I have developed a highly itchy reaction to any photo wherein one person, grinning at the camera, is pointing his/her (usually his) index finger at the other person. “Looky here!” One person who does this a lot is he-who-shall-not-be-named, and I thought my ick-reaction was a product of how I feel about this “person.” Then I began seeing a lot of photos with this same gesture being performed by someone I know personally, someone for whom I have a big heap of respect and affection. And I still went “Ick.” So what’s up with that?
We live, IMHO, in a Top-Dog culture, where dominance is the name of the game. The domination memes are so baked into our consciousness that they don’t register as that, and the use of the meme may have nothing at all to do with an attempt to dominate. It takes a aha-moment to get it.
There was a study done, multiply reported, that went something like this. In a mixed group, a researcher named Jackson Katz would ask a question: “What do you do on a daily basis to prevent yourself from being sexually assaulted?” In general, men were initially confused, then answered, “Nothing. I don’t think about it.” Then the women responded, and they had a long list of their multiple actions, from holding their car keys in their fist as a defensive weapon to putting a male voice on their answering machine. It would take a whole page to list these, but all women will know what I’m talking about.
So neither men nor women are putting this at the top of their consciousness, it’s just part of what they do on a daily basis. Why should this matter? Because it takes for granted the inherently different lives lived by men and women. Should this be accepted?
OK, what about the common photos of two people, one grinning and pointing at the other? This is what I get, whether or not it is intended. The pointer is putting himself in the dominant position, and reinforces this by grinning directly at the camera. “See me? I’m telling you to look at this other person, and I’m telling you that they’re really special. You know me, you think I’m special, so you’ll pay attention.”
Why am I writing about this, other than to vent an irk? Because I’d like to share a wish to see from the other side of the mirror more often, to walk in other shoes, and to have the sand to be able to ask, “Is this what you really mean?” When our kids heard their beloved grandma use vile racial terms, we would say something privately to them later, “Well, that’s just Grandma, that’s the way she grew up.” Looking back, I can’t remotely imagine how I could have spoken of this to her. But we are on different ground now, and much of it is turning to tar-pits.
So if your shoe starts to stick to the sidewalk, I encourage you to lift your foot, see what’s under there, and think where you’ve been walking. Then see if there’s anything you can do to clean it up.