#Genderweek – What is Gender?

R7J4qR1398783935(This was meant to go up yesterday)

Feminist Times is having a Gender Week event, with the hashtag #genderweek but predictably the only gender they seem to really be interested in is women. Gender issues, however, affect both genders, male and female, in various ways so I felt it important to have an alternative, reasonable voice speaking from a men’s perspective.

So then, if we’re talking about gender, what even is gender?

And please, read the whole damn thing through before commenting or being outraged.

I prefer hard science and tend not to like parochial neologisms which only confuse people when they interact with the ‘real world’ so I take a harder, scientific and medical view of these kinds of matters. That means I take the scientific, biological and medical definition of gender. That is, the gender binary (male, female) that you fall into given your chromosomes and the resulting gametes, morphology etc.

Within those parochial gender studies groups and related fields, there’s a concerted attempt to redefine the term gender to mean gender identity and sex to mean biological gender, but I prefer to use qualifiers as I think it retains the proper meaning and makes things more clear, rather than less.

Some believe gender identity is entirely a social construct (male and female associated behaviours being spun out of convention and tradition rather than anything innate).

Some believe gender identity is more innate, stemming from biology and associated brain structures, hormone levels, sexual dimorphism and so on.

Personally I reject both extremes and think it’s somewhere in the middle, at least for the bulge in the bell curve. It seems ridiculous to me to think that human beings are somehow the only binary-gendered species on Earth where behaviour etc is not as divergent as our bodies. Social roles and expectations also play a role that should not be ignored but we seem built and pre-programmed with tendencies that transcend culture, something that suggests a biological basis.

Where this goes tits-up is when you get to transsexuals and intersex conditions. While neither of these are of any relevance to the debate when talking about normal gender expression (normal in the sense of majority, commonality etc) these are the far ends of the bell curve and where we start having problems.

Biologically intersex conditions are still either male or female (look them up) but their bodies etc may grow more female or more male and this may be at odds with their ‘on board software’ or their chromosomes. It’s a case-by-case basis and very hard to know what’s best for the child at a young age.

Transsexuals are a bigger problem and the source – apparently – of a great deal of conflict within feminism, with a wing of radical feminism insisting that transsexuals are not real women/men and in reverse, transsexuals claiming that they are. I can see aspects of both sides that make sense, but the venom involved doesn’t seem to make sense at all. Why would anyone turn away allies?

Now, I don’t really know how to characterise gender dysphoria and with friends who are trans or who are on their road to transition I’d rather not upset them, but I think it’s pretty much impossible to avoid. As a sufferer from mental illness (depression) I acknowledge that mental issues are real and that it’s not necessarily ‘all in your head’ and can be linked with many other things. If I could undergo an operation to cure my depression I would. People with gender dysphoria have the option to have surgery and hormone treatments to better fit their body to their internal image of self. The question is then, whether this is pathological (as in anorexia, cosmetic surgery addiction etc) or not and again, that seems to me to be a case-by case thing.

The fact, however, remains that you cannot change your biology. No matter what operations you have, what hormones you take, what clothes you wear or mannerisms you adopt, you will always still be your biological gender. At least until we develop Culture level technology allowing for a true and absolute gender transition.

Therein, I think, lies the rub between trans groups and trans-excluding feminists. Trans people accept the concept of gender identity in that they adopt one and they do so in a performative and transformative way. So being female is something that can be ‘adopted’, despite not sharing formative female experiences and biology. On the other side trans people consider themselves to be and live as their new gender.

For my part, I would say you can’t change your actual gender but that your chosen gender identity should still be respected. I would also say that men, women or anything in between shouldn’t be excluded from participating in feminism (or men’s rights for that matter, or anything else). It makes no sense to me that a movement would set out to alienate its allies or that movements purporting to be for inclusion and rights would exclude people who want to join the fight.

There are those who want to abolish gender as a concept, but I cannot see that as useful or helpful so long as most people seem to get on fine within those roles and expectations. Acceptance and understanding doesn’t necessitate eliminating something most people are happy with. I don’t think you could even if you tried anyway because, right at the very root of it all, the beginning spark of gender role is biological gender.

It’s just not the be all and end all.

4 responses to “#Genderweek – What is Gender?

  1. I disagree, probably with everyone.

    Your definition of gender, though you may prefer it, is a head-in-the-sand approach that denies genetic and biological evidence, and even the everyday use of the word, which aligns more closely to psychological usage.

    “the gender binary (male, female) that you fall into given your chromosomes and the resulting gametes, morphology etc.” is not a definition of gender. First, it is circular, but more importantly it imposes a false binary onto something that is not binary. Further, that “etc” contains the brain’s psychology, which you seek to define away. But it’s not going anywhere.

    The chromosomes alone tell you that gender is not a binary, because not everyone falls into the XX or XY bucket (XXY for example). Indeed some rare XX people are male (and are not trans. Look it up).

    I strongly disapprove of term “gender identity” (even while some trans activists promote it) because it assumes that the person is really just making it up — that’s it’s like clothing or a mask that can be chosen. But that’s not the case for a large number of people whose gender does not match their sex.

    I don’t like the term “biological gender” because it is ALL necessarily biological. You may agree with me at least on that point. The brain is biological.

    It’s long past overdue that the “hard” sciences accepted what the evidence is actually saying. Not every creature is male or female. Chromosomes do not, by themselves, determine sex. Sex does not determine gender. Using terminology that reinforces these erroneous assumptions is out of date.

    The gender binary has a lot in common with Newtonian gravity. It looked mostly right at the time. But when you examine the full range of the evidence, the model is not the best fit.

    • The genetic and biological evidence is what supports my continued use of the medical and biological definition.

      XXY is male, XX manifests as male due to transferred genes and instructions from the Y chromosome, so ultimately that too is male due to male genes. Not that these outlier cases are really that relevant to the main conversation.

      I think people see what they want to see and because social and psychological fields are not an exact science (It’s not even science!) people can read into them what they want.

  2. When it comes to trans people vs. TERFs, I find it impossible not to take sides. I find it hard to understand why anyone with a shred of empathy can stay neutral.

    On one side, leaving aside semantic arguments over the meaning of the words “sex” and “gender” , you have trans women wanting the right to indentify as women.

    On the other, you have people saying things like “Appropriating the identity of women is an act of rape”. (Yes, someone really did say that). Transparently obvious that these TERFs are just old-fashioned bigots. No idea if anyone takes their seriously, or whether it’s a tiny circle-jerking clique. I notice they have very few Twitter followers.

    Trans people are not theoretical abtractions. The are people.

    • And they are people demanding access to ‘female spaces’. How can WBW differentiate genuine transwomen from what tumblr calls ‘transtrenders’?

      I don’t understand why TERFs would want to exclude allies, nor do I understand why transfeminists can’t grok where TERFs are coming from.

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