by Lauren Strapagiel
A tenured psychology professor at the University of Toronto has drawn criticism after posting a lecture online [Video below] in which he dismisses the validity of those who identify as neither male or female.
In the lectures, Jordan Peterson rallies against “political correctness” and Bill -16, which extend human rights protection to gender identity and expression.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines gender as “each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is their sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum.”
But he doesn’t agree.
“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 says in the lecture.
“It’s not obvious to me how you can be both because those are by definition binary categories. There’s an idea that there’s a gender spectrum but I don’t think that that’s a valid idea, I don’t think there’s any evidence for it.”
Peterson says he thinks the idea that gender identity and biological sex are different is “a proposition not a fact.” He also dismisses gender-neutral pronouns like they, them, ze, and hir.
“I can envision a student or a colleague insisting that I call them using gender-neutral pronouns,” he says.
“I’m not doing that. I think it’s manipulative and I don’t recognize another person’s right to determine what pronouns I use to address them. I won’t do it.”
But A.W. Peet, a transgender nonbinary physics professor at U of T, is speaking out to say nonbinary folks certainly do exist and are part of the university.
“All it takes to break some claim is one counter example, and I’m one counter example,” [she] told BuzzFeed Canada.
“As a human being, I felt like he was erasing me, something that non-binary people tend to feel quite a lot.”
Peet, who also has tenure, decided to respond publicly to Peterson because [she is] in a safer position to do so than less senior staff. [She is] particularly concerned about how Peterson’s words could impact trans, non-binary, or genderqueer students.
“Imagine you’re a new undergrad, you just arrived, you’ve only been in class for a few weeks, maybe you’ve just came out,” [she] said.
“And then this happens. I can imagine this would be very damaging.”
Peet voiced [her] complaints on Twitter, saying academic freedom doesn’t mean Peterson’s behavior should be acceptable.
Peet said [she has] sent a letter to the university expressing [..] “displeasure” with Peterson.
“I feel that as professors, we are held to a higher standard of care for our students, all students, not just the students whose politics we like,” they said.
Peterson told BuzzFeed Canada he hasn’t yet had a student request to be addressed with gender-neutral pronouns. But, “if I felt the fundamental motivations were ideological, and a power play, I would refuse.”
He would consider using gender-neutral pronouns if he felt the student’s request was “genuine,” however.
He argues that honouring someone’s chosen gender identity and pronouns is neither good for the person or for society.
“I think they’re asking too much of society,” he said. “There’s a beast in society, and you risk waking that up. It’s not good to continually poke the bear.”
Both in the lecture and in talking to BuzzFeed, Peterson expressed disagreement with any law or policy that would enforce views of gender he does not share. He said C-16 makes expressing his views “illegal” and potentially a hate crime.
“I’m being required to swallow the presupposition that just because someone believes that if they would be called a new pronoun, that would improve their life,” he said.
“Sorry, there’s no evidence for that.”
He agrees that his position could potentially violate the university’s policies, but he says that just part of the problem.
University spokesperson Althea Blackburn-Evans told BuzzFeed Canada they have not received any formal complaints regarding Peterson.
“Universities are places where people can express this opinions, sometimes they’re controversial,” she said. However, she added that “all members of our community should feel respected, feel welcome, feel supported.”
If a complaint does come before the university, Blackburn-Evans said it will be assessed in accordance with the university’s equity policies.
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About the writer: Lauren Strapagiel is a social news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.
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