Gender, Class, and Race: and a light-hearted invitation to anecdotal testimony

After hearing a complaint from a father that he did not want his son’s English teacher inserting politics into every English class in the form of “gender, class, and race,” an English teacher responded “But, that’s all there is.” Proponents of this mantra are supposed to be precisely those who fret about “stereotyping” and sexism, classism, and racism.

1St. Augustine in the City of God systematically debunks astrology by highlighting its absurdities. One point he makes is that if astrology were true, then twins would share exactly the same fate, when they clearly do not. The astrologers counter, Augustine writes, that since twins are born a few minutes apart, this accounts for their differing destinies. Augustine responds that the idea that astrology, rather than simply focusing on birth month and star sign, is so precise that a three minute difference in birth time will have vastly different astrological implications and that astrologers will be able to make accurate predictions based on such a tiny time interval is ridiculous. The whole discussion is rather tedious if astrology has always seemed to the reader as an epistemic nonstarter.

Gender, class, and race as a triumvirate shares with astrology the supposed ability to predict things about individuals, and it suffers from, among other things, the same defect as Augustine’s comments about twins. Two people of the same gender, class, and race, would have to share the same beliefs, but they do not. The easiest example is to stick with the currently demonized group, white males. They run the gamut of political opinion and moral assertions. There are positivists, Christian fundamentalists, theosophists, and nihilists: Marxists, libertarians, Republicans, and Democrats; book-lovers, monster truck aficionados, tractor-pull admirers, wood-working hobbyists, church attenders, church avoiders, those who believe in “gender, class, and race,” and those who do not. Merely by taking one look at someone, barring a few extremes to do with tattoos and missing teeth, it is not generally possible to identify all their significant belief structures.

Every sane person knows this and all have experienced this, sane or not, so the gender, class, race mantra is a certifiable instance of Eric Voegelin’s “second reality,” and what others call “ideological possession.” Certainly, sometimes gender, class, and race is relevant, particularly in the realm of generalizations – statements that are true of groups as opposed to individuals. For instance, I have started to wonder if it is true, as a generalization, that women will say in the heat of a relationship conflict whatever horrible thought or feeling they happen to be experiencing right at that second. My own tendency, for instance, is to try not to say anything I might regret later. And the thought process, such as there is one, is that I do not want to say something now that I am pretty sure I will not think or feel in, say, twenty-four hours. In the heat of a painful argument, none of us are typically overwhelmed with feelings of love and closeness. But, I have no intention of saying “I don’t love you” for any reason, whatever I might feel, because that sounds rather dire and final, plus the more accurate statement would be “Right at this second, feelings of love and thoughts of care, are rather deeply buried, and feelings of anger and annoyance are predominating.” If those who love us do us the favor of focusing on what is lovable about us, rather than hateful, when angered this dynamic can reverse itself as we all know.

Now, the actual phrase “I don’t love you” might not be used, but general expressions of 2contempt are antithetical to the care, concern, and respect associated with love, so contemptuous statements convey rather the same message and are far more painful than specific complaints about concrete behavior.

Until recently, I had developed the hypothesis that this kind of “speak what is uppermost on your mind” behavior was restricted to hot-blooded Mediterranean types, but, in the meantime, in conversation with a Japanese woman, she confirmed that she does this too. Since the Japanese are famous for their reserve, at least in public, this seemed mightily surprising. Then, turning to two male American men, they confirmed that their wives and prior girlfriends had behaved in this way too, no matter their race and ethnicity. So, now I am wondering if just New Zealand women are more restrained, or whether it was just one particular New Zealand girlfriend who was a relative anomaly for her sex. Since I have no scientific method of answering this empirical question, I would be interested in any comments any reader might feel like contributing to the topic. This, I know, will be entirely non-random and will not have a plus or minus accuracy of 3%, but it would still be anecdotally interesting.

The main, terminal, problem with gender, class, and race, is that if all beliefs are the result of gender, class, and race, then this belief too must be the result of gender, class, and race. The idea of gender, class, and race as all-explanatory is supremely dismissive and condescending. It means that the truth of what someone is saying is irrelevant. Whatever someone is arguing is simply a product of their gender, class, and race and nothing more, thus everyone is mindless automaton compelled to think and say whatever their gender, class, and race make them think. But, then, that thought is itself the result of mindless compulsion and can be safely dismissed as a truth claim.

9 thoughts on “Gender, Class, and Race: and a light-hearted invitation to anecdotal testimony

  1. Pingback: Gender, Class, and Race: and a light-hearted invitation to anecdotal testimony | Reaction Times

  2. I agree with you ninety-nine per cent, but I would cavil somewhat in respect of college humanities professors, considered as a class. Once you know that zi, zim, or zer belongs to that class, you can predict with remarkable accuracy the total (that is to say, the radically limited) worldview of the person… assuming that “person” is applicable in this case. It is a mildly amusing paradox that the class of people who universally and ardently claim that race-class-gender determines thought and speech are the most narrowly predetermined in their thought and speech, so much so, indeed, that they resemble that popular girl’s toy of my sister’s childhood, the “Chatty Kathy” doll. Pull the string in Kathy’s back, and she utters one of a half-dozen formulaic declarations, just like the speakers on a panel at the annual MLA conference.

    There are one or two exceptions, of course.

  3. Richard, this is I think one of your best most trenchant posts yet. And that’s saying something. Hear, hear!

    Now, here’s a conjecture, that I will bet $100 is true (if false, I’ll pay the wage to the charity of your choice; if true, add the wage to your obligation for the bar bill at your gatherings with Tom & alii in Oswego (Hey, Tom! Love ya, guy! Don’t say I never did nothing for ya! (sorry – I lapse into a vague Ontarian sort of dialect; shaking it off now in favor of my native Californian Standard American … struggling … struggling))): you tossed off this post without too much thought. Right? Am I right?

    I ask, and bet, because this has been my repeated experience as an Orthospherean: the posts I work on the least often generate the most interest.

    That’s a salutary lesson. We ought to fash less over our posts. On the other hand, it’s discouraging, too: the deepest, most difficult thoughts we have labored to express are perhaps, in the end, of little general interest.

    I suppose the rosier alternative hypothesis is that our deeper more difficult thoughts plumb deeper depths in our readers, so that their effects will not surface until much later, and perhaps at other sites, or even in real life.

    The conclusion then I suppose is that we ought not leave off the difficult deep stuff that works us hardest, but rather pour on the easy fun stuff too.

    I’ll try to remember this advice. Preachers preach always to the choir before the congregation; but in the dead of Saturday evening, and indeed (if my father’s experience is any indication) of the earliest hours of Sunday morning, they preach first of all to themselves.

  4. If I were advising a young man newly married, my advice would be that he never forget that his wife will sometimes use wounding words that she doesn’t really mean. I seriously think that many marriages are wrecked on this rock of misunderstanding. The up side is that the same woman will say very nice things about you when she is in a different mood.

    This is, in a way, evidence for the Gender, Class, Race doctrine, since it implies that normal females experience reality differently than normal males. Understanding this is the foundation of healthy heterosexism, since no man keeps a wife or girlfriend if he thinks she is just a boy with boobs.

    I think something similar can be said about Class and Race. If you have to deal with people from a different class and race, you will do well to understand that there is more to these things than money and complexion. People from a different class and race will have, on average, a different sensibility, a different experience of reality.

    The problem with the academic doctrine of GCR is that it interprets this diversity as a structure of oppression. And of course it does so in a completely inconsistent and tendentious way. If we look at its teachings on gender, for instance, we find it is just the normal female venting. The diction is “academic” but the substance is just emotive resentment.

    • JMSmith: certainly there is some truth in “gender, class, and race” – but my list of the possible variants among white males, for instance, suggests any monolithic interpretation is misguided, stupid and counter the facts. Most obnoxious of all is the manner in which the notion of truth is simply jettisoned and all is to be determined by nature and society – all except for the proponent of “gender, class, and race” who, as is usual in such nonsense, gets to be an exception to his own rule and has privileged access to truth after all – seeing as he does the truth behind the mewings and whimperings of the benighted – that what they say is merely a reflection of “gender, class, and race.”

      • You’re quite right that the way this is taught in the universities is incredibly clunky and lacking in nuance. I have been obliged to sit through “workshops” by our HR department that are grounded in this doctrine, and have always felt that it was rather like having sex explained to me by a twelve-year-old. GCR are really practical categories, and most adults know perfectly well how to deal with them in practice. Turning them into theoretical categories makes them ridiculous because theory does’t like exceptions to the rule or variations on a theme.

      • Yes. Your analogy reminds is apt for all sorts of things, such as the way positivists describe the human condition, or economists’ use of homo economicus.

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