight anymore.”

My rambling thoughts are rambling, so I will end with: as a cis-gendered heterosexual man, please #listenup. If you want to go from being a Nice Guy to a nice guy, then look at your motivations for how you treat your the females in your life. If you find that your intentions are less than genuine, then congratulations: you’ve listened, and hopefully learned.

Hey, cis-gendered heterosexual males: comment and post any/all ways in which you have ever felt oppressed/objectified by other people in your life, male-identifying, female-identifying, genderqueer, etc. All sexual oppression needs to stop.