Personal Reflection on Voicing One's Opinion

EWRT-1A: Composition & Reading
Prof. V. Ross
Copyright © 1996, 2000 B. Collie Collier
This paper was a "timed" assignment, and is thus a quick (and rather idealistic) treatment on some beliefs of mine.

Martin Luther King had a dream -- a dream of freedom from discrimination for blacks and whites. I too have a dream about freedom from discrimination. I wish to see a society where men and women are valued equally. I wish to see a society free from gender bias. I dream of changing society -- of making society more egalitarian, more interested in the inner worth of a person than whether or not they are biologically male or female.

In this culture (and in many of the current modern-day cultures) there is a lot of binary thinking. It is used to quickly make mental distinctions between various objects or ideas. This isn't necessarily a bad form of thinking, but unfortunately it is frequently used to justify bias, prejudice, and discrimination. Thus we currently have good/bad, male/female, intellectual/emotional, creative/destructive, active/passive, light/dark, and so on. The current cultural bias says that men are better, more worthy somehow, than women. The above examples of binary thinking reveal this discrimination: men are associated with goodness, intellectualism, creativity, activity, light; and women are associated with badness, emotionalism, destructivity, passivity, darkness. This is wrong, and I believe that if we can repair this type of discriminatory thinking in the culture we will solve a lot of our culture's and the world's current problems. If we do not believe in oppression and domination as useful models for our behavior, if we do not believe in discrimination as a necessary component of both our thought patterns and our culture, we could potentially eliminate racism, classism, and the need for the environmental and feminist movements.

I have always been taught, since childhood, that the only true limitations on my behavior were self-imposed; that I could set my goals as high as I wished -- my gender didn't matter. What mattered was what I thought and believed about myself. Consequently, it also followed that I had to be responsible for myself. Slowly (and sometimes reluctantly) as I grew up I learned responsibility and self respect. Respect for oneself implied respect for others also, and so I gradually built up a moral code that reflected that. As an example, just as I would not deliberately and maliciously attack another, so I expected to have that behavior reciprocated -- and I was more than willing to enforce that belief by defending myself.

I was shocked, several years ago, at being graphically disabused of the natural (and usually incorrect) belief that my world experience was average -- that discrimination was not something most people experienced. This occurred while I was listening to three women friends talking about men and life in general. None of these women were foolish, incompetent, gullible, or helpless people. They were all self-confident and articulate. And yet, each of them did not seem to find it odd that they all agreed on the story they unfolded to me -- indeed, they asserted all women had had this unpleasant experience at one time or another, and that my experience was in the minority! The event my friends told me of was the following: that it was quite annoying when men -- complete strangers! -- felt perfectly within their rights to come up to a woman and speak to her as if she were sexually available; to touch her or grab her arm as if she were just a child that could be man-handled without fear of retribution.

I have never had that happen to me. I could not imagine letting a complete stranger touch me in any fashion without my express permission, and I'd always quickly and efficiently shut down people that were too "friendly" for my tastes. I could not understand why these women would have had such happen to them, and more bewilderingly, why they put up with it. The incongruity of this was striking to me. I felt as if I were talking to friends speaking of their pets: "Oh, our new baby horse is such a sweet little foal! We all think he's just so cute! And so sweet! Why, he never kicks! And he only bites because he's trying to get at the treats in your pockets! Ah, well... babies will be babies!" Did these women not realize the incongruity of their words? Did they not realize that allowing one set of annoying behaviors would only lead to worse behaviors later, as the "little baby" grew up? How could they be unaware that their tacit assent to such misbehavior merely encouraged it? Why were they helping to perpetuate the discriminatory belief that 'boys will be boys,' and girls must just put up with it?

I did not understand this behavior then, and while I may understand it now, I will never agree with or permit it towards myself or my friends. People are people -- and regardless of gender, people are deserving of respect. No one has the right to treat other people, regardless of gender, like property or children. No one should have to put up with that kind of abuse.

I must admit, I found it very peculiar that my friends agreed that a world without such attitudes in it would be good -- and yet I could not seem to get them to see that their own responses encouraged the repetition of such behaviors. It caused me initially to seek what was different between me and my friends. Why did they have this problem, and yet I did not? Why was I not afraid that strange men would consider me a potential target? It wasn't like I carried a gun all the time, or knew fourteen different ways to kill someone. I knew I was not that wonderful or unique.

I believe I discovered the difference eventually. It wasn't size, or hair color, or any physical attribute whatsoever. The only common denominator between me and the one other woman I could find that had never had this problem with men was that we'd both trained horses. It was in our mental attitudes that the difference between us and other women lay. Odd though it sounds, the experience of dealing with something much larger and stronger than you, and being taught that permissiveness would lead later to disaster, made one simply refuse to put up with incorrect or discriminatory behavior in the present. We taught our horses that violence was not acceptable. Thus I have come to the following conclusion: until people refuse to put up with discrimination or abusive behavior, they will continue, however unwillingly or unknowingly, to perpetuate it. It doesn't matter if the people involved are male or female; it doesn't matter if they're watching it occur or if they're the recipient of the discrimination. They need to decide for themselves what is right. They need to take responsibility for themselves. And they need to refuse to accept aggressive, unfriendly, incorrect behavior from others. To put it very simply, they should do what they want -- as long as they hurt no one! I think that's important enough to warrant repeating: Do as you will -- so long as you harm none. In such a situation, there can be no discrimination and no gender bias. Our society does not push this kind of self-responsibility.

Unfortunately, there is always resistance in a culture to any major change of mores. Change, to many people, is frightening -- a step into the unknown. People prefer to stick to the known, rather than chance the perils (and possible benefits) of the unknown. As a single example, we can observe those who cling to religion of any kind (spiritual or ideological) as a bulwark of certainty in a world grown too fast, too bewildering for them to comprehend. They do this, in spite of growing evidence that most of the Bible's stories are fictional, added on by a later version of the church that was attempting to glorify their peculiar new beliefs over all other competing religions. They do this, in spite of the horrifyingly misogynistic interpretations of the whole biased book. They do this -- because to think for themselves would be too much, too frightening. Better by far to have someone, anyone think for them! It usually doesn't really matter who: a traveling salvation show, a pope that claims infallibility against constant proof to the contrary, an abusive and patronizing husband or boss, a charismatic senator divorced 4 times for infidelity bellowing about "family values." Frightened people want to follow blindly in the certainty that they are comfortingly one of many... and so they can't be wrong, for everyone else is doing it too.

There is one unfortunate side effect to this kind of thinking. It feeds on fear and disinformation. It engenders oppression, and domination of others is vital to its growth. It embodies discrimination. Simplistic thinking is a requisite: "if we are good, then 'not-we' must be bad. If we are human, then 'not-we' must be inhuman. We must get rid of 'not-we' before it harms us. Since 'not-we' isn't human, any behavior to protect us against them is justified." Consequently it can clearly be seen that in order to have a society free of discrimination we must free ourselves from the current status quo. This will not be easy. Obviously we are going to require some fairly drastic re-education. Women will have to be taught that they are not victims, and should never tolerate such treatment. Men will need to be taught that the classically "macho" mindset is not one that should be admired, that traditionally "feminine" behaviors belong more to humans in general, and are not peculiar to just one gender.

On a personal level I cannot simply wave my arms and enforce sweeping changes to install this goal. However, there are things I can and do accomplish. Whenever possible I try to put forward the following ideas: that women and men are both really just humans; that fair treatment towards each other is better and ultimately more productive than bias and discrimination, in both the long- and short-term; and that we should all think and take responsibility for ourselves -- especially if we truly believe a discrimination-free world is a goal worth working for. I also encourage others to think things through for themselves; to engage in debate in order to create a personal code of morality; to make their own decisions; and to speak their own minds. A culture without discrimination is a goal I believe is worth fighting for, for however long is necessary. When there are enough of us, we will change the world.


Last Updated: Tue, March 28, 2000