One thing that is common in studying gender and sexuality is ignorance. Because we often talk about sexuality in a hyper-sexualized way (look at miley! look at bieber! tits! tits! ass! casual sex!) we often don’t get a real picture of what real people are experiencing. This can manifest itself in dangerous ways, further perpetuating stereotypes about groups of people that result in inequalities or political injustice.
One tool we can use to broaden our understanding of the experience someone else is having is imagining that we are them. This goes further than just putting yourself into someone else’s shoes. It might involve figuring out the details of a particular scenario and then pretending that it actually happened to you.
Lem: What… that’s not normal, Phil.
Phil: It becomes normal… if you keep doing it. Everything does.
– better off ted
We know in neuroscience that watching someone else do something or imagining yourself doing something will activate the same parts of your brain as actually doing that thing. (Mirror Neurons). That would explain why really imagining yourself going through the same experience as someone else might help you empathize with how that person feels. You might then understand that person and their experience better, or, at least, might resist in shaming them in the future.
“[Alvin] Goldman is a paladin of the simulation theory, which holds that in order to understand what another person feels when, say, she is in love, we must pretend to be in love ourselves.” Mirroring People, Marco Iacoboni
One thing I would like to challenge everyone to do, and will challenge myself to do, is to write a journal entry from the point of view of someone that you find yourself judging. Imagine that you are this protagonist. What do you do when you wake up in the morning? What fears do you have? What excites you about life? What are your struggles? How do you react when you are put down or judged by others?
It’s a challenge in understanding others but it’s also a challenge in humanizing the people around us. Taking a moment to think about how you would feel not just hypothetically, but actually if that were you and you had experienced that exact same situation.
If you do it, let me know how it goes.