Bioethics strikes back

Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. But Granny Herald does have an interesting story on the bioethics of sex selection. (h/t to The Standard, who promptly mocked them for an amusing grammatical mistake which implied parents should choose whether to have sex with babies)

At the moment, it is illegal to select your baby’s sex during in vitro fertilisation procedures unless you need to do so to prevent a genetic disorder.

The idea of freely allowing parents undergoing IVF to choose the sex of their baby is repugnant to me. It instantly conjures images of the consequences of China’s one child program, where young girls are abandoned by families that want boys to run their businesses and farms.

But… I have to concede that if we only allow parents to balance out the sex of their children rather than simply give them free reign to choose, this could have wonderful social benefits- for instance, families that want both a boy and a girl could go have IVF instead of having to roll the dice for every subsequent child, and potentially ending up with five all of the same sex. 😉

Let’s talk words (in which I am apolitically correct)

Words are powerful things. While the origin of the quote is disputed, back in the annals of history, several people opined something along the lines of “among great leaders, the pen is mightier than the sword”, referring to how the best leaders recognise the power of ideas before they recognise military power. Words fuel discrimination in huge ways, whether we dismiss this fuel or not. And words are one of the most insidious ways we disrespect and disclude women, transsexual, intersex, and homosexual people, even beyond the fact that words are largely classist due to the fact that you need a very good education to understand even half of them. Maybe thousands of years later, we’ll be arguing about who said that words determine the way we think.

There’s nothing political about political correctness- you don’t need to be left-wing to value social justice. It’s about taking away the power of words to dictate the way we think- have you ever wondered why talking about doctors gets people to assume you’re talking about men? Possibly because you’re used to having other subtle indicators in people’s language point out the gender of the person they’re talking about for you, which are largely absent with doctors. Possibly because the way many people use English assumes that male is the norm or default. One of the most wonderful things feminism has brought with it, to my mind, is the idea of English as a language that’s no longer normative, where there are a lot less assumptions about what a word, and therefore a sentence, means.

A prominent example of sexist words is that our pronouns are gendered and binary. Some people insist that you’re a he or a she, or if you’re lucky, a (s)he. (even if you’re intersex or transgendered or genderqueer) Recently we’ve been getting retro and using “they” as a nice ambiguously genderless pronoun, but it’s not catching and the more inflexible grammarians are rioting over plural ambiguity.1

There’s also the whole issue with -man and man-. Mankind? No, I think you mean humankind. Fireman? No, I think you mean firefighter. Chairman? No, I think you mean chair, or maybe chairperson if you like long words. Manpower? I think you mean labour. Manhours? I think you mean workhours. I’m still working on manhole2, however. 🙂

normative sexuality versus pluralistic sexualityThen there’s sexuality- our labels for sexuality are mostly normative, even though our society is becoming a lot more pluralistic on this matter. I think here the teenagers have it right- we like boys or we like girls, or we like both. Saying that we’re gay or straight, hetero or homo, feeds into heteronormativity. Two wonderful new words should make your acquaintance: gynosexual and androsexual, respectively meaning “attracted to women” and “attracted to men”. Not only do these words not assume a norm, they can’t even identify gayness or straightness without you knowing who they’re being attached to. They also join bisexuality in uniting sexuality by the object of attraction- drawing attention to the potential similarities in what women and men are attracted to about men, and what women and men are attracted to about women. The mere existence of terms like this offer a subtle challenge to our ideas about sexuality.

It’s even more illustrative of how easy this type of thinking is that “Maori” can be translated as “normal”, and “Pakeha” as “different”. But I’ll leave the concept of pluralistic racial language to someone much better equipped to deal with it.

1If you’re one of those grammarians, I suggest to you that you attempt to resurrect the second-person familiar pronoun otherwise known as “thee” before you complain about us copying respected literary figures like Jane Austin in adding some general (and not just gender) ambiguity to our pronouns. And if anyone starts talking about gender being a grammatical term and having its meaning stolen by feminism, I’ll whack them over the head with my over-sized German dictionary (it comes with three genders included) as a way of introducing them to the idea that a term can have multiple contexts. Try mentioning the word “jerk” to a group of teenagers, then to a group of physicists, and you might see what I mean.
2Personholes have thus far failed to catch on, especially as they’re often taken to be innuendo. Product development is hard at work fixing this issue. 😉

All discrimination was not created equal

An interesting talking point that’s floating on the internet right now is that making general statements about rich white men is discrimination and shouldn’t be supported. Obviously this is someone’s first barbeque.

While I certainly agree that these sorts of characterisations are mild discrimination, I actually don’t agree that discrimination is always a terrible thing no matter who it faces. To be sure, I feel discrimination is always a last resort, because of itself it sucks, but there’s a very big difference between the disadvantaged facing discrimination that keeps them down, and the heavily advantaged getting the occasional taste of being the Other when they wander into less “mainstream” territory.

We should also note that it’s largely misbehaviour that is being made fun of, and not men. There is a certain insinuation that rich people are all immoral in this type of social commentary, which I do take issue with, but you’ll note that it’s pretty restricted to “big business” especially in the example I gave, where there is a lot less colateral damage. I have yet to meet a rich person I could call immoral, however some certainly don’t pay enough attention to their own backyards, morally speaking. However, there are certainly big businesses that I can easily identify as being immoral.

Part of the reason I feel that we should continue to have social commentary like this is that I feel we can keep it in check when it goes too far- which we’ve certainly had to do in the past for minorities. The other reason is that it takes real, righteous anger to elicit social change- the groups who want change are never a powerful, self-aware majority. (otherwise why would they need to agitate for it?) They need to gather allies, guilt their opponents, and dictate the moral agenda. Even then it’s unlikely that change will be significant or fast. The politcal machine is more like a freight train than an aircraft- it has a lot of policies to carry, and so it takes some time to accelerate out of the station.

While I certainly wish we didn’t need angry women/Maori/queers/disabled/whatever to make social progress, people who stand in the way are legitimate targets, even on unrelated matters. Politics is not a nice environment, and given that those of us agitating for change have been demonised our fair share, it screams of inconsistency to turn around from gentle acceptance of discrimination to condemnation as soon as it starts affecting your own demographic.

When we see a bit more universal commitment to equal rights and nondiscrimination, maybe we can revisit this topic. But not until then.

Why Women Have Lots of Opportunities

Uh, sorry, I mean Why Men Earn More. 😉 It’s a fascinating read. In the spirit of full disclosure, the author of this article, Warren Farrell, is actually the disenchanted feminist I mentioned back in my primer to men’s rights. He’s certainly on my watch list for future reading. I say it’s a fascinating read- that doesn’t, however, mean I entirely agree with it. In fact there are some prominent assumptions he makes that just don’t check out.

He’s absolutely right to point out that that women have some excellent employment opportunities. There are a lot of fields, such as administrative support, teaching, linguistics, translation, psychology, speech analysis, transcription, etc… where women dominate the field, or earn more on average than men in comparable conditions, and that making women aware of these choices actually empowers them to consider what they want in a career and pick out something where they feel confident of success. Continue reading

A tip o’ the hat

Time for some blog pimping. 😉

The ladies at The Hand Mirror continue to be awesome and insightful. I’d like to quickly plug the ex-expat again, for her wonderful post that gives a balanced account of her experience with her father as primary parent, and her regret that his choice is marginalised in society. Any woman who supports better recognition of fatherhood- no matter what type- is onto a good thing in my book.

The institutional discrimination in demographics that she points out has also been blogged by Idiot/Savant of No Right Turn. He also has a great discussion of the Kingmaker Debate which I blogged about below. Really neat comments.