I took Jordan B Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life with me to the west of Ireland and it taught me three big lessons for my own life.
The first was that children of abusive parents can often parent well, because they avoid repeating the pattern. The second was that issues in marriages should be tackled, not avoided.
The third was that being prepared to be “disagreeable”, in a difficult negotiation, is necessary, if you want to be responsible.
I needed all these three lessons in a big way. I will try to apply them in the new school term to test if any of the strategies is successful.
And whether or not Peterson’s ideas are successful is surely the most important thing we need to ask ourselves about the super-star psychologist, who, last month, addressed over 6,500 people at Dublin’s 3 Arena and who returns to Dublin on October 21.
We shouldn’t just condemn him as some sort of alt-right misogynist patriarch, simply because he defends the biology of gender.
Peterson returns to Dublin “by popular demand”.
He deserves a wide audience of women, as well as of men. While listening to Marian Finucane’s excellent interview with Peterson on RTÉ, during his last visit, I thought: Are women well served by the idea that gender is purely ideological?
For starters, that position has no basis in science. Peterson asks a very compelling question, in 12 Rules, and it is this: How can we defend gender reassignment, while simultaneously maintaining that gender difference is purely cultural?
We can’t. It’s one or the other.
It should not be controversial — “controvers-i-al”, as Peterson pronounces the word in his Canadian accent — to say that gender is a scientific fact.
It’s obvious that there is huge diversity within gender and huge overlap between the genders, particularly, as Peterson points out, among those of us who are pretty average and who converge in the middle.
When I was trying to hack my way through this jungle for my 2010 book, Mother Ireland, I decided that we should be aiming for a society that respects diversity, rather than demand equivalence between the sexes.
While gender is predictive of career orientation, it should never be prescriptive. If 95% of primary carers on the road are women, that should devalue neither them, nor the 5% who are men.
I had found a statement in a document published by the National Women’s Council, which called for men to be “socially constructed” as carers and women to be “socially constructed” as workers. I rejoined that I did not want to be “socially constructed” by anyone.
Neither do most of us. This is exactly the attempted enforcement of uniformity to which Peterson objects, an idea which he sees brought to its ideological limits in communist societies such as China and the USSR.
He goes on and on about the ‘radical Left’, but he is not really talking about Left and Right, in their proper sense, as they pertain to differing attitudes to the redistribution of wealth.
He is purely talking about identity politics. His crusade is against the ideological attempt to sort people into identities and keep them there.
He repeatedly makes the point that in what he calls the most seemingly egalitarian societies on earth, in Scandinavia, women’s and men’s employment patterns are generally more polarised than they are anywhere else in the developed world and they have become more polarised as the societies have ostensibly become more equal.
In Sweden, for instance, 90% of nurses are women and 75% of engineers are men.
A wider gender pay gap will follow more gender segregation. But are women then to be forced to take different jobs and take less time out for family?
He asks the multi-million dollar question: “Who decided, anyway, that career is more important than love and family”?
This question, which seemed to bother Finucane, is key. Who decided? Who decided, not just for women, but also for men, and for society at large?
The money-makers, that’s who. As a result of this ideology, women lose, children lose, men lose, and the environment loses, too.
A new feminism, which accepted and even championed the facts of gender difference, would spend less time studying the ‘gender pay gap’ and more time advocating family-friendly lifestyles and proper recompense for caring.
It would not shy away from the difficult issue of the vulnerability of women when pregnant and breast-feeding. It is because of this vulnerability that women have traditionally needed a protector at this time.
In the absence of a protector, pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, and mothers of young children in general, require the protection of the wider society to allow them to do their important job.
If this were understood and accepted, lone parents would not face appalling deprivations in our society.
It’s still true, as Peterson told Finucane, that lone parents “plummet down the economic hierarchy.” That’s not surprising, because, as he says, caring for a child is in itself a job and it is very hard to put it together with a job for pay.
If we understood and accepted this, it would not have been possible for Labour’s Joan Burton to get away with taking lone parents off the One Parent Family Payment when their youngest child was seven, particularly not on the grounds of increasing the women’s economic welfare.
Our problem is not just that we increasingly require women to work like men, even if they are mothers of young children, even if they are parenting alone.
Our problem is that we believe traditionally male priorities to be the correct ones.
We have decided that career is more important than family and call anyone who questions this decision unpleasant names.
I disagree with Peterson on other matters. I would have no problem being required by legislation to call a trans person by his or her preferred pronoun, because someone quite different to me — and Peterson — might refuse to do so to cause hurt and offence.
His use of symbolism of masculine and feminine is, I think, far more useful to men than to women.
For a man, the female may be symbolic of matter and of chaos, because he emerged from a mother and achieved reason; a woman must achieve reason, having emerged from another woman.
However, his statement of the fact of biological gender difference, including the importance of motherhood for a large majority of women, could be liberating for women, if they only took ownership of it and used it not as a badge of shame, but as a shield.
Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is published by Allen Lane.