Intersections

We covered a lot in class this week through our various readings, lectures, discussions and glorious, glorious gifts from YouTube.

At the beginning of the week, we wrapped discussing the foundations and sociological classifications gender. Once we had that basis, we began recognizing how gender is one of many intersecting identities that individuals adopt and shape their life experiences.

This discussion was especially relevant to a leadership conference that I had attended last weekend. One of our activities was categorizing which intersections of our identity (class, race, ethnicity, gender, ability, appearance, etc.) and ranking them by how important they were to us, which ones most often led others to make assumptions of us, which ones we felt most privileged about, and so on.

Being one of thousands of students attending a university is very much like living in a little bubble, but even then it was staggering to see everyone’s varying responses. I found that as a leader, doing that kind of activity helped reinforce my own perspective to consider others’ challenges and triumphs as totally across the board. In other words, it’s imperative not to form assumptions of others based on certain physical or social attributes they have adopted or been prescribed. And since my leadership style is one that champions inclusivity and facilitation, it was an interesting visual to remind myself of the practice.

However, these kinds of intersections often go unnoticed because they aren’t necessarily visible to the public, and that’s where biases and assumptions (for this class, gender) come into play. And those, in turn, reinforce stereotypes with disregard to the experience of the individual and how their other identities help shape who they are.

I really liked our brief discussions about how beauty crosses racial lines when we watched a trailer for Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair.”

I remember watching this documentary after going to a forum at the Women’s Center about the Black women’s hair and beauty industry, which has subsequently launched the natural hair movement. It was particularly interesting to me thinking about  how many beauty ideals are linked to Caucasian standards of beauty. However, these standards are completely arbitrary depending on who and what introduces and enforces them.

For example, I visited my father and his side of the family in Taiwan this past summer. It didn’t matter if I was conversing with family members or salespeople or complete strangers, they would almost always remark about how tan my skin was. Now, in Taiwan and many other East Asian countries, the beauty standard is that women have fair, porcelain-like skin. So their remarks about my tan skin wasn’t necessarily a compliment, but a remark about how I must be American. However, here in the states, I’ve been complimented numerous times about the darker complexion of my skin by my fair-skinned Caucasian counterparts.

That kind of disparity in beauty ideals just shows how much the significance placed on appearances is entirely determined and practiced by society. This also applies to how societies determine what is feminine or masculine, what is typical of certain people of different socioeconomic backgrounds or abilities, and other intersecting traits.

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