Defining the Standard

Posted on September 10, 2020

Gold medal on black background

One of the challenges to promoting equity and understanding is we have not adequately defined the status quo, the accepted norm, the set standard we place on various aspects and functions of society. It’s difficult to question, critique, and ultimately change the way we perceive and engage in our work when our current methods are described in general, unhelpful terms like, “the way things are done”, “normal operations”, “tradition”, the list goes on.  We have to define our standards in ways that recognize that there are viable alternatives.

We don’t have to do this on our own. The information is already out there. As an example, I didn’t have to try to define maleness, masculinity, etc. on my own when the class in feminism I took already had strong, nuanced theories and knowledge already available. 

Probably the most incorrect statement I’ve heard about feminism is it’s about “hating men”. The statement takes the study, advocacy, and perspective of women and says it’s not really about women at all, and that too revolves around the male sex. What feminism does do is it doesn’t accept maleness as the standard of society, doesn’t accept that women are derivatives of men, or feminist thoughts and perspectives are secondary to men’s. Feminism defines maleness in ways that are more critical and thorough than what conventional practices are willing to do. The same can be applied to any theory or perspective that seeks to define instead of blindly accept the standard whether by race, religion, age, socioeconomic status, profession, and more.

My second project for the degree I’m taking focused on how men engage with the goals of Colorado Women Leading Government, taking feminist theories and breaking down how men interact with women’s leadership. 

Goal 1: Call out systematic bias

Men’s Involvement: Men being called out for bias, men calling out bias in others, men passively benefiting from bias

Goal 2: Provide professional development opportunities

Men’s Involvement: Men providing professional development, men receiving professional development

Goal 3: Close the mentorship gap

Men’s Involvement: Men as mentors, men as mentees

For anyone interested in reading the full paper, you can find it here.

Different Ways to Define Local Government

In my paper, I broke down men by roles. Each role has its own considerations, opportunities, and challenges. Some are active, others passive, some are fairly straightforward, others present dilemmas with no easy answers. Regardless, men are no longer simply accepted as being men, they are part of women’s leadership in local government.

Here are a few other ways we can break down our work and apply it to our organizations and communities:

Historiography: The study of different histories, we can see how people both formally and informally define the past. Read up on the same event from different historical frames of thinking and see how much the narrative changes. We can use this on our organization and community’s history too.

Changing the protagonist, the focus: If we have a certain neighborhood or type of citizen we consider a “normal” resident, switch it up, and consider how treating a different group as the norm would change decisions.

Compare and contrast: What do other local governments you’re aware of do differently? What about how things were done in your community 10 years ago? 50 years ago? How about other countries? Find more and more examples to see what is different and the same and find the value in those other approaches.

Consider resources: Think of what it takes for residents to access services, information, to have a voice. Do they need internet? Do they need a car? Do they need to have free time in the middle of a weekday?  

Understand our assumptions: We have to make some assumptions in order to make our work possible, we cannot be held back by questioning every single step we take, every syllable we utter. We can still work towards understanding what assumptions we operate under, see our vulnerabilities. From what types of information we assume are true, to what kinds of environmental conditions outside our control we believe will persist, to what we believe our own roles will be, we can list out those things that we don’t usually question in order to get on with our work. When we stumble, that’s the list we can turn to, to see where things might’ve gone wrong.

Before we can improve, grow, and reform, we can seek to fully comprehend what it is we’re changing. Even if there are norms and standards we wish to keep, work to uphold, we still are better off understanding our institution in a deeper way.

This guest blog is by ELGL member Matt Hirschinger, the Assistant to the Town Manager in Hudson, Colorado.

Read all of Matt’s other blogs at the Social Justice –> Government homepage.

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