Monday, February 11, 2008

Others

This blog is very exciting! In the spirit of being the first to post here, I would like to share my excitement about our class blog! I am looking forward to hearing many, many stories of otherness experiences. More than that I am looking forward to the insights that hearing these stories will motivate in myself, and hope to have my eyes opened in ways they were previously closed. It would be a stupendous bonus to inspire the same motivation in a fellow classmate!

I would like to open the blogger with a definition of the Other by www.m-w.com (merriam-webster dictionary):

"3 a: one (as another person) that is psychologically differentiated from the self b often capitalized : one considered by members of a dominant group as alien, exotic, threatening, or inferior (as because of different racial, sexual, or cultural characteristics)"

A story of that took place recently in my hometown (or right next to it) had me thinking about otherness and our class. Here is the link to the news article: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/01/31/BADJUP18R.DTL&hw=jewelry+murder&sn=001&sc=1000

It was about a man who owned a jewelry store and had an attraction to his employee. After asking her out and being turned down, he plots to have her kidnapped, raped and killed. He hires a man, plans out the whole event, telling the man when she gets off work and when to pick her up, where to take her, and how to carry out the rest of his plan. Depressing I know; but after doing research on the evolution of anxiety last semester, this story really struck me.

As a woman I have been faced with sexism and many other uncomfortable situations where I have felt as the Other. In this scenario, I was thinking about women and their ability to curb anxieties about their vulnerability to danger. Those that can't, have a hard time functioning in society (as does anyone with high anxiety). However, it is instances like this story that remind me of why it is so hard to desensitize yourself sometimes to the potential dangers in everyday life as a woman. Not only is it something we face in social and familial atmospheres but also in schools, or apparently even in the workplace.

It is reading an article like this that I feel a little cheated on some level. A place like work, that is supposed to be a safe environment has been tainted in my mind, reminding me just how easy it is to become a victim in any circumstance we encounter. When I first heard this story, I strongly identified with being the Other as a woman in that scenario. I remembered all the other times in my life where I have been an Other, just because I was a woman and just because my biological makeup somehow makes me more vulnerable in certain situations. Mostly I thought about how unfair it felt, that this biology, something so out of my control, can contribute to my feeling like an Other in the society of which I was raised.

I hope I have not offended any of the men or women in our class, some of my statements are rather general, and I have met women who do not share this position of gender differences, and see women as superior or at least equal to men. The reality to me is that our biology makes us an easier target for sick minds.

4 comments:

Eva Geer said...

That link didn't copy well. If you go to SFgate.com and search the title: "Spurned boss gets 39 to life for rape-murder plot" you will find the article.

Eric Canin said...

Thank you for starting us up, Eva. Let me just comment on your hope not to offend, by way of laying some groundrules. Eva's post sets the right tone in linking personal experience to other's experiences. Revealing yourself, your life and personal struggles to your fellow students runs a risk. So we all get a great deal of leeway in how we express ourselves and the language we use. Everything said on the blog can be considered to have quotation marks around it. And what happens in 504 stays in 504.

However, there are two large caveats:
1) this blog may be accessible to others, who might not understand our finely tuned anthropological perspective, and more importantly,
2) as members of the humanistic/scientific community, ie. as anthropologists, our language should be precise, and context-specific. As there is no list of acceptable terms, use your intelligence and common sense. Here are a few signposts: Explain how you are using loaded terms (e.g. racial labels); be explicit about using humor or sarcasm (say "on a less serious note" or "just kidding," use emoticons, etc.); don't confuse the actions of an individual with the supposed characteristics of a group; your words should be first a means of communication, and only rarely a weapon (respect your classmate's views, even if you disagree); and so on.

Eva Geer said...

I have accessed this blog from several computers now as my computer is in the shop... and it appears as though we are not on a private setting...

Cortney said...

I agree with Eva in that it is difficult in our society to be a woman and not be afraid, but I have a slightly different take...

To me it seems that cultural norms more than biological forms dictate what can and cannot be "done to" us as women. For example, I don't feel threatened when out and about by myself, but I do notice certain things:

1) Men will not only look me in the eye, but stare me down, even if I glare back. Perhaps this is both cultural and biological. I have observed that in a man/man walk-by, no eye contact will be made. If eye contact does happen, it is a sign of aggression. But in a man/woman walk-by, the man is free to stare down the woman as far as he is willing to take it. I interpret this as an issue of confrontation: in the man/man interaction, men will avert their eyes in order to NOT start a confrontation. In the man/woman scenario, a man is free to do as he pleases, whether the woman smiles back, averts her eyes, or glares.

To me, this is completely a power issue. I go where I want when I want, without worry of who might be out there. To me, this is how I gain the upper hand - I will not let fears and phantoms dictate what I do. Now, I am fully aware that I may be raped in some dark corner of campus (or the 5th floor of the library) sometime, but I actually think that by being bold I am minimizing my chances. Perhaps boldness is turning the aggression back around? But this brings me to my next point...

2) Men in our culture rarely have to exert this particular kind of fear or boldness. Men can go to bars alone, talk to strangers, live alone, travel alone, go on blind dates... all of these things without concern. For women, every choice involves some sort of safety issue.

This imposed "otherness" comes with a choice, though. While we cannot change that it happens, we can choose how we will act and re-act.