Friday, December 4, 2009

Boys, We Need Less Sexism

It's too bad National Post's Adrian McNair (who also blogs at Unambiguously Ambidextrous) doesn't seem to understand the nature of sexism or even elementary biology.

In a recent post regarding New Brunswick Tory MLA Carl Urquhart, Mr. McNair defends Mr. Urquhart's overtly sexist comment (for which Mr. Urquhart had already apologized) against a misguided attack from a political adversary.  In doing so, Mr. McNair ignores the actual implications of Mr. McNair's unfortunate remark, using non-sequitors and incomplete - and, thus, incorrect - arguments about reproduction.

Ok, here's the background:

Via Facebook, Mr. Urquhart wrote, "Another Liberal budget ... Another $1 billion on the debt by March ... Girls we need more babies or we will never be able to support our future."

In response, Liberal MLA Joan MacAlpine-Stiles said, "To suggest to New Brunswick's young women that their only role in society and their only contribution to the New Brunswick economy is to have babies is demeaning and outdated thinking."

Mr. McNair, for some reason, decided to defend Mr. Urquhart, writing:
I don’t think feminists like Ms. MacAlpine can really expect to be taken seriously when they wave their fingers at men in this way. Nobody has suggested that the “only role” of women in society is to have babies, nor did Mr. Urquhart suggest anything remotely close to that in his Facebook update. The only observation Mr. Urquhart made is a correct one: we have a negative population growth that will not and cannot be offset without either a baby boom, an increase in immigration, or a reduction of spending in services. Something has to give.

The other point I’d like to make is that Mr. Urquhart appealed to the only segment of the population which, so far as my sexual education classes taught me back in grade school, are actually able to have children: females. Should he have posted an equal opportunity request for men as well?


For some feminists, or in these cases, political opportunists, the truth is less important than the appearance of standing up for women’s rights, no matter how fictitious the reality. When did we, as a society, become so sensitive to gender roles that we deny basic biological imperatives? Admitting we need to have more kids isn’t sexist. It’s being a realist.

First of all, labeling someone with whom you have a difference of opinion as part of your rebuttal is, at the risk of understatement, poor form.  I don't know if Ms. MacAlpine-Stiles is a feminist or not, and I don't really care.  It has no impact on the validity of her argument.

(And by the way, if she currently goes by MacApline-Stiles, and is named such in the story to which you link, don't call her Ms. MacAlpine.  It is, again, poor form.)

Second, I assume that Mr. McNair's sex education classes taught him more than the fact that women are the only ones who get pregnant.  Perhaps it also taught him that men are necessary in order for women to get pregnant (the inspiration for the current holiday season notwithstanding).  So, unless we are to have mass woman on man rape, thinking that reproduction can be left solely to the actions of "girls" is pretty ridiculous.

But let's get to one point that Mr. McNair does get right.  Mr. Urquhart never said that reproduction was the only thing that "girls" are good for.  Bravo.

Is this how low we are setting the bar to determine if something sexist was uttered?  If it is possible to infer from a statement that "girls" might be good for something other than procreation, we are to consider this enlightened discourse?

So, here's where we really get into things.  Let's assume that Ms. MacAlpine-Stiles is a feminist.  And let's assume that she is the caricature of all things bad about feminism.  And let's admit that she was wrong.  Mr. Urquhart's statement is still sexist.

First, he calls women "girls".  Sure, maybe he's trying to be fun and colloquial, but men - especially older men in positions of authority - have to understand the context of their speech.  The fact is, for much of the past few decades/century/forever, feminists have been right.  Men treated women wretchedly.  Men still do, but it is not as systemic or pervasive as it was in the past.  However, men with any sort of power have to realize that the weight of history will colour much of what they say.  Refering to women as "girls" (unless he's going to start arguing for a lot of child brides) is demeaning.  It is dismissive of women as a gender.  It treats women as some sort of other; individuals who do not have the stature or value of adult males like Mr. Urquhart.

Now, I doubt that Mr. Urgquhart meant all of this.  Most of us say and write things without an appropriate thought to the prism through which it might be viewed, but that doesn't really matter.  A male politician has to understand why it is inappropriate for him to write that.  And if he does not understand, then it must be brought to his attention.  Mr. Urquhart understands that what he wrote was wrong.  He has apologized.  It is bizarre that this blogger at National Post would then decide to stick up for him.

Further, putting assided any argument about female on male rape, Mr. Urquhart does put the onus on women (I'm jettisoning his word "girls" for the rest of the post) to take care of procreation.  I don't know if this means promiscuity, chasing after men, unsafe sex or choosing to have a family when one might not have otherwise done so.  Again, this is a statement that, I charitably assume, ignores the significance of history.

Mr. Urquhart is implying that other desires and goals of women must accommodate being a mother.  He's not saying women can't do other things, just that their lives should include motherhood.  He is making no similar exortation for men to be fathers.  Again, considering how women were, historically, relegated to the role of wife and mother, to turn only to women to take on the role of parent is to echo the oppression that we have only recently deemed so distasteful.

But let's ignore women for now.  Let's look at the other side of the family/babymaking coin.  Mr. Urquhart makes no demand of men.  He sees a need for an increase in the birthrate (which leads to an increase in childrearing), and he makes no call to men.  His comment is not just offensive to women; it is offensive to men (though, let's admit, less so).  I assume he doesn't really think men have no place in the raising of a new generation, but he certainly implies it.  To diminish the importance of men in the reproduction of the species - by completely ignoring them when discussing the reproduction of the species - is to do what so many people blame cartoonish feminists of doing.

I do not understand why Mr. McNair would come to Mr. Urquhart's defense.  It was reasonable to point out the incorrect claim made by a rival MLA, but that does not require defending the indefensible.

The enemy of your enemy is not, necessarily, your friend.  Sometimes, he's just a guy who wrote something stupid on Facebook.

(H/T: @stageleft)

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