From Gender Agnostic (click for the story).
Gender is a social construct which creates a hierarchy composed of two rigid categories, men and women. Like all hierarchies, it aims to impose systemic coercion and exploitation, directed by one group (men) against another group (women). It does so through violence, bigotry and prejudice.
Like all forms of bigotry, gender has to be justified by “objective” research or systems of thought. I’ve examined these justifications in the case of racism. The gender hierarchy shares many of these methods: evolutionary psychology is a good case in point. But any institution or ideology which seeks to preserve the status quo will generally be both racist and genderist.
I’m not making a point about intersectionality here (which is a controversial concept in radical feminism, anyway). Race and gender are both social constructs about individual identities, and thus the way people defend them are similar simply because of that. The same is true of money (in defense of drastic inequality and capitalism in general) and nationality (in defense of our bigoted discourse on “immigration” and war). The basis for believing in such things is especially flimsy, and therefore our institutions require a great deal of propaganda to defend them.
Because there is such a volume of propaganda dedicated to defending or enforcing gender, a lot of it is egregiously bad. I actually started to write this entry because of a particular study. The study in question presented child rhesus monkeys with various toys, such as toy trucks and human dolls, and supposedly showed that females were interested in both types of toys while males were only interested in the trucks.
Now, I have no qualms with the study itself: I have not read any analysis of it, and that’s not my point anyhow. What was irksome was that this was widely presented by the ignorant and elitist media as proof of gender roles. But obviously the study does not, and cannot, provide proof of gender roles in monkeys. Gender roles are socially constructed preferred behaviors which are transmitted as conditioned behavior. Obviously the rhesus monkeys could not be constructing and transmitting preferred behaviors about toys which they have never had in their possession before!
Whatever is happening in their brains, if something is really happening, could be sex dependent, but it can’t be gender dependent. Now I am not saying that rhesus monkeys have no gender roles, as I don’t know the answer to that question, but if they do, this study is not evidence of it.
Most of the common arguments for gender are not nearly this sophisticated. People believe gender exists because it is self-evident: why, just look around you! There are men, and there are women, and they act in ways prescribed by masculinity and femininity. Sure, they’ll admit that there are exceptions, but those are considered unimportant or really signs of the opposite gender, such as gay men being seen as feminine. This of course is a consequence of the gender binary.
From this we can observe that gender, like all other social constructs, operates in the world as a self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a proposition or concept which becomes only true because people believe in it and act on that belief. Experiments have proven that, for example, females being worse than males at mathematics is a false assertion, but the fact that a mathematics teacher believes it will cause that teacher to pay more attention to the male students, and thus fulfill the prophecy.
Another form this can take is stereotype threat, a psychological phenomenon where the presence of an implicit or explicit stereotype greatly lowers performance. For example, men and women do equally well in mathematics, but when stereotype threat is raised (such as telling women that they would not perform as well as men), women vastly underperform men. Interestingly, when the concept and effect of stereotype threat is explained to women before the test, the difference disappears again.
So the gender prophecy (that women are inferior to men) is fulfilled both externally (through the expectations of others) and internally (through the stress inflicted by stereotypes about oneself).
But what about traits which are not related to performance, such as modes of dress, attitudes, and so on? Well the answer is again pretty obvious: we follow these traits because we’ve been conditioned to do so, and because not conforming can entail harsh penalties, depending on one’s life situation. We are not free to be who we really are; we are gender-bound. And as waittheysaidwhat pointed out in the comments, women are not only conditioned by penalties but also by psychological rewards for conforming, which is all part of the mental trap we’re talking about here.
Because of the confusion between sex and gender, people also sometimes take the consequences of sex as proof of the existence of gender. The biological differences between males and females may entail some behavioral preferences, but those behavioral preferences are not thereby gender.
I’ve already discussed the newest form of genderist argument, “gender identity.”
Are there any good reasons to think that gender should be perpetuated? I don’t think so. I think it fairly obvious that an ideal society would have a high degree of androgyny (i.e. mixing of gender criteria), because gender roles (like all other hierarchies) are contrary to freedom and equality.
Some people, who reject gender roles as a concept but still want to cling to the categories, decry androgyny as being homogenizing. But they have it exactly backwards: it is fixed gender categories that are homogenizing. People look and talk the same because they have to conform to their gender roles; if people had the freedom to adopt any mix of characteristics, then we’d have no reason to expect homogenizing.
At the very best, we can say that gender can provide a starting point for introspection and self-identification: but even for that we don’t need gender per se. All we need is some esthetic floating abstraction of “man” and “woman” which we can use as a reference, much like how we label paintings expressionist or surrealist without thereby implying any judgment about which is superior. This has no more connection to gender than the scientific analysis of DNA in terms of geographical area has to do with racism.