Peter Houlihan, with some “Rules for Rationality”, to help facilitate more civil discussions around gender issues
For some reason gender is a subject that divides groups of human beings like no other. It’s the one subject everyone has a stake in, there are no neutral parties or outsider’s points of view and we’re all blinded by our gender in some way.
For this reason I’d like to suggest a set of rules for talking about gender. They’re rules of thumb, rather than commandments written in stone, and I’ve been guilty of breaking almost all of them, but I think they’re good ones. I also think that they could lead to a less partisan debate on gender. They do make a few assumptions about your ideas however:
-Gender roles empower men and oppress women
-Gender roles empower women and oppress men
-Different forms of oppression aren’t measurable or comparable
-Gendered issues usually result in privileges and oppressions for both genders
-One gender’s rights can’t come at the expense of the other’s: If anyone loses a battle of the sexes, everyone does.
If you disagree with any of the above, fair enough, but the rest of this probably won’t make a whole lot of sense. Well here goes, see you on the other side :)…
Rule number one: Be sure to look both ways before you check someone’s privilege
Privilege can be very blinding, and people in a position of privilege often don’t notice it or forget to look past it. This does not mean that anyone who is privileged might not have a valid point. Its also important to remember that you are privileged. If you do think someone is missing the point or being blinded by their own station in life, make sure you point it out as gently and sensitively as you can. If at all possible include yourself in their position.
As first world citizens we have to remember that we aren’t subject to the same pressures as people living in Ethiopia
is much better than:
You’ve never been through what they have, how can you possibly know what you’re talking about?
Remember that its up to you to point out the flaws in their argument, not up to them to get with your program. Privilege checking should never be used to dismiss the arguments of an entire group of people, all points of view are valuable and generally come from somewhere.
Rule number two: Avoid Generalizations
If your argument has begun to describe a broad group of people in general terms, you’ve gone over to the dark side. Men are not all assholes, Women are not all bitches. MRAs don’t all want to turn back the clock on gender and Feminists aren’t all out to get men. Which brings me to my next point:
Rule number three: No Conspiracy Theories
I have this crazy idea: Most people want to be good people, only a tiny portion of human beings actually go out to try and do evil. Even the Khmer Rouge were trying to make the world a better place. They still ended up murdering alot of people along the way, but that wasn’t what drove them. If you’re describing a group of people or a person as part of a conspiracy out to put people down, or motivated by a desire to destroy the world, you’re probably way off. Give their motivations the benefit of the doubt, even if you think they’re doing damage. They’ve probably seen something you haven’t that’s convinced them to act this way. Be gentle and try to keep an open mind.
Rule number four: Try To Be Balanced
If you’re pointing out an oppressive aspect of one gender role, try to point out a related privilege also bestowed on that gender, or a related oppression faced by the opposite gender. The same goes for discussing privilege. Nothing is more likely to polarise a debate by only painting one gender as uniquely oppressed or privileged, even if that’s not what you had in mind and isn’t actually what you believe.
Men are under a greater expectation to earn money than women, although, of course, this also translates as greater access to the workplace for empowered men.
Is much better than
Men have to earn all the money.
If your argument amounts to a gender filtered list of oppression then you’re ignoring half the problem, not to mention having lost half of your audience (and half the solution).
Rule number five: Don’t Panic, Stay Calm, Be Polite
I’ve been particularly guilty of this one. Its so tempting to read a grossly offensive piece of writing and charge in with all guns blazing. If you find yourself calling names, insulting the offending writer, or making witty assumptions about their character or a group that they belong to then you’ve derailed your own argument. Select all, hit backspace, take a deep breath and start again.
If you’re writing to let off steam you’re quite possibly contributing to the problem, if you’re calmly pointing out flaws in their argument in a what you consider to be a fair and balanced matter, you might just be part of the solution.
Rule number six: Victimhood Isn’t A Medal
Discussing personal experience is important and the stories of our fallen brothers and sisters should be told and heard. But if your victimhood becomes a way to silence others or a mark of status in the hierarchy of the oppression Olympics, then you may have lost your way. Being a victim isn’t something to be proud of, surviving and rising above it is.
If your story raises important questions about a particular theory, tell it, but be as gentle and non judgemental as possible. This approach has completely changed my mind on a few topics, it can really work.
Rule number seven: Don’t Play The Blame Game
If the most important issue an equality movement is assigning blame, then they’re not really interested in equal rights. I’ve seen this behaviour either side of the fence. Squabbling for greater recognition of oppression, privilege and guilt of one gender over the other suggests that the focus is less on achieving a balance and more on protecting the interests of one group over the other.
This partially falls under rules number three and four: gender isn’t a conspiracy which one group invented to keep the other down. We’re all oppressed and privileged by it, to greater and lesser degrees, and we all have a hand in perpetuating it. If we’re going to fight it, we need to do that together too.
This is a working list, and wasn’t made in any particular order of importance, any corrections or additions are more than welcome.
I’m not a religious type, but I think a certain hippie who lived in Galilee hit the nail on the head 2000 years ago when he said “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.” If you disagree with me, imagine me as yourself working on different information. Then try to give me what you have.
image by kheelcenter / flickr