Do you sometimes feel smug when you have something or are something that society has deemed "best"? Do you ever catch yourself looking down on others for their lifestyle or personal choices, or even by what they are, as defined by our society? Do you ever express these ideas in front of your kids?
Friday, July 6, 2012
Rankism. AKA, justified bullying.You may be wondering what is Rankism1? It is a term coined by Robert Fuller to define "abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy." This hierarchy may be one that really exists, or one that is simply perceived. It encompasses a huge realm of discrimination against many, in the name of racism, homophobia, sexism, classism, all the way to adult/child, boss/employee and teacher/student relationships. Rankism involves a well defined imbalance of power and importance and is a huge contributor to bullying behavior. Rankism, or ones perceived superiority, often gives one a feeling of justification to bully. Therefore, I feel it is well worth exploring.
Robert Fuller is physics professor turned social reformer. He identified and coined the term rankism, which led him to begin publishing books on the subject in 20032. Fuller asserts that rankism is the primary source of man-made suffering. He believes that if we abolish all forms of rankism, we will have an ideal society. While I agree that removing all forms of rankism could make the world a less conflicting place, I don't feel that this is a fully achievable goal. As humans, we compare. It's part of our nature to look at what we have, look like, do, etc. and how it relates to what others have, look like and do, and we cannot always suppress a sense of superiority when we have or are something that is considered more or better than someone else. That being said, rankism as it manifests through racism, sexism, classism, sexual orientation, etc. can be slowly eradicated so that the widely accepted beliefs of today can become the rare exception by tomorrow.
While we will never fully remove rankism from society - as you will always have those rare people or groups who perpetuate ignorance and teach their children that they are "better than" others due to their religion, color, gender or wealth; I look at the immense strides we have made in only the past few decades in regards to womens rights, racism, and sexual orientation.
As recently as the 1950's and 60's and even well into the 70's, it was not only socially acceptable for a white person to call a black person a nigger, it was totally ok to say it to their face. To be clear – it was acceptable within the white community. Now, almost all whites will admonish another for using that word, even in private homes. A lot worse than name calling happened to blacks, before, during and even after the civil rights movement. I won't go into the stories of lynching, cross burning, regular beatings and verbal assault blacks in that period endured. I will simply state that in todays culture - even though there are a few who hold to the lingering idea that their skin color gives them elevated status or importance; those attitudes and acts are now reviled and are no longer socially acceptable beliefs.
In that same time frame, it was considered acceptable for a man to hit his wife. There was a term for this, it was called "Family Discipline". If a man came home from work and found his wife had not cleaned, or had talked angrily about him, or had burned his supper, or had done anything at all to act "out of line" he was well with in his moral` rights to discipline her with physical force. This sounds ridiculous and shocking, and it is. This mentality is so far out of the accepted norm for our society that some may find it hard to believe.
But to give you a really good idea of how rapidly and drastically our cultural mindsets have changed, one only needs to turn on the television and watch some old programming from those times. You may well be horrified at the things they were allowed to say back then, or the overall bigoted attitudes. Take this scene from the very famous Clint Eastwood Movie, "High Plains Drifter".
Early in the movie, Eastwoods character is strolling through town, minding his own business when he is accosted by a pretty woman who has a nasty chip on her shoulder. This woman has a serious attitude problem and she has been nothing but a royal pain up to this point. As she purposely bumps into Tall-Dark-and-Handsome and begins to berate him about her now rumpled dress, he tries calmly to talk her down and even tries walk away. The woman will not let up and continues to insult him and knocks his cigar out of his hand. At this point, Eastwood's character becomes upset and tells her that she needs to learn a lesson in manners. He grabs her by the arm and begins dragging her to a nearby horse stable. She begins screaming hysterically and shrieking loudly to be let go. Inside the horse stable, he forces her to the ground and rapes her as she repeatedly says no and pleads with him to stop. Midway through the forced sex, she begins to relax and appears to enjoy the experience. Afterwards, she is a perfectly pleasant person and becomes an ally to Eastwoods character - who, you should know, is quite the hero in this story.
High Plains Drifter is only one great example of how culturally established acceptable practices can be drastically changed in a relatively short time. I first saw this movie in 2006 and was so upset by this scene that I left the room and have refused to watch another Eastwood movie since. Of course, there are some men out there who still believe they are superior to women and even that they have the right to dominate them physically. I personally know a man who objectifies women and teaches these values to his son. But I take great comfort in knowing that his mentality is not only uncommon - it is heavily frowned upon by the overwhelming majority of our society.
It seems, that as we continue down the path of eradicating rankism, the end of one prejudice opens the door to focus on another. Rather, the prejudice was there to begin with, but as racism and sexism (which must always be combated) take a step aside, it leaves our community open to tackle other forms of rankism. Currently, we are fighting for gay rights. I, for one, am happy to see that fight is gaining ground. Looking again to our recent cultural past: There was a time in the past century when homosexuality was classified as a mental illness and those who displayed tendencies towards this behavior were forced into mental hospitals and subjected to many perverse forms of "treatment" including electric shock therapy and tactics that would be considered torture by todays standards. Even as recently as the 1980's, homosexuality was simply not tolerated and most gays hid their orientation. In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres broke major ground by coming out her show "The Ellen Show". The show itself did not recover and was immediately canceled as sponsors such as Chrysler and JC Penny's pulled their funding. Our society, as a whole, was not yet ready to accept people being openly gay only 15 years ago. Today, there are now 34 shows featuring gay characters in leading and supportive roles3 . And just today (the day I am writing this article), the president of the united states has declared his support for same-sex marriage.
As more and more people change their mentalities every day. Currently, LGBT (lesbian, gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) people are still being targeted by political groups, in schools, and by some religious sects. Gays are currently among the highest targeted victims of bullying in schools, the workplace and everywhere else. But I do believe that just as has been done with minorities and women, this community will win their rights and gain equal status as mentalities continue to change.
While there will never be a world perfect and free from all forms of rankism, I do believe that we are well on our way. We have so much farther to go, but one only need to look back 30 or so years to see how far we have actually come. It takes pioneers and brave advocates to stand up for the rights of those perceived as Less Than. It takes parents teaching their children, teachers teaching their students, clergy teaching their flock, and all of us teaching each other what we will and will not accept in our world. The more of us teaching and practicing tolerance and acceptance, peace and limitless friendship, the more we will all learn and grow into a truly evolved race of beings.