[personal profile] locore
I've hit a bit of a wall, and I'm short on time to post - I came back from Adacamp with a nice case of "the crud" - doubtless imported from somewhere that the locals have resistance. Yesterday's essay wound up posted "private", because it wasn't ready for prime time when I had to leave for work - wasn't even coherent in fact. So today I'm going to try coming round at a different angle, via Canadian politics circa 1980. I'm guessing that the set of feminists (or other readers) with strong feelings about that time and place is more limited than e.g. the set of feminists with strong feelings about rape jokes at a recent video game presentation.

The British conquered the area that was to become the Canadian province of Quebec from the French, and administered it relatively fairly, by the standards of the time. Certainly the French settlers were treated much better than native Americans and half breeds. This worked well enough that the French population didn't either try to join the American revolution or support the Americans in the War of 1812. At least, not to any extent significant enough to matter.

But 20th and 21st century standards are different. By 1950 or so, it was clearly what we'd now call a colonialist situation - not as bad as e.g. Ireland, but not a credit to what had become an independent nation: Canada. Part of the problem was Anglophone hegemony; part of it was the Catholic church, which had a stranglehold on education taking place in French in the province, and used this power to teach basics only - elementary education, with even high school hard to come by, let alone university. And all this with a side order of censorship ... by the church, within its schools, not by the government or in general.

Then came the Quiet Revolution. (French) Quebecers reined in the Church, mostly via the political process, and set about creating a twentieth century, first world educational system. So far so good; it's hard to argue with this, unless of course you are a pro-Church fanatic, or an employer/politician desirous of a continuing supply of ignorant peons to exploit.

The problem, however, was that there were English speaking residents of Quebec. As it happens, I was one of them. I was also a child, i.e. attending (English speaking) schools while this was happening.

The normal thing in Quebec at the time was for the boss to speak English, middle management was bilingual, and blue collar workers spoke French. And just about anywhere you might want to move, everybody spoke English, though there might be some public services available in French. If you were French speaking, and wanted your children to "get ahead", you made sure they learned English. If you were English speaking, French was a compulsory class from the age of about 8, but it wasn't especially important.

This is, of course, an open and shut case of privilege, colonialism, and whatever other terms I might know if I were a theorist. And I was one of the privileged. But I didn't see it that way. I saw that my parents wanted me to hang out with French kids and learn French, but the French kids were more interested in beating on me than including me. And the provincial government kept imposing rules on education - rules that I now know were setting challenging minimum standards for most of the French system - but those standards operated on the English system as ceilings, not floors. Let's bring the English down to French standards - when we're not simply trying to force them to attend French schools.

Meanwhile various French "patriots" (their term, not mine) kept doing independent action in support of the French. As an example, the school system had province-wide final examinations for those graduating, and most college admissions were contingent on those results. So "programming errors" somehow lost the results - but only for the English exams. New rules were imposed requiring a longer school day, and an extra year before one could enter college - at least, that was the viewpoint from within the (English) school system I attended. Eventually laws were passed in support of francification, limiting who was permitted to attend an English public school - only those who had at least one parent who had attended school in English in the province of Quebec. And those records got lost too, later forcing my sister to apply and reapply on behalf of her children.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of English speakers left Quebec. I wound up in the United States; my siblings and cousins wound up in other parts of Canada ... even the side of the family which was effectively French Catholic. Middle class, upwardly mobile French Quebecers expressed unhappiness about the reduced opportunities available to their children - ghettoized into Quebec-only, rather than being allowed to send them to English immersion programs and the still superior English schools. Head offices and research branches fled Quebec; they couldn't hire people who were both parents and born outside Quebec. And besides, there were rules about making the official language in one's office French - regardless of what language one's customers might speak.

This perpetuated the old system, in many ways, except now the boss, and much of middle management weren't local. The economy did badly, particularly in the city of Montreal, which had been cosmopolitan and very much multi-lingual, not at all limited to French and English. It also caused some amount of harm to a lot of people, not all of them English speaking. (Frankly, from what I can see, the English mostly made out like bandits in their new homes.)

Because of my family politics, and ties to the French community, I never blamed "the French" for this. I blamed a bunch of grasping politicians who, to me, appeared to be trying to become big fish in a small pond at the expense of every one else in that pond. I've since then mellowed, finding out more about what they were trying to accomplish, and how bad things had been for French speakers, particularly in education. (Amazing how little of this was showing up in the English-speaking press at the time ... NOT.)

But it still became about us vs them. And it also had what I'm going to call an "ally" problem. A lot of more-or-less radical Americans immigrated to Canada, and many of them settled in Quebec, where they became the biggest, loudest advocates of "preserving French culture" - which basically meant reducing the opportunities (as well as incentives) for French speakers to operate in English. And there's a definite problem of "what it's OK to say" about this in Canada, even today. The English minority from Quebec has pretty much been expunged from the national consciousness.

It's late; I'm going to have to leave the analogy and parallels implicit rather than explicit. I sense intuitively that there's a lesson here, but I haven't managed to tease it out. I think it's about resentments, unfortunate side effects, and overall feelings of exclusion, with a side order of the problem of ideas and complaints which are not admitted to political discourse.


Edit: I've figured out the analogy my subconscious was presenting to me, and I'm afraid it's a bit of a third rail. It has two parts:

  • English speaking Quebecers are equivalent to native-born geeks, a.k.a (some) people on the autistic specturm.
  • American-immigrants turned Quebec French nationalists are equivalent to folks assigned male at birth, but identifying as women now, particularly if they are involved in feminist activism.

I am, frankly, afraid that as soon as I mention transgender issues I'll be shut down, hard, or at least ignored. I've seen what happens online when someone mentions a desire for spaces for women-born-women or similar. And I've also seen what happens in some gender variant online communities whenever anyone uses language remotely incorrectly ... in the opinion of whoever flames them.

And I can go farther, and mention that the proportion of women at AdaCamp who appeared to me to be likely to have experienced a male-style testosterone spike at puberty was higher than I've noticed in any other group not explicitly devoted to gender variance. It was clearly rude to ask anyone about their history, and frankly I don't much care, at an individual level. Or more than that - if you've changed your social role and (presumably) biochemistry to something that suits you better than the role your body appeared to suit at birth, more power to you. But - I'm not so sure you are going to be coming from the same background and set of experiences as those categorized female at birth, and it would certainly bug me if feminist leadership had a disproportionate number of women-categorized-male-at-birth. Like the American-born "french" activist and allies, you may be taking a variant strand and emphasizing it at the expense of other strands, regardless of how well meaning you may be.

The Autism spectrum issue seems less likely to press buttons, though I fear it's more of an unreconcilable difference. When some people like X, some hate it, and it's a community trait, the usual result is that one group becomes hegemonic, and the other group gets to be defined as minority at best and deviant wierdos at worst. I grew up with undiagnosed ASD, and learnt that I was "lazy", "rude", "selfish", etc. etc. It took me years to realize that when you have prospognosia, failing to recognize faces is not due to laziness, inattention, and not liking people. And when you have sensory issues, becoming non-functional (or worse yet, having a public meltdown) when forced to participate in noisy activities is not due to selfishness, laziness, or "not trying". And if you get better at coping as years pass, it might be the result of neurological maturation, not suddenly becoming "considerate" and "good". Or it might be the result of finally being allowed to make choices for oneself, and take breaks in a quiet-enforced library rather than a playground full of screaming children.

Adcamp included a few throw-away comments about people with "no social skills", where that term was clearly being used as almost the only socially OK pejorative available. Except "no social skills" is the pejorative label regularly pinned on Aspies ... those within the range of ASD where they are not obviously disabled. Various aspects of "geek culture" were labelled unacceptable, and this included natural geek/ASD behaviours pejoratively labelled "nitpicking". To an ASD person, "unacceptable" means that no negotiation is possible; I don't know what it meant to the person making that claim.

Meanwhile, I remain comfortable on StackOverflow. I find LKML a bit chancy - Linus tends to "go off" in ways that no one with his community power should ever allow themself to do. But I also find various feminist forums equally chancy - I need to avoid upsetting the powers that be by pressing one of their buttons, just as I need to do with Linus - and in both cases, this interferes with posting honestly, as well as making it a whole pile more work.

I don't want to upset people, and I'm inclined, as many Aspies are, to modify my behaviour to make non-Aspies less uncomfortable, if they can tell me what the problem is in ways I can understand. But at some point, it's too much work, and I want spaces where I can just get on with the task at hand. Small changes are relatively easy, except when I'm exhausted, stressed etc. But asking me to revise my neurochemical wiring - or fake someone else's - is just not on. Because in my opinion ASD wiring has advantages as well as disadvantages, most of us are not broken and don't need fixing.

So, where do the English Quebecers go in this brave new world? And who represents the French Canadians?

One final comment - I apologize to anyone who was derailed by my comparison of Quebec with Ireland.
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