Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Gender Recapped

Last year I wrote this post detailing my views on Gender and Gender Issues. I wrote it before I read 'The Gender Delusion' and 'GenderQueer' so that I could one day write this very post and have some gauge of how the books and my studies effected me.

They Live

John Carpenter's 80's sci-fi horror film involved Roddy Piper putting on and taking off glasses to notice the alien overlords oppression through our everyday capitalist enterprises. In the same way, once you start studying gender you start to see just how reinforced gender is. Like glimpsing a vast architecture of truss rods holding the sky up.

Le Petit Prince pointed out how obsessed people are with numbers, when we ask about people we always ask things like 'how old is he?' etc, and never 'what does his voice sound like?' and you don't have to get very far into life before our natural tendency is to ask 'Is it a boy or a girl?' In fact this is the first thing probably said of all of us. But having the question answered - what does it mean? How would we feel one way or the other? What is the information imparted by us? For sure we immediately go off and construct some imaginary future for the person that we feel is most swayed by the alignment of gender in an individual.

But it's everywhere and it is constant. Reading the gender delusion though, I learned the important distinction between sex and gender. Sex - is biological, a description of our chromosomes and reproductive organs. It is as clear as you can get to being distinct and even then isn't always clear cut. Gender - is our social construct it is the collection of beliefs as to what somebodies sex means in defining their identity, their gender identity.

As such gender is far more malliable, it may inform our identity but not necessarily any more so than say nationality. And just as nationality can be reassigned or expanded so too should be gender.

There just seems to be a strong physical link between gender and sex, this creates friction and confusion in people's pursuit of self expression, but no more so than being Australian and having brown skin, there is every chance some bogan will confuse you for a foreigner because your physical appearance doesn't appear to match your national identity.

Attempts though to seperate and avoid the gender conditioning that comes along with sex though requires a herculean effort. In the gender delusion, myths that gender is somehow innate - eg. 'I gave my daughter a tow truck toy and found her with it wrapped in a blanket singing it to sleep/a gave my son a barbie and he used it to battle skeletor' fall way short of the effort required. One of the most powerful aspects of the book was when a family was studied that actually made real effort to raise their children gender neutral.

To illustrate just how reinforced the invisible architecture of gender is, consider that these parents drew over every children's picture story book to add beards to female characters and breasts to male characters, they ensured that the parents didn't follow any gender roles at home, meaning all cooking, cleaning, bathing, tucking into bed, singing of nursery rhymes, washing up and hanging out the laundry was split absolutely 50/50. The parents also maintained a constant pretence that they could not guess the gender of anybody unless they were able to see the persons penis or vagina. The only thing their children were taught about gender was that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. So if you didn't think having a child would change your lifestyle enough, imagine having to change it to rear the child gender neutrally. Furthermore, once your child starts socialising nobody else is dedicated to the same game. Well meaning idiots will intervene and try and gender condition your children on your behalf.

Iceberg-less tip

How much of gender is biological? Amazingly, almost none. The iceberg is all tip. The only constant difference between the genders found from much research is that men are consistently better at mental rotation tasks. Everything else 'men are good at maths and reasoning, women are good at creativity and emotional thinking.' doesn't hold up once you remove the conditioning.

If a woman is conscious that she is being tested to determine the role of gender in mathematical ability, she is unlikely to perform as well as if she were just solving mathematical problems. Most research into the differences between gender have been conducted as such.

fMRI scans of the brain also are inconclusive, they simply show a proxy for brain activity, which means all conclusions are inference only.

People with penises tend to be bigger and stronger than people with vagina's. That seems to be about it. For all the non-athletic functions of people living in an advanced society, there are no intrinsic differences between gender.

But there are differences, all it seems the product of gender conditioning.

All Powerful Conditioning

Humor me and lets pretend there is no god. There are still people who won't touch pork or other pig products simply because they were conditioned to believe that it is wrong. There are people that converse with an imaginary being in their head just because from their earliest memories they were told that somebody could listen to their thoughts.

Humor me again and pretend that nations don't really exist. There are people that would hate to the point of physical abuse somebody carrying a passport issued by a body that once went to war with them decades or centuries ago, simply because they were raised to believe that a nation had some character that was preserved across generations. There are people who won't let you enter a geographical region because you were born in and spend most of your time in another geographical region. There are people who will hang up the phone on you because they believe you to come from some geographical region just by the sound of your voice.

Gender like the above thought experiments exists purely through social reinforcement, there may have been at some point in our history when lives were a simple matter of our reproductive cycle and not much more where gender roles were reinforced by nature. You can fuck a man all you like, he won't get pregnant. These were the limits of the scientific method. But we weren't very scientific for a really, really, really long part of our collective history. Thus societies were able to be formed along gender lines that dealt with roles much more complex than reproduction. Gender roles were rolled into agriculture, theology, education, commerce, politics etc. long before any of the assumptions the roles were based upon were studied with anything approaching scientific scrutiny.

But the fact is that even though science now knows a lot more about the gulf between gender and sex, the beliefs, conditioning and reinforcement persist on their own momentum.

In exactly the same way we know how the universe was formed, how the solar system was formed, how the sun was formed, how the planets were formed, how life evolved, where the dinosaurs went, where chemicals come from, where the sun goes at night, what shape the earth is, why the seasons change, why the tides go up and down, where lightning comes from, what causes earthquakes, how earthquakes cause tsunamis, when comets will show up, which organ produces emotions, what organ produces conscious thought, what regions of what organs effect what functions etc. and yet texts written by people that guessed all these things and got them comically wrong remain authorities in this world respected by our laws and political systems.

Ideas and beliefs are powerful, and gender may just be the most powerful idea we have.

Not Lou Gehrig

Genderqueer is an elightening and powerful read. But the part that had the most impact was the concluding essay by the editor. We are all constantly affected by gender identity because it isn't about our right to be man or woman, but our right to self expression. I understand now why many people easily labelled by one of the letters in LGBTIQ hesitate to identify with them.

The moment you define a group as 'Lesbian' or 'Gay' you are defining not just the people whose interests you are representing but all those people whose interests you aren't representing. This is the reason behind the comical extention of letters from L&G to LGB to LGBT, to LGBTI to LGBTIQ. Hopefully finally having the catchall 'queer' on the end will put an end to expanding abbreviations, but if you go to an LGBTIQ rally, the fact is that half the speakers will be speaking on why 'T' and 'I' belong in LGBTIQ and why 'L' and 'G' should care.

Which isn't to speak of all the hetero normative people like myself standing in the crowd. One could be tempted to say we are fighting for you, not ourselves and how noble that is, 'there but for the grace of god, go I' though. My right to self expression is important. I should no more be beat up for insisting there's a superfluous 'h' in my name than somebody should for expressing their love of the same sex.

There should be no more scrutiny of my putting my name in lower case on a wedding invitation as whatever circumstances lead to a wedding invitation signed 'Lucy and Suzy'.

Freedom of expression effects us all, all the time. The only restrictions on freedom of expression are hate speech.

The conditioning is there, but the message of what is acceptable in our society is off point. I don't deny that a transgendered individual wont get funny looks from some rural police officer in 30 years time, it's just that that look should be no funnier than if they were looking at some city folks $500 jeans. People will carry their prejudices, but we should all fight for the right to offend those prejudices, not protect them. In whichever or whatever form it takes. Thus one man/woman/neither's gender issue is my and your self-expression issue.

No comments: