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!”
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.
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.
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