Category Archives: Social Issues

Chivalry on the Subway

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Chivalry has never been my thing. Even when I was little and deeply invested in fairy tale Disney movies, I remember thinking that if I were in life-threatening danger, I wouldn’t want some Prince to come rescue me. I grew up with adults shouting “stranger danger!” to instill crippling fear and suspicion of basically anyone I had yet to encounter in my ripe 6 years of life. So: some dude tells me he wants to kiss me so that a “spell” can be broken? I’ll pass, creep. As I got older and started realizing that “Princes” are usually the ones us ladies need saving from in the first place, Law & Order: SVU became, and remains, my favorite fairy tale of all time.

Nonetheless, aside from the couple of times a year when various magazines declare “Chivalry is Dead!”, I never really think about the term. There was one time a couple of years ago, when I did that insane thing girls sometimes do and went on a first date. I dutifully noted throughout the entire night that he kept opening doors for me. Even if the door was out of his way, like my car door, he would zip around the car and open it. If there was no door, he would step aside and gesture with his arms that I walk in first, flight attendant style. On the ride home I observed, “You open doors a lot” (you can tell how great the conversation was flowing at this point). He asked if that was a problem and I said it wasn’t, it’s just kind of weird because I know how to open a door. And he said, “You’ve just never experienced chivalry like this”. Then I believe I told him that opening someone’s door is polite, not full-blown chivalrous, and he asked me if I was “one of those feminists”, and now we live happily after.

The next time I thought about chivalry was today, on the subway. Now, it should be noted that on NYC public transportation not only is chivalry dead, but so are all rules of human morality, ethics, and decency. The subway is to behavior what Twitter is to opinions: mayhem. So, to put it mildly, I don’t expect much “chivalry” whilst on the F train. This morning I was on a full train, but I boarded early enough to get a seat (such a rare occurance, it almost made me believe in God). Right before the doors closed, a very pregnant woman walked onto the train. Once we started moving I looked at the mostly men sitting around me, who could all clearly see the pregnant woman standing in front of us. “Excuse me, miss, do you want to sit?” As the words came out of my mouth I have to admit it felt odd. I fancy myself a feminist but kind of felt like I was saying what a guy should be saying. I’ve never called another girl “miss”. Before the woman could respond, the guy next to me stood up and proudly gestured towards his seat like a true gentleman… just as my flight attendant date did for little ol’ me. The girl sat down, turned to me, and said, I shit you not: “They open your door but god forbid they give up their damn seat on the subway.”

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I realized what chivalry really means, to me at least. It’s not being kind, or polite, or gentle, or helpful. It’s doing something that puts another person’s well-being before your own, possibly by sacrificing your own well-being, and without the promise or expectation of getting anything in return. So, chivalry is not a guy buying you dinner or opening your door. Trust me, he thinks he’s getting something out of it. Chivalry is altruism I guess… but that spirals into the philosophical debate of the existence of altruism, so let’s let that slide and just get to the bottom line:

Chivalry is giving up your damn seat on the subway.

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The Problem With Education

The news lately has been ridden with nonsense. This Presidential election has been so overshadowed by disgusting behavior and theatrics, I have rarely heard or seen a candidate talk about the real issues.

One of the issues I am most passionate about is inequality in our country: inequality in healthcare (particularly mental healthcare) and education are the two issues at the top of my list. I believe education inequality in our country is an epidemic, and so rarely spoken about you would think it doesn’t exist…

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The most valuable resource in receiving a quality education in our country is one thing: cultural and social capital. Capital is the primary force underlying the social world. Capital takes time to accumulate and has the capacity to produce profits and reproduce itself over time. The unequal nature of the social world, or “constraints”, can be explained by the unequal distribution of capital. Henceforth, the unequal nature of education can be explained by the unequal distribution of cultural and social capital.

Economists who say monetary capital is the most evident contributor to unequal levels of education fail to acknowledge this “social rate of return” that exists because of cultural capital. How many books one has read, how many museums one has visited, or how many operas one has seen, are all dictated by social class. One has to read esteemed pieces of literature to be cultured on the works of prominent authors, one has to go to a museum and see pieces of art to be cultured on certain artists, and this embodied capital turns into wealth in the form of exchange with other people. Unlike money, which is a clear indicator of social class, cultural capital is a more restrained benchmark for social class. Although it is up to the individual how much cultural capital he or she acquires, ultimately the opportunities available for accumulating such capital depends on one’s social class. For example, a wealthy individual would have more access to prestigious art galleries than a poor person. Or, a wealthy person might have more leisure time to read than a poor person. In this way, cultural capital is a symbolic form of capital indicating one’s social class and how one was socialized as a child. Families with more cultural capital will raise their children to accumulate more cultural capital. Insofar as education, cultural capital can be identified in the objectified state as books read in English class, languages learned, technology one is exposed to, etc. The product of the conversion of economic capital into cultural capital establishes the value that cultural capital has when exchanged on the labor market.

The accumulation of cultural capital is an investment in one’s future.

One’s membership in a particular social class provides that person with the backing of collectively owned capital. For example- anyone from the famous “Kennedy” family in America is automatically awarded with the credentials that the family name of “Kennedy” has earned them over the years. Exchanges of social capital imply the acknowledgment of a certain amount of homogeneity. Thus, the magnitude of social capital depends on the size of the network of connections he or she can mobilize. Belonging to a particular social group automatically leads to a certain level of a network of connections.

When it comes to education, being a part of a particular social group gains one access to the better neighborhoods, or the better private schools, which in turn leads to better connections when getting into college and ultimately getting a job. There is a sort of domino effect where each level of education builds on the other and is ultimately converted into economic capital with one making a large amount of money in a certain career. Above all, social capital indicates that the value of networking is a pivotal part of education.

The notion of “The American Dream” simply doesn’t exist anymore. An immigrant or member of a minority group can “pull himself up by his bootstraps” all we wants- but he is a victim of a culture with almost no chance of social mobility.

Let’s all stop making memes and start making moves.

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