Friday, May 4, 2007

Myself as a Modest Witness

In “Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium,” Donna Haraway describes what it means to be a modest witness. She defines witnessing as, “seeing; attesting; standing publicly accountable for, and psychically vulnerable to, one’s visions and representations” (Haraway 267). Basically this means that a witness is someone who acknowledges his or her own views and biases. While this may seem easy at first glance it is very challenging to view yourself as a modest witness. To do so means to question the way you see the world, and really try to understand what preconceptions, biases, etc. are affecting your views. A modest witness “cannot afford self-invisibility” (Haraway 268). This blog post will be an attempt to view myself as a modest witness and at the same time determine how these preconceptions, biases, etc. have subconsciously guided my analysis of “Scrubs” this semester.

The way I see the world is a product of my experiences. I view what I know to be “normal” and this influences how I interpret the world around me. When I analyze “Scrubs”, or anything for that matter, I tend to look for things I understand or have personal experience with, so it is not surprising to see that many of my posts this semester have gravitated toward topics of masculinity. My reply to “Grey’s Anatomy vs. Scrubs” is based around the topic of men acting outside the socially constructed norms of masculinity, and in my post “The Todd…” I discussed issues of homophobia in men. I was not trying to ignore women’s issues in these posts, but it happened without my realizing it. This is a good example of how my life experiences guided my blog posts. The only post where I feel I really broke away from issues involving masculinity was “Heterosexism in ‘Scrubs’”. In that post I touched upon queer issues in “Scrubs,” but the only reason I analyzed the show in this way was because I was not given an option that allowed me to analyze issues of masculinity that week. The next step in my analytical growth will be to try and recognize issues other than those I can relate to without someone else forcing me to.

One of the biggest (if not the biggest) contributors to my view of the world is my place of privilege within society. I am only recently (within the last year or two) starting to understand that my worldview is deeply rooted in my privilege. One moment from this last semester stand out to me as a moment when I really understood a little of what it meant to have privilege. I was sitting in one of my classes waiting for it to start when I noticed that none of the other men students were in class yet, and I was the only male student in a room of about 25 people. This realization made me feel a little uncomfortable and out of place, but then I realized that there was only one African American student in the whole class. I began to wonder if this was the kind of feeling that she faced on a daily basis. This experience helped me to understand that I view the world through the lens of my privilege. I view a “normal” situation to be one where white men are in the majority and have power. This is not something I admit proudly, but the only way to try and move past prejudices like this is to unlearn them first requires acknowledging them.

This perspective was undoubtedly present, at least on a subconscious level, throughout my analysis of “Scrubs” this semester and is most apparent in my post “Power, Authority, and Gender.” My prejudice may not have been obvious to someone reading the post, but looking back I can see how present it was. My privileged perspective characterized the way I analyzed the character of Elliot in the episode “My Female Trouble”, and furthermore it has been a part of the way I have viewed her character ever since I started watching the show. During the first two seasons of “Scrubs” Elliot was constantly portrayed as a spoiled girl who was unable to handle her own life without emotionally falling apart every other day. In particular Elliot was shown as unable to handle the criticism she received from Dr. Cox, the sharp-tongued alpha male doctor who was in charge of teaching the new interns. But during the third and fourth season Elliot began to change into a much more confident woman and stood up to Dr. Cox in a number of episodes including the episode “My Female Trouble.” Seeing Elliot strip Dr. Cox of his authority gave me a feeling of uneasiness. Dr. Cox was the tough guy with the authority, how could he be verbally beaten down by a woman like Elliot? I had been able to see “normalcy” in Elliot crying after Dr. Cox criticized her, but as soon as Dr. Cox was on the other side of the equation being talked down to I became disappointed and annoyed. The first time I saw this episode I was sure why it bugged me so much but now I see that I was watching the show with the preconceived notion that normal equals guys in charge, so there was a conflict between what I thought should be happening and what I was seeing.

By trying to view myself as a modest witness I can see that all of my blog posts were guided by my preconceived ideas, biases, etc. In some cases this helped my analysis by helping me see issues I could relate to, but it also hurt my analysis by stopping me from seeing other issues. The bottom line is that I will probably never be totally free of prejudices or biases, but through reflective exercises like this post I can try and combat these prejudices so I can be as open minded as possible.

Work Cited

Haraway, Donna J. “Facts, Witnesses, and Consequences.” Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium. FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouseTM. New York: Routledge, 1997.