Perfect Storm? Where do you fit?


A recent article in a Toronto newspaper caught my attention/imagination and challenged my beliefs.  The story is about a baby named Storm.  Storm’s parents have decided not to disclose Storm’s gender to the world.  No one knows if Storm is a boy or girl. Storm’s family knows and so will Storm, but the option to disclose gender and decide on a comfortable self directed gender definition is being left up to Storm.

This quiet family decision has gone viral.  The newswires picked up the story and the radio talk shows have been buzzing.   Storm’s family have confirmation on what  they already “hunched”,   society has great discomfort when it comes challenging gender/dominance beliefs.   The result, Storm’s parents face pretty harsh judgment regarding the wisdom of their  parenting philosophy.

The article regarding Storm happened to coincide with a discussion that my partner and I have been engaged in over the past few weeks.  The issue,  “has our thinking regarding dominant culture been clouded by our position in relation to that culture?”  The thesis for the discussion, “does dominant culture really even think about non dominant culture or does their actual dominance preempt any ability to think in non dominant terms?”

Bear with me.  I have to admit that the discussion has made my headache just bit.   The discussion is reminiscent of my “feminist consciousness raising” days.  Those “heady” days in the late sixties and early seventies when we gathered in rooms and talked gender politics endlessly.  Storms story and my discussion re: gender politics and dominance got me thinking that perhaps it’s time to re-visit the question of gender and dominance.  Have we really made any progress?

We still have these debates but now the discussion is about “The glass ceiling”, we segment ourselves in terms of “Anti Oppression” discussions and legislation and affirmative action.  In doing so, in my opinion, we don’t actually further the cause for the eradication of gender dominance.  Instead, our efforts result in further embedding the concepts of oppression and victimization,  creating new categories for non dominant cultural groups to be identified as dominant over other non dominant cultural groups.  Meanwhile, dominant culture as defined by gender politics, continues to reign supreme.

By birthright, dominant culture will always be partially blind to non dominant culture won’t it?  If you’ve always been dominant then there is no need to navel gaze about being dominant.    Non dominant culture perceives this lack of awareness  as disregard, prejudice, oppression and entitlement. Yet, as non dominant participants don’t we collude by accepting certain things as being required to ensure our place in the hierarchy?

  • Is it realistic to expect that non dominant culture can educate dominant culture to truly be more aware?
  • What is the motivation to gain a comprehensive awareness by dominant culture?
  • Is dominant culture acting out of malice or just ignorance?
  • What would be the cost to you of actually changing the status-quo  regardless of where you sit on the “dominance chain?”
  • Are you prepared to pay the price that changing the status-quo?

Translate this discussion to current gender politics in business, in government  or religion and you have a clear picture of the true challenge that Storm’s parents are facing when deciding to confront the politics of gender and dominance.

If maintaining dominant culture isn’t important to us, then why is the choice to keep Storm’s gender a secret so controversial?  Why is it newsworthy at all?  Why does it make us uncomfortable?  Is it because we all, regardless of  our position in the dominance chain, collude with the concept of hierarchy and dominance?

Change is hard and the ripple effects of change challenge our security don’t they?   In short, we understand the status-quo and the unknown, well that tends to scares us.  When we are challenged to step outside our comfort zone we have to decide if the risk is worth the discomfort.

Given this premise, perhaps a better question to ponder is “how do we refine our focus to a more comprehensive understanding of exactly what our position is in the dominance chain?    Isn’t an important rule for of negotiation that we truly understand what our  exact position is before we step into the negotiation?  Would knowing our place support our ability to move our agenda further faster?  Can we develop a winning strategy if we don’t squarely confront that dominance/gender and how we fit within the hierarchy structure are part of what we must consider?

Having a realistic point of reference that considers, as part of a winning strategy, our place in the dominance chain,  can provide invaluable information about how to approach issues.  This is true whether we are in a leadership position, or planning future goals.

If we don’t have a clear and realistic perspective on where we stand in relation to our more dominant colleagues, we are destined to fail at accomplishing our goals.   Knowing where we stand and from where we begin the negotiation allows for  an objective and powerful clarity that comes from a strength perspective?  Think about it.   Best to truly know your place!