Cock-sure or norm critical?

‘What’s everyone doing next week?’ I asked over lunch at work. ‘Does anyone want to come to a norm-critical seminar for teachers on the 17th?’

‘That’s old news, I don’t think I’ll have time to go.’ Replied my lovely straight white male colleague.

I choked back an indignant ‘But we’re in Sweeeden‘ and drifted silently to the fringes of the conversation.

Confusingly upset by his reaction, I had to consciously stifle an urge to blame my (norm deviant) body – I must be coming up to that time of the month etc. No-one wants to be seen as playing the woman-card at work.

My disgruntlement may be due to some residual angst from the birthday present that my lovely straight white male brother sent me: Bertrand Russell’s The History of Western Philosophy.¬†893 pages canvassing the writings of straight white males. Interestingly wikipedia notes that his wife did much of the research for the book. But his name adorns the cover, sitting beside a swathe of (presumably lovely) definitely straight definitely white males including Kant, Hegel, Byron, Schopenhauer and Marx.

World leaders parade.com

World leaders – image from parade.com

 

I confided in one of my lovely straight white male friends. ‘But I can’t say why I’m annoyed!’

‘Don’t worry’, he comforted, ‘there are plenty of women who experience discrimination’ – before launching into a monologue about women in professional cycling. Apparently there are only 8 or so who make enough money from cycling to not have to work part-time.

I found this conversation only added to my directionless disgruntelment. The cock-sure way he felt entitled to share his experiences and opinions and then presume to speak on behalf of women after listening to a podcast while I sat there quietly agreeing.

And then I realised I am mostly disgruntled at myself. I have a good education. I have listened to many podcasts. And read books. I can be articulate. Sometimes even funny. I am familiar with theories of structural inequalities. Why can’t I be just as cock-sure as my lovely straight white male counterparts?

Well because there are structural inequalities. Children’s books have straight white male heroes. The rich are straight white males. 9 of the top 10 most influential spiritual leaders are straight white(ish) males. And only 2 of the top 100 highest-paid athletes are female. With all of these powerful role-models it’s easy to believe that men are better, more valid members of society. I think we all do on some level, and that makes it hard for women to be so cock-sure. Especially if one lacks the anatomy in question.

We take differences between men’s and women’s confidence for granted. Men dominate conversations, at work, at school, at home – that’s just the way it is.

It’s hard to constantly be critical of the status quo. Especially for my lovely straight white male friends. They have the absolute best intentions, and even describe themselves as feminist. But if enjoying one’s privilege means not being critical of norms, it can be very difficult to be norm critical.

Even if my colleague is right and all of this is old news (in his defense there are critical studies dating back to the 80s, perhaps even earlier) then why are we still perpetuating norms that value some members of society over others? Looking around my office at the literature I teach to undergraduate students, there are only books written by men.

Knowing a problem exists – and naming it – is one small triumph. The next challenge is to build new norms where all members of society are equally celebrated. That includes spending time reflecting over and being critical of one’s assumptions. Possibly at workshops.

 

If anyone is in Lund next week please come with me ūüôā

Tuesday May 17, at 1-3 p.m. (in Ed 367), Viktorija Kalonaityte, senior lecturer at Linnéuniversitetet, will give a seminar on norm-critical approaches to teaching and learning in higher education.

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