Friday, March 7, 2014

Confronting my own Unconscious Bias: Ageism and Strong Women

As a self-proclaimed feminist and advocate for social justice it is hard to admit that I still succumb to negative stereotypes.  A few months ago, as part of a CFA union event, I learned about the theory of Unconscious BiasUnconscious Bias is not explicit discrimination, but instead it is when an individual subscribes to social narratives without realizing the consequences of their behavior.  The negative impact is the continued subjugation of social groups that lack agency. 

The subsequent section of my blog post this week includes personal stories about women who have helped me confront my own bias.  Squeamish readers proceed with caution.

Reflecting on my own Unconscious Bias:

It was an unassuming day in a level 2 Iyengar yoga class.  I remember thinking how young I felt surrounded by so many senior age women at the modest Los Angeles Iyengar institute.  One woman in the mat next to me looked frail but so beautiful and for a moment, I doubted her ability to endure the next 90 minutes in a mat beside me.  Fast-forward to an hour later, the class was one of the most grueling I had every attended and then we moved into inversions.  The woman beside me, who was in her late 60’s gracefully entered head stand and stayed for longer than it took me to set up my mat for balancing.  Fast forward to five minutes later, well after I had given up my balancing for the day.  I remember after sitting in child’s pose lifting my head with most of the class and I was astonished at this woman; still completely upside down like it was the same as standing for her.  Aside from feeling like an ageist brat, I also realized that this woman was who I want to become when I grow up.

Photo of me in sirsana (headstand) the pose discussed in the story with my awesome 7-year old holding my feet on March 6th 2014. 

This summer I dragged my then 6-year old to a 5k series.  She does love jogging, but in all honesty, I was thinking she would be an excuse to walk.  She jogged the event and attacked the hills like a little ass kicker.  When she got tired I got the opportunity to remind her that she is “amazing, strong and powerful” and each time she continued to conquer the hills and miles.  I hope every mother gets an opportunity to remind her 6-year olds that they have power in their little bodies.  No one told me I was strong, and it took too long in life to learn this fact.

When I decided to give birth to my son naturally, I realized about mid-crowning it was going to hurt like hell.  As I shared expletives liberally, the birthing nurses and my doctor, who were all women, remained calm.  They basically told me suck it up.  My 70 year old doctor remarked, “this was your plan and it’s a good plan.”  The nurse could tell I was skeptical at my doctor’s remark and reminded me to “just breathe and that after only a few pushes you get to meet your new baby.”  I focused and kept her words about minimal pushes in my mind and after only 1 good push my son was crying in my arms.  Only moments before I thought all the women in my room were crazy and then, in that moment I realize there are few limitations to what my body can do if I stop letting my mind hold me back.  I realized at that moment I am strong, but somehow I still manage to subscribe to social ideas about the power of women.

Women are physically powerful, at every age, and each of us should remember that everyday.  

*This weeks post subject was not about technology. it includes links to online tools to help understand Unconscious Bias.  It was also written in route to the CSU Teaching Symposium using train wifi and my trusty laptop. 

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