A University of Toronto professor refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns has sparked an opportunity for an important debate. But it’s also just another instance of people having to defend their identities to those who refuse to acknowledge them.
Psychology professor Jordan Peterson recently began posting a series of video lectures on YouTube. The lectures include criticism of Bill C-16, which would criminalize harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.
Peterson also refused to refer to non-binary students by their preferred pronouns. “I don’t know what ‘neither’ means because I don’t know what the options are if you’re not a man or a woman,” he said in one of his videos, in reference to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s definition of gender identity including man, woman, both or neither.
“It’s not obvious to me how you can be both because those are by definition binary categories,” he said.
The U of T student union openly condemned his sentiments and requested an apology. Their outspoken response lives up to the responsibility of their position by demonstrating their willingness to represent all students, regardless of gender identity.
It’s the administration’s responsibility to follow suit when a professor’s opinions affect their interactions with students.
Even if Peterson is fighting for his right to free speech, his responsibility as a professor is the best interests of his students. If his opinions are inhibiting his job performance, the University has a place to intervene.
The only positive thing to come from Peterson’s words may be the conversation they’ve started.
The conversation is making headlines. As public discussions happen, they indicate the issue receiving the attention it deserves. It may provide an opportunity for marginalized communities to be heard on a larger platform, while their voices are often drowned out.
Because for many people fighting against the meaning of Peterson’s words, it’s not just conversation for conversation’s sake.
It’s a defence of their identities and their right to be recognized as deserving of respect, a reality that marginalized non-binary communities face on a daily basis. While the dialogue is valuable, it’s debilitating and exhausting for many.
Professor Peterson, is the conversation more valuable than those being hurt by it?
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