January 24th, 2006 12:42 EST
The White Man's Way
Since the 1960s, racial and gender inequalities seem to have gradually and notably decreased in America.
But if you want to determine how much civil rights have really progressed in this country, just look at our contemporary stories. The leading characters are predominately male and white. So how much have we actually matured, as a society?
Are we just pretending at equality? Sure, whites may be a majority, but that’s no good excuse. And that reasoning does not explain or justify the social demeanor either against females or in favor of males in positions of power--- because females are not a minority.
We still have a male dominated society that treats women as second class citizens.
What we are doing is carelessly perpetuating and re-enforcing racial and gender stereotypes which define and confine us. Is this a conscious or subconscious idiosyncrasy? Do we know not what we do? Maybe it’s a case of old habits being hard to break. We are trying to improve, right?
According to free market logic, that which sells most is wanted most. So apparently most of us prefer— and feel most comfortable with-- white male leaders. In most of our TV shows, movies, novels and comic books, the main characters or heroes are typically white men. And though the character may not be white, it is more important that it at least be male. Women commonly play the part of a man’s love interest, a damsel in distress, an expository device, a functionary, a companion, a colleague, scenery or some combination. In essence, women are mostly redeemable as a tool... a means to an end for men. Many of the roles frequently apply to non-whites (male or female), also. Females and non-whites tend to be marginal, supporting or insubstantial characters. Even prominent and significant female and non-white characters are too often following the lead of white men. Are women and minorities unfit (or considered so) for positions of leadership or authority, better suited to being commanded than commanding?
As a standard, if a woman does have power it is usually covert and passive, while a man’s power is usually overt and assertive. Women’s power, historically, has often been through the influencing and manipulating of men.
This male primacy mindset extends into conceptions of danger, as well. Women are to be protected, and men are to do the protecting. Women are commonly regarded— by men AND women-- as fragile and delicate, needing men to take care of, provide for and defend them.
But by treating women as weak, helpless, incapable and incomplete without the support and sanction of men (because they are female), this routinely victimizes and subjugates women… a travesty in which many women are complicit, even if inadvertently.
These are the reasons why Nietzsche vilified women as being only good for making and maintaining children and homes. But if this is ever so, it is only because this is the role society has forced onto them without dissent. If women want and expect to be considered as equals with men, then they are going to have to behave as equals. Men and women will need to stop segregating and degrading each other. Men must quit assuming superiority over women; feeling insecure and threatened by being challenged or surpassed by women. And women must quit assuming inferiority to men; feeling weaker than men and demanding to be pampered by them. There can be no female empowerment, nor racial equality, as long as we fear and forbid it.
Art can either reinforce things as they are/ were or refine them and what most of our stories are doing is maintaining the status quo of bias.
There are, as with all things, a few exceptions to the rule.
But an American Indian woman is not likely to be featured in a starring role— and not be typecast as a cliché. The fact that such a casting choice would be thought strange or disconcerting by most people is quite telling of our true attitudes about race and gender.
Expecting children to “do as I say, not as I do” is bad parenting, because we generally do as we see. If it is true that actions speak louder than words, then we have revealed ourselves— as a nation— to be either hypocrites or posers. Maybe our words say what it is we wish or hope to be, but our actions say what we actually are. What we do is not consistent with what we say. We say, collectively, that we aren’t racist anymore, that we are not sexist. We tell ourselves and each other that we have become more enlightened, more tolerant. Yet how true is this, really?
Is this merely a foolish assumption? A naïve delusion or lie, to soothe our guilty and insecure conscience? Perhaps the expression of white male bias has only become more subtle. This nation’s history is replete with racial and gender oppressions by white men in power. We would like to think, or have been led to believe, that such barbarism is a thing best left in the past. That any current exhibitions of these prejudices are just a vestigial or residual relic. However, the mentality of white male power is still entrenched in our consciousness, and our culture.
When a non-white, non-male can be at least a major contender for being elected President of the United States, then America will have bragging rights about equality.