Unconscious Maintenance of the Status Quo

2 Nov

I (Stacia) was at the park with Amalia a couple of days ago and there was a man there playing with his son and several other boys. The boys looked like they ranged in age from about 4-7 years old. I had seen this same man there before several weeks prior. This time like the last, he was very energetically involved in a game of tag with the kids. The boys were loving it and his attention as well. Then, one of the children accidentally got hurt and began to cry. The man ignored him and kept playing with the other 2 boys until one of the boys said, “Dad, he’s hurt” while pointing in the direction of the child. The man turned his attention to the crying child and said, “Oh you are going to cry. Should I bring you a doll and we can play some girl games?” The boy stopped crying and hid his face in his knees for a few seconds while the other boys looked on. He eventually got up and joined the game of tag again.

The man indirectly taught the three children that “girl’s games” are less valuable (and perhaps girls too) and that it is shameful to show feelings or admit to being hurt. There is a good chance that this was completely unintentional and that he does not have anything against women (it looked like he was a very engaged dad). These types of messages (“you throw like a girl!”) have been passed on from father to son, from men to other men, for as long as most can remember. They are for the large part unconscious and thought to be harmless. That is the insidious part of it all. Behaviors such as described above are viewed as socially “normal” and yet they help to maintain a culture of oppression where some people are perceived as more valuable than others. Boys are better than girls, straight people are more valuable than gay people, Americans are more important than…..well-anybody else! You get the picture.

This little encounter made me wonder what I say and do unconsciously to maintain a status quo that is unjust. Do I accidentally say things that prop up white privilege? Heterosexuality? Able-bodiedness? Ageism? Classism? I hope that I do not. But, just in case, I will keep learning, listening, reading, and just in general EVOLVING.

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3 Responses to “Unconscious Maintenance of the Status Quo”

  1. Gary Powless November 3, 2009 at 1:36 am #

    What a very teachable moment for the right individual,problem is this opportunity has also the potential of tragedy for the would be teacher.A quick and acccurate assessment of the capacity for change within the recipient would be well advised.Difficult situation with great potential….so goes the nature of social change.

    • Stacia Mesleh November 25, 2009 at 5:32 pm #

      Thanks Gary, I probably did miss a teachable moment. Do you have any suggestions for how I could have addressed this without shutting him down? So often people try to use shame to teach others and it simply does not work–the recipient of shame launches into a defensive, protect the ego mode. I do the same thing. It seems programed into us. I wish I were quick enough on my feet to think of humorous ways of addressing things in the moment, but I usually only think of those later when it is no longer useful. Suggestions are welcome. Thanks again!

  2. Jonathan November 22, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    As a new father of a 10 month old boy, this situation is my greatest fear, both for the impact on those boys, but on those that encounter them later in life. My perspective is that until those with privilege understand the cost to themselves, they won’t readily change their behavior. We are only human to some degree, and self interest goes a long way. The reason I fear my son embracing these messages is certainly motivated by a deep believe in equality and social justice. However, having been that guy who wanted to be more of a “man” than my friends, I know all to well the emotional and social consequences, and that I think is a pretty common male experience that can be a starting point for that conversation. Everyone pays a price for the existence of privilege, albeit to very different extents, but it’s much easier to ask someone to dismantle something that causes them harm than to rely on their altruism. That is a place that everyone can agree with… and with any luck, that’s how we reach critical mass.

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