Official Sexism

As you can tell from the title, I have a grievance in mind for today. After such a long struggle for gender equality, it grieves me that we have given it up so easily.[1] Ah well.

sexism-4This morning, I had a truly wonderful experience at the Multnomah County Courthouse. I was summoned to be part of the pool of potential jurors and I gave them from 8:00 a.m until 11:30 a.m. so I was available to be chosen. I was not chosen, so I will be back at the courthouse at 8:00 tomorrow morning to give them a second chance.

Today’s reflection is almost entirely positive. You wouldn’t know it from the title of this essay, but then, there wouldn’t be an essay about this experience had it been all positive. The juror’s orientation included a remarkably good speech by Judge Kenneth Walker. I liked it that they asked a judge to give the orientation; I thought it showed that they were serious about it. The speech itself was very good. It was funny without being frivolous; it allayed the fears of potential jurors without making the choices we might be asked to make seem inconsequential. The continuing management of the roomful of jurors by Mayami and Julie was done competently and in good humor.

Judge Walker did say something I objected to, but we’ll get to that later.

They also showed us a video made by the Oregon Department of Justice and I thought it was every bit as good as Judge Walker’s speech. It took us through the whole process in a realistic way. The actors represented nearly the whole spectrum of Oregon residents, including not only various ethnic affiliations and gender statuses, but even some strikingly large people. What they often call “size-ism,” to make it seem like “sexism,” was nowhere to be found there.

Judge Walker told us that Multnomah County has 38 judges, 20 of whom are women and 18 of whom are men. He called that “parity,” although it is not, but I didn’t care because I think of parity in a general way. Equality, plus or minus 5% is fine by me, or equality across the span of time. The word means 50/50, but I think that’s asking a lot and I don’t ask it.

Then, in summing up he said that we could go home and tell our daughters that they had a better chance of being judges in Multnomah County than our sons do. There were appreciative chuckles. I think Judge Walker imagined that he was simply specifying the consequences of what he had earlier called “gender parity.”

sexism-2But this is different. “Women have a better chance…” and this is a good thing. Really? Let’s see: “Men have less of a chance…” and that is a good thing?  Really?  The first statement is a commonplace. [1] I have never heard the second said out loud although the meaning is exactly the same. This rooting for the comparative success of women is a new thing, it seems to me. Maybe the sports metaphor comes easily to mind because of the Olympic games, but I hear people rooting for the success of women in the same spirit that they root for the success of American athletes generally.

Someone could say that a win for America is good for us all because we are all Americans. I know that is stretching the sentiment a little, but it is not an incomprehensible sentiment. No one could say that a win for “women” (remember that this is a comparative question now: a winners and losers question) is good for us all because we are all women.

Picture one of my fellow jurors from this morning going home to his children, a boy and a girl, and saying, “Good news for us all, kids. Sally here has a better chance of becoming a judge in Multnomah county that you do, Robert.” Just sit with that a little. It’s ugly and uncomfortable and it’s sexist, but let’s just sit with it a little.

You cannot be a partisan of women and a partisan of equality both. You have to choose. You could say, of a a prestigious vocation, that even though men and women are equally attracted to it, there are twice as many men as women members. You could express the hope and you could take actions leading to increasing the percent of women in that vocation and you could do all that in the name of gender equality. But as you watch the percentage of women in that profession move up from 35% to 45% and then to 55% and express the hope that the trend continues, you have left equality concerns behind. You are now a partisan, not of equality, but of women. Your partisanship necessarily includes, since these are comparative measures, hoping for and working for a loss of the number of men in this vocation. We have, apparently, “too many men.” Why is that?

Some will say that the mistake Judge Walker made today is an easy mistake to make.sexism-3 Granted. Some will say it is easy to mistake hoping for advances for women for hoping for the disproportionate success of women—and, of course, the failure of men. I know it is an easy mistake to make and I don’t hold bad feelings against Judge Walker for making it. At the same time, the standard itself is sexist and reprehensible and I think it deserves to be vilified. Judge Walker does not, but the position that he, perhaps inadvertently, advanced, does deserve it.

OK, let’s all take a breath and remember that it’s easy to make a mistake. My concern is for the standard we are being asked to value and support. If I thought we all agreed about that (I don’t think that), I wouldn’t even have written this piece.

[1] “Equity,” meaning “fairness” is another matter entirely. It is not at all difficult to be in favor of fairness, unless and until you need to be specific about how it is to be measured. If it is not 50%, you will need to explain why. If it is 50% it is the same as equality, so it doesn’t really add anything.
[2] Meredith Viera celebrated how many women were on the U. S. Olympic team this last summer by saying how high the percent of women athletes was. I think she said 54%. And expressed the hop that it would get even higher. I didn’t get a chance to ask her why that would be good.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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