Denouncing Discrimination by Making Changes to our Everyday Discourse

Why institutional changes cannot happen until we abandon negative judgmental bias in our everyday life.

| by Sofia Pennacchietti |

Over the past year —seeing the rise of various social justice movements, being involved in QFLIP, and gaining a better overall understanding of social issues —I have come to realize that most people view themselves to be on solid moral ground when questioned about social justice issues, whether this is true or not. Too often do we hear “I’m not sexist” or “I’m not racist,” and so on; however, the oppressive and discriminatory issues that face our society have clearly proved that it is not enough to simply “not be.” I have no doubt that many people are not innately or purposefully discriminatory towards someone due to their race, gender, faith or sexual orientation. However, almost all forms of discrimination are intertwined with our institutions. 

At the same time, I struggle in grasping the idea that the only substantial changes to be made are institutional. Yes, institutional and policy changes are by far the most effective in representing minority groups and abandoning systemic discrimination in any form. But we must not forget the power of dialogue. We must rewire the way we think and the way we project our judgements onto other people.

With that being said, the first step to combating discrimination within our insitutions is through our everyday discourses. I believe that we cannot work towards institutional changes until we abandon negative discourse in our everyday life by being self-aware of the perspectives from which we are making our judgements. 

Judgement is essential to human nature and it is how we make decisions. What we must understand is the relative nature of judgment. Every judgment we make is founded on our past experiences, personal history, and the perspective from which we see the world. 

With the long list of social issues that face the world, humans find themselves in a conundrum. Judgement is the very thing that defines how we see the world; we need judgement, and we cannot unlearn it. Yet, it is also our tragic flaw. 

It is what divides people, nations, and specific manifestations of judgement drives hatred and difference. As women in a modern society, is it inevitable that we face the impacts of other people’s judgement. This is the very reason that both the U.S. and Canada, among countless other countries globally, have failed to elect a female leader. However, we must look at this issue on a smaller scale. Take a look at a university campus and examine the impacts of toxic judgement. 

From my experience at Queen’s, I have both seen and taken part in excellent clubs such as QFLIP that advocate for women in politics and beyond. We have most definitely begun to see the impacts of female empowerment; but, we still hear negative discourse about women in daily conversations. This is not just from males, we often hear women speaking in a toxic manner towards or about other women. This comes from our lack of self-awareness of the perspectives from which we are making our judgements. We call ourselves feminists, we work with clubs and institutions to make actionable change and empower women, but we still shame each other. 

I am by no means trying to blame my female peers for the negative and sexist discourse that circulates within our institutions, nor am I trying to blame my male peers for the patriarchal system we live in. But I do think the power of the individual is very important. We all have a decision to make; everytime we speak, everytime we hear someone say something, and everytime we use our judgement. It is natural to have a judgment as soon as you hear or see something. What is not natural, is whether we decide to project them on other people. 

Society has conditioned us to project our negative preconceptions onto others and lift ourselves up on the basis of other people’s weaknesses. We make a decision every time we make a comment about a woman’s sexual history, the clothes she wears, the way she projects herself, or her attractiveness. Such comments reject the very idea of feminism: we cannot work towards female empowerment until we abandon toxic discourse in our everyday life. How are we supposed to make institutional and policy changes when we cannot abandon the negative dialogue towards women in everyday conversations?

The process of abandoning such dialogue goes back to the very idea of judgement. We must understand that judgement is shaped by our personal experiences and thoughts. These are exclusive to us, and we cannot expect others to have these same judgements. More generally, experiences and thoughts enhance individuality, and individuality is vital in a society that tends to promote homogeneity. So, we must take a step back every time we face a judgement. 

We must understand that our judgements are relative, we must become self-aware of our perspectives, and accept that they may differ from others, and that this is completely okay. We must understand that one woman’s story is different from another’s, and rather than shaming each other for our individuality, we must move together free from negative discourse, and lift eachother up.