Sensing Sexism

A community dialogue and online activist project on the use of language to disrupt everyday experiences of sexism

with Dr Jennifer Roberts

Thank you for participating in the CCRI Minor Movement discussion group. Visit us on our Facebook page where the conversations continue.

Sensing Sexism – About the Event

The Sensing Sexism event is a community dialogue and an activist knowledge creation process exploring how language constructs and informs our understandings of our gendered identities. This event will contemplate collective experiences of sexism to consider if a lack of functional language to communicate systemic oppression may be retarding women’s acts of resistance and agency in the fight for gender equality. This event will interrogate how the generation of additional agentic language could influence a political shift in the collective understandings of social gender norms. Join us to progress the goal of social justice in furthering our conceptualizations of how knowledge and language can influence social power.

More detailed information below: 

The Purpose of this Event:

Sensing Sexism is an online community dialogue event designed to share and explore views on the lack of functional language to describe collective experiences of everyday sexism and whether this issue may be impeding women’s acts of resistance and agency in the fight for gender equality. The Sensing Sexism discussion event is as an activist knowledge creation process to examine how language constructs and informs our understandings of our gendered identities and how that reinforces social narratives of inequality. By considering how our conceptualizations of knowledge and access to language can influence social power our discussion community will work together to generate frameworks to advance additional agentic language that could influence a political shift in the collective understandings of social gender norms.

Background:

As a researcher my work explores how teenage girls react to gender bias and what level of awareness and reflexivity they express around such experiences. The girls I research often display forms of resistance to gender bias that constructs them as less capable humans based on their sexed bodies. Understanding how, when and why the girls resist is instrumental to learning how they may be effectively disrupting sexism.  However, one of the challenges to girls’ resistance and disruption may be a lack of language available to them to express their own oppression.  A form of lexiconic poverty emerged in my research evidenced through ruptures in the girl’s narratives, direct verbalization of lack of language and the emergence of more contemporary, blended words such as ‘mansplaining’ or ‘manterrupting’ to describe experiences of sexism.  This lack of functional language became a notable and consistent impediment to their ability to verbally identify and disrupt systemic gender bias in their everyday lives.

Social Narratives and the Power of Disruption:

Despite the suggestions of Enlightenment ideologies, there is no metanarrative of empirical truth that directs our individual experiences.  Social knowledge is inherently unstable; constantly shifting and changing.  How we sense and respond to our lives is individual and unique.  Yet based on our social organization some experiences can feel collective as our shared intersectionalities evoke categorical bias.  These categories and their corresponding expectations are socially constructed and neatly packaged as truth for a myriad of political reasons.  While the power of such narratives lies in their social consensus their weakness resides in the power of their collective disruption.  Yet our ability to challenge and disrupt status quo narratives is limited without the fundamental tools of communal and representational language. 

Knowledge Creation as an Issue of Social Justice:

It is important to remember that historically the dominant have had the power to create language that represents, reproduces and reifies their experience atop the social hierarchy.  Language and knowledge creation are privileges not bestowed on the marginalized effectively facilitating the erasure of their stories.  When women attempt to express their experiences and negotiate their social positionings they often find themselves without the necessary tools of vocabulary and language.  Barred from the same levels of epistemic privilege granted to men and further weakened by testimonial injustices surrounding gender and other intersectionalities, women’s experiences and ‘truths’ are regularly subject to subversion.

Academic Research and Activism:

With the goal of bridging the gap between my academic research and its implications for needed activism this project strives to create a form of critical inquiry that moves outside of the safety of universality promised by science challenging the moral superiority of a singular truth that is privileged with the right to dominate the truths of others. In order to circumvent the epistemic privilege embedded in traditional research methods the Sensing Sexism community dialogue event will work to collectively construct the frameworks for a multifaceted knowledge movement around the creation of more definitive language tools that can be used to express and disrupt acts of oppressive sexism. 

Questions to Explore:

  • How do we interrogate how we sense, read and culturally interpret our experiences of sexism particularly in resistance to oppression and dominance?
  • Considering the multiplicity of our individual intersectionalities are their forms of oppression that feel collective to women based on how they are constructed by patriarchal society?
  • How do we understand individual and collective awareness around such experiences and how are they verbalized and negotiated through language?
  • Can we disrupt inequitable positionings by rejecting external significations that limit our choice and power to determine our own social construction?
  • How do we disrupt the power of outdated gender narratives to allow for more diverse and agentic expression of the value of our own human knowledge and experience?
  • How do we learn to reflect on social norms from spaces outside the historical conditions which constructed them?
  • How do assertions of relativism that claim privilege to a unified knowledge disrupt our process by anchoring social norms to retrograde gender bias?
  • Is it possible to create more effective language to describe collective experiences of gender oppression?
  • How would we design and frame such a movement?
  • What are the potential political results of this movement?

This slideshow shows examples of sexist experiences that need words for collective understanding and reference. 

(Click arrows to advance to the next slide)

About Dr Roberts

Dr Jennifer Roberts is a researcher and critical analyst of the politics of gender and power. Analyzing how gender becomes a biased sorting category to define and regulate behaviors, Dr Roberts decodes the construction of the social hierarchies that influence social power to naturalize and obscure the foundations of poverty and inequality.

Dr Roberts’ research explores how unconscious gender bias can become operationalized to influence social hierarchies and inform positions of power and success in the classroom. In her research Dr Roberts has recognized a form of lexiconic poverty in language that effectively limits descriptions of everyday sexism and impedes our ability to verbally identify and disrupt forms of gender inequality. The emergence of contemporary language describing common acts of oppression such as ‘mansplaining’ and ‘manterrupting’ provides motivation to address the limitations in communal and representational language by creating more effective tools to express how we are collectively Sensing Sexism.

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