How ‘diversity’ became a weasel word for the gender warriors
The Australian, August 30, 2016
Bureaucrats at the Department of Education and Training in Canberra were instructed to dress in appropriate hues for “Wear It Purple Day” last week to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, inclusion and empowerment.
Oh that they had chosen instead to demonstrate their commitment to prudence and common sense by tearing up the contract with the Safe Schools Coalition. Either that or explain why the notion that gender is a multidimensional social structure merits support from the public purse.
The Safe Schools website offers a flavour of the stuff they are peddling. Teachers are instructed to avoid gender-stereotypical comments like: “I need a couple of strong boys to move some tables for me.” They are told not to address the class as “girls and boys” because it alienates gender nonconforming students and to instead use inclusive words such as class, crew or people. They must resist “unnecessary gendering” such as asking boys and girls to form separate queues because of the distress it would cause students “who don’t experience their gender as either male or female”.
In a relatively short space of time the theory of gender fluidity has changed from a fringe academic obsession into semi-official government policy, thus demonstrating that today’s uncontested nonsense becomes tomorrow’s accepted wisdom. Under the guise of “diversity and inclusiveness” — the weasel words of contemporary morality — the notion that gender is decided by providence has been assigned to the sin bin of political incorrectness.
Chromosomes, prevailing hormones and external and internal anatomy count for nothing; gender is a social performance. A woman or man is not something that one is but something that one does.
Hence Facebook gives you 56 gender options so that you may “feel comfortable being your true, authentic self”. It offers a smorgasbord of post-structural curiosities unimagined a generation ago. Is one gender fluid, gender questioning, pangender, two-spirited or just uncertain? Worry not, you can always update your profile tomorrow.
The idea of gender as a social construct has been lurking around the feminist movement like a bad smell since Simone de Beauvoir declared in The Second Sex that “one is not born, but one becomes a woman”.
It is only within the past 20 years, however, that it has gripped the pseudo-discipline of gender studies, largely thanks to the work of American philosopher Judith Butler. Her 1990 book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, describing gender as “a free floating artifice”, became the founding text for genderism, much as Rachel Carson’s 1962 work Silent Spring set deep-green ecology on a mainstream path.
Butler’s prestige in the cultural studies departments of lesser universities was enhanced by her turgid writing style; anything so abstruse, her acolytes concluded, must surely be profound.
Old-school feminists such as Germaine Greer who refuse to accept the new orthodoxy have found themselves out in the cold. “Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a f..king woman,” she said last year. Reaction was extreme; the next time Greer ventured on to a university campus she was flanked by uniformed police.
The flimsiness of genderism’s intellectual underpinnings explain why it has been so easily captured by activists from the lunatic fringe who craftily disguised their agenda in the rhetoric of anti-bullying.
The New Left warriors found the road empty ahead as the conservative forces retreated into the shadows. Few on the mainstream Centre-Right were prepared to risk being tarnished as reactionary, pro-bullying homophobes or transphobes. The reputational risk in the era of social media was simply too high.
It was an even more shameful story on the mainstream Left. The politically androgynous Labor Party, free of the working-class connections that once kept the organisation grounded, was more than happy to supply oxygen to genderism’s hocus-pocus arguments, not to mention government cash.
The Gillard government found $8 million in its final budget for a program to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, money quickly appropriated by the ideologues in the Safe Schools Coalition.
The cast assembled for the announcement of funding should have rung alarm bells; on the platform with then education minister Bill Shorten was the ALP’s candidate for the seat of Melbourne, Cath Bowtell.
It should come as no surprise that a policy announced by Labor as a gesture of political correctness to win a Greens-held electorate turned out to be a disaster.
Yet the incoming Abbott government’s failure to shut the lid on it shows how easily bad ideas can gain momentum. Opposing them takes intellectual courage, particularly when the bad ideas become cloaked in moral vanity and win the support of the sophisticates.
The ABC swallowed it hook, line and sinker as it always does; transgenderism became another new stick with which to poke the reactionaries on the Right.
The medical profession came on board adding apparent scientific credibility to the cause. In March a group of health professionals came out in support of Safe Schools, claiming there was a need to “mitigate against victimisation, violence, isolation, which can have a significant and enduring impact upon the health and wellbeing of young people”.
That gender-diverse individuals are likelier to suffer psychological stress than others is hardly in doubt. Reputable studies show depression and suicidal thoughts are significantly more prevalent in same-sex attracted and transgender groups than in other cohorts.
Yet there is no justification for turning personal distress into a rallying cry for radical social change, as the activists are inclined to do.
Nor is the fashion for turning sub-minorities into victims of societal oppression likely to soothe their anxieties. If anything, it is likely to exacerbate them, instilling a sense of powerlessness and distrust for their fellow citizens and tearing up the social fabric to create atomised identity groups.
It takes political and intellectual courage for politicians to resist this morally arrogant nonsense, but for the sake of their own reputations they must.
As constitutional theorist Jean-Louis de Lolme rightly observed two centuries ago: “Parliament can do everything but make a woman a man, and a man a woman.”
Nick Cater is executive director of the Menzies Research Centre.