There is a post up at Feminist Mormon Housewives that discusses the Kathy Sierra saga and draws lines between “benevolent sexism” and “violent misogyny.” To some degree, whenever I encounter posts like that, my response is always “and…?”
Humans are ethical animals and, as a result, we make value judgments all the time. We all do it. We argue that there are superior and inferior modes of address, dress, behavior, thought, emotion, and so forth. That there are particularly virulent versions (violent misogyny, racism, etc.) doesn’t stop all of us from using milder forms of discrimination. We all judge; it is what we do.
These tendencies don’t strike me as problematic until we reach a point wherein we cease to believe in the reality of those who disagree with us. As an example, I was talking with someone recently who is very opposed to abortion. To her, abortion is an uglier word than murder, which is what she considers abortion to be, and therefore she will only call it murder. To call this murder, “abortion,” is to her offensive and wrong-headed. Further, this is for her a self-evident truth. When I explained that pro-choice advocates routinely encountered this sort of language and that it didn’t phase them at all, it almost shocked her. It was as if she believed they were embracing the truth she espoused (that they were murderers and proud of it), instead of rejecting it as completely irrational as they would. I should note that this woman is a perfectly nice person, a wonderful and loving mother, and so forth.
The point here is not to debate abortion, but rather to point out that we all operate using stereotypes and other means of shorthand in order to establish our values in any given situation. It is a generalization to say this, but I have yet to encounter anyone who doesn’t do it. To use the terms of the FMH site, we all use some form of “benevolent sexism” or “benevolent racism” or something else in order to get through the decisions that confront us each day. To state that these forms of everyday discrimination are one end of a continuum with violence is to state a truism that is accurate but unhelpful. Using a similar scale of activity, I could argue that Mother Teresa and Hitler represent a continuum of human behavior, too.
The check to overreliance on stereotypes should be human interaction. We should go out of our way to care for each other. My mission president used to say that once you truly get to know someone, you cannot hate them. I don’t know if that can really be universally applied, but it sounds good. Perhaps there are some irredeemable people out there who should not be loved or treated with basic human respect, but I, luckily, haven’t met them yet.
In any case, I am always struck in this by the best described Zion society of which we have a historical record. In 4th Nephi, the Nephites are somehow able to overcome their differences and their value judgments and just love each other. There are no rich or poor, no contention, no -ites. What brings about this happy state? “They were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” (4th Nephi 1:17) If we were one in Christ, I believe that we would be encouraged to treat everyone as a whole person, not simply as an amalgam of desirable and undesirable characteristics. Christ loves each of us for who we are and for what we may be. If we have that love, I don’t believe our goal would be to create and reinforce the divisions among us. Instead, we would be bound in one great whole.