Sex, Gender and Public Discourse image

Sex, Gender and Public Discourse

Alastair Roberts has just written what may turn out to be my post of the year. Simply put, it is an extended argument for the idea that sex and gender differences have a huge (although largely ignored) impact on our public discourse, from universities and safe spaces, through social media and stand-up comedy, to the recent US election. If you can possibly carve out half an hour to read it, it will make you think more than reading ten other posts for three minutes, and shed light on all sorts of areas, however much you agree or disagree with it. On the basis that many people can't (it comes in at 12,400 words), here are twelve quotations to summarise it:

1. “There is an elephant in the room of our social discourse ... Men and women are different, and their differences have an immense impact upon the climate of our social and political discourse.”

2. “While men generally do dominate in positions of overt and direct public power and authority, women often exert considerably more indirect and relational power in their communities and societies. We just need to be more alert to the reality that is directly in front of us.”

3. “Yes, men do naturally tend to dominate on the stand-up circuit. It is an aggressive and pugilistic context of discourse, played to a larger audience, with a significant element of risk involved, and typically involving frequent violations of the laws of politeness. Men will naturally come to the fore in such realms. However, the limited presence of funny women in that realm is a poor argument for the claim that women are the least funny of the sexes. Women’s humour is more likely to be encountered in the dense social environment than in the highly aerated arena of overt verbal combat. Women’s wit is generally played for much smaller audiences, and can display acuity of psychological perception and marked verbal adroitness.”

4. “It is easy to presume that men monopolize power. Yet, when one looks closer and deeper, the reality is considerably more complicated: the men may occupy most of the prominent positions of power, but their primary loyalties are often to the women closest to them. The man, as Chesterton observed, may be the head, but he may often only be the figurehead. He may have the direct power, but the woman may have most of the leverage.”

5. “The culture of agonistic discourse implicitly upheld by the code of manly honour has served us well in many respects. It is an integral element of our traditional culture of ‘free speech’. However, over the past few decades our realms of political and academic discourse have become mixed contexts, which has thrown a great deal into confusion and disarray. The fact that we have become ideologically hampered in our ability to talk about the differences made by sexual difference has greatly limited our capacity to deal with these changes.”

6. “Women do not naturally gravitate to a manly code of honour. The social virtues that are elevated in women’s groups tend to be things like inclusion, supportiveness, empathy, care, and equality. Through his and his students’ research on the subject of ‘social justice warriors’, Jordan Peterson has identified that it refers to a real phenomenon in the world, but also suggests that it is specifically related to a maternal instinct: ‘the political landscape is being viewed through the lens of a hyper-concerned mother for her infant.’”

7. “This instinct causes all sorts of problems when expressed in an academic or political context. It infantilizes perceived victim, minority, or vulnerable groups (women, persons of colour, LGBT persons, disabled persons, etc.), perceiving them as lacking in agency and desperately in need of care and protection. When persons from such groups enter into the realm of political or academic discourse, they must be protected at all costs. Unsurprisingly, this completely undermines the manly code that formerly held, whereby anyone entering onto the field of discourse did so at their own risk, as a combatant and thereby as a legitimate target for challenge and honourable attack. The manly code calls us all to play to strength, whereas the maternal instinct calls us all radically to accommodate to weakness.”

8. “People pushing for free speech complain about stifling climates of discourse on campuses, which dangle the threat of social ostracization over those who do not rigorously affirm and uphold politically correct values ... Again, we should be paying attention to where this behaviour is especially concentrated: in contexts dominated by women and LGBT persons, contexts where the traditional norms of manliness are the least operative. This is not, I believe, principally some bizarre product of a radical Marcusian ideology. Rather, the ideologies are almost certainly rationalizations of the social dynamics that naturally characterize the dominant demographics in those realms.”

9. “Symbolism will tend to replace substance. Given the choice between talking about the compounding crises of automation in the Rust Belt or transgender bathrooms, [the political classes] will choose the latter. Given the political classes’ turning in upon themselves, it shouldn’t surprise us in the least that the last few years have been dominated by precisely the sort of primarily symbolic social issues that are most useful for virtue signalling within the elite class (same-sex marriage, fights over transgender bathrooms, getting the first female president, Black Lives Matter protests, etc) ... Bernie Sanders is correct: the progressive liberal elite is incapable of talking to the working class, and this is why.”

10. “Men and women don’t cease to behave like men and women simply because we have declared ourselves to be living in a gender-neutral society.”

11. “A politics of empowerment and a culture of victimhood go hand in hand. Just as the kid that bursts into tears and runs to their mother at the slightest provocation can use parental sanctions to empower them against others, so the feminist elevation of the rhetoric and ideology of victimhood serves to increase their social leverage (one thinks of the new mansplaining hotline that has just been set up in Sweden!). Exaggerated vulnerability can be exploited as a means to gain power. The term ‘crybully’ has been coined to describe such weaponized victimhood and vulnerability.”

12. “We must teach both men and women to value the strengths and instincts of the other sex and to accommodate themselves to each other. We must teach men to understand, to honour, and to make space for women’s social instincts and expressions and vice versa. We must restore a posture of wonder towards the other sex in their subtle yet profound differences and eschew the posture of envy. Men and women can both easily fall into the error of disdaining those behaviours and instincts in the other sex that most contrast with their own. This must be firmly resisted. Both the giggling teenage girls with their relational dramas and the belligerent and tribal boys with their various obsessions are making their first faltering steps towards what may become noble virtues and aptitudes that can serve both them and society at large greatly in the future. Both should be celebrated and taken seriously.”

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