Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Few More Options

There’s always been something which felt very restrictive about the two boxes – Male – or – Female – on every questionnaire, survey, census, any form in fact – it’s not an obvious choice, not to me anyway – slipping around inside (and outside) our unstable and fluid identities – and yet there it is – the unchanging choice (which is not one) on our passports, birth certificates, and driving licences.

Having spent much of the last three years on planes, filling endless immigration forms, I’m frankly sick of the sight of these two boxes. Western culture – supposedly a culture of excess and unlimited consumerism – boasts unreservedly of choice…

…Except when it comes to the factor that, if real choice were offered, would demonstrate a genuine freedom within our society (instead of the false ones we buy - or buy into). But no, on the whole we must still decide upon which side of the dividing line we fall: we must still choose whether we are with or without, standing or sitting, on top or underneath.

Could it be that this is what our ‘progressive’ culture relies upon? That there must be some things kept ‘sacred’, ancient repressions preserved, some reactionary constant, from which the world can safely reel around wildly and flamboyantly, beneath a hedonistic guise it flaunts, but doesn’t really mean… not by the end of the day, when you get back on the plane, and are presented once again with two boxes.

Cynics might suggest that the multiple choices that we are offered in the west are thrust before us in hyped and exaggerated explosions of noise and colour in order to deliberately distract us from the choices that really matter – the ones which can really make a difference.

But I think these writers (and I’m not sure they merit that title!) of forms (another misnomer!), in their offices, cordoned in by their screened-off corners, and sitting behind their own anonymity – these Men and Women – are just lazy, and lacking in imagination. They have not questioned their own box. They themselves have been presented with two boxes into which they have made everything fit, and what they think – these 1D designers, these flat-lining dividers of peoples – is that the world is the same for all of us.

If you’d like more than two boxes, if you like your questionnaires to offer more than an Either/Or choice, then try this one by March 19th, and maybe it will set a precedent for the shapes bureaucracy could be taking.

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goosefat101 said...

I work in a library and people who join have to fill in equal opportunity forms when they join (well they don't have to of course its optional, but we aren't supposed to mention that unless we have to!!)

Each section does have a I Do Not Wish To Reveal My Ethnicity/Gender/Age/(dis)ability.

The reasons people have to fill in these forms make some sense: theory if we monitor who uses the library we can provide the appropriate stock.

Of course in practice all figures are fiddled and so meaningless.

Anyway I mention all this because there is no Other box for gender (or for disability to be honest).

People who object to filling in these forms are always either blue blood tory anti-political correctness racists or they are the very minority groups who these forms are meant to aid.

Both groups object to being defined. One because they believe their position as the ruling class/gender/race/sexuality/ability makes them the norm and so everyone should be defined by them. The other because they are sick to death of being defined and see this definition as a barrier to progress.

None of this has much to do with your post.

Personally I am with the Tory scum and the minority groups, I am sick of filling in forms all together.

(ps I admire your blog muchly.)

jennifletzet said...

Thank you for your comment Goosefat. Apologies for the delay in response - partly due to rubbish internet connection, and also to actually having to think about what you said - and definitely not due to lack of interest...

Funnily enough I also worked in a library! For a year and 1/2 just as a lowly library assistant, (a job I enjoyed very much BTW, and am considering returning to). Under our local gov (Swansea!) there was definitely no 'other' or 'not wishing to state' options on our equal opps forms, which - although well-meaning - does put into question what is actually being meant by equal opps...

It seems to me that most of the times these forms are primarily concerned with racial and ethnic equal opps, than with gender. Nothing wrong with that in itself, except that most of the times it all seems a bit fruitless. For example, my husband is Israeli, and he never ever has a box to tick in any equal opps forms. He doesn't count as Middle-Eastern, his heritage is entirely central-and-western European, but Israel is not Europe. Sometimes forms offer a 'religious' box as an alternative to a 'racial' category. So some offer him a 'Jewish' option, but although he is culturally Jewish, he is totally non-religious personally, and so doesn't want to tick that box either. And anyway, there's a lot of problems, in my opinion, with aligning religion with nationality, even if only for beaurocratic purposes. So that leaves the 'Other' box, which is usually present in the race and ethnicity section. But what is he? Does he just write Israeli? In which case, why can't we all - every one of us - just ignore every box in the section and write our country of origin, or our country of citizenship.

Sorry for the long-windedness: I guess what I'm trying to say is that it seems, like I think you implied to some extent, is that the more and more categories and options you offer, the more and more exceptions to the rules can be found. The more people you try to include, the more are adversely excluded. But what I hope will happen with time is that political correctness goes into such ludicrous overdrive that eventually the whole purpose and reason for having all these damn forms in the first place will be lost, since they won't tell us anything anymore, and bureaucracy will go into decline: only producing the bear minimum of forms wherever possible.

Like, in a library situation, where the rationale behind equal opps forms is to make sure as many peoples are covered by its services as possible: in Swansea Central Library there was an entire section dedicated to Hindi, Japanese, Urdu, Arabic, French, German and Spanish languages, obviously in response to the 'main spoken language' sections of the equal opps forms. Well meaning as this is, in my year at the library I only ever saw the Japanese books go out. All the others sat there collecting dust.

If this is the almost obsolete end product of a form designed to pin-point its target customers with products chosen to meet their needs, what possible – on the shelves - effect can there be from asking us to reveal our gender?

goosefat101 said...

Wow... if you were late in replying to my comment what was I?

Only just saw it now.

I've been a library assistant for nearly four years now (though they mean very different things in different areas of the country which explains my accidental meteoric rise when I moved to London).

I loved working in a library up north but in London it is absolutely horrible, or at least in the borough/library I'm in. I don't mean horrible in a real sort of way, because obviously there are a lot worse jobs... anyway what I am actually getting at is that the only reason we have those forms is so we can be seen to have them.

No one believes in accessibility where I work. They all believe in income generation. We aren't there to help people we are there to look good for the councilors and provide requirements and try and get a bit of income off the masses.

It wasn't like this in other libraries I've worked in so don't be put of returning.

I very much enjoy your idea of political correctness becoming so extreme that all the categories break away. I think... or maybe I don't ideologically but I do in pure enjoyment of an idea.

No I do like it both ways. Categories and Bureaucracy should be reduced or ended.