Default (de·fault – [di-fawlt]) n.
A term used to denote normality and neutrality and identify adherents to it. Similar to what one might find as the ‘defaults’ on her computer (Times New Roman type font, the same homepage for internet access, the vertical letter format for printing documents in a printer), the Default is the constant and unhistorical standard of society by which everyone/thing else is described. It simply is. With regards to feminism, Simone de Beauvoir writes that while “the fact of being a man is no peculiarity” simultaneously it is acknowledged that “the body of woman [is] a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it” (FTR 33). In this way, the male body and man as social being is ‘neutral’ and ‘unaltered’ and therefore good. It is the woman who is distinguished in her deviance from the Default. Hers is a body crafted in the perfect image of man, but taken tragic and disgusting wrong turns in the journey to finality. In this mindset, Aristotle aptly remarks: “The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities, we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness” (FTR 33).
We can take this concept of Default further, however, than the realms of gender binary and apply it to (American) social consciousness in general. How then do we define the default? It is everything that does not need a signifier preceding it.
- A human is a person, but a person is a man. If not, her sex is indicated with the signifier ‘woman’ or ‘she’.
- A human is a person, but a person is a white man. If not, s/he is distinguished by a suitable racial and skin color signifier. One is black; one is Latino, one is Asian. But the One (the Subject to which everyone else is Other) is white.
- A human is a person, but a person is a white, straight man. If not, s/he is ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bi’, ‘trans’, queer, etc. Homosexuality and all other deviations from Default, that is, heterosexuality, must be identified lest we confuse the idealized Default with contrarily identified others.
- A human is a person, but a person is a white, straight, middle class man. One cannot but be of middle class without being identified as such as well.
- A human is a person, but a person is etc. etc. etc…
Undecided portion of definition—is this true?: It is crucial to distinguish this idea of Default from the notion of ‘assumption.’
Assumption indicates agency–that is, one is choosing to apply a totalizing model of being to all individuals. But is the Default a set of assumptions or something deeper, more insidious? It’s not just the way we talk (though, actually, it is: the way we talk betrays the way we consider our social and material surroundings). It’s the way we interpret reality…through an understanding like the Default?
Is this an issue of power–is our manufacturing of the Default an unacknowledged, unaware strategy towards understanding social gradations of power? Does the Default assist us in comprehending difference? Or is it a straw man, absent from reality, towards which everything is oriented in opposition?