Tags: bourdieu, culture, gender, inequality, theory, habitus, patriarchy, sexism, sexual assault, sexual harassment, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Women have been stepping forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault against powerful men, but it would be a mistake to fall victim to the belief that women's outrage is entirely new. However, what is new is the deluge of allegations, the sustained public attention to the matter, and that the women making the accusations are largely presumed to be telling the truth. With each epiphany, Americans are forced to confront the uncomfortable proposition that sexual harassment and assault are a constitutive part of office politics. Moreover, sexism is alive and well in the halls of American government, and it circulates within the private orbits of our most worshiped celebrities. So while it is certainly true that not all men harass women, women know that everywhere they go, there is the possibility of being harassed by men. It's as certain as the shark-infested waters beneath the plank of a pirate ship. • Back in 2015, when such allegations were more readily ignored and dismissed, the comedic duo Key & Peele seemed to grasp the scale of the problem and developed a comedy sketch featuring a pub full of gravely-voiced pirates. These drunken men of the sea are shown gathered in a dimly-lit tavern as the archetypal masculine men occupying a quintessentially masculine space. However, the brilliance of this skit is that Key & Peele play against type for laughs, and instead of bellowing songs that objectify and degrade women, they offer matter-of-fact statements of men's shared humanity with women: "I once met a lass so fine, 'twas drunk on barley wine, I'd been to sea for months a'three, I knew I could make her mine. And the lass was past consent, and we threw her in bed, and rested her head, and left cuz that's what gentlemen do." • Enter the social theorist Pierre Bourdieu and his concept habitus, which refers to a system of dispositions that vary by time, place, and social position. Drawing on this concept, one might say that the clip is funny because the pirates defy expectations in that they fail to embody and employ a sexist habitus. As viewers, we implicitly understand that casually disrespecting women is, in a sense, the lingua franca among these types of men in these types of spaces. This video can be used to illustrate Bourdieu's famous concept, but students can also be challenged to think beyond Key & Peele's fictional characters. What of the sexist habitus in the halls of government and in corporate boardrooms? What are the dispositions that define these spaces?
Lester Andrist, Ph.D.
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