Quote of the day

27 Oct

“If you steal money, you probably get arrested and convicted, because everybody says stealing is wrong. But if you do something that is very sexist or racist, because there still is a critical mass of bias in this country, it takes more cumulative instances for it to be recognized.”

–Gloria Steinem, 2017

This is Gloria Steinem speaking in an interview alongside Jane Fonda about why the allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and assault against Harvey Weinstein seem to matter to people now. As Fonda put it, “It feels like something has shifted. It’s too bad that it’s probably because so many of the women that were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein are famous and white and everybody knows them. This has been going on a long time to black women and other women of color and it doesn’t get out quite the same.”

… which in itself is a quotable quote.

But I was struck particularly by Steinem’s naming of the “critical mass of bias in this country.” She flipped the script on something I try to illuminate, when I work with groups around -isms and -phobias, and specifically around what makes them hard to address: it’s that any real -ism or -phobia is, by definition, systemic. It’s the way things work. And it’s very hard to notice the default: the ways things normally are and seem always to have been. So it’s been harder than one might rationally expect for instances of violent and repeated sexual harassment, abuse and assault to be recognized, at least in part, because as a culture we have an alarmingly high level of tolerance–and even acceptance–for misogynist and sexist attitudes and behaviors. Socially acceptable gender and sexual biases don’t just blind us to everyday, pre-assault/harassment/abuse behaviors; they inure us to the very fact of how people are degraded on the basis of their gender everyday, publicly and with our tacit consent.

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