On Saturday, January 21st, millions of women around the world united to stand up for women and the causes they believe in, including (but not limited to) the end of sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, and xenophobia, along with the protection of general human rights. The backlash against these marches was immediate. Several women and men turned to social media to argue that women in the United States and Canada were not unequal and needed to “quit blaming” others and “take responsibility” for their own successes and failures (see, for example, Brandi Atkinson’s meme “I am not a disgraced woman”). The sentiment was clear: if it’s not happening to me, it must not be happening.
But it is happening.
Gender inequalities happen every day, especially to women of color, women living in poverty, religious minorities, trans* individuals, lesbians, and women with disabilities. Intersectionality highlights the complexity of discrimination experienced by individuals with multiple oppressed identities. From an intersectionality perspective, it is not surprising that the anecdotes denying the existence of gender inequality focus primarily on the experiences of White, middle class, Christian, cisgender (non-trans individuals), able-bodied, heterosexual women.
As an instructor for more than 10 years, Kosha has witnessed similar dynamics occurring within her university classes. Students with multiple privileged identities often react to discussions of oppression with defensiveness and denial. In the face of this denial, students who have experienced oppression find themselves forced into a position to either fight back in anger or withdraw from the conversation all together. It is challenging to maintain a productive dialogue when the parties involved all start from different realities.
INTRODUCTION TO THE GAME OF LIFE
C’est La Vie: The Game of Social Life is a simulation activity that is designed to give individuals an opportunity to experience aspects of privilege and oppression in a simulated context, so as to provide a common foundation to introduce discussions about inequality. The game, which is published in its entirety with the Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology, is facilitated via a Powerpoint Presentation. It is suitable for groups as small as 10 and as large as several hundred.
At the beginning of the game, players receive a character profile that describes the race/ethnicity, citizenship status, gender, sexual orientation, and existing disabilities (or not) of a character, along with starting money and bonus credits (meant to represent socioeconomic status and social privilege, respectively). Using these existing resources, players navigate decisions about housing, education, social life, and occupational attainment to maximize their character’s wealth, well-being, and educational experiences.
Consistent with an intersectionality perspective, the factors that influence outcomes in the game are interactive, complex, and cumulative across the character’s life time. For example, early in the game, players use their starting resources to choose housing in different neighborhoods. The choice of neighborhood, along with the character’s social location, subsequently affects access to education and other resources. As the characters in the game face other academic, social, and legal situations, each character’s social identities serve to facilitate or constrain the choices and resources available to face those challenges.
Importantly, because our game focuses on several intersecting identities, it challenges people with differing social identities (privileged and oppressed) to reflect on the systems that maintain structural inequality. This in turn motivates discussion and self-reflection about one’s own privilege and oppression. Indeed, our research on the game, which is published with the journal Teaching of Psychology, finds that the game is associated with increased awareness about intersectionality, structural inequality, and privilege and oppression (Bramesfeld & Good, 2016). Anecdotally, the game has produced some of the best discussions about privilege and oppression that Kosha has ever experienced in a classroom context.
Certainly, a simulation game will not fix the numerous inequalities that exist within our society (nor is it designed to do so). However, before we can even begin to work together as a society to generate solutions to the very big problems that we face, people must be able to acknowledge that inequality is not a “one size fits all” issue. C’est La Vie: The Game of Social Life is designed to provide an introduction to these realities.
Blog Guest Author Bios:
Kosha Bramesfeld (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a PhD in Social Psychology from The Pennsylvania State University. She currently works as a Data Analyst for the Course Evaluations team at the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) at the University of Toronto. She has more than 10 years of experience teaching university courses in psychology and sociology within the US and Canada.
Arla Good recently received her PhD in Music Psychology from Ryerson University. Arla’s research focuses on the socio-cultural benefits of making music together. In particular, her work explores how singing in the classroom can be used as a strategy for promoting positive social relations within and across cultures.