20 November 2005

Understanding very different world-views

I've started reading Speaking Natalie, a blog by a friend of mine, fairly regularly. Eric is an amazing writer; what I enjoy most about his blog is that he presents an amazingly different world-view from mine. Eric understands his life in terms of God — he writes, for instance, that "God called me to Stanford" and that "I was not born into the warrior caste either, but Jesus treats me that way. By grace my past is wiped away and I am given a new name, a new identity, a new heritage." His understanding of morality is also strongly based on his understanding of Biblical meaning (he was a classics major as an undergrad (now he is in law school), and can base his understanding both on his profound Christianity and on historical knowledge). His moral and ethical system is consistent and evolving; it's different from mine, and extremely interesting, because he asks questions that are not distant from the ones I am interested in (and will eventually ask here, when I get time to write).

What has fascinated me also is Eric's understanding of gender. In a recent entry on chivalry, Eric writes about when he "first discovered that girls are different – and wonderful", and goes on to discuss how men ought to behave towards women. He writes that "there is something … well, magnificent about [women]" (emphasis in original). And this is so different from my understanding of gender, in which the (wonderful) variation between people is not largely based on gender.

It surprised me to realize this dimension of Eric's world-view. On the dance floor — I know him as one of my favorite people to dance with — his behavior is relatively gender-neutral. He has a number of friends, male and female, with whom he regularly dances, and he treats me and my dancer partner with equal politeness and friendliness. He knows I'm queer, and never batted an eye. He follows and leads. A simplistic understanding of sexism and gender opinions tends to pair Eric's style of "benign" sexism, in which women are put on pedestals, with "negative" misogynist sexism. These do in fact pair (c.f. Catholic worship of Marry), but Eric seems to have high rates of the former and essentially none of the latter. Sure, he most enjoys combat in his roll-playing games; he also lets a generic medical student take the pronoun "she." But the dance-floor is well-understood as a microcosm of society — one class this quarter in the dance department is premised on the idea that a good way to understand gender relations in broader society is to understand how they are reflected within social dance — and on the dance-floor Eric does not even seem to show benign sexism.

I have greatly enjoyed every dance I've had with Eric; I have not spent much time talking with him, and I expect that before we can get to enjoyable discussions of topics like those he and I blog about we will first have to work through our very different understandings of the world. In the meantime I will continue to devour Speaking Natalie, both for the detailed discussions and to try to understand what is to me a rather foreign mindset. I encourage my more liberal-secular readers to do the same.

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