Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm none the wiser....

A few weeks ago I noticed an advertisement in the local press publicizing an event inviting feedback from local women (the implication being that men are not invited) about what they want from some local government-funded services that are for women only (for no obvious reason), and which, it appears, are provided by all-female staff.

I personally would not use such services for a number of reasons. I have philosophical objections to unnecessary sex segregation in any society or service or institution. In this day and age I doubt that males should need to be kept away from females to protect females in situations other than a public toilet, a change room, a prison or a psychiatric hospital. We live in a society in which it is perfectly legal and socially acceptable for a male doctor to deliver a baby or administer a pap smear or to manage the psychiatric care of a female patient. I don't see males as the problem and the removal of males as the solution, and gender isn't a major factor in me deciding who I'm afraid of, in most situations. I have always prefered to deal with males in social-type situations. Ever since my early childhood, all of my close friends have been either male or masculine lesbians, and I seem to generally get along better with males. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps it is something to do with me not naturally complying with gender stereotypes, and being resented or rejected by obediently complying females because of this, or simply me lacking interest in the types of things that most girls and women might naturally find fun. At this point of time it doesn't matter much whether nature or nurture is the basis of my preferences, the brute fact is that sex segregated services and social groups don't meet my needs and I don't like, and I refuse to join such organizations or to use such services.

So would I go along to this public meeting to complain that my taxes are being spent on services that I would never use? I have philosophical objections to attending a meeting that is only open to women, and quite honestly, I doubt that the objection of one person would change anything. Nevertheless, I did believe that I was at least owed an explanation of why these services, which are theoretically in place to meet my potential needs as a client, need to be set up in such a way that excludes me from using them. So I sent an email to the email address attached to the advertisement in the paper, asking politely why these services need to be for women only, and explaining that I personally object to sex segregated services. I wrote that I wouldn't be attending the event, and it should have been obvious why. It has been quite a while since I sent that email, and the event has been and gone, but I've received no reply.

I've had a poke around at the websites of the services that the public meeting was about. At each website I've found statements that attempt to explain or justify the single-sex status of the services. I'm informed that women are different to men biologically and also in gender roles and that this must be acknowledged. So? Do we want to change those gender roles, or are we happy to perpetuate them and celebrate them?, I wondered. I could find no explanation of why social and biological differences between men and women mean that services should be sex segregated. One of these services has an entire glossy online brochure justifying making a big deal over gender. It includes lots of statements and claims, but has no references to any evidence to back up those claims and statements. This is clearly not a part of society in which the evidence-based philosophy has made any progress.

So, there you have it. I'm none the wiser.

In the meantime, I'm still observing that in casual conversation with other mothers of school aged children, two popular beliefs about sex differences appear to be just as popular as they have ever been. I refer to the idea that parents of kindergarten-aged boys should seriously consider holding their son back a year in starting school because the child is male. It is my understanding that there is little, if any, evidence to back up the idea that males, or any children, benefit from being held back a year in their education, balanced with much well-documented evidence of a number of different potential harms from this intervention. The other popular belief is that young children differ markedly in behaviour and intellectual development due to biological sex differences. This one is still apparently top of the pops among the middle-class mummy set.

In the apparent absence of any convincing research-based evidence to support the idea of sex segregation in public services, and in light of the fact that sex integration appears to work just fine in many important areas of society (universities, hospitals, workplaces), combined with the ongoing popularity of the idea that there are profound biologically-based psychological differences between the sexes, I'm happy to asssume that the idea of single-sex only public services is nothing more than a fashion statement or an appeal to popular notions. This might be a lot of fun for some people, but is it a thing that our taxes should be spent on?

No comments: