Terms to Know   Leave a comment

Moving from the right of the Catholic Church to the left of tea drinking hippies in a little under a year has impressed upon me just how important and specialized vocabulary is among ideological groups. For example, a sign in Catholic theology is not like a sign in common parlance, and when a feminist talks about privilege, they aren’t talking about that parking spot your boss gets (okay, they aren’t just talking about the parking spot).

The upshot of all this is that I thought it would be helpful for me to define some terms. When I talk about privilege or kyriarchy or original sin, I want everyone to at least be able to figure out what I’m talking about. Since my ideal audience includes people from across ideological spectra, that means at least one person will probably be angry/confused at every post. While I imagine most of those people will not bother to check for a vocab list (and this lengthy [for a vocab list] introduction should scare off those who do), providing one seemed like a good idea.

This is very much a work in progress, and suggestions for new definitions are welcome.

Some of these definitions are my own, others I have borrowed (with attribution).

Feminism – Feminism, for me, does not mean that women are better than men. Feminism, for me, does not even mean that women are equal to men. Feminism, to me, means that the categories “women” and “men” are not intrinsically meaningful.  Gender is largely a cultural construct. (For example, according to our culture, men only wear pants. A man wearing a dress is unnatural and weird. You can tell this is a cultural construct because in ancient Byzantium, wearing pants was the mark of an uncivilized barbarian. So yeah, ideas of what makes a man change over time.) And this cultural construct doesn’t really correspond to reality. There are people who have XXY chromosomes. There are people who have XXXXY chromosomes. There are people with XY chromosomes (which is typical of males), but because their bodies do not process testosterone, they have sexual characteristics of females. The male-female dichotomy gets a lot fuzzier when actually look at everyone.

However, cultural constructs, even if they aren’t intrinsic, do have real affects on the world. People are treated differently based on percieved gender from the moment the leave the womb, and that treatment results in different statistical probabilities. The fact that women are discouraged from math and the sciences means that women as a whole do not test as well in math and the sciences. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that averages  don’t mean there aren’t women who aren’t better at math and science than 99% of the men in the world. There are A LOT of women like that.

So I don’t ignore gender. I don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. I just try to remember that gender is a cultural construct, and the fact that my brain tries to put people into boxes of manufactured averages didn’t prevent my wife from kicking my butt on the ACT science section, or the GRE math section, or the entire LSAT.

I used to think that was enough. That I could pick out the bad parts of gender, but still emphasize the good aspects. But that isn’t really true. Gender sticks people into boxes unfairly. There are women who do not like children. You may or may not think that is bad, but it is unfair to think it is more bad for a woman not to like children than it is for a man to not like children. People are entitled to not like things, and they don’t deserve to be hassled based on whether or not they go by the “he” or “she” pronoun. A virtue is a virtue no matter who possesses it, and gender is a terrible way to decide who should have which virtues.

Cisgender – Probably you. Anyone who isn’t transgender is by definition cisgender. Ironically, although 99.99% of the world population is cisgender, most don’t know this and simply think of themselves as people. ‘Cis’ is Latin for ‘staying within’ and not indicative of the person being “cissy”, even if they happen to be. It’s OK, I thought that too and first and kept mixing things up. From Michellelianna.

Transgender – Someone who transitions from the outward gender appearance they were born with to the gender of best fit for their brain, spirit, or whatever you want to call it. This is technically an umbrella term that includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, gender-queers, third genders, drag queens, and a host of others that have since been identified. The term ‘transgender’ has been co-opted by transsexuals, because many find that term to be creepy or icky sounding. From Michellelianna.

Victim Blaming – Attempting to remedy a harm by criticizing the person who was harmed. Thus, when a woman is raped, we talk about whether her clothes were modest. When someone is poor, we talk about the programs they should have participated in. When someone is robbed, we talk about how they should have protected themselves. How about we start talking about ways to not be or encourage rapists, wealth inequalities, and thieves. For more information, see this post.

Rape – I try to define rape vaguely for a few reasons. First, I don’t want to erase the experiences of people whose rape was unusual in a way that might leave it outside stricter definitions of rape. Second, strict definitions can encourage people to get as close as possible without crossing the line. Rape should be generally avoided. If you have to ask whether or not something is rape, then you may as well avoid it. That said, I tend to define rape as acting on or against someone without their consent. The context for rape is usually sexual, though there are other occasions where I think the term “rape” can be appropriate. People can be incapable of consenting, such as when they’re too young, when they’re drunk or stoned, or when they are unconscious.

Rape Culture – A culture that encourages, defends, or tacitly accepts rape. Popular culture is filled with examples. Getting someone drunk in order to have sex with them is rape, though that kind of behavior is widely tolerated on television. Lunging in for a kiss is standard rom-com fare. Not listening when someone else says “no” it isn’t just a trope, it’s many different tropes. Rape culture is easy to spot in every day life as well. Some people insist on hugs or hand shakes. Even when other people tell them “no,” some will still insist on invading the other person’s physical space. And if that person gets upset by the hug, who gets the blame? Is it the one who violated another’s personal preferences about physical contact. No, our culture says the person who got upset is weird for not liking hugs.

Some of this sounds like minor issues and preferences, so you might be wondering why rape culture is so pernicious. Basically, all these behaviors train rapists. Ignoring another’s consent in anything trains you to ignore consent in general. The logic behind “I’m going to spend a lot of money on my wife’s present, even though she told me not to, because I know she really wants an expensive present” is exactly the same kind of logic as “I’m going to have sex with this person, even though they said no, because they really want it.” Rape culture tells women their men should be aggressive, and it tells men that a “no” answer really means try harder. It cultivates rapists, and that’s a real problem.

Consent Culture – Consent culture is the good alternative to rape culture. Consent culture is about respecting other people’s boundaries and preferences. With consent culture, “no” is enough. Other people do not owe explanations for saying “no.” They don’t need to justify their decisions. Consent culture requires people being open and honest about their preferences, and being okay if others’ preferences don’t match their own. Consent culture is difficult, but rewarding. For example, if I offer someone a hug, and they decline, it might hurt my feelings. My friendly gesture has been declined, and it can be hard to be upset about that. On the other hand, I would rather be rebuffed than have my friendly gesture be accepted, but only at the price of making the person it was offered to uncomfortable.

transgender, asexual, anuerotypical, ableism, content notes, privilege, kyriarchy, rape culture, consent culture, and pacifism.


Posted 10/30/2012 by reluctantliberal

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