17 February 2004

Is sexism natural?

Is sexism natural?

Sooner or later it was bound to happen. There is so much an oppressed person will take, then there comes a time when enough is enough. We seem to have became aware of sexism in our society when a forceful group of people had enough. Change was in their sights.

An so one day feminism was born, equal rights were discovered and radical changes were made to our language. Not only was the rest history, as they say, but everyone was supposed to live happily ever after. I mean we even have ministries for women headed by women of course. I'm sure it's only a question of time before equal opportunities kick in and some men will head these ministries.

Sexism is associated with discrimination based on gender. It is also a term used to identify sentiments of discrimination in our language. Strictly speaking, the word 'woman' is sexist language because it has the word 'man' in it. Chairman, manhole are other examples; managing director is more questionable.

What are the issues then? We can pass over questions about sexism as a language issue.

The issue at hand is very clear: if sexism is a natural behaviour then what are the implications? And if sexism is not a natural phenomena, what is it? But let's get one thing clear, sexism is not only about women, it is also about men.

What would an argument proving that sexism is natural look like? In the context of nature we would need to look at the two central themes of nature: survival and reproduction.

Having the ability to put someone else at a disadvantage in the food chain must certainly help one's survival chances. And it seems to me that nature's game is to survive; period. And if men discriminate against women maybe it is because it is easier to do so. Do men, therefore, not discriminate against men? I think one word should give us a clue: war.

Let's take a twisted argument that might follow from this. If a man puts an other man's (call him the enemy ) female partner at a disadvantage then that must surely have an effect on the enemy's genes surviving into the next generation. Surely it makes sense, from nature's point of view, to protect one's female partner and discriminate ad lib against all other females?

What if sexism was not natural but a rational activity by men; I use rational here for want of a better word; one that does not imply nature in human activity. A concept I find difficult to grasp.

Surely this is like saying what if a Spanish omelette wasn't made with potatoes? Never having made a Spanish omelette I cannot judge this culinary question; but I don't think I will risk my life asking for a tortilla sin patatas.

Could it possibly be that sexism is a rational phenomenon? In that case, why would a rational agent want to discriminate against anyone when cooperation is the best policy? Why adopt a zero sum game when a win-win strategy is better in the long term?

Sexism, must surely be counter productive for men as rational agents. Oppressing those people we want and even need to cooperate with us makes even less sense. Why would a free agent (woman) want to cooperate with someone (man) who is trying to oppress them? I can only think of one instance were this would be the case i.e. when might is right.

Isn't this the same as saying physical force wins? Why is nature, in the form of force, butting its head in rationality? But now we're back to square one; the non-naturalists are going to have some explaining to do. And they can certainly start, for example, by justifying the whole notion of ethics. Mind you, if they get it wrong we'll all have some head scratching to do; sorry, head butting!

Take Care


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