Academic Opinion: Diversity and Language

Prejudices found in the community are often acted out in the workplace. In George Henderson’s book, Cultural Diversity in the Workplace, prejudice is defined as “a conclusion drawn without adequate knowledge or evidence”.[1] While there are laws to prevent discrimination in the workplace, as pointed out in the text, there are no laws against having a prejudicial attitude. This raises the question: is anyone without prejudice?

I have heard the statement that we should “embrace diversity” rather than merely practice tolerance. I consider myself an open minded individual, but I am neither sure I agree with embracing diversity, nor am I sure that to truly do so is possible. Certainly I respect diversity. If diversity can be loosely defined as “differences”, then isn’t the acknowledgment of said differences without judgment an acceptable goal?

Take religious views for example. A Christian’s view of Jesus as the son of God is the foundation of their faith – their religious truth. A Buddhist person, however, does not hold the same view. Can the two be expected to “embrace” the other’s view? WordNet, an online dictionary defines to embrace as to “take up the cause, ideology, practice, method, of someone and use it as one's own” and offers "She embraced Catholicism"; "They adopted the Jewish faith" as examples.[2] Isn’t it more realistic to expect the two to accept that they differ in these beliefs and proceed from there without bias?

Perhaps it is an argument of semantics. When someone uses the phrase “embrace diversity” perhaps what they really mean is to accept diversity and to include diverse views and opinions. It is certainly noble to raise one’s children to respect the differences of others, but to raise children to embrace these differences; to take up the cause or ideology; undermines the whole idea of raising a child with a specific set of values. Strong moral, philosophical and religious or spiritual beliefs are the very core of our identities. A person secure in these beliefs is a person secure with themselves. One should hold the conviction that their views are the right ones for his/herself. The problem is that many people refuse to accept that what might be correct for them is not correct for everyone else, thus making them (at best) narrow minded and at worst self righteous and often discriminatory.

Semantics, the meaning of the words within a language, is often the root of misunderstanding. Henderson says that all people utter sounds in hope that the person who receives them will be in common agreement about their meaning. Then he goes on to point out that “words are full of human relationship traps” and can be distorted.[3] The language of culture, or lexicon, can often lead to misunderstanding. Take for example the recent highly publicized incident concerning Don Imus’s racist and misogynist remarks directed at the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team. This incident, for which Imus was fired, created media frenzy and resulted in a much needed dialogue about the lexicon of popular culture. Was Imus, indeed being both racist and sexist, or was he merely using the (seemingly acceptable) terms heard in popular culture – specifically rap music. If he was not guilty of being racist/sexist, then was he simply guilty of being a white man who tried to use terms acceptable only to those of a specific ethnic group? Unfortunately, the dialogue was short lived and no consensus was reached.

Recently a popular syndicated morning radio show, whose cast is comprised of a white male, a white woman, an Hispanic male and a black male, asked the question: When singing along with a rap song, should a white guy not sing the word niggah.[4] Certainly there are many current popular songs which include that very word. Again, no consensus was reached, but it is worth noting that the sole black man in the group adamantly stated that he, even though black, would never use the word and wished the artists would cease to also.

Another example of misuse of contemporary lexicon is that of MSNBC commentator, David Shuster. Shuster was suspended from his job because while discussing Chelsea Clinton’s role in her mother’s presidential campaign he asked, "Doesn't it seem as if Chelsea is sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?" Clinton’s campaign officials immediately responded calling the remark "disgusting," "beneath contempt" and "the kind of thing that should never be said on a national news network." MSNBC officials called the remark “irresponsible.” Shuster, himself, offered an on air apology stating that his remark was “inappropriate” and that it “diminished the regard and respect” for Chelsea Clinton. [5]

Shuster’s remarks did not generate the media frenzy that Imus’s did, but the two do share similarities. In a society where contemporary lexicon accepts that a popular television show on MTV is called Pimp my Ride; where MySpace users are urged to “Pimp my Page”; and where even the Racine, Wisconsin library offered a summer program for teens called “Pimp My Cart”[6], is it really that surprising that Shuster used a term which has been generally accepted to mean “to decorate” or “to help look better”. Clinton herself stated that Shuster’s’ remarks were said to illustrate a pattern of behavior that “that seems to repeatedly lead to this sort of degrading language”.[7] I think this comment, posted anonymously in response to the article, sums up the situation nicely: “Just because you are not in touch with the vernacular in modern language does not change the meaning of what he was saying. It only demonstrates your lack of understanding young people. You are in fact trying to "pimp" this situation for political gain.”

None of these examples should be interpreted as a call to excuse truly derogatory or discriminatory language. They are cited only to point out that context – both societal and situational – should be considered when making a determination of discrimination. As stated in our text: The links between language and discourse on one hand and discrimination and racism or sexism on the other hand are complex and varied. While the business sector of employment is certainly not a pop culture arena, cultural imperatives do dictate our sense of appropriateness within our culture. These cultural imperatives do play a role within the business community in that DELs[8] inappropriate to the office are considered acceptable in our entertainment, and therein lays the problem.

End notes:

[1] Henderson, George. Cultural Diversity in the Workplace: Issues and Strategies. Praeger Publishers. Connecticut: 1994
[2] Princeton University. (2006). WordNet: a Lexical Database for the English Language. http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=embrace
[3] See note 1
[4] Kidd Kraddick in the Morning. (2008). Can White People Say That? http://www.kiddlive.com/mp3Player/index.html
[5] Kurtz, Howard. (2008). “Chelsea Remark Earns MSNBC Correspondent A Suspension”. [Electronic Version]. The Washington Post. February 9, 2008, P. C01. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/08/AR2008020803756.html
[6] Anderson, Janine. (2007). What's in a name? Racine Public Library invites teens to 'Pimp My Cart'. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1834409/posts
[7] Vogle, Kenneth P. and Calderone, Michael. (2008). Hillary rips MSNBC's Shuster. Retrieved April 10, 2008 from http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0208/8412.html
[8] Derogatory Ethnic Labels

Academic Opinion: Prostitution

The Prostitution Research and Education (PRE) Site is clearly against prostitution. Their stated mission is “to abolish the institution of prostitution while at the same time advocating for alternatives to trafficking and prostitution - including emotional and physical healthcare for women in prostitution”.[1] Included in their mission statement is the conviction that men (and their demand for prostitution) are the root of the problem. This is a narrow and sexist view which paints women as victims and men as over-sexed aggressors.

Men are not the only ones who use the services of prostitutes. Additionally, to use the term “demand” is to claim an inherent aggression, or anger, in the desire for the services of a prostitute. Yes, there is a definite chauvinistic aspect to prostitution. In fact, claiming that men are the root cause of prostitution is quite chauvinistic. In a 1994 Andrea Dworkin, a self proclaimed radical feminist, gave a speech entitled Prostitution and Male Supremacy.
[2] In this speech she asked the question “Prostitution: what is it?” and answered with the statement, “It is the use of a woman's body for sex by a man, he pays money, he does what he wants.” Was Ms. Dworkin unaware of male escorts (gigolos)? A cursory internet search of the terms “male escort” turns up a number of web sites. Additionally, many of the same women who object to prostitution might have no problem at all with attending a Chippendale’s show or even a bachelorette party which includes a male stripper.

The issue of prostitution seems rife with both gender and moral prejudice. Any discussion of the subject should include both male and female prostitution. Therefore, the arguments presented by the PRE are sexist in their exclusion of male prostitutes and their female johns. The PRE defines prostitution as inclusive of “stripping, exotic dancing, nude dancing, table dancing, phone sex, trafficking, child and adult pornography, lap dancing, massage brothels, and peep shows”.
[3] Males also participate in offering the services of all of the aforementioned, and females do also partake of these services.

In order to discuss prostitution we must first define it. If we accept the definition as the performance of sexual acts for money, then we must include popular actors, actresses and models in the discussion because a large number of contemporary Hollywood stars have engaged in representations of the same for both print and film. But everyone knows we are not talking about the latest blockbuster movie or perfume ad campaign.

What we are really talking about is the common streetwalker, often poor, drug addicted or underage. This is the kind of prostitution opponents want to end. Who doesn’t agree that the abuse of such women and children is legally, morally and inherently wrong? I am sure no one would argue that a crack addicted minor forced to give her body sexually and indiscriminately to men for a fee she will never see is not a victim. It doesn’t matter how or why she came to be in the situation. Sexual abuse, rape, and slavery are currently criminal acts.

So what is the argument about prostitution? The argument seems to lay in the interpretation of what is moral and what is legal. Char LaFontaine, a middle-aged former prostitute who is now a housing coordinator and outreach worker with Prostitution Alternatives Counseling and Education in Vancouver, Canada (PACE) says we must differentiate between survival sex and prostitution.
[4] The former arises out of poverty, abuse or lack of skills or education. The latter, she says, is an informed choice wherein the woman has a right to refuse service. These women use prostitution as a means to make good money. While many see prostitution as subjugation of women by men, others argue that prostitution is about the right of a woman to control and use her body as she sees fit. Alan Young, at right, a civil libertarian and criminal law professor, says he has met prostitutes who enjoy their work. When it comes to job dissatisfaction he says, "I see no difference between a miserable office worker and a miserable prostitute”.[5]

There is still an extremely negative connotation when the words hooker, prostitute, and whore are applied to women who sell sex for money. These women are stereotyped as trash; as bad girls; as sexually diseased; and as having no morals or respect for their bodies.
[6] Regardless of whether the person in question is a prostitute by choice, or as a means of survival, the occupation still offends the morals of most of society.

There is no solution to the problem of prostitution other than an enforcement of existing criminal laws against sex crimes, slavery and human trafficking. Unfortunately there will always be those deviants in society who seek the sexual gratification of one who is allowed no choice, but forced to offer their bodies for the satisfaction of one who hold more physical or monetary power. To decriminalize prostitution would, in many ways, be a backwards step in the cause of human rights. Therein lay the irony, because under existing laws the one guilty of the crime is often also the victim of the same.

End Notes :
[1] Prostitution Research and Education (PRE). (2008). About Prostitution Research and Education. http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/about.html
[2] Dworkin, Andrea. (1994). Prostitution and Male Supremacy. http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/MichLawJourI.html
[3] See note 1
[4] Gardner, Dan. (2002). Do Some Women Really Choose to be Prostitutes? http://www.missingpeople.net/do_some_women_really_choose-june_9,_2002.htm
[5] ibid
[6] Hickenbottom, Iris Leos. (2002). Women’s Issues: Prostitution Then and Now. Retrieved April 18, 2008 from http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~ulrich/femhist/sex_work.shtml#Victorian


Goodnight John Boy

Oh Johnny *sigh* I watched you in the debates and I like you, I really like you. Last night you even reminded me a little of (dare I say it?) Al. It's not just the fact that you both have the Student Council President-Prom King-waspy-nerdy-good looks either. You started talking about green jobs and you had me at solar panels.

Why are people so caught up in the Clinton/Obama theatrics that they forget about you?! There were points in the debate where I had to wonder if you were actually there as a moderator rather than a candidate.

You're too nice Johnny! They are beating you. Quit raising your hand to speak and waiting to be called on! Quit conceding that both of your opponents have good ideas! Stand up John! For the love all that is right and good STAND UP!

Oh hell, nevermind John. I think it's too late. And you know what? That pisses me off! I want to vote my heart. I want to vote for you. The problem is, I don't think you can win and that means I am going to have to throw my vote towards the only direction I can make it count: By using it in the showdown between your rivals.

Johnny, I'll always love you, but I think our relationship is going nowhere and it's time for me to move on.

I miss you already.


Good Girl

The other afternoon a younger co-worker told me goodbye. "Goodbye," I replied, and then, in my mind I heard the phrase, "Be a good girl!" At first I wasn't sure where that came from, but it triggered the memory that my mother always added that phrase after telling me goodbye. "Bye! Be a good girl," she would call as I went out the door to kindergarten. The same phrase followed me even into adulthood. I guess my mom felt it was important for me to be a "good girl" and she programmed that into me from day one.

My mom meant well, but there were repercussions. I tried so hard to be a good girl that I never made waves. Even during those years when I had pink hair and spent my days sleeping and my nights at punk rock gigs I still did my very best to be a good girl.

I was such a good girl that I married because it was the "right" thing to do and stayed in an unhappy marriage for almost a decade.

I try very hard not to program unhealthy notions into Little Dog. I have always told him many times every day that I love him. It was like a game when he was young. I would call out his name, sometimes in an exasperated or urgent voice. "What," he would call back. "I love you," I would say in the same voice used to call his name. It has become so routine that now when I called his name he often replies, "I know. You love me."

There are other phrases in my life that I have come to expect from people. I have a dear friend of over 25 years who, when he calls me, begins the conversation with the phrase, "What's goin' on?" Spoken in his slow southern drawl, this phrase is like lullaby in that it lulls me right into that comfortable state of our friendship. These conversations usually last at least an hour.

Another friend has a thing about saying goodbye. He ends every conversation with his friends and family members with the phrase, "Love ya'." I used to think it was kind of odd, but now I am so used to it that it feels natural. If decades of friendship haven’t illustrated it, this phrase, at the end of every conversation, reminds me that he loves me.

It seems it is somewhat common to not like to say goodbye on the phone. I, personally, have no problem with it, but I see in many others a refusal to. Bob, usually ends with "Later" for example. Bojo, who is usually in a rush, often ends awkwardly with "I'll call ya later!"

Anything is better than my paternal grandmother who used to end the phone conversation by abruptly hanging up. The first time I encountered this as a child I held the phone out and looked at it. "She never says bye - she just hangs up," My mom laughed. Even as a child I thought this was kind of a rude way to end and encounter.

Much like my mother wished for me to be a good girl, I have realized I do impose a certain thing on Little Dog via the daily phrase, "Have a good rest." Since he was a baby I have always told him goodnight, followed by that phrase. See, I am in constant pursuit of a "good rest" as that is often elusive to me. I guess subconsciously I made imparting my wish for the same for Little Dog into my daily lexicon. I've never had to tell him to be a "good boy." He has become that all on his own.

Bookstore tab

Well, I am skipping over The Agony and the Ecstacy because Brad Warner just turned me on to another book titled Thank You and Okay. It's a bit dated, but is about an American man's experience living in Japan and in a Buddhist monastery.

I also went to Border's last night and did serious damage to the bank account. Little Dog got 5 new mangas and I got the new issues of Mothering and Bust. I also got a huge book on Russian cooking (and culture); picked up a hardback copy of The Elements of Style to replace my worn out paperback from college; and bought the most currently revised edition of A Child is Born. In addition to these I purchased Your Life Buttoned Up from Life.doc. The inner obsessive compulsive in me loves organisational books like this! I only hope to find the time to actually make it work for me.

See, this is why I have to avoid bookstores. Books are my crack. I have about five heavy texts I need to be studying for school instead of reading fem/hippie mags or Buddhist memoirs.



Hillary Needs a Tissue ...and Your Vote

You can skip the Kleenex and just give Hillary your ballot with a big ole X by her name. That's what she wants. That's why she cried ... or almost cried ... or fake cried ... or whatever spin you want to put on it.
All I have to say is that this is real crying:

And this is not:

Vote for Furry! His tears are just as manipulative, but at least they are real!


This Year I Really Will Keep Track of My Reading!

In an effort to keep track of all the books I read in 2008 I am going to at least list them here as I finish them.

Thus far I have (re)read Little House on the Prairie – my favourite book as a child! It is one of the few that I reread every year just for old times sake. From the ages of 7 through 12 I wanted to be Laura Ingalls and to live on the prairie. That's right. Me - the city gal who now freaks any time a wall socket is not clearly accessible. Laugh all you want, but if only the Amish had been a bit more inviting on those summer family trips of my childhood I would have stayed with them. I could have had 14 kids and instead of writing in this blog right now I'd be canning! Beets even!

But alas, the Yoder farm only sold us eggs and baked goods and never invited me to stay, so here I remain, all "of the world."

Also read: More than Noise: The Philosophy of Punk (take that Amish!) by Craig O’Hara. It was a Christmas gift from Bojo. Thanks Bojo!

Next up: The Agony and The Ecstasy.


No Resolutions, Just a New year

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions so much as I embrace the opportunities offered by a new year. I like beginnings: blank sheets of paper, Mondays, the first of the month, the beginning of a semester, the first stage of falling in love, empty rooms and blank walls. So much opportunity when you start from scratch!

This year is starting out well, which is easy enough to say when we're only two weeks in. By November I was pretty much done with 2007 and ready to start anew. For me, 2007 was a year of health crisis - from root canals to emergency surgery and most everything in between.

It was also a year which included a poorly thought out relationship which, thankfully, I regained my senses enough to end. It was fun while it ... no, scratch that, it wasn't ever really even that much fun. It was as much my fault as his though, so don't think I am pointing fingers here. I wish him the best on whatever he chooses to do, I am just no longer willing to wait around to see what that is. On a positive note, I will take from that experience a new found love of walking ...and maybe, just maybe, walking will eventually turn into running!

Today I am excited about my studies, the new plantation blinds I hung in the dining room, my greatly anticipated new cellphone, the fact that I have reconnected with an old friend back east, and this summer's trip to Russia with Little Dog.

I am going to try really hard to make some positive changes this year so any good karma you feel like sending my way will be greatly appreciated!