Only Utopias Are Realistic
Why do we attach so much importance to gender? What would society look like without it? In this opinion piece, sociologist Alice Rombach dreams of a more diverse world.
By Alice Rombach
This is an invitation to think. To think big, to gaze far into the future, show some courage – and get moving. So let's dream away and conjured up a little utopia that may seem radical at first, but will ultimately prove to be quite the contrary.
To develop new worlds, we need many varieties of them. For we want to include a wide range of different needs and perspectives. And what may be the hardest part is we have to be willing to unlearn our understanding of how the world works. For which we need confidence and courage.
We often make the mistake of thinking only one little thing should be changed in the system, not the whole thing. We call for thirty per cent of board seats to be given to women, for example, we want mentorship programmes for women and gender equality workshops, we want outstanding female role models to get the praise they deserve. Don't get me wrong: all of this is a must in the present day and age. We definitely need more women in the rarefied air above the glass ceiling, in leadershipand decision-making positions. There are more Toms, Dicks and Harrys on corporate and administrative boards than women. Generally speaking, there should be lots more women, BIPOC, trans* and so forth on those boards: people of different ages, with or without children etc. You get the idea: the whole gamut of human diversity . Then again, it’s far more essential for us to find people there who think and act feminist. And that could be Toms, Dicks and Harrys, too.
The “4-in-1 Perspective”Which leads me even more inexorably to this proposition: Let’s dispense with the contentious category of gender. Let’s experiment instead, dream up visions of the future so as to open up new possibilities: What would a world without gender be like? Or a world in which gender is ignored, for example in which it exists but just doesn’t make any difference – like a person’s height, for example.
What would have happened if it had it been entirely up to you ? What if you still had the choice? Or if the choice no longer mattered? Who would I be if I’d had the choice? I think the aliens observing us have been puzzling over a riddle for decades now: Why do these little human spirits cling so tenaciously to the dichotomy between man and woman and to social expectations, although our worldview often begins to unravel after dinner, if not before.
What a straitjacket that is. And what a relief life in a “4-in-1 perspective” would be instead.
This is a brainchild of the terrific sociologist Frigga Haug. It starts with everyone getting as much sleep as they desire. Then the tedium of our daily workaday lives is broken up 4x4: Four hours of gainful employment, which will suffice for the nation’s productivity purposes – people don’t work efficiently for much longer than that anyway. Four hours of “reproductive” labour, such as raising kids and hopefully hanging out in the sandbox with an ice cream every now and then, doing household chores and caring for the elderly. Then four hours of self-fulfilment: music, sport, other hobbies. And four hours of grass-roots political engagement: for example volunteer work and involvement in community or neighbourhood affairs. Those who still want to be full-time breadwinners or look after their brats 24/7 can go ahead and do just that. But it will be entirely their choice.
A Non-Binary SocietySo let’s just imagine a non-binary world, which actually isn’t such a crazy idea. All these kids – Sasha, Kim, Luca – will then have non-binary names – don’t worry, there are enough names to go round. And they’ll swing back and forth between glitter fairies and football, nail polish and castles, and every colour of the rainbow, according to their current development and needs, how they’re feeling and what they’re in the mood for on any given day. They’ll be able to talk to anyone and everyone about their anxieties and their willingness to take risks, about beautiful or ripped clothes, and about scraped knees. Kids accept the framework that informs their reality, they are trusting and curious. When these gender-specific inequalities no longer matter, they’ll simply be passé. Because every child is unique, a wonderful being and (gender-non-specifically) sometimes a fool, for there are fools even in a utopia.
The gender-neutral personal pronoun hen will have caught on, thanks to writers of children’s books who want as many children as possible to be able to identify with their characters, and it will be standard usage. What's more, old words with gender-specific categories and ascriptions will give way to new ones: simple, easily comprehensible words, so they’ll have become a clear consensus in everyday life. Words that aren’t technocratic, but make for a more diverse world; they’re more precise. It’s a bit like switching from black-and-white to colour TV, or as if we could sense a fourth dimension. There’ll be plenty of latitude in the language, and more nuances added every day. Admittedly, it might be hard to keep up with all that: Who wants to be called what and in what situations.
For the Best of all WorldsBut why is all this important in the first place – and so controversial? Why are the positions on these issues so entrenched? Clearly because it's a matter of gender hierarchies and the associated power and privileges of gender as a category of the social order. And even the imbeciles – of any gender, needless to say – will hopefully realize at some point that variations within the sexes are greater than the difference between the sexes – no matter how long people keep desperately trying to find research findings to the contrary. For my part, I imagine it being truly liberating and wonderful to no longer belong to a camp that is at enmity with others. And then, God damn it, we’d still have plenty of work to do all the same.
A feminist utopia means granting equal humanity to all of us. Our social structures are heavily geared towards stifling utopian thought. We need more utopian elements and risk-taking in everyday life if we’re to get any closer to a great utopia.
(Feminist) utopias are mental exercises, pipedream visions of the best of all possible worlds. So each of us can eventually become the person we really want to be.