I am increasingly coming to the view that as well as focussing on Nazi-saluting drunks, we need to combat normality itself.
An interesting article was published in the Toruń version of Gazeta Wyborcza. In it the Toruń university Professor Mariola Chomczyńska-Rubacha said that children in Polish schools are being taught stereotypes about the gender roles of men and women, stereotypes that contribute to sexism, demonstrated through research into textbooks in schools . One example on entrepreneurship whereby a family budget sees the father having a fishing rod, the son gets a bike, the daughter books and the mother gets nothing. In another example on maths saw a father wanting and taking a credit, while the concerns of the wife is restricted to potatoes and bread for 20 zloty. Female members of families in textbooks often have trivial operations with low prestige.
“If you assign behaviours, activities and personality traits of people to a particular sex, their individual opportunities to be who they would like to be will be limited”, said Chomczyńska-Rubacha. She goes onto to say that when one looks at the organisation of schools (where 80% of teachers are women while most directors are male), the treatment of children (boys being told to move benches, girls told to clean) as well as the textbooks, one sees clear conservative gender roles being taught to children in schools. A five-year old I know has said the following: “When the wife is good the husband will give her flowers” (the husband has power, however, he doesn’t get any flowers) and “boys can cry, but men are not allowed to”. Somehow the child has picked up standards of what is normal, of what boys and girls, men and women can do.
Of course, there is no empirical facts to show what men and women should actually be doing. Of course, there are a few obvious biological differences, human women can give birth and breastfeed, men can stand up to piss. One could say that men are stronger, which is true when one looks at averages, although saying that a few hundred years of men doing largely physical work will have had an effect on genes. In any case, there is nothing to suggest that men should be the person responsible for income in the family* or that boys should move chairs. I’m not being PC here, it’s simply untrue to say that men don’t do things like cook, clean and take the children to school. What is taught in schools does not reflect reality. It’s like the view that all people born in Poland are Roman Catholic, or eat meat, or drink vodka. That we know someone/some people like that doesn’t mean that it is true.
We receive so much information and need to simplify things, hence definitions of normality. When many people do this societal rules come to being. That different people, for example, hear animals making different noises (the five-year old I mentioned is convinced that dogs go “how” and not “bark”, “woof” or “yap” speaks of socialisation.) That’s a fairly banal example. The thing is, as professor Chomczyńskia-Rubacha says, these concepts of normality can be a pain in the arse (alright, that’s a liberal translation). Girls will feel obliged to be the “good” mother, staying at home, while the husband earns more money. They’ll do this as it is considered to be normal. (In fact, men I know are more likely to be paid more and put into positions of power. There are reasons other than sexism, of course, such as that testosterone increases risk-taking, but still.) As I said here, this can create all manner of pressure for women in Poland.
And the thing is this, men don’t 100% benefit from this. Look at the lower lifespan of men partly due to them being told to “be a man” and not worry about their health, or look at higher suicide rates for men, who are told not to cry or show emotions. That 80% of teachers are female means that boys are largely taught in schools by women can result in, as said in the article boys being conditioned that girls are better learners and hardworking. My experience in school is that the girls tended to sit forward at class and get more attention from the teachers. I felt under pressure to not be a “swot” and therefore paid less attention to learning.
Now, I am not saying that the people making school textbooks are cackling evil laughs as they do so, thinking “we’ll really fuck their lives up ha ha ha”. No, a key point about prejudices is that that are sometimes not conscious, not deliberate attempts to discriminate. No, they reflect what we consider to be normal. Or at least, we accept things are being normal as people in our families, schools or churches told us them, i.e. people in authority. I recall indeed a children’s fairy tales book published in Poland a few years ago that contained anti-semitic caricatures (can’t remember the name of it). Talk of doing anything considered not to be “normal”, say, being vegetarian, gay, not wanting to celebrate Christmas (not that I’m linking the three example) can be opposed not due to any rational reason, simply to an attachment to a flimsy definition of what is considered to be normal. Opposition out of grounds of normality for normality’s sake shows a lack of faith in the reasons why decisions are made.
One more point: Of course, being critical of societal conventions of normality can involve all manner of awkward questions, such as to the nature of the family. Families are social constructions as well. A family can exist without a man, or a woman for that matter. We assume the family model of two parents to be normal, purely because we have seen that happen a lot. Bob Avarkian is right (I don’t say that very often) in that people would grow up differently if they didn’t eat food at home with their parents, rather ate them in canteens. Their sense of the “in-group” would change. What the human being and how it understands social relations is changeable.
Another example: People say that we have to have capitalism, along with all its abuses because “people are selfish”. I’d agree that people tend to be selfish in the present societal relations that we have. The question arises whether it is the selfish person who makes the selfish system, or the other way around. Capitalism was and continues to be a form radical social engineering (bringing many good things). Challenging whether, however people are naturally selfish may lead us in radical directions.
Perhaps it’s due to attachments to power that opposition to being critical of normality is made.