By Georgette Eaton
This issue of Canadian Paramedicine raises different voices. Voices that have, historically, not dominated paramedicine. Last year’s inaugural issue sought to raise awareness of the inequity of gender within our profession, and bigger rifts for underrepresented groups who identify as non-binary, BME or with a disability. In this issue, these voices call for action. These narratives are important, as are the way in which they are constructed. Doubtless, some of these narratives will deal with values, ideals, behaviours and morals central to the author. This is because they will have been written in tune, and within the context, of their individual weltanschauung, their philosophy of life. So, it is important that attention is given to the language from which these narratives are constructed.
Some of this language is bound to be strong, because these narratives will be asserting themselves against a masculine bias present in traditional narratives, ethics and discourse. This bias has been ingrained in traditional philosophical western ethical thinking, which has focused on and prioritized the experiences and values of men. Today, in 2020, this may not be overt; but this bias still exists through the lack of attention to certain interests and experiences deemed to be ‘feminine’, rather than explicit denigration of them. We can change these narratives.
We can reformate these narratives to ensure that female experiences and values are regarded equally as worthy of respect as male experiences and values. But this does not require an overtly feminine voice, else this will only seek to compound a gendered argument – there will continue to be moral voices that are shy, suppressed and omitted from public discussion. There is complementarity and necessity of all “voices”. And so, this current imbalance of voice needs to change, and this can change with our ethical perspective; after all, ethics represents the system of principles that assists in decision making.
Whilst many branches of ethics argue for equity, only feminist ethics offers a neutral language as central tenant to its outlook. Despite what the name may suggest, this is neither a branch of ethics, nor one that is only open to those who identify as female. Instead, feminist ethics looks to understand, challenge and correct how gender operates within our moral beliefs and practices. Its ethos remains in ‘traditional feminism’ – a doctrine advocating social, political and all other rights for equality. However, it should be said from the outset that there is no univocal definition of feminism, nor of feminist ethics. Although there are common concerns, many feminist ethicists have different focuses, not to mention internal disagreements on specific stances. Regardless, the overall goal remains the same: to change ethics for the better by improving ethical theorizing and offering better approaches to issues including those involving gender. It offers a much more neutral, non-binary language and seeks to demonstrate the moral significance of areas of human experience that have generally been excluded from the realm of moral significance in traditional ethics. Whilst it may have originally emerged into ethical theorizing by correcting biases which lead to the subordination of women, feminist ethics is not limited to gendered issues. The insights of feminist ethics are often applicable to analyses of moral experiences that share features with gendered issues, or those that reflect the intersection of gender with other bases of oppression, such as gender-identity, sexuality, ethnicity, social class and disability. Those characteristics that are protected within Human Rights legislation. This gives voice to the shy, the suppressed, and those omitted from public discussion – those who have not traditionally ‘fit’ within a patriarchal culture, which has existed in emergency medical services globally since their inception.
It is time that these voices are heard, and their narratives are embraced. Undoubtedly, this will result in uncomfortable reading for some. Empowering these voices will challenge the privileges historically available to men and highlight oppressive social orders or practices that have harmed, and continue to harm, others. Historically, this may have centred on girls and women who have been subordinated. We author this issue as a female majority to raise the female voice within academic paramedicine. Looking beyond a binary definition of gender, this may now encompass all those whose voices may have historically been, or continue to be, silenced. Telling these stories by grounding moral theorizing in personal narratives through a lens of feminist ethics will not only motivate a deeper understanding and development of moral thinking in ways that are inclusive of contextualities and situatedness, but also highlight where inequity continues to exist. It will allow issues of domination, exclusion, gross power differentials, oppression and sexism to be recognised and addressed, both theoretically and practically. And, by offering these narratives in a more neutral language, we do not continue the cycle of gender-orientated discourse.
Our voices are strong. Our stories are powerful. We are in the fortunate position where we can ensure our narratives, our experiences as women in paramedicine, can practically change structures which have historically marginalised social practices. Indeed, Women in Canadian Paramedicine offers an inclusive space within which to negotiate our moral understandings as women in the profession. Accepting that inequity between female and male roles within paramedicine currently exist, and exist more so for those from culturally underrepresented groups, is the first step. Understanding and challenging these inequities develops our moral reasoning and begins to address the divides this may cause. So, speak up. Tell your story. Changing the narrative starts with us.