The INSAAF posters have created quite a stir on campus. Opinions, both negative and positive, have been doing rounds. Invariably, the posters have become a topic of discussion even in class, with Professor Ritu Sharma using the posters as examples to explain sociological concepts such as labeling. Another interesting discourse on the posters has been an email thread between the third year batch and Professor Aparna Chandra, continuing a discussion which began in class. Some students had expressed their opinion that the posters were adding to and reinforcing gender and homosexual stereotypes rather than fighting them because many students had not even been aware that such stereotypes existed, till the posters came up. Aparna responded via email, which sparked off an insightful and much needed discourse on the posters and what they represent. Here are edited excerpts from the same:
Aparna’s First Email: Posters and Privilege
“Many of you raised concerns in and out of class that the Anti-sexism/Homophobia posters are actually reinforcing stereotypes instead of helping break them down….I want to explain why I don’t agree, and I want to do so by discussing the concept of privilege.
We used the words “privileged” and “underprivileged” quite a lot in class today. What does privilege mean? I think all of us agree that certain social markers of our identity are sometimes used to discriminate against us, thus putting us at a disadvantage in the workplace and elsewhere. Privilege is the opposite of disadvantage. It speaks to the idea that certain markers of social identity give us undeserved advantages- advantages that we have, that we use, and that we rarely even realize that we have- because of morally arbitrary factors like the circumstances of our birth (think about the discussion we had on how merit is socially constructed in our favour).
…Let me give an example of privilege that I heard recently. I was at a program where a panelist was telling us of a time when he was around 14 and someone in school asked him what his caste was. So he went home and asked his mother this question. The mother turned around and said to him, “If you don’t know your caste at this age, it means you’re are a Brahmin [or at least an upper caste person]. If you were from a “low” caste, you would have been told your caste by now.” This is the privilege of being unaware of our own privilege. How many women in this class have been told that you can or cannot do X, because you are a woman- can’t go out at night, can’t wear clothes of a particular type, should not think about joining particular professions, etc? And how many men have been told the can’t do X, because they are men? Typically much lesser, and generally for those things that are too “girl- like” to do- as if that’s a bad thing. Because your gender or your sexual orientation is not rubbed in your face on a daily basis through events large and small, you have the privilege of being blind to questions of gender/orientation stereotypes. What I am trying to get at is that just because you don’t (think you) engage in some forms of stereotyping does not mean that such stereotyping is not a pervasive reality.
So: if you are concerned that the posters are perpetuating gender stereotypes; if you think that you don’t consider women or gay persons in these stereotypical ways; that you didn’t even know that many of these stereotypes existed and it is these posters that have introduced you to them; this blindness may be a result of your own privilege. It may be that you do not realize how your own actions are based on and further these stereotypes. Or, even if you don’t stereotype, your privilege may make you blind to how pervasive many of these stereotypes are, and how much a part of the daily lives and opportunities of the people around you these stereotypes are. So, just because you don’t stereotype along a particular line, does not mean that such stereotypes do not exist. And if you think that therefore these stereotypes should not be discussed in public so that they are not in your face, then maybe you are speaking from a position of ignorance and entitlement that your privilege affords you.
To my mind, the importance of the posters is that they are making us confront the daily microagressions and stereotypes that we visit upon people around us [see this interesting link on microagressions- http://www.microaggressions.com/ ]. We may agree or disagree about the stereotypes, but we are having a conversation in and out of class that we wouldn’t otherwise have. And maybe, just maybe, the next time someone makes a rape joke, or calls someone gay as if it were an insult, instead of laughing along, some of us will call it out for being “not cool” because we’ve had these discussions. …”
This was the first of three emails that Aparna had sent the class. We’ll be releasing the thread of emails in three parts with the second part including the responses she received to this email and her response to the same. We encourage everyone to respond with their opinions as well, either as a comment to this piece, or as a separate response piece. If her other two emails do not respond to your opinion on the matter, she is enthusiastic about continuing engagement on the discussion and will respond to comments on Monday. Till then, tomorrow we will be publishing the next part to this series.