profiling and unconscious bias – part 1

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Many of you will be familiar with the work of The Arbourist – uncompromising feminist; sharp, witty and unrelenting master of take-downs; and forceful, commanding expert in her branch of feminism. I had approached interactions with such a fearsome blogger with some trepidation. I disagreed with some of what she said but had a strong sense of respect for her stance, and admiration for her attitude.

Why? Because I’d unconsciously profiled her.

In my head (and I’m going to brutally and embarrassingly frank here), Arb was something resembling a typically masculine lesbian campaigner who had been through the wars, who had seen discrimination, experienced the blunt end of this thing branded ‘The Patriarchy’, and whose uncompromising and fierce attitude had been generated by years of mistreatment. Not precisely that, but something like that. That was the space she occupied in my gut reaction.

This is the first time I’ve been engaged in discussion with a man under the guise of some form of feminism telling me what women need and want. And even odder, until this exchange, I’d been under the impression Arb was an unusually strong woman I respected. (Me on Roughseas)

Fast forward a couple of years to discovering in the midst of an argument about issues relating to women, that Arb is a man. In fact, it was a post that had prompted me to respond:

When I read anyone, smugly or otherwise, fighting for women to be treated equally, I rejoice.

But Arb isn’t fighting for women to be treated equally – he’s fighting for women to be placed above all other considerations, all other injustices, and for all men to scarper into the corner of evil-doing (except him). He’s fighting for women to be listened to, he’s fighting against men ‘mansplaining’ and he’s fighting to subvert the harmful patriarchal stereotypes of behaviour (except when it comes to him telling women what equality looks like). Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with men having an opinion on what equality looks like, but I do find it ironic in the extreme when they preach from the pulpit they want to pull down.

Feminism doesn’t need to be about women. [Hold your tomatoes!] Feminism is one branch in a fight to change society so that equality of opportunity and fair representation in areas of decision-making exist for all people, regardless of their background or their appearance. Anyone who focuses exclusively on one corner of this battlefield and declares the rest to be of lesser importance has basically wriggled down a rabbit hole and lost the plot.

But, I digress. Profiling, prejudice, unconscious bias. An unavoidable part of the quick-think tribalism facility available to our brains. I like forceful women, I’m bored by forceful men. Forceful women have been there, struggled through and emerged victorious – forceful men have absorbed the entitlement handed out to them by society. Unfair stereotype? You bet.

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