Choose Your Words
I don’t have an issue with people holding different views. People are an amalgam of their emotions, their past, their desires, and their prejudices.
We all have prejudices, whether it’s over bankers or scroungers or politics, we all have a favoured side to any issue. We can’t help it; it’s all part of the human condition.
What does dismay me is when people with views opposed to mine argue them in inelegant ways. I want to be able to see your side of an argument without other things getting in the way, then I’m able to appreciate your view but disagree.
In an art gallery there are works that aren’t to your taste; you can appreciate the skill, or the concept, or the execution, but you don’t like it; I can really appreciate the skill of the Pre-Raphaelites but their art annoys me… seriously, it drives me to distraction and I don’t know why.
With this in mind I listened to Carolyn Quinn interview Conservative MP Richard Drax on Radio 4’s PM programme yesterday.
The background of the story is that Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, has announced that a review into the combat role of female Army personnel has been brought forward. The review will look at the role of front line personnel. Women have been serving as such for some time, but not in roles where the objective is to "close with and kill the enemy".
Richard Drax MP is a former soldier, a Conservative MP, and he’s opposed to women being in a very close combat role.
As I was listening to his interview I knew that all my liberal-leftist-equality-loving-pinko prejudices were getting in the way.
As I prepared dinner I got angry.
Not because Mr Drax sounded like a character from “The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp” but because after the interview with Mr Drax, Brigadier Nicky Moffat (the most senior female officer in the British army before her retirement in 2012) made more or less the same points but framed them so much better.
On one side you have Richard Drax saying women have a different physiology and wouldn’t be able to do the physical things a front line infantry man can. On the other side you have Brigadier Nicky Moffat saying that women are physiologically different, but if they want to, and can pass exactly the same tests as a man, they should be allowed to.
There is very little between those arguments… they are much the same.
Richard Drax unfortunately used the phrases “common sense” and “The fairer sex”.
We now go back to where we started. I don’t have an issue with people holding different views… What does dismay me is when people with views opposed to mine argue them in inelegant ways.
“Common sense” is an argument for those with nothing more than their world view to back it up. It’s not about evidence, or research, or applied thinking. “Common sense” is about your prejudice. It’s just “common sense” says to the opposing side “you’re just being silly now, of course you can’t do that” it’s the adult version of saying to an irritating questioning child “BECAUSE!!” in answer to their constant stream of “Why?”.
I like the quote from Victor Hugo on common sense “Common sense is in spite of, not the result of, education.” Or the quote attributed to Albert Einstein that “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen”.
If you ever find yourself reaching for the “common sense” defence, you have already lost the argument.
As for “the fairer sex”…
I’ve had uncomfortable discussions with older friends and family about the use of the word “coloured”. I know that they aren’t racist; some have been to hell and back defending friends from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. They have fallen behind the times as far as acceptable terminology goes.
Their views remain hugely positive and inclusive, but the language used has moved on for very specific historical and cultural reasons.
“The fairer sex” I think in this case has been used by someone brought up to be as polite as possible. Richard Drax MP is a product of Harrow, Sandhurst, and latterly The Royal Agricultural College. He was a Captain in the Coldstream Guards; He is a polite man educated by a previous generation of polite men.
There is a certain squeamishness around Female and Women as words for a section of the population. I honestly don’t think it comes from a hardened sexist attitude, I think it comes from being outside the real world for too long (Harrow, Sandurst, Coldstream Guards, RAC, The Cotswolds, Devon, he even worked for the BBC, so that should mean that he’s a liberal and leftist as me!)
I saw him being lampooned on twitter for #EveryDaySexism and it can certainly be viewed as that, but remember that he and Brigadier Nicky Moffat were making very similar points (only she offered a solution); but she spoke in terms of experience and confidence, he said stupid things and I am willing to believe that it didn’t come from deliberately sexist views.
Choice of language matters.
If you’re taking part in a debate, if you’re part of a conference panel, if you’re meeting with people who are predisposed to dislike you or what you stand for language really matters.
It’s the difference between appreciating your argument, and hating your views