Do sex, age and race matter?

Do sex and age matter? Lorelle’s Blog Exercise: Sex Changes and Age Matters challenges our thought: does your perception change with someone’s age and sex? Do I write or think using sexist and ageist language?

First, let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I accidentally took a milk snake to work. Actually, my son’s new milk snake (30cm long) snuck in my bag and made herself feeling comfortable in one of the folders in my bag. When I took the folder out at lunch break, I saw a flash of black, red and white thing slipping through my hand, quickly slithering around the staff room. “Oh no! Snake! My Snake!”

My son's milk snake caused chaos

My son’s milk snake escaped and caused chaos

I screamed. Everybody in the staff room screamed.

My son’s milk snake was slithering in the staff room and was about to slither into the headteacher’s office.

Many questions rushed through my mind, but my priority was to catch the snake fast — because it’s my son’s new pet, and the snake had just entered the headteacher’s office.

How did this milk snake that we’d just bought a day previously got into my bag, and had followed me 10 miles to school? What if the milk snake had escaped from my bag earlier and startled the children in the classroom?

“Mr Brave! Help!”

I screamed. “Someone please help me! Mr Brave, please help me!” Mr Brave was oblivious to the mayhem and continued enjoying his lunch.

Slowly, a few people stopped their scream and shriek and started to treat my runaway milk snake as an emergency. They gave up their lunch and ran around the staff room with me to try to trap and catch the milk snake. Finally the caretaker (how we love the caretaker!) caught the snake and this incident turned me into an instant sensation.

A few days later, Mr Brave was embarrassed and he apologise to me. “I’m sorry. I didn’t help you that day. You know, snake isn’t really my kind of thing,” said Mr Brave in a low voice.

I wonder why I shouted out Mr Brave’s name in the midst of my milk snake crisis. The room was full of women but I didn’t call out for Ms Sweet or Ms Intelligent. My instant reaction was to call a man for help. My brain was wired in a way that a man amongst many women should be the snake catcher in the staff room. He would be brave and useful. Unconsciously, I had thought a woman in distress should be rescued by a man.

I was so wrong. I made a sexist judgement about man and snake. Mr Brave was actually very scared of snakes.

I was undoubtedly sexist in this incident. My prejudice in that afternoon was deeply rooted in my subconscious. I replayed this milk snake crisis on my mind many times afterwards and conducted psychoanalysis. I understood that in that particular afternoon, my reaction might have been logical (expecting a brave man to rescue me), yet it was based on my incorrectly stereotyping characters of men and women.

Do sex, age, AND race matter?

Now, I would like to expand Lorelle’s challenge a bit more: Do sex, age, AND race matter?

Many years ago, when I was offered a highly sought-after job in an area of England dominated by the white population, my friend congratulated me: “Congratulations! It’s such a good gesture of them to give you the job.” My friend felt that my new employer was gracious to me.snake image of Fang

I was gobsmacked. “I beg your pardon? Do you think I got the job simply because they’re being gracious to me, and that just because I’m a non-white?”

Then we seemed to have a few minutes of “No, but, yes, but, no what I meant was…Please don’t misunderstand me” kind of conversation.

I remembered I felt very hurt by these words of congratulations. My friend made a point that I’m a Chinese and it’s because someone’s ‘good gesture’ that I was offered a good job. She considered my skin colour was an important factor for my new employment, while she disregarded my qualification, hard work, personality and excellent reference.

Lorelle asked us to make sex and age not matter. I’d add that let’s make sex, age AND race not matter.

I’ve been more conscious about stereotyping and my own attitudes since my milk snake fame. Trying to outdo a supersonic milk snake was hilarious, but it was such a wake-up moment for me to clear up my own hidden sexist views.

Similarly, whenever I’m faced with racist issues, due to people’s ignorance or unconscious views through their sweeping comments or nuances in their language, I tend to analyse them, understand them, and more importantly, rise above them. I don’t expect to change other people’s perception about who I am, what I do and how I live my life, but I’ve learnt to get over any hurdle and rise above negativity.

You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.

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35 thoughts on “Do sex, age and race matter?

  1. todadwithlove

    Excellent, Janet! I share your sentiments. “I’ve learnt to … rise above any negativity.” Love it.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      I’ve learnt slowly and sometimes painfully that to be happy, we need to get away from negativity, or even the people who’re negative or toxic, and who often release suffocating negative elements in our life. Once I reported a racist incident and my friend used this phrase to encourage me – ‘rising above’. I like this expression. It’s a learning curve. We’ve come a long way and we can beat negativity, including racism, however subtle it may be.

  2. ShimonZ

    You’ve raised some very important issues here. Enough so that I’m tempted to write a post on this subject myself. I believe that all of the above does matter, and that an enlightened person would act differently and relate differently opposite differences in sex, age and race. The question is what differences, and how shallow or deep is the thinking. In your case, I think that your behavior was completely justified. On the whole, it is more likely that men would be less scared of a snake than women. But of course, there are always exceptions. On the whole, men are taller than women. But every man can find a woman taller than himself, if he just looks. I believe that the latest passion to see everyone as equal, is a complete misunderstanding of democracy. Thanks for a very interesting topic.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Hi Shimon,

      I can’t wait to read your post based on this topic.

      Enlightening doesn’t come easily to everyone. It involves deep thinking and awareness, and a bit of common sense. We all have an instinctive response about things around us, but what is this instinct based on? Without deep thinking, an instinct could determine an action, a positive or a negative one. And, how would our views on sex, age and race reflect on ourselves, our beliefs and actions?

  3. anexactinglife

    I love your snake example! I try to be very conscious of these things in the workplace. I recently interviewed a young man for a job, and he described how in his current job, the work was supposed to be shared equally. However, he was asked to do all of the lifting, carrying and stacking, because he is a young man. Every other employee was female, and they were all hired knowing they would have to do this work, but they passed it on to him, and the supervisor turned a blind eye. In another instance, we hired another young man at work for a summer student job, and another supervisor kept referring to him among the other staff as a “little fart” and other derogatory comments based on his age. I had to meet with the supervisor and bring a stop to their inappropriate language.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you for sharing these stories. Why don’t you write a blog post about it?

      In your first story, perhaps the ladies stereotyped themselves as weak and they cleverly excused themselves from the lifting and stacking chores. Stereotyping is so commonplace. Recently, Boots (the pharmacy chain in the UK) had to apologise after people complained the shop showing sexist attitude in their toy labelling. In Boots, the Science Museum-brand toys were put under the ‘Boy’ category, not for ‘Girl’. Boots removes gender signs toys

      I used to work for a charity, where we addressed all clients with their surnames only: Mr/Mrs/Miss Smith. We were not allowed to use first names, nicknames or banter with clients’ names based on their size, education or background, not even casually, not even among the staff. I love this system very much as with such formality, we learnt to be more respectful to others, and avoided our judgement being affected due to stereotyping.

  4. Lorelle VanFossen

    Excellent way to push the topic forward! You are becoming my perfect student. 😀

    Thank you so much for taking this subject on and being your own real “Ms Brave,” the non-stereotypical type of brave, one who is really brave and self-confident to tackle the subjects that few address publicly. I’m so proud of you!

    I have to admit that while your points were brilliant, I was laughing because a friend recently published this fictional story similar to yours which she read at a writer’s group reading event and I forced her to publish as it was so wonderful. I’m encouraging her to share more, but your story tells us that fictional stories like hers work because they are so true to life.

    This is also an example of how big emotional points are often best told with a little laughter, mixing emotional metaphors.

    The story you told of your friend at the end was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself with your readers.

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  9. Maxim Sense

    Wow, Janet. This is a wake up call for most of us. I feel guilty of this stereotyping thing several times before, though most of them were unwittingly made and devoid of bad faith. Whatever that was, I still felt guilt all over me after I was consciously aware of them now.

    Stereotyping was as old as man himself (you see the English language? why not woman too). When Adam and Eve’s progeny populated the earth, then it was the society at large which invented this stereotyping. Sadly though, this came only to our consciousness after the racial/gender (age too?) equality and sensitivity movement came around. Do you think the “all men are created equal” is practiced 100% in America (If this is not another racist question)? I feel like all of us are victims of these old notion and fallacy of antiquity. But now, I think it is in accepting our unconscious mistakes and transforming ourselves that matter most.

    Thank you, Janet, for sharing this one.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you for your stimulating feedback. I’ve made a lot of stereotypical comments in my life and I think it’s only natural that we make certain judgement based on our experiences or what we heard or learnt.

      Some judgement based on stereotypes can be justified, but sometimes I question my own bias.

      In writing this post, I’m challenging my own thoughts, and hope that as I grow older, I’m making better judgement, being fair, being open to different views.

      I like the word you used, transforming. To transform, we need to have a better understanding of ourselves and be more respectful of the people around us. It’s never easy, and I’m constantly learning. Thank you for this conversation during Ramadan.

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