A Biased View on Implicit Bias

The First Annual Trent University Implicit Bias Conference (TUBIC) recently took place in Gzowski College. The conference was organized with the hope of addressing the effect of implicit, incidental, and systemic discrimination on Canadian students.

The conference covered multiple topics, not just addressing the obvious racial and gender discrimination but also the implicit bias in the case of scientific research and structural discrimination. All the speakers gave wonderful insight into implicit bias issues. However, the one that stood out was the talk Allison Preyde gave on “Gender, Race and Class: Sexual Violence and Indigenous Women”.

I know what you are thinking, “Gosh, another feminist jumping on the whole rape parade float and babbling on about women’s rights”.

You may be right, I might just be another feminist, but the fact of the matter is that we are currently living in a world where rape culture is not just acceptable but even encouraged and publicized. With the recent media frenzy over the case of the 16-year-old girl in Ohio who was raped by two high school athletes, it is obvious that women’s safety concerns are not yet where they should be on society’s priority list.

This young girl was accused of ruining the careers of the aspiring athletes and threatened with bodily harm while still recovering from the physical and emotional scars of her sexual assault. Belvedre, one of the biggest alcoholic brands on the market, was not above this when they integrated a blatant rape joke into one of their advertising campaigns saying, “Unlike some people, Belvedre always goes down smooth” coupled with the image of a creepy guy grabbing a woman from the back.

The Belvedre administration claims that this was just a small marketing mishap that was interpreted the wrong way, but it was obvious what they meant.

General cases aside, Preyde specifically approached the bias against Aboriginal women. Through the ages, women have often been perceived as the “fairer sex”; to be feminine is to be soft and gentle, weak and passive. The definition of our femininity by society already puts us in a vulnerable position when it comes to case of violence.

Although this may be a situation shared by all women, Preyde observed that Aboriginal women were particularly more vulnerable to cases of rape and violence because there is an implicit bias that they are more sexually available to men due to their economic desperation that often drives them into the sex trade.

She also argued that femininity was not independent of race or culture and that the type of femininity exhibited by Aboriginal women was perceived as less worthy of abuse. 90 percent of sexual violence cases against women are committed by non-Aboriginal men, an anomaly, as in most cases sexual offenders do not cross racial barriers.

With such statistics, I am inclined to believe that Preyde’s argument holds water. Over 500 women have gone missing over the last 20 years without a trace and it has been said that Aboriginal people face the problem of being “over-policed and under-protected.”

The sex trade also puts these women at a disadvantage, as they are unable to report abuse without incriminating themselves. This is especially tragic as the high prostitution rates among Aboriginal women are a legacy from colonialism. It is a reflection of the way in which society continues to devalue Aboriginal status and our failure to accept different cultural representations of femininity.

Rape culture is very much alive and well in our society and has been ever since the earlier times of evolution. I once heard someone make the joke that if it had been up to women in the stone age, mankind would have never reproduced, and no man would ever complain if a woman raped them.

All the men around laughed as I fumed and then asked this person, “What if you were raped by a man?” The group fell silent. Conferences such as TUBIC are very helpful to fighting implicit bias. However, just talking about the issue is not enough to sensitize the people.

People must be able to associate the pain of the victims with their own personal pain and see all human beings as the same. I know this may sound like I am preaching about some utopian place in the sky where all are equal, but this is not about equality. It is about understanding that whatever we feel is felt by others, and if we cannot prevent the harm of others we should at least do no harm ourselves.

Ironically, only by applying our biased self-love towards others shall we be able to begin to shed our implicit biases.