Current-events-triggered casual sexism post

Gwen at Sociological Images posted this video of a young girl talking about “sparkling wiggles”:

[livevideo id=83ED2FCA09184232AF7241057DD279BE]

Clearly her parents’ interest isn’t in her opinion of sparkling wiggles, but rather in the fact that her pronunciation of the phrase sounds like a racial epithet. Gwen calls this “casual racism”:

the type of prejudiced behavior and language that doesn’t necessarily reflect a deep-seated hatred or extremely bitter attitude, but rather is a taken-for-granted way of acting or speaking about non-Whites. […] It is a sense of entitlement to use degrading and prejudiced language to describe non-Whites, and to expect, when challenged, that saying “I’ve met some nice Black people” or “I’m nice to Black people when I meet them” should protect them from charges that they are racist.

Predictably, casual racism of this sort has a prolific counterpart in sexism as well, when people who claim to be progressive or allied with feminism or left-leaning or whatever use womanhood or femininity as an insult, or stand by as others do so (Lisa at Sociological images notices this as well). On the game show Deal or No Deal, for example, a contestant went by the nickname “Man.” Sometime during the show, when his success in the game was still uncertain, they lowered a setpiece with his nickname on it, and as a taunt they lowered the prefix “wo” before it. When he made a good decision that increased his chances of winning money, they removed the prefix and everyone cheered.

I could probably count on one hand the number of people who saw that and thought “wow, that’s sexist,” because using womanhood as an insult is rarely considered dangerous or grievous enough to warrant any attention (let alone retraction). It’s just a joke; no one gets hurt, it’s all in good fun, etc. It’s casual.

Racism and sexism of these “casual” sorts are hard to defend against since they are widely considered harmless or incidental, i.e. not “real” racism or “real” sexism. The FCC, for instance, is quick to jump all over a network that airs a few seconds of a woman’s bare ass in order to protect the decency of television programming, but apparently they have no moral qualms with legitimizing sexism on a scale that is much more vast, and much more likely to bring harm to women in the long term. Casual racism and sexism are active, incipient perpetuators of what would be considered “real” racism or sexism, because they reinforce the kinds of subordination or, to use Gwen’s word, “entitlement” in people’s day-to-day lives that make racial and sexual difference acceptable grounds for judgment, at least to some degree. This kind of prejudice is everywhere, and cumulatively I would expect it to have a massive effect on people’s general attitudes toward minorities.


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