Welcome back to part 8 of the 2016 POV series. This month it’s not so much an opinion as it is an exploration of trying to explain myself and to understand a topic that is terribly popular in social justice circles.
Is Gender a #social_construct?
I’ve been guilty of using the phrase that gender is a social construct and to some degree I still think I’m right but looking a little closer the opinion of Greg Stevens express that something can be both a construct and biological. He’ll do a better job explaining that I,
What we think of as “gender” is a very complex interacting network of traits and behaviors, and both sexual and non-sexual characteristics. Some of these characteristics are highly constrained by biology, some are only marginally constrained by biology, and some are purely social. (1)
Ok, good. So gender can be both which neatly allows for genderfluidity and people who don’t feel like they are the gender that their naturally born sex characteristics determine.
Part of why I disagree so strongly with the social construction of gender is that it pigeon-holes people into ‘neat’ categories. Only boys are good at sports; all girls must love babies. I’ve covered how this bleeds into toxic masculinity before. But I also have come across a large social media presence of people who are a little militaristic in their belief that a feminist isn’t really a feminist if they might possibly be a TERF. Quick sidebar.
What is a TERF?
TERF stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Also known as Gender Critical Feminism. A key part of both is that they believe (Like I Do) in sex essentialism, to a point.
The one thing I kinda have in common with TERFs is that I do believe that sex is a biological binary; you’re either born with a penis which we call male, a vagina which we call female, or intersex in which case it’s buyers choice of what happens down there. I do not believe that intersex individuals are broken. I do believe that you generally get one sex or the other when you’re born. This does not preclude choosing a different gender expression. And this is, I think, where we all get a little fussed. Because we, in well-developed, christian-founded, counties have such a strong divide between what must be male and what must be female that we don’t allow for a different gendered expression within sex determined groups that there is such a strong reaction against transsexuals. Trans Advocates’s article on TERFs and their problems is helpfully clear on what they believe are the problems with sex essentilism and gender critical fems.
I don’t agree with refusing to use a Trans persons pronouns or devaluing their choice telling them they must transition back. I just note that we are biologically born with characteristics and it’s a lot of work to change them. It’s important for medical professionals to know your history but not all that important to disclose it to anyone else if you don’t want to. I’m aware that to people who study this sort of thing and have Firm Opinions that I’ll sound like I’m justifying TERFs or trying to accept their philosophy without claiming their title but there has to be a middle ground somewhere. Bleeding Heart Libertarians notes that,
The first bit of good news out of the TERF war (sorry) is that how one experiences gender is particular and uniquely personal. The recognition in recent years that people experience gender and sexuality in very different ways has allowed many people to live more authentic lives and to avoid some of (but not all of) the societal pressure and even violence that can accompany nonconformity. Such noncomformity is, of course, disruptive, and changes the way people interact with one another. But it also creates room for new ideas and ways of being. All that is good for freedom. (4)
I’m rather perturbed that we must all, as feminists, fit into one all-inclusive group. Disagreement breeds new thought and further intellectual development. I’m working on a lot of understanding. I don’t want genderless blobs for everyone I just want people to make their own decisions and for there to not be political or social consequences for not subscribing to the status quo.
Because I occasionally like to tie in some religious themes, the little vid below also ties in that there is research being done on how the Bible may have something to say on the topic.
The Meaning of Socially Constructed Gender – Greg Stevens
TERF Wars – Lucy Mangan
Gender Critical Feminism – Trans Advocate
Some Thoughts on a TERF War – Bleeding Heart Libertarians
Understanding the Complexities of Gender – It’s Pronounced Metrosexual