By Teresa Artjoki
The minute people feel attacked is the minute they stop listening. In the aftermath following the publication of a now-infamous article on gender studies, I was disappointed by some of the fruitless conversation it stirred. Do I agree with the article? No. But I also condemn simply taking offence with no follow-up. This is because public opinions that are overwhelmingly met with insults risk resulting in those very same opinions simply being held privately. The fact that support for mandatory gender studies is not universal speaks to this issue.
As frustrating as it can be, I find engaging in debate with individuals like Aristotle Vossos extremely important. Over the past 15 months, we have debated feminism, intersectionality and veganism multiple times, having at times been met with arguments that I think are borderline bigoted, illogical or lacking in basic human decency. Yet, these debates have also turned into him tagging me in vegan recipe videos on Facebook, and us managing moderately intelligent conversations about feminism. Similar parallels can be drawn with many of my friends and family members, over the years. Progressivism takes its time.
Is it my responsibility to do the work of Google? No, nor is it anyone else’s. Taking on additional emotional labor can never be expected of anyone. But as a person engaged in ideological progress in the hopes of a more just social politics, I voluntarily take on part of this responsibility. Coming off as the one who always engages in debate can make your presence uncomfortable, but you need a social platform to engage in debate in the first place. Here comes the eternal dilemma of how to be good company but still remain true to your values.
Like many on this campus I come from a fairly privileged background, yet I also spent my teenage years in what is called the “red-green-bubble” of Helsinki. In practice this means that statistically most of my close friends are openly queer and/or vegan. My mother tongue has no inbuilt gender. I grew up under a female president (Tarja Halonen), and both of my parents are of equal professional and financial success. When I was a kid, my dad said things like “it is really none of our business who you will date,” and without flinching signed me up to all-male football and martial arts classes. Due to these privileges, I have been able to spend hours reading about and discussing the values important to me.
Exposure is important. Though values can and sometimes should be changed, one has to take into account what ideologies they are a priori better predisposed to adopt than others.
Veganism has illustrated this the best to me. I could refer to its role in diminishing world hunger or the environmental footprint of food production. I could refer to its nutritional feasibility especially in the Western world and how demand and supply actually work quite swiftly on the food market. I could refer to how it is dubious to be against class exploitation but comfortable with the exploitation of whole species, and how it is questionable to be an environmentalist but still eat meat. But I am not going to do that. Because guilt-tripping somebody into veganism didn’t work for me, nor has it ever worked for anyone I know.
Most people, feeling attacked when I tell them that I’m a vegan, rush to justify their cheese consumption to me. But I genuinely don’t care what they eat; forcing someone into a defensive position about their diet is not a productive starting point to begin with–it’s a useless conversation to have. I was talking with my long-time Finnish friend on how she was first exposed to veganism. Her final decision on this topic came from her own motivation to do research and change her diet. This is applicable to all ideological change: Outside input, at its most productive, is exposure, but change only ever comes from a person’s own will. Change certainly can’t be inflicted by guilt, insults, or taking offence.
“Reason is identical in all men, whereas their passions differ,” is a quote by Simone Veil which I hold dear, because only through the fog of passion can one even begin to identify the fundamental ideological premise, which often less controversial by itself. While it isn’t anyone’s responsibility to assume the role of explainer, I personally find it important to emerge myself in such debate from time to time. If I can make my parents go vegan-friendly, my brother better understand cultural appropriation, and Aristotle understand intersectionality, I ultimately find that more productive than just letting certain paradigms prevail in private. Equally I find it pertinent to engage in debate outside of said “red-green-bubble” of Helsinki, also known as my little echo chamber.
Teresa is a first year student at Sciences Po Campus of Reims from Finland.
Picture credits: Simone Richler//The Sundial Press
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