Monday, September 19, 2005

The Third Sex - Distortions and red herrings

Time and again, in letters and columns, sharia advocates accused opponents of spreading propaganda, of claiming sharia courts would see women in Ontario stoned to death for conjugal infractions: How paranoid of these bigots, right? In fact, no one involved on the anti side ever said that, or anything close. Time and again, and with breathtaking arrogance, advocates dismissed the Muslim women who led the no-sharia fight as a Westernized elite, an educated minority who demeaned other, more recently arrived women in the guise of protecting them.

I'm a member of the Third Sex, the richest, most highly educated quintile of the population.

In my small world males and females do the same jobs. At social events we talk to one another even when we have no interest in hooking up. Males are as articulate as females, read books, and de jure if not de facto share housework and child care; females are allowed to move furniture and go to work without make-up.

Even in my small world being male is an advantage, but only in the way that being tall, good looking or in mestizo countries being fair-skinned is. There is no gender dichotomy, no formal scheme for assigning tasks on the basis of sex, no "horizontal" sex segregation--just the "vertical" sort: maleness is one among many prestige-making characteristics that confers advantages. This is bad but not nearly so bad as the way things are in the other four fifths of the world where there are Men and Women.

In the lower four-fifths, Men and Women are virtually different species. They never work at the same jobs and the very idea that being male or female shouldn’t make a difference to ones opportunities, obligations or behavior, is unthinkable. The Man/Woman distinction is different across cultures. In some places it corresponds to the public/private dichotomy: men are the Street, chatting about politics and world affairs in cafes as Western journalists hang on their every world--women, in purdah, concerning themselves with domestic matters. In other places it tracks the body/mind dichotomy: men do manual labor, rarely talk or think, and never read; women do white collar work, deal with customers and concern themselves with the finer things.

Until recently, liberals rarely worried about Women. We worried, legitimately, that elite Third Sex females, faced discrimination when it came to getting partnerships in law firms or prestigious academic positions. We didn’t worry that the wage gap for men and women without college degrees was much greater than the gap for college educated males and females or that sex segregation for jobs at the low end of the labor market remained virtually complete. Insofar as we noticed that cab drivers, appliance repairmen and commissioned sales personnel at electronics stores were exclusively male or that receptionists, child care workers and “customer service representatives” were exclusively female most of us assumed that this was a matter of choice—it was part of Their culture.

We certainly weren’t bothered by the persistence of traditional male and female roles in developing countries or amongst immigrants. Even if we were firmly opposed domestic servitude for upper middle class white women, we were not disturbed to see women of color in the developing world pounding grain and drawing water or lower-class women in the US, pushed off of welfare, forced to do traditional pink-collar shit work.

So when the Canadian government, remarkably, considered supporting the establishment of Muslim family courts operating under Sharia law—according to which men and women are both separate and unequal—some erstwhile liberals supported the proposal We females of the Third Sex would not tolerate having our testimony in court count half of a male’s but Sharia law only applied to the other two sexes, not to the likes of us.

Mercifully, Canada will not be adopting sharia law for its brown citizens. Since 9/11 and, even more so, since 7/7 multiculturalism has increasingly fallen into disrepute. Even journalists are less likely to take young lower class males as the legitimate voice of their culture—and even listen to women who object to the constraints their culture imposes.

If this continues, with any luck Men and Women will disappear and all former members of these genders will join the Third Sex--the class of persons.


Boofykatz said...

The point is, as always, well made. I do not like the analogy. There is no 'third sex' (I prefer 'third gender' but maybe I'm squeamish). There is just that matrix of fiscal + or - against educational + or -. I don't need to draw the diagram. Two minuses and you're on your own (Hootie and the Blowfish?), one plus in either category and you are in with a chance (personally I think money trumps brains ref. GWB); two plusses and a few family connections and you are in government. What really makes the difference? I fear it is that tribal power broking. Why do we in the UK want our sons or daughters to go to Oxbridge? Because the education is so superior, or because they will rub shoulders with those who already have a season ticket to power?

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