Tag Archives: Racism
How to understand gender is a complicated issue that has not been settled in any conclusive or definitive way. And it is not my goal here to enter this discussion. For now, I wish only to describe roughly how Sally Haslanger understands gender in order to make better sense of her analysis of objectification.
Along with Haslanger, I assume the sex-gender distinction that is common in the feminist literature. According to this picture, “sex” refers to those biologically determined facts about a person that relate to one’s role in sexual reproduction. There are at least two sexes, “male” and “female.” “Gender,” on the other hand, refers to a socially constructed position that a person occupies in society, and there are at least two genders, “man” and “woman,” i. e. those who are “masculine” and those who are “feminine.” According to the standard way of thinking, these two ideas are connected in that an individual’s perceived sex plays some role in determining his or her gender. This is, for now, very vague, but a more precise account will be sketched later.
Assuming the viability of the sex-gender distinction, there are further questions about how many sexes and genders there actually are. Though my focus is on men and women, I am committed neither to the claim that there are only two genders (or only two sexes) nor the claim that there should only be two genders.
Serious questions do arise about “how far down” socially constructed gender goes and indeed about the stability of the sex-gender distinction itself. I doubt that a clear-cut way to demarcate gender from sex is forthcoming. But there are significant social, political and economic inequalities in our society that correlate with perceived roles in sexual reproduction.
Haslanger has developed a characterization of gender as a social construction.
S is a woman if and only
1. S is regularly and for the most part observed or imagined to have certain bodily features presumed to be evidence of a female’s biological role in reproduction;
2. that S has these features marks S within the dominant ideology of S’s society as someone who ought to occupy certain kinds of social position that are in fact subordinate (and so motivates and justifies S’s occupying such a position); and
3. the fact that S satisfies (i) and (ii) plays a role in S’s systematic subordination, i.e., along some dimension, S’s social position is oppressive, and S’s satisfying (i) and (ii) plays a role in that dimension of subordination.
S is a man if and only if
1. S is regularly and for the most part observed or imagined to have certain bodily features presumed to be evidence of a male’s biological role in reproduction;
2. that S has these features marks S within the dominant ideology of S’s society as someone who ought to occupy certain kinds of social position that are in fact privileged (and so motivates and justifies S’s occupying such a position); and
3. the fact that S satisfies (i) and (ii) plays a role in S’s systematic privilege, i.e., along some dimension, S’s social position is privileged, and S’s satisfying (i) and (ii) plays a role in that dimension of privilege.1
Haslanger’s definitions involve two notions that will need to be elucidated further, the ideas of social positions and structural inequality. I understand social position, as, I believe, does Haslanger, in terms of social structure. And the existence of some positions that are privileged or subordinated relative to others means that the social structure that contains these positions has a structural inequality.
1.Haslanger, Sally. “Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be?” Noûs, Vol. 34, No. 1, (2000): 31-55, Page 42
Ice-T, Juan Williams, Tipper Gore, Jello Biafra and Nelson George, all on the Oprah Winfrey Show (circa 1990) discussing the influence of rap music on white teenagers.
Alright, alright. That’s not what half of them take themselves to be talking about, but that’s what they’re talking about.
What’s striking to me about this is that I actually remember seeing this discussion around that time (I was in high school), and I can vividly remember being completely against Ice-T and thinking that he was truly evil. (Did I mention I’m white and that I grew up in the South?)
But now I can’t watch this without really being astounded at the implicit white supremacy and complete erasure of the experience of young black men that comes through in what a lot of these people are saying. It’s all over the discussion, but I especially direct your attention to the white male audience member who’s speaking at the break between the first and second video below.
The other angle is that there is a serious problem with misogyny going on as well.
So what is my opinion? I honestly don’t know what to think about it.
I do think that criticism of misogyny in Ice-T’s music, as if he and other hip hop artists are uniquely or especially misogynistic, belies the implicit white supremacy I mentioned above.
Misogyny is everywhere in popular music going back a very long time. See Johnny Cash (“I shot my woman down”), Led Zeppelin (“The soul of a woman was created below”) and countless other white musicians of all genres.
None of that’s to say that there isn’t and wasn’t serious misogyny in hip hop, but any justice minded person should worry when charges of misogyny are deployed from a white supremacist standpoint in order to silence black men.
I have to think that it’s possible to reconcile gender justice and racial justice.
So, yeah, watch this. And wonder if we’ve made some progress since 1990. Or if we’ve gone backwards.
Yes, it’s (annoyingly) in four parts. Yes, it’s Oprah Winfrey. Yes, it’ll take you about 45 minutes to get through it. Yes, should watch it anyway.
But first, watch Ice-T’s Lethal Weapon (the link is to the lyrics), which is – frankly – a work of genius.
And here’s the Oprah in four parts.
Sapphire Unbound: A Black Womanist Scholar Speaks her Mind: “Project Prevention”: Saving Black Women from Themselves and Creating a Better Future
I first encountered Dr. Jordan-Zachery when she followed me on twitter. I checked out her blog, and it is fantastic and very important. She is insightful, and she often has guest bloggers who add their views.
Here’s a particularly interesting post, but I highly recommend you take a look at the rest of the blog as well.
Black women’s bodies have historically been problematic for those who hold the power to define race-gender hierarchies. Early Europeans constructed Black women’s bodies as different, highly sexual and “other”. Black women’s societal worth is often devalued in the eyes of European Americans. Such devaluation can also occur when other Black folk subscribe to the ideology of the damaged Black woman. The damaged Black woman is often used to promote policies that focus on changing individual behaviors as opposed to critically questioning societal structures that contribute to Black women’s inequitable positions. The result is the culture of poverty, the culture of fatness and the culture of drug abuse that permeates the two stories that I discuss below.
We have to get this film to cinemas. I want to see it.
DEAR WHITE PEOPLE follows the stories of four black students at an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over a popular “African American” themed party thrown by white students. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the film will explore racial identity in “post-racial” America while weaving a universal story of forging one’s unique path in the world.