Sunday, October 02, 2005

Saturday Morning With Uncle Ben: Be Like Boudicca

I am a day late on both of my regular columns this week. But the blogosphere seems rather forgiving.

I had a nice, but brief meeting with Uncle Ben on Friday afternoon. I was hurrying from point A to point Z and tried to "squeeze" in a visit on my crash collision course. I regretted that I couldn't stay longer with the group.

Ben's new nickname for me, btw, is "smoke screen." I told my students in Ancient Philosophy about this when we began to read about Socrates. They giggled when I explained to them that I regularly met with Uncle Ben to argue.

Being a bit dense when I am in lecturing mode, I asked my students why they were laughing. "Don't you at least go and get a beer?"
"You just meet to argue?"

They were right, that sounds pretty dumb. I assured them I meet with Ben for beers and a good argument.

Anyway, "the reason he calls me smoke screen," I continued "is the same reason that Euthyphro is accusing Socrates of making his arguments go around and around in a circle." I tend to demonstrate why I think Ben's arguments are full of inconsistencies by asking him to consider how two comments he has made contradict each other or demonstrate that he has a different viewpoint than the one stated. He gets frustrated with me, claiming that I don't answer his quesitons or confuse and muddle the issue. Hence, I am "smoke screen."

Ben was excited this week because the two of us might have agreed on an issue: Affirmative Action. I wrote a post in which I make a reductio out of a libertarian's argument to create affirmative action policies for men. I clarified in my comments, however, that I do support Affirmative Action. I just don't support Affirmative Action for white men. I thought for sure this was the kind of statement that would rescue me from the name "smoke screen." I took a stand. But, we moved on to other topics.

I had brought with me the last 50 newsletters for NOW that needed to be folded, stamped, addressed. Goddess O' Universe and I got the whole table involved in the assembly line. At this point, Ben asked me if it was really true that men made more money than women in the same rank and same position in higher education. I said yes. He then asked me: "then why don't you charge after them like Boudicca."
I sort of chuckled and shook my head. Ben said: "equal pay for equal work!" I laughed again. He asked me why I was laughing. "Because you just asserted a feminist position."

"No, uh, no I don't go for that feminist stuff."

"But Ben," I say, "why do you think I am starting this NOW chapter? Why are we sitting her folding these newsletters?" Goddess O'Universe and I are fighting this.

What I found interesting about this conversation is that Ben is wholly behind the principle of us fighting for what is fair. He particularly likes to envision this as a take charge broad, wielding a sword. And yet, there seems to be a disconnect in his mind (but this goes for most of the public) between fighting for what is right and being a man-hating, shrill feminist.

I value conversations with Ben precisely for these reasons. It illustrates to me how complicated and troublesome it is to get someone like Ben to realize that being a feminist is no more than fighting for "equal pay for equal work," a principle that he admires.