"I know it should probably go without saying, but just to et you know- in this seminar, we leave sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist remarks out". We nod in understanding. It's our very first seminar at LSE, in "Gender Theories in the modern world: an interdiscipinary approach". Our professor is named Astrida Neimanis; she's tall, with a friendly face and a funky haircut. There'ssomething very cute, I'd say, in the tone of her voice, her gestures, her way of addressing us.
In groups, we introduce ourselves: we're people from pretty much all over the world, coming from different academic fields, each one of us with eir own fresh perspective. One of us has ended-up studying queer theory because he identifies as queer himself; one of us has been to India and has found hersef surprisingly inspired by a group of Catholic nuns working with young girls; one of us writes a novel. We're confortable sharing our stories with each other and it's fun.
For 10 weeks so far, Astrida's seminars have been our very own dashboard for playing with ideas, for asking deep questions and having a lot of fun coming up with radically different answers- all in the spirit of leaving the discussion at east just a bit smarter than upon entering it. Take, for example, the idea of gender as a social construct being distinct from biological sex- but isn't what we define as "biological sex" also socially constructed? Can gay marriage be liberating for straight women? Are anti-racial discrimination ads presenting succesful/socially integrated members of racia minorities underrmining or reinforcing racist stereotypes? And by the way, if I'm writing a paper quoting an author who was legally and officially male in the 80's (Robert Connell) but then had a sex change and became Raewin Connell, do I reffer to said author in the 80's as "he" or "she"? (To this one, Astrida said I should think of the politics of gender and come up with my own solution.) The questions are always open and the answers are multiple- at times clashing hard, but always in good spirit.
I see a news flash video on youtube about a mayor in Romania being fined for building a freakin' concrete wall around the area where a community of poor Gypsies are living. I dare to make a comment about rampant racism in Romania, and I get called "idiot" and "left-wing loon" by the same people who claim that "all gypsies are scum, they should be deported to India". Same person about me: "She's a *female* philosophy student and that explains it". The guy I'm working with says that "Gypsies refuse to be human beings" and scoffs at the idea that it's maybe the society that doesn't treat them as humans, because you know, the only reason why someone would be dirt-poor in our very fair society is because they outright refuse to live a decent life. He wouldn't haear any of my counterarguments. We argue fiercely about it- that kind of argument no one really gains anything from. My housemate mentions his friends are going for a week in Thailand "to get laid"; I'm tempted to say something about cutural stereotyping or the eploitation of women, but I bite my tongue. I ask another housemate something about the washing machine and he goes like : "How woud I know? I'm a man".I've lost count of the number of peope who, in the context of discussing sexual orientation, use "normal" as a synonim for "heteroseual". Again on the net, I comment about a transgender person (who has been identifying as female for a long time) and reffer to the person as "she"; next commenter says : "Why do you refer to him as she? He's a man". "Freaks like that are mentally ill" soon follows.
I love to debate; I love countering arguments with arguments and I think I'm pretty good at it. But I've never really knew how to respond to non-arguments; to prejudiced statements. Either I offer arguments- which the perpetrator dismisses, most of the time with a profanity; or I get emotional, and then I'm "over-sensitive"; or, even though I end-up feeling guilty about it, I say nothing, because I know I'm not in Astrida's seminar anymore.