How do we know what we know is true? Or valid? Academic institutions deal exactly with this sort of question. The academy is not only a place for learning and accreditation, but more importantly a place for contention. This is the case especially with the question of sex and gender. University of Toronto historian Nick Matte stated that the idea of ‘biological sex” is a “very popular misconception.” Here, Nick Matte uses his scientific expertise in support of this claim (Bradford, 2016)
Peterson, on the other hand, uses his position as an academic to maintain an essentialist view of gender aligning with one’s biological sex (one you are born with). Therefore, when one identifies as transsexual, he recognizes their dissatisfaction with their bodies to the extent that they must dress the part.
“If the standard transsexual person wants to be regarded as he or she, my sense is I’ll address you according to the part that you appear to be playing,” he said.” (BBC)
Matte and Peterson’s conflicting academic opinions on sex and gender makes us question the validity of their statements. As an institution, what better way to address this conflict is to host a debate. The University of Toronto hosted a debate to create a more formal discussion on the topic of gender. A debate is a “formal contest of argumentation between two teams or individuals[…] an essential tool for developing and maintaining democracy and open societies.” (International Debate Education Association)
Evidently, a debate is along standing democratic practice of open discussion and exchange of ideas. But one could also say that a debate is also “an enactment of academic privilege – that is, the power of established elites to control the norms of the academic enterprise in such a way as to keep new people, new topics, and new methodologies at bay (Maher and Tetreault, 2011).
A debate is a place where people in certain position, such as an academic, may engage in an academic contest of their idea. Democracy is defined as the “rule of the majority”, designed to rule out the minority of people, including those living outside the bounds of cisnormativity. Debates operate in a way that privileges only certain types of knowledge, knowledge of the majority which Jordan B Peterson rests his claims on. The University of Toronto, by hosting this debate, essentializes the power of democracy and privilege in a way that only grants access to this discussion whose membership is with the academy.
Identity is not up for debate
The university of Toronto debate on Bill C-16 and ORHC was not welcomed by many activists and students who expressed their disagreement against Peterson’s claims. They felt that while debates works effectively on issues like public and foreign policies as well as philosophical arguments, IDENTITY is personal and it is certainly not up for debate.
“Since none of these identities is automatically more important than others, I get to define which ones I opt into. I don’t consider myself non-binary, even though I fall outside the traditional gender binary” (Ward, 2016)
Gender orientation and expression are inherently part of our overall identity. The way we portray ourselves to others is a way for us to express our identity, in a way that also expresses the diversity in which we embody. Identity is not homogenous, thus gender orientation and gender expressions as embedded in our identity is not a topic for contention. Identity recognizes the difference in all of us so as not to divide us but to connect us. Difference that we must respect and honour.
“As people and humans we need to remember that just because we don’t agree with someone or persons, it doesn’t give us a right to demean or disrespect that person. We should focus on building up each other.
I want to use my voice which unfortunately may be heard louder than my femme sibling as a platform to build up the others around me. I’m not just talking about femininity vs masculinity. I’m talking about all the minorities and majorities helping each other to create a better environment.” (Loving My New Normal)
The next section will tackle more about the legal language that was being addressed by Peterson in his videos.
Image credit: Screenshot from Lane Patriquin (twin_willows) Instagram
Bradford, R. (2016, 2 December). University of Toronto historian: Biological sex is a ‘very popular misconception’. Washington Times. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/dec/2/university-historian-biological-sex-misconception/
Maher, F. A. and Tetreault, M. K. T. (2011). Long-term transformations: excavating privilege and diversity in the academy. Gender and Education 23.3 (2011): 281-297.
Murphy, J. (2016, 4 November). Toronto professor Jordan Peterson takes on gender-neutral pronouns. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37875695
(2016, 19 September). My Identity Is Not Up For Debate [Web log post]. Loving My New Normal. Retrieved from https://lovingmynewnormal.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/my-identity-is-not-up-for-debate/
What is Debate?. International Debate Education Association. N.d. Retrieved from http://idebate.org/about/debate/what
Ward, B. (2016, 8 November). My Identity Is Not Up For Debate. KitschMix. Retrieved from http://kitschmix.com/identity-not-debate/