Privilege and Knowledge

Who is Jordan B. Peterson? He was a well-regarded professor at Harvard before becoming a tenured professor in Psychology at the University of Toronto. He has published “more than a hundred scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality, and revolutionized the psychology of religion with his now-classic book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief” (Peterson’s personal website). He is also a registered clinician specializing on clients with depression.

Why does his stance on Bill C-16 and ORHC matter? It matters because his voice comes from a position of authority. His denouncement of this legislation, in this position of authority, denies the right for queer people to lead an active life within their community. Thereby denying them their right to “practice” gender, a fear Peterson expresses, to shake the very foundations of a cis-normative culture.

As an educator, he is in the position of generating and reinforcing hegemonic knowledge. His influence as a clinician underpins the notion of normalcy. Peterson’s stance is founded upon essentialism, which is “a theory advocating the teaching, on traditional lines and to everyone, of certain ideas and methods supposed to be essential to the prevalent culture”.

His three-part lectures have instigated protests and controversies within the academic community, as well as backlash especially from the University of Toronto student body. LGBTQ+ students of U of T have expressed their fear and frustration in this overt rejection of inclusive legislation. Peterson has spread a wildfire of contention against his views, from the university and from the legal community. His fellow professors expressed concern of his lack of education with regards to LGBTQ+ identities:

“It doesn’t really matter whether he thinks we exist or not because we do. I just wanted to say, ‘Excuse me, I exist. I’m non-binary and I’m also a full professor with the University of Toronto with tenure,” said Professor A.W. Peet. “So this is me standing up saying I don’t think this is good enough.” (Yun, 2016)

With protesters comes his supporters as well. His videos on YouTube have attracted many who resonates with his views. They collectively express their frustration under the legislation as they articulate that:

“The real issue here is that fringe academics and left-wing political activists are trying to use institutions to force people to change our very language, under the threat of censure and punishment if they don’t comply.” (Toronto Sun, 2016)

His influence as an academic privileges his “knowledge” as a fact that would therefore perpetuate further exclusion, hatred and isolation from the mainstream society. His privileged authority means that he is able to do things like produce a set of lecture videos where he can “freely” express his “silenced” opinion and expertise on the so-called radical left-wing movement evolving to fascism or totalitarianism.

Read on to find out how Peterson’s academic and personal privilege allowed him to be involved in a debate about trans/non-binary peoples’ lived realities and identities.

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Image credit: The National Post

Sources

“Essentialism.” Def. n. 1. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2016. Web 1 Dec 2016.

Yun, Tom. (2016, October 3). U of T community responds to Jordan Peterson on gender identities. The Varsity. Retrieved from http://thevarsity.ca/2016/10/03/u-of-t-community-responds-to-jordan-peterson-on-gender-identities/.

We Stand with Jordan Peterson. (2016, October 31). Toronto Sun. Retrieved from http://www.torontosun.com/2016/10/31/we-stand-with-jordan-peterson

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