Sunday, 16 April 2017

Is the Big Book sexist and does it matter?

The chapters 'To Wives' and 'The Family Afterward' presume that the alcoholic is male and the head of the family. The presentation of ideas and language used (specifically 'he' etc.) reflects this.

This was an accurate reflection of the membership of AA in 1939 and an accurate reflection of the structure of American society in 1939.

Is AA different and is society different now? Yes. Is it better that women are in AA? Obviously. It is better that women are emancipated and that there is greater equality between the sexes? I think so, and most would agree in western society. There are many cultures round the world where society does not reflect the current western model, however.

Is there a problem with the Big Book? I don't think so.

Firstly, part of the virtue of tolerance is to accept that different ages and different cultures have different sets of values. I cannot presume to impose my culture and values on others. It is particularly unfair to retrospectively condemn a prior culture and to dismiss what it has to say in general because one particular set of values or norms inherent in that culture differs from mine.

Secondly, I have intelligence and imagination. When I am reading the Big Book, I can be tolerant of the fact that the culture and values were different, and take any description of the alcoholic husband and alanonic wife and children to represent any constellation of individuals where one is alcoholic and the rest are not, regardless of sex, gender, age, or orientation. With the use of intelligence and imagination, I can extract the principles underlying the material and not get floored by the fact that I hold different values.

Sometimes people want to rewrite the Big Book to reflect modern, western, liberal values.

Firstly, this is not necessary, if tolerance, intelligence, and imagination are exercised, as above.

Secondly, this is presumptuous, because, whilst a revised Big Book might stop alienating some cultures, a politically correct version might equally alienate others. Who am I to say that my modern, western, liberal values trump all others? Do we need a different Big Book for every single culture, for every single set of values? A modern, western, liberal Big Book would be great. But we'd also need to rewrite it for orthodox or ultra-orthodox Jews, for ultra-orthodox Christian Russian nationalists, for tribes in South America with barely any contact with modern civilisation, and for Islamic societies where women are indeed treated very differently: in fact, the Big Book would probably be viewed in places as far too liberal by many cultures around the world.

Rather than rewriting the Big Book for every possible culture and set of values, and having to rewrite it every time the culture changes or values are updated, we could just adjust ourselves to what is: the document is a document of its time and place, and it takes little skill to overlook the differences between that culture and this, their values and ours, and to see that 99.9% of the material is universal to all cultures and applicable under any circumstances.

In fact, the call for a rewrite has already been answered in the form of the plethora of AA literature that has been published over the last few decades, and in particular the avowed aim of the stories which are reselected and rewritten with every new addition, to reflect changes in society and broadening of our membership.

1 comment:

Jim said...

I wasn't sure whether to say this, but there is of course the "EZ Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous" (available for Kindle for as little as £3.47) which purports to be "written in a style that’s friendly to readers of any gender, race, or spiritual path".