October 9, 2019
“Although many complain about the immigrant, if you look at history through the scope of honesty, we wouldn’t be here without their contributions.” — artist Dan Medina, creator of the recently unveiled Bracero Monument in Los Angeles.
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Following accusations of sexual assault during the #MeToo movement, numerous men publicly apologized and emphasized their respect for women. Their professed shame and regret led philosopher Kate Manne to rethink “what misogyny is and how it works.” Instead of defining misogyny by men’s attitudes and feelings towards women, she proposes that we define it instead by women’s collective experiences. As she writes in her book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, “Agents do not have a monopoly on the social meaning of their actions.”
In addition, journalist Clio Chang reminds us of a recent New Yorker piece that profiled Al Franken after he was accused of assaulting eight women. Chang points out that “at the center of [Jane] Mayer’s profile is the question of Franken’s intent, not the experience of his accusers.” According to Chang, addressing misogyny as a structural—not individual—problem could help foster “institutions and social practices that are...free of the misogyny that enforces [patriarchy].”
Manne and Chang perfectly illustrate the difference between intent and impact. They also implicitly point out the issue of male privilege. To delve deeper into the notion of intent and impact, we also have to think about whose intentions and impact we emphasize. That way, as Manne and Chang write, we can begin to conceptualize more equitable institutions.
Societal ills are often framed as individual problems, e.g., a misogynistic man, a racist white woman, an ableist college student, etc. But the problem with individualist framing is that structural misogyny, racism, ableism, etc. could be enabling this type of interaction—and going unsolved. The next time you hear of a similar interaction between individuals at work or school, consider whether the interaction could reflect a bigger problem at hand. How can you begin to address the issue on a structural level?
With Margaret Hagerman’s 2018 book as a reference, Professor Erik Loomis explains how school segregation continues years after Brown v. Board of Education. Because resources are unequally distributed between white and Black communities, white parents repeatedly choose better-resourced schools for their children, rather than enrolling them in more diverse, under-resourced schools. To some, it may seem like parents are making a reasonable choice—they’re just doing “what is best for their children.”
One of the first lessons we cover in our courses is how even people who do not want to discriminate end up doing so. We also explain that talking about diversity can help us manage the biases that underlie discrimination. By not acknowledging race, well-meaning white parents end up perpetuating a legacy of school segregation. And by extension, predominantly white schools may teach children to oppose racism but leave their privileges wholly unexamined.
Loomis argues that addressing school inequality is not beyond the reach of individual parents. Instead of investing their time, money, and energy into already well-resourced, predominantly white schools, wealthy white parents can invest in under-resourced, more diverse schools instead. As Loomis writes, “Imagine if all these resources benefitted not only individual children but were invested in rebuilding a public good.”
Eloise Stark, who has autism, describes how people with autism tend to use special interests to stay grounded in a world that is often overwhelming for them. They also use books, TV, and other media to study the social world and attempt to fit in. She quotes Paul Collins to describe the harm of trying to “fit in” as an autistic person. “Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg.”
Growing up, Stark felt she had two options: take on the psychological damage of trying to fit in, or risk bullying for attempting to be herself.
We know from research that people suffer psychologically when they can’t be their authentic selves at work or school. Stark speaks to that experience. When she was finally diagnosed with autism at 27, her doctor said that female autism is harder to detect because women often camouflage social difficulties better than men do. She says the diagnosis was a relief because it allowed her to just be herself, regardless of what people thought.
Consider how you could make your campus or workplace more welcoming to autistic individuals, as well as anyone who might have a hard time fitting in. The benefits of doing so are clear. Stark writes that “sharing and expressing one’s true self with others can increase openness, sincerity and trust.”