We’re all familiar with the phenomenon. You’re arguing with some jerk in the comments section of a blog, and judging by responses, all your carefully crafted, brilliantly logical arguments seem like they’re coming out in the twilight zone, where they get mangled into terrible straw man constructions that should never be. “What the hell is going on?” you think, “How can this person not see what’s right in front of their face?”
When this happens, it’s likely that you’re arguing from different axioms — that is, your fundamental views about how the world is or should work are in conflict. Until that conflict is resolved, at least partially, agreement is impossible. It’s not impossible for someone’s axioms to change, but that’s relatively rare, and requires a larger volume of evidence than convincing someone to support a policy.
In the spirit of new blog and all, I thought I’d introduce myself by laying out my axioms around gender equality:
A person’s set of behaviors, expectations, and responsibilities should be chosen, not assigned.
What this means is that, just because I was born with a vagina, you can’t divine anything about my personality, my interests, my outlooks and desires and hopes and dreams. Likewise, had I been born with a penis.
From this follow a lot of my beliefs about social practices — that women and men should have equal opportunities, that women shouldn’t face stigma for doing “man things” and men shouldn’t face stigma for doing “woman things”, that the gender binary is a stupid thing and who cares about it anyway, and why did I have such a hard time finding good working/walking shoes in women’s sizes.
To change this view, I’d need good scientific evidence of significant inborn gender differences. My understanding of most inborn gender differences is that they likely work along something like an overlapping bell curve — while the statistical average man might be more analytical than the statistically average woman, that doesn’t say anything about any individual woman compared to any individual man. If it’s not like this — if the differences are hugely significant — I’ll take this back.
Each person has supreme authority over their own body. They have no obligation to do anything to it or to allow others to do things to/with it. This authority can never be given away.
From here come my beliefs about consent. For one thing, it’s a continuous process, a state, not a decision. Consent to something is the agreement that yes, someone is allowed to do x, y, and z, on conditions a, b, and c. It’s like inviting someone into your house — you tell them they’re welcome to come in, but they must take their shoes off and they can’t go into the bedroom. If they’re a jerk, you can always tell them the welcome has expired and would they please find their way out. Likewise, consent can always be withdrawn.
A reader may note that this axiom also implies various libertarian social policies, to which I just say “mmmhm!” and nod happily. But this isn’t about drug laws or any of that. One might also note that this precludes true BDSM slave contracts — to which I again nod, pleased with myself. That’s a nice fantasy, but it should still play by these rules.
The only way I’m changing this one is if someone can show me a suitably terrifying consequence of this axiom. I can’t find one, only good things.
My views on abortion and childbearing follow from this as well, with the additional axiom that I believe a fetus becomes a person as soon as it is capable of surviving outside the womb.
So that’s me. Those are my axioms, the things that underlie all the beliefs I’ll argue about on the internet. What about you? Where do you start from on the subject of gender, and what evidence would you need to move away from that?