Eugene Cho

sexism? stereotypes? guilty as charged.

As most of my readers know, I wrote as post regarding Ann Rice’s simple but dramatic departure from organized Christianity entitled, “Why I’m Not Quitting Christianity.”

I was encouraged by how it was generally received. It was crossed posted on numerous places including Huffington Post.

But shortly afterwards, I asked for some honest and gentle feedback about one little line I inserted – not necessarily intentionally but because I’m a wanna be funny guy. It was my attempt to use humor to diffuse a tense subject:

First of all, I am a fan of Anne Rice. In fact, I don’t know of many people that dislike her. She’s a phenomenal writer and additionally, she’s gotta have some Asian genes in her. She’s 68 and ages like no other.

But I received several emails and notes about the possible racial or sexist undertones. Some of these came from absolute strangers or stalkers and couple came from folks I know.

Was that statement racist?

No.

Was it sexist?

Maybe. I didn’t believe it then. That’s why I wrote it. And I don’t think so now…

But it certainly makes me think.

Two quick thoughts:

Physical Appearance.

I asked for your feedback because I’m fully aware that I have my blind spots.

I was particularly stumped by someone’s comment that alluded to the unfair and unbalanced accentuation of physical appearance for women.

Clearly, I wasn’t try to mack on Ann Rice.

[Wait a minute…was that bad humor?]
[Now, I’m getting paranoid…]

Women – if we’re honest – are most defined and judged by their physical appearance and my comment – while not intended – only added to that unbalance and gender-ism. I was particularly struck by this comment:

What we’re often not sensitive to as men is the enormous pressure our culture places on connecting womens’ appearance to their value. I know so many women pained by a lifetime of not measuring up in appearance and having appearance over-weighted in others’ assessment of them period.

So in that sense, when talking about a woman’s professional giftedness and spiritual journey, almost any comment about her appearance seems to reinforce a painful paradigm.

Guilty. as. charged.

I apologize.

I am a man and thus, I have immense privilege. And in that privilege, I sometimes don’t see…

Stereotypes

That’s what I am guilty of? You got me.

I harped on a stereotype that some who know their genetics would swear it to be quasi-scientific. But that leads me to a more difficult question. I know what my politically correct mind and intellectual construct says but sometimes, my lips definitely don’t follow. Here are the questions:

  • Are stereotypes ever good?
  • Is there a place for stereotypes?

What do you think?

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18 Responses

  1. mo says:

    Oh man, too early for such a heavy one. I think we learn to take advantage of stereotypes sometimes, which makes us label them as “good” (asians are smart), but at the end of the day, if there were none, we’d be better off, not worse.

    That’s not rely possinle, tho, so I’ll take the “smart” label over the myriad other ones I could get hit with.

    I like that you ask questions worth answering.

  2. yaakova says:

    I have been reading this blog for years, though I suck at commenting. I honestly think this issue your having to deal with is way overblown. I even sat down and shared the Anne Rice post with my wife to get some female perspective. Even she thought you really did nothing wrong.

    My old Pastor had a saying: If you look hard enough you will find what you are looking for. Another words people could find something sexist or racist in the Sermon on the Mount if they wanted to.

    Now there are times when people are being sexist, racist, etc and should be called out on it. I just feel people in some circles have both an itchy trigger finger and quick defense mechanism.

    Keep on with what you do here. It blesses me daily.

  3. Daniel says:

    Your post was NOT sexist.

    But I understand why some were bothered by it and I respect you for hearing them.

  4. I like that you’ve been wrestling with this. But are you saying that although you’re guilty of reinforcing a painful (sexist) paradigm, you don’t think the aging comment itself was sexist? Would you say that this or that man “ages like no other”? Thanks for being open.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      Dick Clark ages like no other.

      But as to your point, I acknowledge and agree. We live in an unbalanced society that heavily favors men. And I benefit – in more ways than I can acknowledge.

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eugene Cho, Christian Ray Flores. Christian Ray Flores said: check this out sexism? stereotypes? guilty as charged. http://bit.ly/bRg2fE […]

  6. Tony Lin says:

    I don’t know how this adds to the conversation… probably not at all. But I found out the other day that Anne Rice had gastric-bypass surgery back in 2003 and lost over 100 lbs as a result.

  7. dmbaldwin says:

    You are a good man Eugene Cho. I don’t think you did or wrote anything wrong. Your humility in taking the blame for something that really has been blown way out of proportion is great.
    It makes me respect you even more.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  8. Smoaky says:

    Sometimes stereotypes are cultural fact. Read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

    I saw nothing wrong with your comment Eugene. Continue the good that you do my friend.

  9. your friend says:

    Okay, folks, we all got it, don’t we (even those who are a bit slow, and I do not mean this disrespectful!)

    Eugene IS NOT a racist, NOT a sexist!

    So let’s get on with life! Have a donut! Or better: Donate to ONE DAYS WAGES! Because THAT would be really supporting a non-racist, non-sexist good cause!

    Let’s DO something about sexism or racism, not just debate tongue slips or worse: wait to catch someone unawares.

  10. with all due respect to the writer of the comment at 6:48 above, Eugene did ask, more than once, for people’s thoughts on this. I don’t know Eugene personally, but I understand him to be humble and sincere in asking for feedback. In any case, I admire the public way he’s been considering this issue.

  11. Scott says:

    stereotypes are important cultural frames of reference, i think. how else can you understand norms of behavior? the “stereotypical” elite businessman in a certain industry might dress and act a certain way; that’s critical information for someone headed to a job interview in that industry!

    the moral aspect of communicating in stereotypes is straightforward: try to avoid reducing individuals when you generalize about groups. and that requires knowing in every conversation who your audience is and how you are perceived by them. that’s why black people and white people can joke about the “N” word, but they probably can’t joke about it in mixed company. on the other hand, when a black guy tells me “You’re my n*gga!”, i don’t really care in that situation about the theoretically injurious and reductionistic implications of the term; it’s a high compliment.

    as an Asian guy giving props to an older white woman, you actually direct a stereotype to a socially constructive end. had you then employed a derogation (i.e. “and she should thank God that her white hag genes are recessive”), you might be indefensible. but one stereotype does not imply the other, and stereotypes in and of themselves are not reprehensible to utilize and communicate.

    • Andy says:

      I would disagree. Stereotypes may see OK for a majority group that isn’t constrained and reduced by existing stereotypes, but to the minority, they can be very harmful, both emotionally and to life chances.

      For example, what stereotypes exist for minority groups such as Asians, blacks, and Hispanics? How many are positive? Negative? Now ask yourself, do those stereotypes accurately portray their LIVED EXPERIENCES or simply reduce them to caricatures?

      I’d argue for the latter, especially because these same minorities CAN’T CONTROL THEIR OWN REPRESENTATION in the media. I have many black friends who don’t appreciate the N word used in jest, regardless of what YOU think it means or whether you’d be complimented.

      Stereotypes in and of themselves reduce people to caricatures. This is most devastating to minorities who aren’t making the stereotypes; they are being subjected to them by the majority group and the media.

    • Andy says:

      Please reconsider your opinion of stereotypes. As an Asian American Christian brother, and many of my minority Christian brothers can attest, they serve to mask and devalue the rich life experiences and unique personal stories of people from all backgrounds.

      I thought we learned this lesson from Deadly Vipers.

  12. Bryan Todd says:

    i saw this quote in my readings and thought it might apply a little.

    It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong. – G. K. Chesterton

    in another direction, I think context is essential to labeling stereotypes as good or bad (or anything else)

    AND

    i think it is a very slippery slope because it seems everyone has a different take or can even be in a different context within the same conversation, which means we can be playing one game where everyone has a different set of rules.

    I think I need to read outside the philosophy genre for a little bit.

  13. Andy says:

    Hey Eugene,

    Though I don’t know you personally, I have been a ghost on your blog for a little while. As a fellow Asian American Christian, I find it empowering that there is a pastor who is both CHRISTIAN and fights for justices issues. This post was very self-reflective and honest, and I’d love to offer my 2 cents soon. I’d love to maybe get in touch with you to write about RACE AND THE CHURCH for my campus, as I’d love to get your perspective on things. It would mean a lot to me.

    I look up to your courage and resilience, and believe me, you are inspiring young Christians like me.

  14. Carlos says:

    stereotypes are a natural (psychological/cognitive)way that people make order of the world. To this natural way the human mind works we apply our own critical reflection and consciousness (particularly in areas where privilege would make us blind) to make choices about how to act. I appreciate your honesty and transparency in the blog. It’s what continues to draw me to your blog (oh . . .and the funnys).

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"He must become greater; I must become less." - John 3:30 We have to remind ourselves of this truth every day lest we forget:

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The answer to who you serve makes all the difference... It's the day after International Women's Day - and it's still important to celebrate the contribution of women in our lives, society, and world. As we honor women all around the world, I'm also reminded of how women and children are those who are most deeply impacted by injustice - especially poverty.

Sadly, I have witnessed this reality in too many places. ​In 2012, I traveled to a remote area in Eastern Kenya as part of a @onedayswages response to a famine that struck the Horn of Africa region. This famine impacted nearly 13 million people and according to some sources, took the lives of about 250,000 people. During my trip there, I had the chance of meeting many people but the person that still remains in my memory was a Muslim woman named Sahara.

She was so hospitable in inviting us to her small and temporary home. During our conversation, I learned that ​Sahara traveled 300 kilometers (a little under 200 miles) – some by cart and some by foot – as they sought to escape the worst drought that has impacted East Africa (Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia) in the past 60 years.

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200.

She traveled about 200 miles on cart and foot. ​And all along, she was ill. If you look closely ​at the photo, you might notice the large lump in her throat - likely a large cancerous tumor.​ She did not travel alone. She traveled with her husband who I was not able to meet because he was staying with one of his five other wives in this polygamist community.  She did not travel alone. She also traveled with her six children – the youngest being about 1 and the oldest being around 8. She had just given birth to her sixth child when they began her journey. Her youngest was severely malnourished when they arrived to this new settlement in a town called Benane. 
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