Ethnicity, Gender, and Privilege

Apparently there is a "hot topic" in the blogosphere relating to gender issues, specifically in World of Warcraft. While I have not seen the articles specifically (what can I say, I've been busy enough I haven't even looked at my feed reader in a couple of weeks), I've noticed a few comments that prompted the decision to write this post. Note that I have not read the other posts, so there is a chance that a lot of what I state here has been stated already. The purpose of this post, though, is to highlight one of the most common fallacies we commit as a society with regards to understanding other people, regardless of gender, lifestyle, cultural background, color of skin, hair color, eye color, religious practices, sexual orientation, or just clothing choice (and obviously the list is not exhaustive, but you should get the idea). That fallacy, stated somewhat simply, is this:

Once a distinction has been made during a discussion some form of bias is introduced, rendering the discussion no longer productive or objective. In essence, creating a policy or promoting action that specifically targets a group of people based on a physical distinction is, in and of itself, rooted in bias.

Note that I am not saying we live in a time of perfect equality. Far from it. Instead, I'm emphasizing that every time we discuss an issue we immediately bias the discussion by saying "x group" or "y group" or "z group." While our discussions focus on any particular group we only perpetuate the cycle. Let's take a classic example:

The Fifteenth Amendment states that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Nineteenth Amendment states that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. While both of these serve valuable purposes (granting the right to vote to all citizens), both are horrifically flawed in their implementation. Instead of singling out any group, the changes should have been approached as a statement specifically geared toward treating all people as just that, people. The change should have been along the lines of the following:

The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged to any citizen of the United States who has reached the legal age of majority.

Once a condition (in this case race or gender) is singled out instead of treating all people equally we are automatically creating an atmosphere where discrimination is easily introduced into the discussion. The focus becomes the group being discussed instead of the issue.

This concept is not new. When Affirmative Action was first introduced there were a few who understood the very nature of the program was counterintuitive, and the same concept applies to every discussion, to the very foundation of this country: we cannot achieve equality while focusing on segments of the population instead of the population as a whole (paraphrased1).

I wholeheartedly support the exploration of individual concerns and experiences, but to draw sweeping conclusions and apply those experiences to the population at large is also a fallacy. Stereotypes create discriminatory bias in people's perceptions, just as individual experiences create bias in perception. It's natural, but that doesn't mean we should blind ourselves by stating "women generally do this" or "men generally do this."

This long-winded explanation is meant to serve as a reminder that we, in general, do not think or speak in terms of equality. We almost always speak in terms of personal experience and personal perception. Until we can strip away the use of gender, skin color, or other factors that differentiate individual people from each other and focus on all of us as one diverse group, that group being human, we will always create some form of discriminatory environment (directly or indirectly). Whether you like it or not, everyone is discriminated against in some fashion until such a change in thinking occurs.


1 William Bennet and Terry Eastland, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Article Link, Original Quote is "To count by race, to use the means of numerical equality to achieve the end of moral equality, is counterproductive, for to count by race is to deny the end by virtue of the means. The means of race counting will not, cannot, issue in an end where race does not matter."