Saturday, 22 March 2008

An exercise in "stonewall-speak"

Since returning from Torquay, I have had a chance to read a recently produced position statement from the union about LGBT issues. Some excerpts, not in order of appearance. My comments in red.

"This position statement is based on existing research and educational thinking aruond these issues in the UK and elsewhere".

At conference, we were repeatedly told that ATL is a democratic, member led organisation. Surely a position statement should be based on members views, yes, informed by relevant research, but based on members views.

"Boys' and girls' sex/gender identities are developed under constant pressure and surveillance between and within male and female peer groups".

If one grants the legitimacy of the "are developed" in this sentence, there is one factor clearly missing. That is the physiology of the boys' and girl's bodies, which surely has a part to play in any development of identity. One should note the exclusion, rather selective it seems to me, of this factor in sex/gender identity. The "are developed" is, of course, quite questionable in any case.

"Heterosexism includes attitudes, behaviour and practices that constitute heterosexuality as the norm."

As I understand the statistics, even the figures most favourable to LGBT lobbyists indicate the proportion of people in society who identify as LGBT as being about 10%. This does appear to me to make heterosexuality the "norm" in the every day, statistical, and dare I say it, sociological, sense of that word. There is also the case to be made for the "norm" status of heterosexuality from the study of the natural sciences, which shows a clear move towards sexual reproduction in the higher living things.

"[cultural prejudice against lesbian, gay and bisexual people] is firmly tied to dominant male and female identities that rely on heterosexuality as the norm."

By all means recognise the danger that a minority might be subject to unfair prejudice and discrimination - but it seems rather less than honest to do that by trying to re-define what is meant by "norm". And please recognise that not all people who hold heterosexuality as the norm are guilty of discriminatory behaviour.

Among the definitions of terms at the end of the statement:

"Gender generally refers to the social and cultural constructions of masculinity and femininity and indicates that a man or a woman's position is not dictated by nature, biology or sex, but is a matter of social and political convention."

So biology has nothing to do with being male or female? A person's position in society may not be dictated by nature, biology or sex - it can be affected by their activity, their opportunities, where they live, the help of others etc. Whether they are male or female can affect this position, for good or for ill, and, in some cases quite unfairly. But none of this is the same as suggesting that "gender" has nothing to do with "nature, biology and sex". This suggestion, which seems to be really what is going on here, completely re-defines the meaning of the word "gender".

"Sex refers more specifically to male or female physiology as biological constructs of the body".

The word "constructs" is completely loaded. It is a language of sociology or epistemology ("constructivism") - but it would be almost unknown in the field of the physical or biological sciences. To the scientist, male or female physiology is a "given" that is studied not something that is "constructed".

"In this document, we have used the term sex/gender to indicate that even the depiction of male and female physiognomy has depended on the social and political significance accorded to gendered notions of masculinity and femininity. Physiological difference as the 'natural' basis for gender difference therefore cannot be separated from social and cultural constructions of manhood and womanhood."

As it stands, I think this is complete gobbledygook [which is "pompous or unintelligible official, or professional, jargon" according to my dictionary]. Is the statement trying to say that sexual orientation (heterosexual, or LGBT) has nothing to do with the physiology of the human body? The first sentence, referring to "physiognomy" and not the totality of male or female physiology, may or may not be correct - I am sure there is an argument to be had both in favour of it and against it ("has depended on .." is not the same as "is determined by .."). However, the following sentence generalises the specific reference to "physiognomy" of the first sentence to the whole of "physiology" - a complete non sequitur.

This position statement takes part in a complete re-defining of language that is being undertaken by the LGBT lobby. This makes many of their statements pretty meaningless, unless you actually write in "stonewall-speak" yourself. One can see the LGBT lobby getting a little bit tangled in their own language. The attempt to divorce any idea of gender/sex from the physiology of the human body logically leads to saying that sexual orientation has no relation to the physiology of the human body either....


Anonymous said...

I ceased being a member of my professional union seven years ago, and I took a decision not to ever re-join a union. This has caused some problems. However,
I would like to understand how a committed Catholic can justify being a member of a union in Britain in 2008 (Particularly a teaching union).

Joe said...

Thank you for the comment. I have just put a post-it note on my monitor to remind me to post on this when I get home from work later today.