Web Rhetoric: Internet Users Respond to Constance McMillen

Forum post #1: Catholic Answer

April 25th, 2010 · 6 Comments

Another interesting place where dialog has been springing up is web forums. In an effort to find greater insight into arguments supporting the school’s decision to cancel prom, I read a thread in the Catholic Answer forum. I found this post and this post, both created by the same user, to have a particularly interesting thread of argument.

Let me quote a relevant section from post 13:

The school is saying nothing fundamental about the orientation of any student attending the prom, merely enforcing a uniform definition about dates. If Ms. McMillian was hetero but wanted to bring her BFF girlfriend, presumably the school would not allow it either. She is simply implored to respect what the school means by date, like everyone at the prom is expected to do. It (presumably) is not using different definitions for different people, so there is no discrimination.

To clarify: this user is claiming that–by protesting the fact that she can’t bring her girlfriend to prom–Constance is not protesting discrimination; rather, she is trying to prescribe her definition of “date” on the school board.

According to the poster, the school was enforcing a uniform definition about dates: that dates are of the opposite gender. The school would not allow Constance to bring someone of the same gender even if she were heterosexual; they were enforcing this rule regardless of sexual preferences. Constance was merely expected to respect the school’s definition of “date”–just like everyone else. The school is not discriminating because it isn’t using “different definitions for different people.”

This argument is actually a syllogistic argument. A conclusion–that the school was not discriminating–is inferred from a set of premises. One can actually reduce the entire argument to the following syllogism:

Discrimination involves enforcing different word definitions for different people.
The school board was consistent in the way that it defined “date” for every student.
Therefore, the school was not discriminating.

Recognizing this, the next step would be to analyze that validity of the premises and determine whether the conclusion does, indeed, logically follow from them. One potential way to attack this argument would be to argue that discrimination does not have to involve “enforcing different word definitions for different people.” One example of another definition can be found here. For instance: “Indirect discrimination occurs when a policy or procedure which appears to treat everyone equally has the effect of disadvantaging certain groups and the requirement is not reasonable. Indirect discrimination occurs when a neutral, or seemingly harmless, policy, rule or practice has a discriminatory effect against a certain group of people.”

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1    Dr. J // May 6, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    I think Constance’s case counts as both indirect and direct discrimination. If Constance were male, she would be able to take her girlfriend to the prom. So in that sense it is sex discrimination, pure and simple.

    But it is interesting to see people using definition arguments (to go back to our stasis theory discussion from class). Discrimination is an interesting one, because people have such different definitions of the term, often based on a different ideas of fairness, equality, and sameness.

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  • 4    Makenna Cairns // Apr 3, 2011 at 3:19 am

    Wouldn’t this only be applicable in the States?

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