Sunday, 5 August 2012

Ethics, rights, empathy, and fried chicken

A couple of weeks ago my son came up to me. He was furious with Tide for discriminating against men. I haven't seen their ad as I don't watch TV, but my son explained they showed women doing a variety of household chores while thanking them for using their products. It wasn't fair that they didn't share clips of men doing household chores while thanking them.

I tried to explain to him that women, overwhelmingly are stuck with the day to day chores. Chores which no one seems to notice, let alone offers thanks for a job well done. Even in families where both the man and the woman work, the woman still has the majority of the chores land on her shoulders. Son found this hard to grasp. He lives in a house run by me, his single Mom, and he doesn't see his father often. To him, life is pretty much run by women and he's the one scrubbing dishes while I call him on the way home from work saying, "I'm on the last bus, please make sure they're done before I get there."

The discussion ended with frustration on both sides. Frustration for son because I didn't understand how he felt and frustration on my side because he wouldn't listen to what I was saying and understand the facts. Neither of us got anywhere.

Around the same time as our discussion, I began seeing discussions about Chick-fil-a on Facebook, in the online news, and on a forum I frequent. Before this I'd never heard of the restaurant. We don't have it in Canada. The basic issues of unfairness and discrimination reminded me of the discussion I'd had with son; along with the feelings of frustration on both sides.

I've done a lot of thinking over the past few weeks, helped along by copious amounts of Facebook pictures, comments, online articles, and discussions, and have finally organized my thoughts enough to share.

My first thought is on rights. We talk a lot about our rights as a society in general. When you get right down to it though, none of us have rights. We have privileges based on where we live. Just ask an Iranian woman who was a university student in the 1960's if she still has the same rights she had back then. Human rights only exist when the majority of people are willing to treat everyone relatively equally and fairly and create and follow laws to uphold those values.

That being said, I am strongly for equality and fairness. I think a society should be judged on how well the weakest members are treated, not the strongest. I feel that all people should have the right to live their lives fairly and peacefully and that children should be protected. Rights are not something that happens automatically. They are something to strive and work for. And they are worth working for.

Tightly tied to rights comes the concept of discrimination. Discrimination is being treated less than equally compared to others around you. The key words there are "less than equally". I had an interview at a fast food restaurant that ended when the owner of the store realized I was a single mother. She seemed interested in hiring me right until then. I was a great prospective employee right up until "So what does your husband think about you working?" "You don't have a husband? But you have kids. Oh. Thanks for coming in. We don't have a position for you." That's discrimination. Granted, I did nothing about it but I couldn't see the point in trying to fight to work at minimum wage for a busy body who was that interested in my personal life.

Less than equally also means in similar situations. It's discrimination if you're getting less hours at work because of your religion or skin colour. It's not discrimination if you're getting less hours at work because you show up 10 minutes late every day and call in "sick" two Fridays a month.

I am also tired of hearing about discrimination where it's being defined as "I used to get special privileges above everyone else. Now I'm expected to be treated equal to others, that's discrimination". Some handy tips to distinguish between discrimination and wanting special privileges. Discrimination is being told that you cannot pray silently to yourself in a public place or that you cannot marry another consenting adult due to gender. Wanting special privileges is when you're fighting to keep other consenting adults from getting married because it's against your beliefs or insisting that a court house is the perfect place to showcase the 10 commandments because you feel everyone else should live by your beliefs. Discrimination is a lack of acceptance for your beliefs while wanting special privileges is a lack of acceptance for other's beliefs.

And, while I'm on the topic, a lack of religious displays is not discrimination or pandering to atheism (a complaint I've heard before). A public place with no religious displays is simply a public space. Last time I checked, the library and local park were not hotbeds of atheist activity due to lack of religious symbols. If you ever see a public building with a giant scarlet A prominently displayed and the third Humanist manifesto carved in the wall, you can talk to me then about discrimination.

Also, the reason of "it's always been done this way" isn't a reason either because nothing has "always been done this way". Even if you've had every single person in the room pray before a public meeting for the past 20 years... twenty is not the same as always. And in 20 more years people will be equally convinced that meetings have "always" started without a prayer. Don't think I'm right? Listen to the people in the States who claim there's "always" been the words "In God we trust" on their money then do your own research.

The twin excuses of "it's always been done this way" and "these are my religious beliefs and you can't discriminate against them" are playing out almost daily in the States lately to the detriment of both gays and women. Like I said above, discrimination is when you are personally being affected by someone else. Wanting special privileges is when you want to be treated above others because, in your mind, your beliefs are more important than others' rights. If you personally are against birth control, the answer is simple. Don't use freaking birth control. But you have no right or reason to ban others from using it because you don't like it. Your religion keeps you from even prescribing birth control. Don't get a job where you'll need to prescribe it. If you want to be a doctor, specialize. I'm willing to bet that ophthalmologists and gerontologists are never asked to prescribe birth control.

As I mentioned above, around the same time my son was upset with Tide, there came a tidal wave of discussions regarding Chick-fil-a... a company I hadn't even heard of before. From what I understand it's a religious fast food place that sells chicken and has the weirdest slogan ever. When I first saw the slogan I thought one of my friends was mocking them. It wasn't until yesterday that I realized it's supposed to be on signs held by cows.

I was already pretty much the last person on their list of potential customers. As a Canadian I live nowhere near their restaurants. As an atheist I have no interest in going into a restaurant where the food wrappers have religious slogans and praise music blares through the speakers. And as a vegetarian I don't think they've got anything other than fries for me to eat. So my boycott of Chick-fil-a was pretty much symbolic.

What I want for all my friends is for them to be able to marry the person they fall in love with (or live common law if they so choose). I want them to be able to have kids if they want. I want them to be able to share dental benefits, go broke on a mortgage together, and in the worst case scenario be there in the ICU signing papers and speaking to doctors.

If your religious beliefs don't allow for same sex marriage, the answer is pretty simple. Don't get married to someone of the same sex. Same sex marriage has been legal in Canada for about a decade now and our country is chugging along just as usual. God did not smite us. Marriage between straight couples still occurs. Children are still being born. There are still Christians. There are still churches. There are still Christian churches who won't perform same sex marriages. And there are Christian churches who willingly do.

The thing about prejudice is it's an "us versus them" situation. Once you lump people into a group, you lose sight of individuals and see nothing more than a formless mass of "them".

My great-grandmother was born in Northern Ireland in a small town near Belfast. She moved to Canada when she was a little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old. In Ireland, she used to drive her own little pony and cart to and from school. My parents still have her little wooden riding crop. Every morning her mother would warn her to "watch out for those Catholics... if they catch you they'll drag you off your cart and throw you over the cliffs". Nanaimo Nana lived to be 83 years old and to the day she died she believed there were Catholics and then there were good Catholics, the ones she knew personally who were different from the rest.

That's prejudice; the scary, faceless them. An amorphous mass of other, identified by nothing more than a name. How many of you who are against gay rights are thinking of people when you hear the word "gay"? Are you thinking of the red-headed teenager ringing in your order? Are you thinking of the women ziplining at a nearby park? Or the two men sitting quietly at an outdoor concert? Are you thinking of your child's music teacher? Someone in a military uniform.You probably aren't thinking of any people at all. And if you are, are they the "exceptions"? Because there are no exceptions when you're talking about a group of people. If you know one person out of a group, you know one person. An exception assumes that everyone else in the group is pretty much the same.

I tend to rant about prejudice in general. I don't want to hear about "them". You start talking about Hindus and I think of my boss who gave me a bunch of peppers out of her garden. Muslims and I think of my young co-worker who shyly explained the bracelet on his wrist, symbolizing the love between him and his sisters. Blacks... I think about my coworker who shares her lunch with me (I share too) and the friend I used to go camping with when the kids were small. The list goes on. I'm a white, middle aged Canadian female. That doesn't make me the same as every other white, middle aged Canadian female. As soon as you start referring to a group of people like they're all exactly the same, I know you're prejudiced.

All I'm asking is that when you start thinking of people as a group, stop and think. Get to know people, listen and learn. Don't just go with feelings in an argument. Your religious beliefs are just that. Yours. Use them as a guide in your life, live by them, but please remember they are yours. You  have no right to tell others how to live based on your own beliefs. Let them have their own lives and their own beliefs.

Above all be kind and be fair.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your clear organization of those thoughts. Well said.