“You always see everything in dark”. How would you feel hearing that? Would it make you question your judgement?
Here is a personal thought I want to share around that theme. Do I see the life around me through the filters of our my own experience, or is everybody repeating the patterns of our society? And if it’s true that I have a filter on, is that a bad thing?
What is all that about?
Here is my question: am I noticing a lot of sexism in improv because I am sensitive to it, am I interpreting normal situations as sexist when they are not, or is it all real?
When people say “you see everything in dark” or “it could have happened to anybody” or “it’s because of all the feminist reading you do”, they want me to look at the situation neutrally. I’m accused of having confirmation bias. The confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs or hypotheses.
As a scientist, I need to pull out work that involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. Observation has been made, I try my best to apply skepticism and I’ve watched carefully my assumptions and resultant distortions.
It’s true, I have a prior belief: there is a bunch of ordinary sexism in improv. That’s my prior belief. There is also a bunch of all kinds of discriminations, mis-representation of oppressed minorities, etc. and our community isn’t always willing to face it. I will focus on sexism for the rest of the article, but it is valid for all the other kind of priviledged/non-priviledged relationship. One could then discuss the fact that I’m seeing always and only the half-empty glass, giving people intentions they don’t have, and this will be the topic of my next article.
What exactly is my filter about?
First of all, let’s go through why I’m more and more sensitive to these topics. I think awareness just works like that: we all have been already in a situation of hearing for the first time about a new concept, and suddenly hearing about it three times in the same week. It’s because our brain catches what we already know, what we already see.
The effect of it is going both ways: a person that works on oppression will be more sensitive to it, and a person that is in a position of priviledge will have to work harder to realize how non-priviledged are treated. So yes, my filter gives me the opportunity to see more of these. And that’s why it’s so good and important for me to continue talking about it, listening to minorities, open my ears and my eyes: to refine my sensitivity.
Secondly, to help us realize how people are treated differently, we have the chance to have a beautiful tool that gives us access to a lot of ressources: internet. Here is an interesting article about double-standards in movies, tv series, etc.. It shows how we are inherently not treated the same.
Once you start realising that, it is very difficult to un-see it. I recently watched a show in which there were five players. During the introduction, one of them was the only one not being able to speak because she got cut just before by the next player (a man) in line. It can seem small for some, but it really prevents me to enjoy the show that follows, because I cannot un-see that dynamic.
Double standards are about acknoledging the difference between the importance of an event token out of context and individually, and the same event in the bigger context, as part of a recurring pattern. “It could happen to anybody” is a sentence we hear a lot to justify ordinary sexism, and individually it’s true. In the bigger picture, the patterns show that it is not that simple. We have to take into account the world we are living in today, and act in consequence knowing what we do and why.
Why is it worth seeing things through my filter?
Something I’ve heard a lot after point things out is “But everybody is free to do whatever they want in my group, no matter what their gender”. I will just assume that it is true, but even with that, we have to be aware of how engrained priviledges are in us: we all have been told where our place is as members of our society. And our society is mostly inequal.
I was recently talking about it with a friend of mine that is improvising in a very healthy, equal, caring environment. And she realized how by default she will take up roles that are for women (in her case she was not considering the option to play a James Bond character even if she adores the movies, before a fellow player pointed out the fact that she could). Not because she is treated poorly. Not because she isn’t aware of inequalities. Especially because of that: it gives us the feeling to have the choice and the impression that our individual decisions aren’t informed by the patterns we’ve been living in for decades.
My conclusion is that because we live in a world where ordinary sexism is over-represented, we need people that put on the lenses of calling these individual choices out. And they might call out a conscious and safe choice individually, but to fight the repetition again and again of the pattern, we need to fight individual representations.
Let’s take that mission on our shoulders. Let’s grab a good filter, and the time to remove it might come one day. Especially if we are in a position of priviledge, let’s take on us the emotional labor of calling out the things we see. Because if we don’t, it will always be the job of the same group of people to do so.