What if that Pebble Becomes a Boulder?: Racism and Sexism on Campus and in Everyday Life

The theme of one of the common complaints I often get from students in my women’s studies classes is “feminism is so depressing.” Students, young and fresh-faced, though eager to dissect and critique the world around them, also seem to yearn to look through the world through rose-colored glasses. They generally dive into analyzing privilege and oppression historically, happy to give examples of the injustices our world has doled out for centuries. However, when asked to hold up a mirror to their contemporary moment, they often like to focus on the positive changes, suggesting that somehow all the rumors of a “post-racial” and “post-feminist” society are true. It is partially my job to place large cracks in such a rosey-eyed view, revealing that, yes, racism, sexism, homophobia and all those other ugly –isms are still going strong.

On the campus where I teach, this was in shocking evidence today on, of all places, a bathroom wall. The picture above, sent to me by a student, was taken last night in one of the main campus buildings. Placed there on the eve of the statewide day of action defending education budgets, it is surely a modern-day exhortation to “keep your mouth shut,” a threat to those of us on the side of history that seek to progress society towards justice rather than conserve the longstanding privileges that the maker of this sign unabashedly seeks to maintain. (And don’t you just love how there is a heart above the ‘i’ on this message?!?)

While I had planned to post something upbeat today about my daughter turning eleven this week, detailing positive changes in culture compared to when I turned eleven in 1982, my own rosey-eyed view of feminist accomplishments has suffered a brutal beating in the past few days. Locally, just in this past week, there has been news of a high school senior sexually assaulted and murdered, there has been a spate of racist attacks at local college campuses (with the picture above only one of many incidents), there was, just yesterday, another young woman attacked by two men at a local park.

On a more personal level, I was told by my son’s principal that a teacher’s P.E. commentary, consisting of “you throw like a girl” and “don’t use the girly weights” are meant to be “humorous.” “She is a very strong woman,” he assured me, “a role model.” On the one hand, I am proud my thirteen-year-old son sees the sexism his principal fails to, on the other hand, I am deeply disturbed that such sexism is still passed off as “just a joke” and excused by claims that it’s ok because she is a “strong woman.”

To top it off, I have somehow received a plethora of emails of late that either assume I am a man (due to the “Dr.” title I imagine) or that address me as “Mrs. So and So.” This last annoyance is so slight in comparison to all the other horrors of this week, yet it somehow rankles me– it seems, in short, like a virtual but constant reminder, knocking at my in-box, reminding me “keep your mouth shut…you are only a woman…who are you to try and change the world?”  This “little thing” reminds me of Jewelle Gomez’s realization that “Sexism could be like a pebble that needs to be removed from a shoe; a tiny thing that throws off a woman’s gait, causing her to limp, sometimes unconsciously, to avoid pain every day.”

This week, it seems it is not only pebbles, but huge boulders, and I am indeed limping from the resounding evidence that no, we are not living in a post-racial, post-feminist society. However, despite those who wish to “get rid of” people like us, the people who want to change the world for the better, I will keep limping along, teaching my “depressing feminism” and endeavoring to remove pebbles and boulders out of the path of those who march towards justice.

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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] What if the Pebble Becomes a Boulder?: Racism and Sexism on Campus and in Everyday Life […]

  2. […] What if the Pebble Becomes a Boulder?: Racism and Sexism on Campus and in Everyday Life […]

  3. “Post-racist” and “post-feminist” are myths. Sexism and racism are alive and well. Think the election of Mr. Obama is proof of an non-racist society? NO way. People would have elected a lobotomized rabbit if they thought it meant more money in their pockets….as long as said sheep was male, of course.

  4. Feminism rescued me from the every day depressing “isms”. I can’t imagine feminism being considered “depressing”.

  5. it is surely a modern-day exhortation to “keep your mouth shut,” a threat to those of us on the side of history that seek to progress society towards justice rather than conserve the longstanding privileges that the maker of this sign unabashedly seeks to maintain. (And don’t you just love how there is a heart above the ‘i’ on this message?!?)

    i think you read into things to much…it was probably written by a pre-menopausal, post lesbian narcisstic female who couldn’t care less about anything so mundane as privilege or justice. In other words she just wants a bit of attention-and-Got It!!!

    • WTF is “post-lesbian?”

  6. Or just maybe that person holds those views, like so many others. I recall going to a doctor’s appointment and there was this beautiful scene of a mother interacting with a child. It was so spontaneous and moving, I couldn’t help but smile.

    A man walking past me said something along the lines of “They sure are taking over, aren’t they.” All he could see was that the mom and child were of Middle Eastern descent. They may have been recent immigrants, or their families could have been in Canada longer than the years I have been on this earth.

    This man couldn’t/wouldn’t see the playfulness of the child and the joy of the mother – how beautiful the scenario was. I don’t recall specifically what I said to him but I know I did mention that pesky “racism” word.

    • oops, I forgot to mention an important factor. I was considered an “insider” – someone who might share his views – because I too have white privilege.

      I have a Native American friend who “passes” as white. As a result, she too gets to hear all sorts of wonderful things that white people think. And they are consistent with this horrific “message” on the bathroom wall.

  7. So, let’s see what we have here….the thinking of white people is more often than not expressed with horrific examples of racism and privilege-while the thinking of poc’s is more often than not filled with expressions of justice and humanity?

    • What the hell are you talking about henry? Seriously. If that is what you read into my story, then I am really not interested in what you have to say. Goodbye.

  8. Henry? Are why are you posting here? Really?

  9. I really have to stop multi-tasking.

    That should read as follows:

    Henry? Why are you posting here? Really?

  10. So, what exactly will the excuses be for this cowardly act that brings up memories of the confederate KKK of the South in their attempts to keep slavery and the non-whites in fear? Is it that are uneducated, is it that their parents planted these seeds of hate, is it that they are live in fear because our President in the white house is not 100% white. In my opinion this is what the small portions of the republican party of “birthers, baggers and blowhards” have brought you. These kids are good at “Follow the Leader” of their dullard leaders, they listen to Beck, Hedgecock, Hannity, O’Reilly, Rush and Savage and the rest of the Blowhards, they are young and dumb. Are you surprise at what they do when you know what they think? The world is complicated and most republicans (Hamiliton, Lincoln, Roosevelt) believe that we should use government a little to increase social mobility, now its about dancing around the claim of government is the problem. The sainted Reagan passed the biggest tax increase in American history and as a result federal employment increased, but facts are lost when mired in mysticism and superstition. Although most republicans are trying to distant themselves from this fringe they have a long way to go.

  11. This reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my male friends. He was talking about his lawyer and how she used to be a stripper. Without realizing it, he went from calling her “my lawyer” to “girl” in reference to her being a stripper. When I mentioned this to him, and how he shouldn’t be calling a grown woman a girl (let alone someone who is professionally established) he flipped, got very defensive, and ranted about how about everyone (me apparently) find insults in what he is saying when he doesn’t mean it. It ended with my other male friends (that were present throughout this) telling me that yes, he behaved poorly, but I shouldn’t “nitpick” about him (or anyone else) for using the word “girl.” This is just one example of me correcting someone’s inappropriate use of “girl.” Very rarely has someone really listened to me when I bring this up. At best they’ll usually hear me out and shrug, at worst… well, see above. Sad thing is that I even have to correct myself sometimes. How do you go about changing people’s language and the inappropriate use of words like “girl” that is so ingrained in our brains?

  12. You know, it’s interesting just who is left out of that list of unwanted people in the image: straight white women. Honestly, tuition would go down way more if half of the student body were cut out…isn’t that the rationale behind this, (whether it is accurate or not)? Then again, that hand-writing looks very feminine, especially considering the heart, and I’m sure the tea-bagger wouldn’t approve of herself being among the excluded. Weird how that privilege thing works: great when it benefits you, not when it doesn’t…

  13. […] Originally posted at Professor, What If…? […]


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