Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Privilege and Stereotype: Why box yourself in, when it's possible not to do so?

An incomplete picture still says a thousand words, but how true are those words?

Green and blue tinge the ends of selected pieces of hair
As it sways in front of the dark, velvet background 
The pieces of dead cells, suddenly manifests into a sea of possibilities

Privilege, perhaps, is awarded based on one's appearances, in addition to a list of factors, which are not necessarily displayed as obviously as skin color, hair texture, height, and weight. Nevertheless, both types of characteristics always manage to intertwine itself into an, often, awkward ball of tangled yarn, except, this ball creates larger results, than merely instigating happiness to a calico cat.

But, how does this talk of privilege connect with my newly colored hair? 

The green catching the sun
After years, and I mean YEARS, of contemplation, I finally had jeweled toned locks. As of this moment in time, some parts of my mid-length locks are covered in green and blue. And to be totally honest, I can't help but smile, a little bit wider, every time I catch the sun highlighting the refreshing hue and separating it from my raven mane. If it is as joyous of a result as it is, why did it take me so long to achieve this look? It might have been due to some impractical timing, or academic rules. However, as hard as it has been for me to fathom, it might be due to socially constructed ideas of how one's appearance can limit their opportunities. 
Close your eyes 
(well not now, because then you can't read the next few lines. Maybe ask a friend to read it for you?)
Imagine a meadow
Imagine a tree
Imagine a squirrel
Imagine a zebra cross
Imagine a secretary
Imagine a fashionista
Imagine a punk

Yes, shockingly colored hair is regularly associated with being a punk or, more suitably, a rebel. Then, why did I take the plunge only to be labelled a rebel? Why add a color to your perfectly normal mane, especially one that might be accompanied by a list of prejudicial responses? 

Well, would it be surprising if I said that, in the past three months, the thought never crossed my mind? After going to Sarah Lawrence and practically living in New York for two years, I was accustomed to bazaar hair. But, pre-conditioning to rainbow colored hair did not sum up the decision. Instead, it was a personal journey from the classroom to the real world. In Fall 2011, approximately two years ago, I took a class on race and ethnicity. A large chunk of the class revolved around the issue of privilege. Before coming to SLC, I danced around the idea of privilege, yet failed to hit the bullseye. For instance, at age nine I could already picture the manifestation of an impromptu boys club on the family dynamic, my future, and my position in the family. Of course, it might have been due to education, experience, or a once in a lifetime epiphany. Whatever the reason, that instance is either an early time stamp or the initiator of the journey that, at this moment, ends with my green tinged locks. 
Boy's haircut. Check. Boy's clothes. Check. Boy's club. Nope.
"Wait, why do I have to fulfill all these crappy requirements to enter the club? Sexist", Robyn at three years old. 
Analyzing the current color swatch highlighted by the beautiful sun rays, I knew that the intersections of my identity helped me avoid harassment or awful criticism. Having fair skin, being transported in a car, going to a certain type of mall have everything to do with people's responses to this external change in appearance. 

Wearing glasses, perhaps, plays an even larger part. Spectacles gives off the scent of education, intelligence, and even oddity. Rebels, in Indonesia at least, are often viewed as hating school, being much more street smart than book smart, and less driven to achieve socially set milestones, such as attain a diploma or degree, as well as a paying job. 

However, would it be totally out there if I were to say that I was a rebel? Though this green tinge is not necessarily a direct reflection of my rebellious nature, could it point out to a larger pattern? Or could a rebel appear to be non-rebelious at all? In turn, could a geek look like a glamorous cheerleader? 

Yes, yes, and yes. 

After being on this earth for twenty years, I have learned, through social interactions and conditioning, that human beings can and should be boxed into categories, based on their appearances, achievement, class, as well as family background. In different societies, these factors shift in value. Familial background, for example, might be more important in a collective culture, such as Indonesia, than in the U.S. To defy these socially constructed tenants is to be a rebel. Of course, in the past few years, limits have changed in definition and power. In most developed countries, gender no longer dictates one's likelihood to attend school. Geography and culture, even with changing times, remain essential to the existence and characteristics of these so-called rules.

My locks are like social patterns, isn't it? It's somewhat natural, somewhat man made. And it is influenced by a ripple of trends and cultural tenants. 
Through the years, I learned to enter the world of boxing. By looking at a variety of images, from those displayed on my kiddy underwear, to the ones plastered on billboards, I habituated myself to place people into categories. Again, these classifications differ from one place to another, as well as from one timeframe to another. These divides are created, as well as influence cultural norms, social patterns, and even the market. Expectations of what the future brings and would appear to be also, in some ways, create these boxes. 

Human beings, naturally, learn social norms, such as this one. Although, some continue to abide by it, others do not. I believe that each person experiences differing levels of rebellion depending on a variety of factors, such as social environment, religion, education level, and exposure to other cultures. From those who learn that these boxes are merely manifestations of social norms, in addition to the consequences of being able to categorize, identify a variety of groups, and attach to a certain group, some may comprehend that these classifications are, in actuality, limitless. They are, in some ways, secretly penetrable walls. One also learns that there are ways to occupy two rooms or more at ones. In actuality, most do so without having a great understanding of the larger phenomena.


A series of experiences taught me that in order to portray oneself in a certain light (let's call it Portrayal A), one does not have to ascribe to the characteristics of said light. Instead, it is possible to be A without wearing A clothes and speaking in A manner. To be a well-read individual, for instance, does not mean that one should stop or minimize the use of "like", or start wearing glasses. Instead, one might get a boob job and wear Doc Martens, as well as have a sailor's mouth and still be a literature maniac by being able to connect certain literary patterns to life or discuss about a certain classic amongst friends. Ultimately, privilege is tied into our identity. 

What are these?
With a little bit of manipulation, these items are now hidden from its true identity.

Understanding that boxes are penetrable and flexible allows us to be who we are, as well as explore other possibilities. Moreover, it helps us avoid stereotyping of others. Most importantly, it brings on a realization that this is not a perfect theory. Instead it reminds us that by saying that a Jane Austen lover can have a boob job and wear Doc Martens, elude to the fact that there are stereotypes to what a Jane Austen reader should look like and what identity is tied to having a boob job and/or wearing Doc Martens. Discussions about privilege, prejudice and stereotyping can get me wound up and go on different tangents. As you can see, we begun with privilege and wounded up with the realization that socially constructed categories are neither universal and permanent. Hopefully, in the future, I will be able to lay out more ideas on these issues, as well as tie it into other issues, such as nationalism, education, and, maybe even, dating.


*Author owns rights to all photographs

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