I had to do diversity training. I need to be writing another grant.
The training was mostly innocuous. Nobody got really uncomfortable. Nobody was told that their views were not acceptable. In white-bread, rural almost-MRU-land this was par for the course. The presenter was competent. Until.
Of course until. We came to a slide on "cultural competency". It contained a line something like: cultural competency is knowing when to salsa and when to twerk. The image on the screen was a hyper-sexualized salsa dancer, white(ish), very thin, and wearing what could not be remotely construed as appropriate clothing for a medical school. More flesh showing than flash, but what was there was flash.
There were 200+ people in the room, and given that I am never scared of anything but blended scotch, I decided I had to say something. I raised my hand and said "I find that image inappropriate". Note: "I find" - discussing my thoughts. The (female) facilitator replied "in 1000's of presentations no one has ever objected to this image before". I thought: Duh - maybe that says something about the comfort level or ability or security of women in the room to express themselves. But I didn't say that. I said something about it promulgating societal images of women as sexual objects, except, of course, it did not come out quite so glibly at the time.
Then, a bunch of (younger) women stood up and basically said: you are way too sensitive. Its just a picture. It doesn't mean anything. A picture of a young, pretty, thin, sexualized woman doesn't mean that we or you can't do our jobs well.
The facilitator interjected at this point "well, its clear that Potnia has had a very visceral reaction to this image". No, you jackass. It was not visceral. I am not an emotional woman, reacting hysterically. I "find" not I "feel".
But the worst was when one of the men, one of the goddamn leaders of diversity at this small-potatoes place stood up, and said the following: I am Cuban and I am Hispanic and this is part of my culture. When my wife and I go out, we dance like this, and she wears clothes like this. Salsa means "sauce" and it means "hot sauce" and it is sexual and that is my culture. And by implication: your uncomfortableness with sexual images was in conflict with my culture. I was the one being intolerant.
I flashed back 30 years to being the only woman and having a smile pasted on my face while men told boob jokes at lunch. Can't you just take a joke. The women's movement has no sense of humor.
Fuck that. Replace the body in that picture with a woman who is 200 lbs. Or 65 years old. Its not sexy anymore, it is funny. The idea of fat women, or old women, being sexy is funny, is humerous, because the important thing here is that sexy is thin and young. If changing the body image in the picture changes the meaning, there is something wrong with the image.
I didn't say more, because I had had my turn, and this was a session about everyone having their turn, But what needed to be said to Mr. Vice-president of Diversity and Inclusiveness was 1) what he and his wife do, what is in their culture, is fine, in the appropriate time and place. But I don't want to know about your, or anyone else's at work, love or sex life. Really. 2) This is a medical school, and sexual images, of men, women, children no matter what culture are not appropriate. The inclusion, in any culture, of images of women as sexual entities is a different, societal discussion than the discussion of what should and should not be shown at a diversity/inclusiveness workplace program.
The facilitator was an air-bag. I got a non-apology when I told her that I thought "visceral" was playing into female stereotypes about gender images. "I'm sorry you feel that way". She said over and over to the group "I'm still learning" but it felt false, as if she had learned to say this. Her criteria for success seemed to be "is everyone talking? yes? good".
What broke my heart, yes, emotion, heart, etc, was afterwards, two young women I mentor came to me and said "well that was a waste, I learned nothing but that this place has a bunch of hypocrites who want to check boxes and don't give a damn about diversity in any real form".