50 Comments

FAQ: if “gender is a social construct”, aren’t feminists saying that gender doesn’t really exist at all?

Updated 21 August 2008

A: NO. Social constructs are human conceptions, invented but not therefore imaginary (unless one thinks that social consequences are imaginary). Social constructs are human systems of social interaction organised around shared ideas. The shared ideas may be true, false or inaccurate, but the socially constructed systems that have developed in response to those shared ideas are very, very real.

Where has this confusion arisen? I suspect because people assume that “construct” means “made up” as in “imagined” or “fantasy”. Constructed merely means artificial, and “artificial” is the opposite of “natural”, not the opposite of “real”. (After all, anyone reading this on a computer is living a very artificial life compared to the natural life of hunter-gatherers on the savannah.) The artificial aspect of social constructs is that we have manufactured these systems of expectations and obligations in response to certain ideas, ideas that are often arbitrary and which can vary between cultures, rather than any particular social construct being an inevitable development based on human nature pure and simple.

N.B. The following is going to be snarkier than usual, because this one is gobsmacking (although my snark is aimed at antagonists proclaiming their superior logic rather than genuine seekers after information). Social constructs can be confusing to wrap one’s head around because social roles and expectations are the elephants in the room that most people are unwilling to ask questions about, so why do some people insist on claiming that they’ve killed the gender elephant when in fact they’ve only just noticed that it’s got large ears?

Often people who claim to have superior logic skills are using this or similar questions about social constructs to frame some allegedly devastating argument against various aspects of progressive thought. For crying out loud, I’m amazed that sentient individuals could have quite such a large dose of EPIC FAIL in the clue-catching department as to claim “AHA!! Gotcha, you gender warriors! Take that!” without a glimmering of understanding that just because social constructs are physical/biological fictions doesn’t stop them being undeniable sociological facts. Dictionaries are your friend, for a start.

List of social constructs off the top of my head:

  • Money
  • Land as property
  • Religion
  • Race
  • Politics
    • party politics even more so
  • Capitalism/Communism/the ism of your choice
  • Marriage
  • Nations
  • Justice systems/legislation
  • Social Status
    • i.e. royalty, aristocracy, bourgeoisie, proletariat (upper/middle/lower class)
  • Slavery
  • Fashion
  • Sport

Gender is socially instilled rather than biologically determined, but so is religion. These conceptual systems are still real phenomena that affect people’s lives, even if they have nothing to do with our essential biology. Anyone wish to try asserting ownership of your own home in a place without a social construct of property laws or a justice system? You won’t have anything other than your brawn to back it up.

Social constructs exist because people are acculturated to a shared tradition/belief/convention that such constructs are meaningful systems. It is the multiple intersections of social constructs that institutionalise people’s perceived social roles.

The nature of social constructs that is most important for feminism (and other progressive ‘isms) is that social constructs are malleable rather than inherently fixed, and historians have documented the way that socially constructed systems in the past have regularly modify their shared beliefs (divine right of kings, anyone?) in response to changes in circumstances that challenge old conventions (including new ideas). Therefore by deconstruction and persuasion with respect to the logic of new ideas existing social constructs can be modified now and in the future (although there may be a great deal of social inertia to overcome along the way).

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writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

50 comments on “FAQ: if “gender is a social construct”, aren’t feminists saying that gender doesn’t really exist at all?

  1. “FAQ: if feminism is a social construct, aren’t feminists saying that gender doesn’t really exist at all?”

    Shouldn’t the words “feminism” and “gender” be switched around in the post title there? As it stands, it’s a bit puzzling. ( “Gender” in the second half of the sentence could also be replaced by other terms like “misogyny”, “sexism”, “patriarchy”, things that feminists are challenging)

    Great and very necessary FAQ btw.

  2. Arrrgh, you are entirely right – i was so busy redrafting the post that I forgot to double-check the heading. Oops. Fixed now.

  3. Great post! I hear a lot of people misunderstanding this one.

  4. I believe it was Noel Ignatiev who once said Race is a biological fiction but a sociological fact. I think the same could be said for gender.

    Another way to think of it is in physical terms. A building is a construct. But it exists. It doesn’t have to exist. But it does exist because people created the building. Likewise, gender doesn’t have to exist, but it does exist because people created gender.

    [ubuntucat, I've ended up paraphrasing that quote for the update of this FAQ, it's just so apt. Thankyou ~tigtog]

  5. It constantly surprises me when otherwise very intelligent and even pro-feminist people don’t get the sex/gender distinction, and especially that the gender-concepts of masculinity and femininity are only traditionally aligned with sexual dimorphism.

    I have reasonable success with “Sex is the biological fact that only menmales have sperm and only womenfemales bear offspring. Gender is the social expectation that all women love shoes and all men love sports.” Way oversimplified on the range of biological sex of course, and dealing only with very superficial gender characteristics, but it usually makes a few light-bulbs go off – that the major differences between feminine and masculine are social expectations rather than biological imperatives.

    Of course many or even most people tend to fall in line with the social role that is expected of them, and that they have been conditioned to all their lives (girls do X, boys do Y, those who don’t are suspect). That’s what social acculturation is all about – the rebels in any society are always a minority. But rebels are the driving force for progress, always.

  6. ubuntucat, your comment appeared while I was composing mine. That’s a great quote.

  7. Bravo, this post was really needed!

  8. I wish everyone would read this. This is an excellent post.

  9. Trackback:“Deconstructing Transgenderism” psssst your cis-privilege is showing…

    “There were many great posts in that Carnival, but mAndrea’s was not one of them and I want to be perfectly clear that I in no way support her views. And I’m appalled that the host allecto would call it “a fun…topic”. It’s also interesting to note, that basically her entire premise (quoted for the Carnival post) is based on a faulty understanding of feminist gender theory, and was just today debunked by Feminism 101.”

  10. “Sex is the biological fact that only men have sperm and only women bear offspring. Gender is the social expectation that all women love shoes and all men love sports.”

    I read an article called Doing Gender (West & Zimmerman; couldn’t find an online version) that I thought was pretty good… the authors suggest that sex is your medical community’s interpretation of your sex organs (which I think nods to non-binary gender and the sort of constructedness of how we see the body); sex category is which of your society’s understood sexes you identify with (so, cisgendered women and transwomen are both sex category female); and gender is what you do to convince society that’s what you are. ; )

  11. Whoa. This is the first post I’ve read on this blog and… we have a winner. Brilliantly put!

  12. Thanks for the compliments, all. Sometimes the posts one dashes off in a fit of pique seem to get the strongest reaction.

    I’d encourage people to read Jaded Hippy’s post that is trackbacked above: the other post she is criticising there is a prime example of misrepresenting the gender-as-a-social-construct argument in order to manufacture a gotcha against progressive arguments for tolerance and pluralism (in order to spew transphobic bile). Feminists can be bigots too.

  13. Hi folks. Could I ask for more on how this relates to trans…gender(?) issues?
    From reading the post Jaded Hippy mentions, and this link I found in the Open Suggestions thread(http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2008/03/trans_101), it sounds as though there is a third component here, which they refer to as “subconcious sex”, distinct from ‘sex’ since it’s not based on anatomy, and from ‘gender’ because it’s not socially defined?

    Thanks,
    Hugh.

  14. [...] Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog: FAQ: if “gender is a social construct,” aren’t femin… “For crying out loud, I’m amazed that sentient individuals could have quite such a large dose of EPIC FAIL in the clue-catching department” [...]

  15. i think the confusion lies at the distinction between sex and gender. some people interchange the two.

    also, i have read / heard the opinions of radical feminists who are anti-transmen/women because they feel it enforces a sex dichotomy they don’t agree exists. that’s where i think you get into some thorny issues. because there are biological differences between men and women. that’s just a fact – otherwise who are we even talking about when we talk about women? if we’re therefore talking about anyone who occupies the role of oppressed based on their gender expression in society, aren’t we still including transmen / women?

    i think this issue is really more complex among feminists than this post implies. and btw, as someone reading this with an earnest desire to learn about the basics of feminism, and who read this post with particular interest because it *is* something that at times has been difficult to grasp, it’s not very helpful for the post to begin with, “if you don’t get this, i can’t believe how stupid you are.”

    if we *did* get it, why would we be reading feminism 101???

  16. btw, as someone reading this with an earnest desire to learn about the basics of feminism, and who read this post with particular interest because it *is* something that at times has been difficult to grasp, it’s not very helpful for the post to begin with, “if you don’t get this, i can’t believe how stupid you are.”

    if we *did* get it, why would we be reading feminism 101???

    Immediately before I say that, I point out that the EPIC FAIL is aimed at those who are claiming that their superior logic has shot a great hole in a fundamental feminist theory, not just people who are a bit confused:

    (although my snark is aimed at antagonists proclaiming their superior logic rather than genuine seekers after information)

    I’m willing to bold it and add an extra clause noting that yes, it can be a genuinely confusing topic, but the various posters who inspired the admittedly ranty tone of that line fully deserve that and worse.

    I certainly don’t want to gratuitously offend genuine seekers after knowledge, but this blog is primarily a place to debunk pernicious stereotypes and misrepresentations of feminists and feminist arguments. This is not a place for coddling the easily offended.

  17. I think it really helps to stop interchanging the terms male/man and female/woman. Male and female represent biology/anatomy whereas man and woman are more indicative of forms of gender expression.

  18. Agreed, that’s another important distinction which people often simply don’t see.

    Edited to add - and I’ve updated my own comment above where I made the same lazy error.

  19. Is language another example of a social construct? What about mathematics?

    Also, when you refer to gender as a social construct, does that mean that it has been artificially imposed?

    • People have been debating whether mathematics is a construct for more than 2,000 years. In a nutshell, one side of the argument says that the way numbers interact is inherent, the other that without people around to provide a framework mathematics wouldn’t exist. My own opinion is that both are kind of correct, but I think one side is trying to define the discipline of studying numbers, whilst the other a property of the universe.

      Language is a social construct. Without shared rules language doesn’t work. Furthermore most languages are organic – dictionaries don’t define words they just record their consensus usage. This is where the ‘social’ part comes in – society shapes these languages. A rigid language unable to be altered would still be a construct, but I wouldn’t call it a social construct.

      As an aside, many people are fond of saying mathematics is a language; I disagree. The discipline of mathematics has a language of its own but if we accept that the interaction of numbers is an inherent property of the universe then that is no more a language than Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism. The idea that math is a language I think is perpetuated as a way to try and get more girls into maths without breaking the stereotype that men are good at sciences and women at humanities. It’s perpetuation IMO comes from a base of recognition of gender inequality, but incomprehension of the nature of the problem. These people see that women and men don’t have equal status, but fail to recognise that it is the societal definition of women and men – in this case as good at humanities and sciences respectively – that creates the inequality in the first place.

  20. Thank you for the post. I was looking for more information on feminism because of bigoted remarks on other blogs. I was wondering if those thoughts ran through the feminist community at large. I’m glad to see that they don’t.

  21. Is language another example of a social construct? What about mathematics?

    Language is very much a social construct. Over history languages have evolved and adapted according to social changes around the speakers of that language, which is reflected in the words they use most commonly and the way that they emphasise the sounds of those words.

    Mathematical theorems are ultimately descriptions of naturally occurring phenomena, but the notation and language we use to describe them are socially constructed, as is the way that we teach and study maths.

    Also, when you refer to gender as a social construct, does that mean that it has been artificially imposed?

    Gender is the social expectations we have of people because of their perceived biological sex. Though biological sex is a natural phenomenon, specific gender expectations are culturally imposed (trivially obvious because different cultures have distinctly different gender expectations). How much of culture is natural and how much is artificial I leave you to ponder.

  22. But women hold onto many of these ‘Social constructs’ based on thier sex, as they see fit too, and try to dismiss the ones they don’t like.

    Like chivalry, why is this construct still suppported by women? Doesn’t it go against everything feminists belive in?

    I’ll bet my bottom dollar, if we were all on a sinking ship, the feminists would be the first to yell “Women and children first!”

    You cannot pick and choose, we either live in a completly politically correct society, or we don’t, period!

  23. Unfortunately, not all women are feminists, Dutch. Tradition is a hard thing to change.

    On a sinking ship, this feminist would in fact be yelling “Children and their carers first”. That society is structured so that most of those carers would be women is exactly the problem with rigid gender roles. My own belief is that society would be a far more pleasant place if as many men as women took on primary carer responsibility with their children.

  24. Oh and chivalry – I despise every atom of the entire concept. Since I was a teen I paid my own way on dates, I refused to have an engagement ring and much more besides.

    So perhaps your assumptions as to feminist views on these things are not exactly accurate?

  25. Dutch, wherever did you get the idea that this is an either/or society? Or that it could be?

    When I’m reading/teaching/thinking about any kind of cultural myth or stereotype, I notice that most kinds of social beliefs about gender/race/class/etc. are utterly contradictory in their logic. Examples of nonsensical* beliefs that drive these prejudices:
    -women are naturally nurturing and caring. But, they should not be allowed to care for their own bodies (let the medical and legal communities do that.)
    -Men are inherently visual creatures. But, interior decorating, cosmetics, fashion design, etc. are “feminine” occupations. (inspired the male gaze thread!)
    -Racism doesn’t exist. But it’s no accident that most criminals are black.

    I could go on and on. We’re surrounded by, shaped by, and conditioned by contradictions and illogic. It’s not at all surprising that as self-aware folks try to disentangle themselves from this conditioning, they often encounter or have to take positions that are not either/or. You can believe that men and women are equal, but know that men and women often have fundamentally different experiences and roles in the imperfect world that made them.

    *implying, obviously, I don’t believe any of those things myself.

  26. This FAQ has just been updated to improve clarity.

  27. there is a difference of how society views and constructs gender and how individuals do. to society regardless of our biology we are viewed as male, female or sometime something in between.

  28. To the commentor in moderation: please read the Comments Policy regarding acceptable/unacceptable length of comments on this blog.

    If you feel that you cannot do your argument full justice in a briefer comment you might be better off blogging your comment as a post on your own blog and just linking to it with a brief summary comment here.

  29. Ran into a related question/assumption today, which is something like “so, ‘gender’ is about traditional male/female roles, right?”

    And I’m not quite sure what to say except “it’s a lot more complicated, and also people’s gender identification is part of their identity, and it will bug a lot of people if you construct gender as a spectrum with ‘traditional male behaviour’ at one end and ‘traditional female behaviour’ at the other.”

    I guess a short answer is “gender is about all social constructions of femaleness/maleness, not solely ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘traditional’ ones that we’ve moved past.”

  30. I think that it is [ableist slur redacted] to assume 100% of gender is a social construct!!! I’d suggest that quite alot of evidence would suggest the converse. Most people, looking back to their past, will discover their gender orientation was asserted before puberty. On the otherhand, people often “liked” activities not specific to what society required of their gender.

    The problem is that people make ASSUMPTIONS about what gender roles are in a society. Many of these are cultural. Some of them have a cultural AND a biological component. For example, some maternal instints are reinforced by oxytocerin which is a chemical produced in the brain. Women get more this during for example breast feeding …

    Race, to the extent it is well defined, is biological. Black people are better able to physically withstand the sun. Denying this is silly. Race should NOT be confused with CULTURE. Some populations have better resistance to certain diseases and are more subseptible to others. for example, descendants of American slaves, aka Afro-Americans have a higher risk of hypertension.

    Racial conflict is conditioned.

    • ricky, do you understand the distinction between biological “sex” and “gender”? Do you understand what the term “social construct” actually means?

      When you are talking about biological components to our behaviours that is our sexual anatomy and physiology – our physicality. Gender is a social role: social expectations of our behaviour which are based around the physical variance of our sexual organs.

      Gender prejudices are conditioned in exactly the same way as racial and class prejudices. That is what social constructs are – taking an observable difference between groups, generalising to form stereotypes of the groups, and expecting groups to conform to the stereotypes (and often punishing them when they do not).

      Social constructs could not exist without some sort of observable difference to use as a base, so asserting that “there are too differences between X and Y” is totally missing the point of what a social construct is.

  31. For the record, I’m male but some of my views are feminist ones, depending on how dogmatic one’s definition of feminism might be.

    I’d prefer to say that I’m a social liberal.

  32. Hello again.

    Quick presentation: white (Chilean), 90% heterosexual, able, male. Yes, a lot of annoying non-earned privileges. I have been becoming conscious of them for 3 months now if my memory serves me right and it has been confusing and weird.

    I am still learning of course, hoping to become a competent ally or feminist (whatever name pleases or finds more deserving the oppressed group).

    By the way I am not a native speaker, therefore apologies if I say someting grammatically or spelled wrong.

    I have a question about your response to Ricky (I am seeking clarification):

    “For example, some maternal instincts are reinforced by oxytocerin (Oxytocin actually) which is a chemical produced in the brain”

    You said:

    “When you are talking about biological components to our behaviours that is our sexual anatomy and physiology – our physicality. Gender is a social role: social expectations of our behaviour which are based around the physical variance of our sexual organs.”

    Ricky mentioned the hormone because it seems it would be relevant into social behavior. The hormone triggers a more caring, sensible behavior into the woman, which would then justify the mother role presumably.

    Now, I know there is a lot of individual variation (women leaving babies for example; the hormone since to have no effect here) and I also know that one must tread carefully, and be wary, of reducing social activity and behavior to micro-biology (hormones, cells) or physics (atoms behavior, etc.).

    I have another question too.

    Some forums discussions I have read write, to prove me the veracity of the traditional roles, that is, to give as a proof that in fact the people in the wrong are the feminist and that the roles are justified, the past 2000 years prevalence of them. They say something like: “look, how come these roles have existed in all cultures, eh, eh!? Surely not all cultures could have thought to put women in the same housewife and mother role, eh!?”

    I do have evidence to the contrary (Zinn 1st chapter of “People’s History…”), but I wonder if you could give me a more interesting and different answer to that popular forum claim :P.

    • > Ricky mentioned the hormone because it seems it would be relevant into social behavior.

      Males also produce higher levels of oxytocin and prolactin in response to a newborn. It is nature’s way of ensuring safety of weak hapless newborn.

      So if you are male and truly are the family type of male, your hormone levels will go up too along with your wife’s hormone levels when she has a baby. And that will result in a social behavior of caring for your baby.

      The social behavior enforced by society then is that the “man” will go work, leaving the “woman” at home to care for the baby.

      During the early stone age, when agriculture and domestication were the means of life, males and females participated equally in chores. It was modern civilization that created the dichotomy between social behaviors of males and females, thereby creating the strict binary concepts of genders.

      > to prove me the veracity of the traditional roles, that is, to give as a proof that in fact the people in the wrong are the feminist and that the roles are justified, the past 2000 years prevalence of them.

      Weird sentence construction, but I get your point. For any generalized hypothesis, I only need to show evidence of one example to prove your generalization wrong.

      It is not true that all civilizations have the same gender roles.

      Women are heads of households even today in several communities in the state of Kerala in India. This custom has been prevalent for thousands of years. As a result, women had a 100% literacy rate in the state prior to men, along with the best health care, and women’s rights. It is the only state in India with close to 1000 females per 1000 males (for the rest of India the demographic ratio is about 900 females to every 1000 males).

      The Mosuo people in the Yunnan province in China also have a matriarchal society. You can read more about them online.

      Also, among primate human cousins, the bonobos have matriarchal societies while chimpanzees have patriarchal societies.

      Gender roles do not depend on biology. Even dimorphism in humans is a result of selective breeding over thousands of generations as a result of cultural influences. Women who pick bigger men due to social pressures and men who pick smaller women due to social pressures over thousands of generations will result in the dimorphism we see today. Culture is a huge influence. Gender is a culturally influenced concept among social creatures.

  33. Wow did quite a bit of spelling mistakes :S. Could you fix some of them please?

    Like “seems for “since”.

  34. tigtog says:
    August 4, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    How much of culture is natural and how much is artificial I leave you to ponder.

    I have spent some time (a lot of time) pondering that issue. As a result of that pondering, it has occurred to me that without knowing how much of culture is natural and how much is artificial it would be hard to know how much of gender is natural and how much is artificial.
    Are humans as a species, by nature, predisposed to engage in socially constructive behaviors?
    ==ab

  35. Gender is a grammatical term, sex is the scientific term. Sexual variance between and in the sexes is well understood in biology. Your argument then devolves into a ” straw man ” argument. As any educated person will know, social constructs are based on brute reality. This means societies, with local environmental variances, are ” constructed ” from bottom up process; not a top down process. This is well supported by the evidence. From sexual variant toy choice in our primate cousins to sexual selective processes in humans. The accessibility of this evidence renders social science and humanities concepts here superfluous. Why do you people not access the evidence? Or does tedious verbosity do it for you?

  36. @John:

    You said: “As any educated person will know, social constructs are based on brute reality.”

    Actually this is not the case, and your subsequent examples and arguments smack of body essentialism. This backward ideaology (or in your case “evidence”) has been continually undermined, and has been used in the past to try and assert a threatened sense of control back on patriarchal gender roles. Let my “tedious verbosity” explain why.

    Gender is socially engendered, not a “brute” fact. I’m not sure you realize what a social construct is. Look at this example: Is a mountain a Mountain, or just another undifferentiated clump of earth? You might argue that because the concept of mountain is universally admitted in all human languages and reflects near-universal human consensus it must be an objective reality, but I disagree. This works for other apparently real objects and events: trees, cars, snow, collisions…. And gender.

    Another example: biological processes do not make little girls want to play with dolls or little boys want to play with trains. These actions are woven into the dominant accepted gender roles placed on young children and what their interests “should” be.

  37. Alion says:
    November 20, 2010 at 9:06 am

    You might argue that because the concept of mountain is universally admitted in all human languages and reflects near-universal human consensus it must be an objective reality..

    Instead, I will argue that humans have a naturally occurring predisposition to construct the concept of a mountain when they encounter an appropriate “undifferentiated clump of earth.” It involves enough “objective reality” to form the basis for a consensus as to what characteristics a clump of earth must have to qualify as a mountain. This works for other apparently real objects and events: trees, cars, snow, collisions…. And gender.

    ..biological processes do not make little girls want to play with dolls or little boys want to play with trains.

    On the other hand, evolutionary forces may have produced a human species that is predisposed to construct genders and to assign distinct, though variable, characteristics to each.

    These examples of predispositional behaviors are manifestations of a general predisposition among members of the human species to engage in socially constructive behaviors, a predisposition that is the result of evolutionary forces.

    …has been used in the past to try and assert a threatened sense of control…

    What it has been used for in the past has no bearing on the question of whether or not it is so.
    =

    • These examples of predispositional behaviors are manifestations of a general predisposition among members of the human species to engage in socially constructive behaviors, a predisposition that is the result of evolutionary forces.

      And? I have no doubt that the human habit of enslaving others also arose from predispositions resulting from evolutionary forces regarding competition for resources too. We worked out that tradition/habit/predisposition didn’t make it right several centuries ago now. So why is biological evolution even remotely relevant to humans recrafting our contemporary social constructs in better/fairer ways?

      • I agree with Tigtog.

        Recent research has shown that the human brain is incredibly adaptable and plastic. And while there is some rigid structure, evolution has provided us with an organ that is able to shape itself to a large variety of social situations. It is harder for elder generations to adapt to new paradigms, but it isn’t an insurmountable obstacle. There is no evolutionary reason humans can’t embrace a more equitable social construct.

      • I realized my first post violated your rules and have trimmed it accordingly (under 300 words, I promise;) Sorry.

        Red herring much? Diaspor was referring to the fact that, believe or not, the *ability* for social constructs to exist sprang from very real evolutionary processes in biology (i.e. if we weren’t here speaking, we could not create social constructs), and as such makes it possible that our underlying biology could influence them. It is quite possible our biology influences and even constrains how constructs evolve. For example, one could argue language is a construct – and to a degree it is; but many studies have shown that if an individual does not acquire language in their formative years, it becomes *extremely* difficult to acquire language later in life. Our biology influences language development, even if it is ‘constructed’. While aspects of language go beyond our biology, our biolgoy can still put limits on language development.

        Given the pervasive existence of gender roles, despite variation, across all extant cultures, in conjunction with the fact that our species actually *is* dimorphic, we should be asking how are biology may influence and even encourage the development of gender, and stop assuming *all* gender is arbitrarily constructed and/or non-essential. I am in no way arguing that because of the persistence and ubiquity of gender constructs that they are determined completely and utterly by our biology and hence are all absolutely essential, but to assume that our biology plays little to no role in not only defining, but reinforcing gender roles in society, I think is naive to say the least. If we are going to redefine social constructs, yet not take any time to understand what part of the equation our biology plays, that seems a bit naive, if not reckless, to me.

  38. tigtog says:
    November 29, 2010 at 7:13 am

    And?</blockquote

    And… a mountain is still a mountain… ?

    …the human habit of enslaving others also arose from predispositions resulting from evolutionary forces…

    Evolutionary biologists might refer to this as a predisposition to engage in exploitative behaviors. That predisposition is still operating among members the human species. True, it is not currently manifest in the form of institutionally sanctioned slavery – for the time being… .

    We worked out that tradition/habit/predisposition didn’t make it right…

    The use of institutionally sanctioned slave labor is obsolete for the same reason that the labor of horses, oxen, donkeys, and mules is obsolete …machines. Curiously, no one ever said, “Let’s invent machines so that slavery will end.” The abolition of slavery occurred as an unintended consequence of machinery, without regard to the will of any individual or group of individuals – but there are people willing to take credit for it.

    …why is biological evolution even remotely relevant to humans recrafting our contemporary social constructs… ?

    The effects of evolutionary forces are relevant to one who would recraft fundamental social structures, in the same way that the effects of gravitational forces are relevant to one who would launch a rocket. Those who do not take into account the applicable forces will likely achieve a result that is different from the one that they were anticipating. So, social reformers can take the effects of evolutionary forces into account – or not. That is their choice.

    But, if I have to ride in a rocket, I’d rather ride in one that was crafted by an engineer who has taken into account the effects of gravitational forces. That is my choice.

    …in better/fairer ways?

    Most every person is engaged in recrafting our contemporary social constructs in better/fairer ways; better and fairer for themselves, that is.
    =

  39. Kandela says:
    December 1, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Recent research has shown that the human brain is incredibly adaptable and plastic.

    I have not claimed otherwise. An adaptable brain and a predisposition to engage in socially constructive behaviors are not mutually exclusive items. Both are a result of the same evolutionary forces.

    How would a population become organized into a society in the first place, to be able to produce social constructs, if its members were not predisposed to engage one another in social interactions that produce the foundational structures that allow its members to achieve a sufficient degree of behavioral conformity to function as a unit? If such a predisposition is not the result of evolutionary forces, then of what is it a result?

    There is no evolutionary reason humans can’t embrace a more equitable social construct.

    Equitable according to whom?
    =

  40. Do you realize how incredibly cissexist this idea is? I am so fucking tired of being erased by feminists. MY GENDER IS NOT A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT. I AM GENDERQUEER. How can it be CONSTRUCTED or ‘artificial’ as you say, if there is no social structure within society today that lets me come to this conclusion? There is no social influence that made me feel gender dysphoria, but I still did when I was just a kid.

    SEX is a construct.

    GENDER ROLES are a construct

    GENDER IS DIFFERENT.

    • Of course gender roles are constructed– based on gender, which is also a construct. All children seek answers on how they fit in, how they are expected to act. They learn from friends, siblings, parents, television, and other elements of pop culture. Many people connect strongly with their gender because it has had a large role in shaping identity.

      The mere fact that gender dysphoria exists is proof that gender is a social construct. When biologically female humans don’t connect to cultural femininity (or biologically male humans don’t connect with cultural masculinity), clearly femininity and masculinity are NOT inborn.

  41. I ID as GenderQueer. I wrote a blog post on this subject a while back. Here’s the URL: http://viridianariverstone.blogspot.com/2012/05/genderqueer-identity.html These were my questions in summation: QUOTE: Who’s doing any real research on all the varieties, expressions and realities of gender, all the shades and hues, beyond black/white, male/female? I mean, real, solid, scientific research: anthropology, biology, neuroscience, endocrinology, etc? Is anybody doing this?

    or are we just wildly speculating and forming crack-pot theories to soothe and comfort us, to wave as flags and slogans in the faces of the bigots who want us ALL dead, and simply see us all as “Queers?”

    Trans* oppression is REAL. Forty percent of all LGBTQI murder victims are Trans*, usually women, usually of Color. Yet Trans* people comprise about one percent of the total LGBTQI population. That’s REAL!

    However, GenderQueers do not oppress, negate, vilify, disrespect nor erase Trans* issues, simply for asking about our OWN issues! We are perfectly justified in asking about gender, our experiences, our histories.

    Setting a place for ourselves at the table does not mean we’re starving anybody else. It simply means more for everybody, and a wider menu from which to choose.

  42. While intersex is a condition that is widely recognized, the recent move to include gender dysphoria as a medically treatable condition is worrying. The next DSM might well advise doctors to prescribes hormonal treatments to pre-pubescent children, based on the fact that they don’t feel as if society’s gender doctrine applies to them. It’s time to put a stop to the conflation of sex with gender, and intersex with transgender.

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