Friday, March 27, 2015

Bias: should be accept our biology?

I have been participating in debates on Jason Robillards' Facebook pages with people discussing gender-bias. It has been a... well... interesting discussion, that has lead to many internal dilemma's and questioning how I perceive bias and my own way of addressing it. I discussed my personal dilemmas here.

Jason, on his latest blog post, has put forth a couple of idea's on how we should begin to address gender-bias. His take is very much concentrating on the biology of the genders and looking at ways to eliminate this bias, especially after many decades of actively trying to address the issue, it still prevails. His idea's focus on creating physically stronger women (but in such a way as not to be one-sided; a.k.a introducing MMA in schools), and to mitigate the perceptions that the world is a scary place, where we need to protect women for the survival of the species.

I can see where he is coming, and given the discussions we have had on Facebook, it is no surprise that just as he thinks women don't understand men, I don't think he understands everyday gender-bias. However, there is the case that he is a college-graduate psychologist; I am not. I have experienced gender-bias; he may not, (but as he is a Stay at home parent, that might not be entirely true). Still these are our personal observations, and our personal idea's on how to solve them. One of us maybe right,  and the other wrong, or more likely we are both right and wrong. This is why solving gender-bias is so hard, there is probably no 'one-size fits all' approach.

His idea's on introducing MMA into schools to create physically and mentally stronger women and make the idea of stronger women more acceptable, is perhaps using the idea that biology is the key and that the binary system of gender is the only way to see gender. His idea's are trying to make women more masculine so that society feels less need to protect them; and women less likely to want protecting. 

I accept that the perception the world is a scary place when in fact it isn't, is valid. The media is very good at creating scare stories for ratings, and when you are surrounded by all the bad things that can happen to you, it's hard to imagine that you are safe. 

Both of these solutions require us to accept that we are animalistic above everything else. That our biology is so hard wired that we need to create solutions that allow us to accept this binary gender system. As -I suspect he feels- encouraging men to become feminine, thereby making everyone act female, has not worked, then a system where women becomes more masculine is perhaps the way to go. It feels to me, that you are still inflicting one set of gender-behaviours onto both sexes, regardless if that is how the person sees themselves.

As for the perception that the world is a dangerous place, I wholly concur. Not for the fact that it will stop the need for society to protect women, but just for the fact that it's a stupid way to spend our time. If the one lesson my life as a parent has told me, it's that you should pick your battles. Worrying over the chemicals in apples and if your child is being taught the common-core, is not what makes the world a dangerous place. (Speaking as a Brit, everyone having guns and being able to shoot people when they feel like it, does make the world a more dangerous place; hence why we turned down the opportunity to work in the U.S and decided to live in a country with gun laws).

Anyway, digressing... As I was rambling in my thoughts, I realised that my take on this has been and should always be education; teaching our kids that bias of any kind (gender, sex and race) is pretty stupid. After doing very basic, inexpert, google-searches -which as we know from WebMD, is the font of all knowledge- it became apparent that when it comes to behaviour society overcomes biology.

I tried to think of a way to explain this in a non-gender based situation, and I came up with this: My son.

My Son (we will call him 'D'),has autism. He is also 'Statemented', which in U.K. jargon means in the school population he is in about the top 3% of extreme educational needs. Although his autism is high-functioning, his sensory and emotional difficulties means that he will probably not be able to attend a mainstream school. His autism is a biological and neurological condition; he cannot prevent his autism and he most definitely didn't ask to be born autistic. He also didn't ask to be born male and he cannot prevent being physically male. (As a side-note, it is actually thought autism is a form of extreme-gender; the hormonal and psychological reactions are seen as a form of extreme-maleness).

Due to his neurological condition, D exhibits extreme behaviour in response to certain stimuli. His hormone levels react (usually into a flight or fight mode), when certain things happen; for example, when a hand-dryer goes off unexpectedly, or if he doesn't understand a social situation. He cannot help his chemical responses, but through education he has been able to control his responses to it. Every day he practises strategies that allow him to deal with the life he will have to lead in the outside world. Behaviour that harms or restricts (physically or emotionally) another human being is not tolerated. Ever. Despite his chemical impulses to want to beat the shit out of someone due to his autism, he has been conditioned to find another solution. His autism, despite being a neurological and biological condition, is not a reason to be an arse.

Also, we do not expect the rest of society to become autistic so that they can understand him and allow him to more effectively deal with the world. We are not asking that when a hand-dryer goes off, half the class should get up, scream and run around waving their hands in the air. We do ask that they are excepting when his quirky behaviour causes confusion, but we still expect D to uphold basic rights and obligations as the rest of the population.

I can accept that men may have a need to want to protect the one they love, (in fact that is human nature, not male nature), but it is not right for society to expect that we endorse it, or the fact we should ask part of the population to change to make it easier on the men who have difficulty dealing with this concept. It is not right to ask society to accept a woman needs protection outside of the non-gender based expectations, or that men should change how they feel to do this.

Just as autism is a spectrum condition -if you use the Bell curve of standard deviation, we are all autistic somewhere on the line, only a small percentage aren't, and frankly they're weird- so is gender and sexuality. Only a small percentage of women, are women who feel they should be protected, and there is a small percentage of men, are men who feel their obligation is to protect. It is therefore wrong to force a strong binary gender system on what is the majority of the population who aren't of a defined male or female gender. As Jason commented, most of his acquaintances are for gender-equality (although obviously many didn't partake in his discussions), thereby showing that gender and perceptions on gender-equality highlight we are a mix of both genders. 

Changing a societies view is not something that can be done quickly. Gender equality has only been a policy that has been actively fought for in the last century. Prior to that, gender equality was either not seen as necessary or in fact seen as a hinderance -for either social or biological reasons. One hundred years is only a handful of generations, and we can expect change to only occur frustratingly slowly: it is happening though.

Education on societal expectations happens in three ways: at home, at school and legally. We need to, as parent’s, teach a moral compass that we feel is respectful of the majority (if not all) of the world’s rights and obligations. We should ensure that our children modify their moral compass to be reflective of themselves, but it should not breach the basic rights and obligations of another individual. We have to teach our children how to follow their moral compass with bravery for when societies moral compass fails. Basically, we should be parent’s.

It is true, that not everyone has the same moral compass, or are taught how to respect another persons individuality. Usually, children develop and modify their ideologies at school. Let’s face it, despite what we may like to think as parent’s, peer pressure is a big part of developing our child’s ideology. Adults have to understand (wether you are a parent or not), that you have a duty to be a role model. Children (and let’s face it adults) look to their herd to see how they should act.

When this fails, we have to develop a legal framework that respects the rights of every individual to be themselves, but maintain the same societal obligations for everyone regardless of race, age, sex, or gender.

Essentially we need to teach our kids not to be dicks, by ensuring we don’t act like dicks.

A hundred years ago, women were not allowed to vote. Sixty years ago the concept of women doing dangerous work was unheard of. Sixty years ago, the idea of women going into the emergency or armed forces was not even contemplated. Thirty years ago, the idea of a female elected head of government was almost unspeakable. These things have happened and it is happening.

Two-hundred-and-fifty years ago, we started to abolish slavery. Sixty years ago, segregation was rife. Today we have a black president.

Homosexuality in the U.K (between men, lesbianism was never illegal) wasn’t abolished until 1967, yet we are starting to see some legal equality in the relationships between homosexual and heterosexual couples.

It’s a slow, and it’s an inefficient system. It’s prone to errors and conflicts, but it is happening. We just need to ensure it keeps happening. That a person is not judged by their skin, who they love, or their gender, but by their actions. Over the last two hundred years, our perceptions on race, gender and sexuality have changed. We are more accepting in society of peoples diversity. (Note, I said MORE, not completely… we still have a long way to go).

I know we live in the twenty-first century and we expect a quick fix to everything. Our life has morphed into 'Now.. now... now', but this is something we have to deal with one generation at a time. We have to accept hiccups and failures on the way, it doesn't mean we have to stop trying. Just because we know we won't see the society we want in our lifetime, doesn't mean we should stop fighting for it.

The way to make this happen is too whittle at it, one child at a time. We have to teach that society is not based on colour, race or sexual-orientation; it's not based on your biological disposition, it is based on your character. You can be whatever you want to be, and you should be allowed to. You should never force your ideologies onto someone else and you should treat other peoples thoughts and ideals with respect.

I know there will be commentators out there that read this and believe my hope and aspirations are lofty and unachievable. That it won’t work; it hasn’t worked. Yet, I would like to think that changing society one child at a time is perhaps easier to do than making every child do an MMA class in school.

As part of a quick, non-scientific and frankly subjective experiment I asked D some questions:
Me - "Are boys better than girls?"
D - "We are all the same"Me - "Should boys stop girls fighting?"
D - "No, girls can fight"
Me - "Should everyone be able to be whatever they want to be?"
D - "Of course"
Me - "Should boys be made to fight if they don't want to?"
D - "No"
Me - "Should everyone be able to love whoever they want to love?"
D - "Yes"
Me - "Does it matter what colour your skin is?"
D - "Don't be silly. No"

He's ten. As I commented on my above post. 
"Yeah, these squabbles we have; it's all about biology. As if rolls eyes. This is how we change the world; one child at a time".

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fighting the wall: How a discussion on gender-equality taught me about white-heterosexual privilege.

Over the last week or so, I have been part of a Facebook discussion on gender-equality (or the lack of it in our society), and the emotions, disillusionment tainted with hope, and RSI in my thumbs, have led to some interesting personal thoughts and insights into society; some I am not sure I truly like. I have learnt I am not fighting for equality as much as I had realised. I am part of the problem as much as the solution. I need to change that.

The discussion focused mainly on how women don’t accept or –in these modern times- foster a man’s need to protect… well… everyone and everything. It started as an initial post on Jason Robillards’ Facebook page titled:
“Ever notice we see the life expectancy of minority groups as an indicator of their relative powerlessness within our society, yet men live, on average, seven years less than women?” ,
then morphed into another thread on,
“Why is there so much disdain against feminism?”.  I was apparently the token feminist.
Oh, and tag in the thread regarding how Men are more willing (and expected) to lay down their lives for women and their country. How women should accept some restrictions on their personal freedoms for the security so men can do this.

This is where I had a big issue. I don’t expect or wish anyone to die for me. If there is a battle that needs fighting, I want the opportunity to fight my own battles: On the front line if I need to. I was brought up by my Cop-Father to stand on my own feet – in everything.  However, to respect the male need to protect me, I am not allowed to do this. This was when the “feminist” chant was levelled at me.

The thing is, I don’t see myself as a feminist. To me, feminism concentrates on asserting the rights of one sex over another. I don’t want that. I would love to see a world where everyone can be who and what they want, without having to explain or petition for the right to do it. I think, as a society, everyone should have the same rights and responsibilities. I like the idea in some cultures that there is not a binary attitude to gender. We are not always Male or Female, and we are not restricted to the social stereotypes that are associated by these narrow definitions. Gender is a spectrum. Society should allow us to be who we truly are.

That is where the problem lies: Society. Men and women are biologically different, but as my brief trips into Google-land showed me, societal expectations and pressures overwhelm biological factors influencing behaviour. The way we think and act; the rules we apply to others and ourselves, are a societal convention not a biological one.

Just because society deemed something right –like men protecting women for the expansion of the human race – thousands of years ago, does not mean that it is appropriate or in fact morally right in the age we are living in now. Just because the male concept of protection is essentially for their partner with whom they wish to procreate with, doesn’t mean that protection HAS to be forced onto women who share similar characteristics (child-bearing aged women), or withheld from women who don’t meet your expectations (for example, prostitutes). Men shouldn’t be ridiculed or executed because they do not want to fight on the front lines, because they feel war is not the way, but then let those who dictate the fight, stay off the front lines.  You can’t enforce a blanket rule, but then create vague and subjective exceptions and then expect everyone to understand where they stand.

This has what has caused the war we have on gender bias: Confusion.

Three days of RSI inducing thread posts; being the lone, token “feminist”, posting evidence-showing exceptions to the blanket rule; being questioned and ridiculed in some cases from multiple quarters, I finally resigned myself to the inevitable. I was saying the same things, to the same people who didn’t want to listen, no matter how much information I gave them. To them the evidence I gave were just the exceptions that proved the rule, not evidence that negated it. That’s when I lost it – diplomatically (I didn’t call them wankers), but passively-aggressively. After three days of calming stating my case, my five minutes of losing it, proved what they all suspected; women cannot rationally discuss this topic. In one short reply, I negated everything I had tried to prove.

There was a great sense of frustration, sadness and anger (not only at the people I was discussing the issue with, but myself). In my head, my line became more engrained. My stance was becoming more polarized. My previous experiences of gender imbalances, morphed from being unfortunate and rare exceptions, to being generalized to the whole of the male gender. My thinking changed from saying “A few men..” to “All men…”

I knew at that point I was becoming part of the problem. I decided to see what positives I could bring out from this. The conclusions were not pleasant.

I read an article posted by another friend of mine about gender-bias in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries. The article had a list of the most common gender-biased difficulties that many women in STEM industries suffer. I agree with all of them. Its sad, but in my years in STEM, I encountered all of the issues listed, but had to live with or ignore them, because when you are one of only four or five women in a department of ninety, your voice is very small. The results from the survey when race was factored into the survey were even more upsetting. That’s when I realised I have it easy.

I maybe female, but I am an educated white female, (and despite my bi-sexuality) in a long-standing heterosexual relationship. I only have one disadvantage. I only have one battle to fight. A fight I have not really done before. My life has been pretty easy.

In societies levels of privilege I am in the top pile; just underneath white men.

What I have had to experience over the last few days: calmly laying down my case, only to be rebuffed by the adage, “this is the way it has always been”; to be taunted and bombarded from every corner – left to be the only one stating the case; to have to provide all the evidence before I am considered, without any information being passed back in the discussion; to finally be so frustrated and weighed down that you lose it, thereby proving the rule that society is right; and realizing my ideologies were being irrevocably polarized, even when that wasn’t my aim.

The last few days have been exhausting, demoralizing and frustrating. 

The. Last. Few. Days.
I do not deal with this on a daily basis.

I am part of the white privilege. I am the exception. It made me realize, that when I talk to friends of different racial or sexual orientations about the issues they face, I was paying lip-service.  I had no clue. Even now, I don’t, but I am beginning to realize that.

I said, I was looking for a positive spin over my experiences from the last few days. After writing this I have one.

I am not going to pay lip-service any more. I am going to try and be more active in changing this crazy binary, white-biased society we live in. The bias we have in this world are not biological, they are societal. Society is wrong, and it needs to change.

One of my comments on the thread was:
“This isn’t a war between men and women; it’s a battle against society to allow us to be who we want to be, without boundaries”.

This war has nothing to do with being a man or a woman. This is just a straight out war against the established rules in society that prevent us being who we want to be without boundaries.

Let battle commence. I am ready to fight on the front line for this one.