This week, it turns out I have rather a lot to say about the state of feminism, in particular about calling out privilege.
Today I’m going to write about something I haven’t written about in a while: psychology. Specifically, implicit biases. I’ve written two posts about this before, mostly relating to the topic of racism (see here and here). While I’d recommend reading the two pieces in full, I’ll summarise here.
In short, we all have a lot of biases that we don’t consciously notice, but manifest very subtly in our language and our behaviour. We are often slower to associate positive characteristics with people of colour, or faster to associate family roles with women, and so forth. These little biases manifest in our behaviour: we might sit further away from a person of colour, or use very abstract language which assigns blame to a member of an outgroup. People in oppressed groups often internalise at least some of this implicit bias: women may display slightly negative attitudes towards women, for example.
Most importantly, people who hold these negative implicit biases don’t know that they do, and don’t think that they are prejudiced. Yet their biases have real consequences in the real world.
The good news is, implicit biases can be overcome. While they are quick to form and harder to undo than the conscious beliefs, it is possible. And the first stage in unlearning these biases is awareness. It is then possible to educate and to reduce these biases, and their effects. This has actually been done, and with some success. It also helps if people displaying these biases are shown that this is actually not what the majority believes; it helps them overcome these beliefs.
This body of research is, of course, very pertinent to what some refer to as “call-out culture”, and goes some way to explaining why rather a lot of feminists are rather resistant to having the fact that they are displaying rather problematic behaviours or using problematic language, or just generally articulating beliefs that are not OK and oppress other women.
They don’t think they are prejudiced against women of colour, or trans women, or working class women, or sex workers, or whoever their target is. And a lot of them are completely unaware of this (though some may try to intellectualise their prejudices).
And it can be quite horrifying having it brought to your attention that actually you are seething with prejudice that you never noticed within yourself. Isn’t it only bad people who are prejudiced? Well, no. Research into implicit bias actually tends to show that most people are kind of prejudiced and I’ve never seen anything correlating it with Being A Bad Person–no matter how this variable is operationalised.
The question is, when awareness is raised of these biases, is what do you do with this information? Some people decide to make a conscious effort to change what they do, to learn, to overcome this. Others pretend it is not a problem.
It is, though. It really is. I cannot stress enough the implications of these implicit biases and how important it is to try to get over them. Being called out does not mean you are a bad person, it merely means the back of your brain needs a bit of retraining. Get to it.
Retraining is painless, particularly in comparison with what your brain had been doing before.
Call-out week: a semi-coherent series of things on my mind
- When silencing isn’t silencing and sisterhood isn’t sisterhood
- Your prejudice is unconscious, but it’s still there
- “Call-out culture” isn’t a thing (but it should be)
- Self-doubt and receptivity to privilege-checking
- Confessions of a former arsehole
This post was inspired by a conversation with the lovely Cel.