By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
About to age out of a low-residency MFA creative writing program—you know, one of those online deals where you and the professors spend all day in your bathrobes tied to your computers, drinking dusty Jack Daniels—I’ve one last obligation: the dreaded graduate lecture.
Now, before Father dropped dead by the fishpond, his sesquipedalian tendency rubbed off on my siblings and me, and my professors occasionally called me on my resultant use of big, arcane words. But hey, it’s a grad program. Look them up! Besides, my lecture is gender studies-based, and it’s a lot easier to use the words that best describe such things.
On the other hand, I’m a little worried my profs are right. So, I’ve compromised by creating a handout for lecture-goers, a handy lexicon with nice illustrative examples. I had some fun with it, too, so I figured I’d share, although maybe that’s just my self-absorbed nature. Anyway, here it is. I hope it’s useful.
Hegemony: a society’s dominant culture and its ideology.
In the USA, that’s white, patriarchal, Christian, heterosexual ideology. For example, take a look at the demographics of the U.S. Congress: 81 percent male, 82 percent white, 92 percent Christian and 97 percent heterosexual, although members of Congress have tended to postpone coming out until after they leave office. Happily, this is changing.
Hegemonic lens: the point of view of the dominant ideology.
This point of view can blind the viewer to hegemonic representations (see below). In the realm of literature, Donna Tartt provides a nice example. The significant majority of people of color in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch are undeveloped characters restricted to the serving class.
Author Joy Castro wrote in her review of the novel for Salon: “Almost all the characters of color are servants, and they play bit parts. … Her servant characters don’t quite say, ‘You is kind. You is smart. You is important,’ as in The Help, but they come close.”
The 2014 Pulitzer Prize Board apparently failed to make note of this—perhaps a function of its being 74 percent white folks. Perhaps Ms. Tartt was similarly blinded, being of white Mississippi stock.
Hegemonic representation: a portrayal of someone or something that reflects hegemonic ideology.
Of course, white folks don’t expect to be pulled over for driving while white, have their purses searched in department stores or be killed by a police officer for peddling cigarettes, but when it happens to someone of color, white folks tend to assume that person is indeed a criminal because people of color are so often represented as such in popular media, news and propaganda (think Willie Horton, a classic). Folks of color tend to know it’s institutionalized racism perpetuated by hegemonic representations.
Enculturate: to imbue an individual with the traditional content of a culture, its ideology, practices and values.
Although a decided embarrassment, I admit to having been effectively enculturated by U.S. hegemony: When I hear the term “member of Congress,” I tend to think of a male, despite being a feminist and having a degree in Women’s Studies. Of course, if the member of Congress says something asinine about women, which so many of them do, I feel fairly confident the speaker is a male—or former Rep. Michele Bachmann—and there are those annoying demographics (see ‘Hegemony,’ above).
Socially constructed gender roles: prescribed roles and their relevant, ideal behaviors, defined by society and based on the binary of male or female.
A local example, the transgender student at Fallbrook High School who committed suicide a couple months ago did so, in part, because she felt overwhelmed by society’s failure to embrace her non-binary gender identity.
Social location: the socio-cultural group to which an individual belongs and that lends the individual identity.
Hmm, I’m a Southern California low-residency MFA grad, which means I’m likely to be privileged, white, straight, creative, substance-abusing, cerebral, depressive and self-absorbed.
Close, but no cigar.
About Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Spawned by a Southern Baptist creationist and a liberal social worker, I inherited the requisite sense of humor to survive family dinner-table debates and the imagination to avoid them.
As the Sunday political columnist at the San Diego North County Times, I won awards, a Pulitzer Prize submission, a fan club, and death threats from angry readers—but the sales department loved me. More recently, I wrote book reviews for the paper, which is no longer: The U-T ate it.
In the last few years, the San Diego Poetry Annual has published some of my late-night poetry, and my creative nonfiction has been published by Trivia: Voices of Feminism and Ms. Magazine blog among others.
Today, the pocket gophers and hummingbirds keep me company while I write—yippee!