I ran into remarks recently that express an old, familiar prejudice. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. And here it is: the belief that people who are overweight are lazy and undisciplined.
Walk in my shoes, baby…
Just wait until “she” deals with post-pregnancy pounds at 40, or when menopause hits.
Let’s see if “he” is so callous when he finds himself sidelined by injury or illness, unable to exercise, and sporting a seemingly unbanishable belly at 50 — and that, despite “disciplined” eating.
Attributing character to physical characteristics?
Yup. That pisses me off.
Bias? Take Your Pick
Here’s another one I’ve run into: “It’s silly to say that women make less money than men. If they do, you can’t blame the system. It’s their own doing.”
I’ve heard it from young women, and occasionally, from ignorant older men.
Like I said: Walk in my shoes. Walk in the shoes of most women who aren’t women of means, who’ve had children, and continue to work to earn their keep. And look at data on the gender pay gap.
Here’s an oldie that’s alive and well: “She asked for it… If he got sexually aggressive with her, she must have provoked it. And she didn’t mean it when she told him to stop.”
Wrong. So totally wrong.
Must a man find himself cornered and overpowered by someone bigger and stronger, someone invading his most personal space, before he understands this particular fear and outrage?
So why is it that some of us have to experience something for ourselves before we drop the disbelief and can the clueless judgments?
How Many Years for Reality to Sink In?
This article at The New York Times is relevant, though the context is political and ties back to systemic sexism. Why Sexism at the Office Makes Women Love Hillary Clinton touches on whether you need to experience a thing before fully believing in its existence, much less the extent of its influence.
The article refers to a “numbers” game when it comes to our jobs and our juggle…
… More time in a sexist world, and particularly in the workplace, radicalizes women… Radicalism… can also take the shape of women, increasingly disillusioned by a biased culture, throwing their weight behind someone who shares both their political views and their experiences.
I find radicalize to be a strong word in this context. However, the point is made. We come to understand the impact of certain phenomena, complex and nuanced phenomena, through our lived experience.
Do read the article. There’s a lot more to it, and it’s excellent.
Some of us may go through life more willing to suspend assumptions, to observe attentively, to withhold judgments, and looking at situations from a multitude of angles. This doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions, but those opinions are informed by the many factors we come to see as we look for data, give people the benefit of the doubt, and don’t presume to know it all. And we give weight to the likelihood that we will know more tomorrow than we know today.
I recall being asked years ago for a few key points on what I learned after divorce, and in my life as a single mother. What came to mind immediately is a rule I try to apply in everything. And it’s as easy as can be.
The ability to stop ourselves from making assumptions may be harder for some than others. In particular, without having lived an experience, there will always be people who are quicker to judge or to diminish someone else’s reality.
Imagine, If You Will…
This diminishing approach is true for all the brands of bias that still hold us hostage as a country — racism, sexism, ageism, and more. This is true for those who are poor; don’t we render them invisible, and fall back on “Well, if I was able to do XYZ, why can’t they?”
We apply the same dismissive handling to those who suffer chronic invisible illnesses, treated by the medical establishment as head cases. And likewise, the incidents that we may choose to sweep under the carpet, like unprovoked sexual aggression, or the ubiquitous shaming of the “fat” girl, or for that matter, the “ugly” one.
Oh, to drop Mr. Trump into the skin and circumstances of the people he would dismiss! And I wouldn’t mind a means to do the same for others: Dropping the naive young woman into her mother’s knowing perspective, or slipping a healthy 40-year-old physician into the body of a 50-something man battling cognitive impairment, pain, and fatigue.
Is this the only way to breed more acute awareness and that all-important empathy?
Our Life Stories
Obviously, there are many things we cannot fathom until we experience them for ourselves. Most of the extreme emotions would fit here, including romantic love and searing hate. I would wish much of the first on all of us, and little of the second.
Clearly, certain physical and mental conditions are challenging at best to explain. We might put pregnancy in this list (with a wide variety of experiences), or any number of types of physical pain, and we might also include depression.
Here’s where I am: Our lives are filled with ups and downs. With the years, our accumulated experience becomes our story, our set of stories. And candid, persuasive storytelling is an excellent tool for achieving some degree of teaching, and as a result, understanding.
Yet don’t those on the receiving end need to have an open mind? For the obtuse among us, are we left with the necessity of the sci-fi switcheroo?
Wisdom… Wherefore Art Thou?
Since a magical switch for a week or a month is impossible, how do we get through to others who cannot see beyond their own lived experience? Will some people never get it unless struck by terrible troubles, not of their making? Is their a way for them to wise up?
- Do you have to live it to think it’s real?
- Do you assume that others’ circumstances — physical, psychological, familial, financial — are similar to yours?
Can you look back from 40-something or 50-something or 60-something or older, and realize how many off-base judgments you made when you were younger? Are you still making them?
What do you think it would take to open your eyes — you, yourself, getting a taste of the experience, or perhaps someone close to you, like an adult child?
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