Setting Personal Boundaries in the Age of ‘New Ethics’
Psychologists acknowledge that there is no longer any public consensus on gender relations and issues. The HSE Media Practices Centre held a training session on ‘How to Find Common Ground with People Living in the New Ethical Reality,’ in which experts discussed key elements of ‘new ethics’ and their influence on social relationships.
In his opening remarks, Gleb Cherkasov, Director of the Media Practices Centre, highlighted the importance of examining the creation and dissemination of ‘new ethics’, their effect on daily life and their influence on people’s relationships. The speaker—Svetlana Yaroshevskaya, Junior Research Fellow of the Psychological Institute, Russian Academy of Education—explained that ‘new ethics’ refers to the formation of new social norms, primarily in relation to establishing and maintaining personal boundaries. The issue of new social norms needs to be discussed, as there seems to be no public consensus on gender inequality, sexism, violence, harassment, and relations between genders and social groups.
According to Svetlana Yaroshevskaya, the emergence of ‘new ethics’ has shone a spotlight on feminism, gender inequality, the rights of minorities and marginalized groups, and different kinds of social privilege. It also highlights issues in language and linguistic norms, such as the ongoing discussion about the use of gender-specific words and whether gender identity should be reflected in pronouns. Another important aspect of ‘new ethics’ is political correctness—public discourse should avoid causing offence, and speakers are held to greater accountability for their words. Tatiana Solyus, Deputy Dean for Media Relations at the HSE Faculty of Economic Sciences, mentioned a COVID-19 questionnaire in HSE employees’ personal accounts that includes questions formulated using masculine pronouns. ‘In Russian, we traditionally use masculine words when speaking about mixed groups. However, it would be odd if I used masculine terms to refer to myself.’ According to Ms. Solyus, there is increasing debate over the masculinization of language. She believes that people often over-egg the pudding: ‘If you are a well-educated white man, you’re going to have a hard time these days’, she said with a note of irony.
Ms. Yaroshevskaya noted that at the moment, most people have a neutral attitude to ‘new ethics.’
The people who object are mostly radical conservatives who get enraged by discussion of ‘disgraceful’ topics that signify moral decline, or liberals who condemn ‘new totalitarianism’, ‘communism reincarnated’, and infringement of their freedom of expression
Some people have more positive attitudes, although this is mixed with uncertainty. Svetlana Yaroshevskaya believes that it is important to foster a culture of personal welfare and a considerate, safe atmosphere. In her opinion, this shouldn’t be viewed as a threat. Some people may go too far, but new social rules are gradually taking shape. A cohesive ‘new ethics’ has yet to develop, and it is important to assess each of its elements and avoid stigmatization. ‘New ethics’ create new social norms and unspoken rules, and when such changes occur rapidly, it can make some people uncomfortable.
In her opinion, this is similar to historical attempts to retrain left-handers to write with their right hands, which was considered a normal practice until people realized its negative impact on children’s learning capabilities and mental health. There is no hostile intent behind efforts to explain why written and unspoken rules have infringed on the rights of certain groups—such explanations justify the need to abolish certain norms.
Tatiana Solyus believes that issues like mansplaining make it difficult for women to conduct serious negotiations. For instance, whenever a serious discussion begins, some men condescendingly dismiss their female colleagues and discourage them from participating in ‘man talk’. There are some tips to help women in difficult situations—such as what clothes to wear or how to be taken more seriously in conversations.
Svetlana Yaroshevskaya noted that many women have had to fight for their rights in sport and numerous professional fields. While things are changing for the better, women who behave less stereotypically can still be met with negativity. Condescending attitudes mean that women often have to raise their voices, which makes them appear more aggressive and less capable of controlling their emotions than men. In Ms. Yaroshevskaya’s opinion, it is important to alternate between men’s and women’s voices in business meetings to ensure a healthy balance. She believes that new corporate codes of ethics and behaviour aimed at minimizing violations of personal boundaries will help combat sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Replying to a question about whether it is necessary to regulate employees’ verbal behaviour in interpersonal communication or to introduce sanctions for ignoring feminine gender-specific words, Ms. Yaroshevskaya said that the dissemination of ‘new ethics’ does not require serious sanctions or mandatory knowledge of its terminology.
Nobody will be required to memorize the characteristics of harassment and abuse. ‘New ethics’ are highly unlikely to incite rabid lynch mobs to uphold them
The current trend of using new scientific terms borrowed from the English language may make it harder to read Russian texts, but it succeeds in drawing readers’ attention to the problems that advocates of ‘new ethics’ are concerned with, she explained.
Proposed quotas and plans to appoint people to key posts based on race, gender, and other grounds will not jeopardize meritocratic selection. Instead, they will create opportunities for people who have historically been discriminated against and marginalized. Ms. Yaroshevskaya is confident that there is no risk of a new quasi-totalitarian ideology or bitter conflict between opposing sides: ‘Many of the debates occur between activists. Most often, the people having these debates are feminists and those from the LGBT community.’
The discussion also included the participation of Yulia Falkovich, Director of the HSE Centre for Scholarly Integration.