“A man and his young son were apprehended in a robbery. The father was shot during the struggle and the son, in handcuffs was rushed to the police station. As the police pulled the struggling boy into the station, the mayor, who had
been called to the scene, looked up and said “My God, it’s my son!” ”
— From Foundations Of Psychology (1989) 2nd Edition quoting from a Study by
Eakins and Eakins (1978).
I’m sure that we’ve all seen riddles like the one above. The task for the reader is to guess what the relationship is between the robber and the mayor. It has already been established that robber and his son are male. So, who is the mayor? The answer is that the mayor is the boy’s mother. You’re supposed to stumble because when most people think of a mayor, they think of a man in that role. Most mayors in films are men, for example. You remember, they always refuse to accept the inevitable until it’s too late in disaster films.
Here’s an example from a “Sherlock Holmes” quiz on the Internet
“A father and son were involved in a car accident and both were taken to hospital. The father died immediately on arrival, but the son survived, so he was taken to the operating theatre for an emergency operation. The surgeon said: “I can’t operate on this boy because he’s my son”. ”
If you didn’t guess the first one, you’ll probably get the second one: the surgeon is a woman. In the UK, the majority of new doctors are women, but some specialisms such as surgery continue to attract more men.
Seem like conclusive evidence that women are being oppressed by language? Try this one paragraph story that I wrote:
“Police in Cambridge apprehended a notorious and prolific local burglar today. The arrest was the end product of a nearly year-long investigation. However, the operation has drawn a great deal of interest from both the press and the general public as it was carried out by the burglar’s son. When questioned, the police officer remarked, “It was my duty to carry out the investigation. It might seem strange to other people, but this was a person who once stole from my own father. My family will be resting easier from now on.””
Most people are stumped by this one. As with the other stories, a common guess is that two homosexual men have, through adoption, both become the father of a single male individual. When I specify that the men in the story are not homosexual, the next guess is often that the story contains a mistake. If you haven’t come up with the answer by now, you’ll kick yourself when I give you
the solution: the burglar is a woman.
The way that all of these stories work is that they rely on cultural assumptions about gender roles. Other tests work on a similar principle. For example, a study was carried out in which young children were asked to draw a picture of people in various positive career roles such as surgeon or a police officer, and in the majority of cases, the children drew pictures of men.
However, studies like this are dishonest. Naturally, the kids were not asked to draw a picture of a positive, female-dominated role such as a social worker or a teacher or a negative role, such as a criminal.
Things could have gone very differently. I’ve no doubt that if they were asked to draw a picture of a car thief, nearly all of the kids would have drawn a man. However, many of the kids would have lived in areas in which a lot of the crime is carried out by ethnic minorities. It’s not a racist assumption, the tragedy is that seventy percent of prisoners in the United States are non-
white. My guess is that as the children began to reach for the brown crayon, the (probably left-wing and white) teachers and researchers would decide that it was time for an early recess.
Many of the children would think of men in some, but not all, aspirational career roles, and that’s OK because it’s all the proof that feminist researchers need that women are being oppressed. The kids would tend to think of a criminal as man, and that’s OK too. Their first guess is that a criminal would be non-white? That’s politically unpalatable.
Going back to the textual conundrums, they rely on a formula, and I’ll show you how to concoct a story that proves that “men are being oppressed.”
Create the following three characters:
A male or female. It helps things along if his or her role is one that is normally associated with people of that gender.
A person of the opposite gender to character A. This person should be cast in a role that is less commonly associated with people of his or her gender.
A person who has a relationship with characters A and B that would be defined by their gender, for example, their son.
Having created the characters, now utilise them in a one or two paragraph narrative:
• Avoid using pronouns that refer to character B. This is to avoid giving away the gender of that character. However, the sex of character A must be specified.
• End the story with character B making a reference to his or her relationship with character C without mentioning the reciprocal relationship.
Voila! Instant proof that gender A/B is being oppressed by language. Here’s another one:
“Walking home one evening, a young nurse was attacked by a gang of youths. Fortunately, two police officers happened to be passing, and their sudden appearance frightened off the attackers. Following proper procedure, the policemen took the nurse back to the police station so that they could take a statement.
The policemen were sympathetic because they were aware of traumatic effects often experienced by victims of violent crime. Upon starting to recover, the nurse suddenly remarked, “My son! I must go home to look after my young son. He will be wondering where I am.”. The police officer was quick to remark, “Don’t worry, we have informed the child’s mother, and she has returned from work and is with him now.””
The answer to that one is that the nurse is a man. The story plays on a societal myth that is reinforced by television drama: that women are the most common victims of violent crime. In fact, I was careful to include the word victim. Actually, in the UK, men are victims of 77% of all violent crime committed by a stranger. The idea that the nurse is female is further reinforced by casting him in a paternal role.
It’s a shame that feminists have hijacked methods such as this, because they are a useful approach for exploring cultural assumptions about things like race, gender and social class. However, certain groups would rather self-nominate themselves as a victim-class than apply a technique broadly and inclusively.