Reading Response #4 – Gender

In the context of colonialism, it has always been that the man is strong, the protector. Women are seen as mothers, homemakers, something to be looked at. These are just a few of the typical narratives we hear in Canada.

From an early age, boys and girls are taught how to be boys and girls, so later in life they are prepared to be men, and women. Boys are thrown into blue, with a truck in one hand and a dinosaur in the other, while girls are tossed into a pink dress with a bow in their hair. While neither of these two things are necessarily bad, as identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth is not a bad thing by any means, but it has to be a choice. The problem is that children aren’t getting the option, blue or pink? Dolls or cars? Why not both?

I am a cis woman, meaning that I was born a woman and this is the gender I identify with. However, throughout my life I have made the conscious choice to do things that aren’t maybe what would be considered traditionally “female”, such as music and film choice, playing sports, etc. These choices are not made because I am deliberately wanting to go “against” my gender, they are choices that I feel reflect who I am as a person.

It’s important to disrupt the myth of binary gender, that there are only two options, and that you must conform to the one assigned to you at birth. This notion is absolutely ridiculous, in that it steals the freedom of expression and thought from a person. And it’s not just conformation to gender that is seen as a normative narrative, but also that of women being seen as lesser than men. This is an issue which is blatant and obvious in our society. However, because women gain one victory, such as the right to vote, or an equal cabinet of men and women in our government, we don’t see it as an issue which needs attention or a solution.

In Canada, we speak of freedom and freedom of expression as a value we hold dear, but we don’t always see it this way when it comes specifically to gender. Why have we progressed in other areas and not this? How can we claim equal opportunity for all, but not women? Or those part of the LGBTQ2 community? What can we do to further the progression of equality for all, not just cis men? These are questions we must ask, and dialectic we must take part in if we want to truly achieve the “Canadian” values of equality, opportunity, and freedom of expression for all.

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Self in Relation

i)

I chose Russel Pedersen’s “A Day at the Beach” and Trista Miller’s story “Race”, to compare to my own story, “Backhanded Compliments.” These stories both focus on the normative narrative of certain regions in which there is a “dominant”, or “majority” race. While my own story does not reflect the normative narrative that one race is prominent or the majority in certain areas, it does reflect the normative narrative that certain body types are attributed to different races. These can be related in that they operate on the discourse of white privilege and ignorance of white people to it. My own story speaks of the moment that I first felt that my body was ‘racialized’, and truthfully the first time I felt in my life that I had been looked at as a white person, and not just as a person. In my story, I say “My mom accepted the compliment but looked a bit embarrassed. I was confused.”. I truly was confused as to why my mom’s race needed to be included in her compliment. As white people, the narrative is that we are the norm, the race that “blends-in” and doesn’t draw attention to itself.

Pedersen’s story speaks about one group of people dominant in one region. Their story and their lives are the dominant discourse in that area, and so when introduced to something new, weren’t sure how to react or why the newcomers were there. This is similar to my own story, in that until the moment it was pointed out to me, I didn’t know that there was something suggested about my body based on my race. In Pederson’s story, he says “You see, not many nationalities live in my community, so the presence of them intrigued almost everyone on that beach.”. The newcomers became a novelty, and was enough to make the author think for the first time about how someone’s skin could be so different from his own. Miller’s story talks about the first time she ever saw a black person in person, while staying with her grandparents in small-town Saskatchewan.  Growing up in a predominantly white community, Miller says she noticed the man’s skin colour right away: “It was when I was watching the dancers that I saw a black man and his wife enter the dance floor.”. She notes that she could hear people talking about them, saying “Really? A black guy? Doesn’t the hiring committee know that everyone who lives here is white?”. This is an example of the normative narrative in their community, that being white is the norm.

 

Day, K.S. Backhanded Compliment (2017)

https://msdayteachingjourney.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/self-story-3-backhanded-compliment/

 

Miller, T. Race (2017)

https://tristawithat.wordpress.com/2017/05/18/self-story-3-race/

 

Pedersen, R. A Day at the Beach (2017)

https://russellpedersen.wordpress.com/2017/05/18/a-day-at-the-beach/

 

 

ii)

I chose Spencer Giffin’s “Gaijin!” as an example of countering a normative narrative. Spencer’s story illustrates an example of white people being the minority, a narrative that goes against the common discourse in Canada. In Griffin’s story, the young boy is absolutely fascinated by seeing a white man. Griffin says, “He stares at me wide eyed. He has dark hair and is only a few feet tall. Quickly he ducks back out of sight, embarrassed to have been caught.”.

Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” includes examples of everyday white privilege. She says “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”, and “I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.” McIntosh also speaks directly to the issue of privilege at hand, that white people feel comforted as the ‘majority’ in North America. McIntosh says, “Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly freely.”. I realize that this too, is my privilege as I write this very response.

Giffin’s story is one that makes the reader feel physically uncomfortable, a feeling which many white people have never had in their lives. A feeling that you are being stared at because of your race, something which would normally allow you to disappear and be unseen. It opens the eyes of those of us who have not had this experience, and puts white people into the shoes of people of every other race in Canada.

 

References:

Giffin, S. Gaijin! (2017)                                                                                                         https://spencergiffin.wordpress.com/2017/05/18/self-story-3-gaijin/

 

McIntosh, P. White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack. (1988).

    White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account Of Coming To See

     Correspondences  Through Work In Women’s Studies.                                 

     http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED355141.pdf#page=43                                                                            

Reading Response #2

In looking at how the idea that white identity is connected with structural and systemic racism, we can look at things like colonialism and settlers, as well as the fact that most white Canadians are descendants of these settlers. As such, white Canadians have a general stereotype which they often place upon Indigenous peoples in Canada which is passed down through generations. This generalization comes from years of ignorance and turning a blind eye to the oppression that was, and continues to be in place toward First Nations peoples in Canada. As a personal example, my partner, while in the presence of our friend who is First Nations, said to his great-grandfather on the phone “I’m just here with my Indian friend right now.” I shot him a look, and after he hung up he said to me, “That’s just the way that grandpa is and understands things.” As generational trauma can be passed down, so too can generational ignorance.

As Balkisoon explains in her article, Whiteness is a racial construct. It’s time to take it apart, white people don’t like to use the term “white” because it seethes with dominance, a superiority that even if white people don’t believe in, is deeply embedded in our feeling toward the term. It’s as though by using the term “white” we feel we are labeling ourselves as racist or oppressive. However, not saying “white” is an attempt in and of itself to avoid the feeling of guilt a white person has when saying it. This is not okay. We don’t want to feel apologetic, because we feel we have nothing to apologize for., but the term “white” makes a white person feel apologetic. And while we don’t condone the genocide that was the Residential School system, and didn’t personally claim land which didn’t belong to us, we act every single day as though it didn’t happen. We continue to hold prejudice within ourselves taught to us from birth, one which I didn’t even realize I felt for a long time.

In truth, everyone has prejudices within them, but nobody is born prejudiced. It is whether we choose to act or speak on these feelings and thoughts that makes us racist. Especially so as white people, we can’t avoid the term “white”, as it’s an erasure of our past as the descendants of settlers who colonized the land we live on, the great-great ancestors who did act upon their feelings of prejudice. We have to acknowledge this past in an attempt of reconciliation, and we must do better. To erase this past is to not acknowledge the prejudices we feel within ourselves, where they come from and why.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/whiteness-is-a-racial-construct-its-time-to-take-it-apart/article32301637/

Self Story 2 – Ceremonious Citizenship

The gymnasium is hot and stuffy. Even though it’s April heat is pulsing through the air as I sit and watch my mother walking toward her boss, her heels click-clacking on the hardwood floor. Around me are people I’ve never met, sitting in an audience. Notre Dame’s Kenney Hall had probably never hosted so many people of different origins in its vast history of extraordinary sport.

The stage is draped in red. Thirty-one people sit in front of the audience in garbs of all different kinds. A woman in a hijab, a man in a Dashiki, another man in pants and a dress shirt. They look out at us impatiently, they have been waiting for this for years and the nervousness and excitement radiates from them to us. I am excited for them, each and every stranger I am about to watch as they swear themselves as citizens of Canada.

The citizenship judge, Terry O’Malley is the living embodiment of the Canadian dream. A retired Olympian who has won a bronze medal for hockey, Terry was also inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. He stands at the front of the room in a black and red robe, and begins his speech. He speaks about his career in hockey and what being Canadian means to him, how his family came to be here in Canada. Then, the ceremony begins.

Each person stands one at a time and walks across the stage to Terry. My mother is seated next to the President of the school and watches with me from across the room. As each person approaches Terry, they begin the oath:

“I swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duty as a Canadian citizen.”.

I watch carefully as each person completes their oath and shakes Terry’s hand, as well as Minister Kenney. Many of them cry, and I notice their families in the audience crying as well. I can’t seem to understand exactly what they’re feeling. I think about how I’m expected to conform to these same obligations, being faithful to my country in different ways. But I have never sworn it. I wonder why those who are born Canadian are not expected to be held to the same standard as those who choose to be Canadian.

I swear to myself alongside these strangers to uphold the same oath, the same values as they will. Never formalized, my Canadian identity had been given to me at birth, and watching these families cry reassures me of my luck. I wonder about where they are from, what country had been their home and why on earth they might want to leave. I realize that I’m lucky, to be born in a country I don’t want to leave or need to flee from. Even if everything isn’t always perfect, through family and home struggles I can say that I am still lucky to be born Canadian.