Social Issues

Separating Out Sex/Gender, Biology and Social Construct

Separating sex and gender: What's biology, and what's socially constructed?

I got thinking about this after watching an interview with Steven Pinker, one of my academic crushes, and then another interview with Jordan Peterson. Both referred to biological differences between men and women, although in different ways, and I wanted to do a post exploring my own take on sex and gender differences, and the roles of both biology and socialization.

X and Y chromosomes

An individual’s sex assigned at birth is based on external anatomy. In most cases, that matches up with genetics, although when there are more ambiguous genitalia or intersex genitalia, the sex assignment can be more arbitrary. Humans have 23 chromosome pairs, one of which is the sex chromosomes. Females have XX and males have XY. There may also be abnormal sex chromosome combinations, such as XXY, which produces Klinefelter’s syndrome.

While some of the genes on the sex chromosomes have an impact on hormones and genitalia, there are also genes that do other things. Genes on the Y chromosome trigger a number of changes, beyond just the genitalia, that differentiate the fetus from female in the womb. Puberty produces a different hormonal soup in females and males. In females, estrogen and progesterone predominate, and in males, testosterone predominates, although everyone has a little of everything. Sex hormones make a difference long before puberty, though; they also impact development in the womb.

Not-same but equal?

In his book The Blank Slate (which I haven’t actually read), Pinker argues against the tabula rasa theory, which says that we’re born without any innate characteristics and who we become is based on our experiences. He said that there are differences between the sexes, but there’s a lot of overlap on those areas of differences. The differences are also very specific, so it’s not a matter of men being better at math, it’s broken down further into specific abilities.

On average, women are better at reading comprehension and writing, fine motor coordination, perceptual speed, and recall from long-term memory. Men have better visuospatial skills, and are better able to mentally rotate 3D objects.

There are also physical differences in the brain. Women tend to have a relatively larger hippocampus, which is involved in long-term memory, as well as greater communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. Men have a larger amygdala, which is involved in fear and threat response, and their amygdala functions differently, so that they’re less likely than females to retain vivid memories of emotional events. Particular variations in the brain’s cortex are generally more common in males than females, but they also tend to be seen in females with autism spectrum disorder, so that may relate to autism being more common in males.

There’s some indication of differences between sexes in the activity of neurotransmitters, which may have something to do with certain mental disorders being more common in one sex than the other.

On average, there are differences in sexual interests and behaviours, which may relate to evolutionary effects (I have a book review coming up on a cool book on evolutionary psychology). However, as individuals, of course, evolutionary drives can be overridden by all kinds of things, including our characteristics, desires, and behavioural choices.

With all of these averages, though, there’s enough overlap between the sexes that someone’s sex can’t be predicted based solely on knowing their performance in any of these areas. A particular female may have far superior visuospatial skills compared to a particular male, so there’s no reason that females wouldn’t be able to excel in traditionally male-dominated fields.

Social construction of gender

We’re all socialized into our cultural groups, which involves learning what it means to be male or female, among many other things. This is where we get into the notion that gender is socially constructed. What is a social construct? In the field of psychology, constructs are a way of describing and delineating concept that may match up with observations of reality but are not in and of themselves a tangible thing. Social constructs are representations of ideas generated by social groups that may correspond to objective reality, but are themselves intangible. When it comes to gender, the social constructs of male and female may correspond, at least in some cases, to the objective reality of the machinery between the legs, but the social construct is not, or at least not solely, based on that objective reality.

Some would argue that every difference we think we know about males and females is socially constructed. I would take a more moderate position and say sure, there are some biological differences at the population level, but there’s also a whole heck of a lot that’s been socially constructed.

Society is a lot more complicated than it was back in the caveman days. On an evolutionary scale, though, the caveman days might as well be yesterday, and no significant evolutionary changes have happened since then, meaning the basic biology remains the same. So all the complexity that’s been layered on as society has advanced but biology hasn’t changed much—that’s probably socially constructed.

There are a lot of things we associate with gender that are clearly socially constructed. Pink vs. blue, skirts vs. pants, hairy vs. hair removed, for example, are part of the Western constructs of femaleness and maleness. And the stereotypes in Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus? Social constructs.

Individual experiences

The scale one is looking at influences the type of lens that one uses. Biological differences are seen on a species-wide scale, while the effects of social constructs are seen on a cultural scale. Both of those are on a pretty large scale, and looking at a big picture can’t tell you the experiences of particular individuals.

My experience of gender is shaped not only by my biology and my Western culture, but also by my individual experiences and my sense of self. A species-wide or cultural scale can give some hint of what my experiences might be, but they can’t even hint at my sense of self as a unique individual.

Backlash

There’s backlash in some corners to the notion that there are biological differences between males and females, partly because it contradicts the idea that we’re all the same, and therefore we must all be equal, a belief that seems to be pretty strongly held by radical feminists. Yet it should be possible to be not-same and still equal.

Steven Pinker points out that equality doesn’t mean sameness, it means equal treatment, which is a moral/political issue, not a biological one. He suggested that the notion of a difference is upsetting to people who believe that sameness means there can’t possibly be a reason to discriminate (even though difference shouldn’t be a reason to discriminate anyway).

I’m not entirely sure how to characterize Jordan Peterson’s arguments without getting caught up in my opinion that he’s a remarkably unpleasant human being, but he seems to look at gender as biologically based, end of story, and not open to any sort of idiosyncratic interpretation. Since identities other than the standard male/female don’t fit within that frame of reference, he seems to invalidate them out of hand. My sense that his approach is very reductionistic, while Pinker’s approach is that biology plays a role, but in the big picture, there’s a lot more than just biology going on.

The term neurosexism has been coined for the idea that there are brain differences between the sexes. Neuroscientist Lise Eliot published a review in the journal Nature of Gina Rippon’s book The Gendered Brain. In it, she notes that researchers have moved away from looking for evidence of women’s inferiority, and the current perspective is that “women are not really less intelligent than men, just ‘different’ in a way that happens to coincide with biblical teachings and the status quo of gender roles.” She adds that Rippon’s book:

“… accomplishes its goal of debunking the concept of a gendered brain. The brain is no more gendered than the liver or kidneys or heart.” Rather, “most of us remain strapped in the ‘biosocial straitjackets’ that divert a basically unisex brain down one culturally gendered pathway or another.”

If Jordan Peterson is being a biological reductionist, Lise Eliot and Gina Rippon appear to be just as reductionist, only pointing in a different direction. Neither of those extremes is even close to being able to predict or dictate what a unique individual experience might be.

I don’t see any reason att all why biological differences and sexism should have to be mutually exclusive. Given that there appears to be significant overlap in the areas where males or females have the edge, one would expect that overlap to also be visible in the representation of each sex in different occupational fields. That’s not the case, though, which points to social factors, including sexism, having a substantial influence.

Non-traditional gender identities

So, where do transgender, non-binary, and other gender-queer identities fit into the mix? None of the structural or functional differences as a result of the early hormone soup are mutually exclusive; there’s plenty of room for overlap. There’s been some research looking into a potential genetic basis for people being transgender, but nothing conclusive appears to have been identified thus far (and there may also be non-genetic biological differences). There’s more research to suggest that sexual orientation has some genetic basis.

Here’s my way of thinking. We’re born the way we are, and our brains, personalities, and other characteristics develop however they will. As we start to learn what the social constructs of male and female are, we begin to identify one, both, or neither as being the best fit with who we are. Less of an “I am that” than a “that is like me.” I also wonder, if our social constructs of maleness and femaleness weren’t so heavily focused on the physical, would that sense of being in the wrong body still be an issue? Or is our evolutionary drive to find fertile mates strong enough that physical sex characteristics will strongly influence how we appraise others regardless of cultural influences?


I find this subject interesting because it seems to draw in a lot of other issues, and it all gets tangled up into something that’s perhaps more ideological than it needs to be. Maybe it’s because I like shades of grey, but the idea of a combination of biology and social construct just seems very logical to me.

What do you think about the difference between sex and gender, and whether it’s all a matter of biology or socialization?

Sources

  • Eliot, L. (2019). Neurosexism: the myth that men and women have different brains. Nature, 566(7745), 453-455.
  • Ngun, T. C., Ghahramani, N., Sánchez, F. J., Bocklandt, S., & Vilain, E. (2011). The genetics of sex differences in brain and behavior. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 32(2), 227-246.
  • Stanford Medicine: Two minds: The cognitive differences between men and women

53 thoughts on “Separating Out Sex/Gender, Biology and Social Construct”

  1. I’ve thought long and hard about this subject too – interestingly enough it was Jordan Peterson who prompted the same thinking in me. I believe men and women (as a generalisation) are different. I think that’s self-evident. I also agree with what Pinker has to say about equality. Equality should be about treating people the same, it shouldn’t be about forcing equal outcomes. If we go down that road I believe we might end up in a similar position – where people end up fighting their true nature in order to meet societies expectations of who they should be. (Women should be more like men or vice versa). I’ve long suspected that men are more geared towards survival (fear) whereas women are more geared towards love. I do believe biology did some thinking in an attempt to gain some balance. That’s also why I believe it’s desperately important we encourage more women into leadership roles/politics. Very interesting article – thanks Ashely 🙏

    1. I agree around not needing to be force same outcomes. As long as there are truly equal opportunities, then outcomes should reflect what people actually want rather than trying to fit them into boxes.

      1. Of course I’m generalising and acutely aware of the dangers of doing so. I do agree with you that a combination of social construct and biology is at work – just that completely ignoring our biology seems to be at the other end of the ideological extreme to me. Either way, let’s fight for equal rights and let people decide their own fate/who they want to be

        1. Absolutely. And the whole idea that people can only be equal when they’re exactly the same is fundamentally flawed, and I think it’s not a line of thought that’s the least bit constructive.

  2. I think there is alot that is social construct, from things like a man and a woman walk down a road late at night, there is a massive difference in how they behave, women are taught very differently from an early age how to be aware, men are not. Things like housework, somewhere sometime, someone decided that if you have penis between your legs, you don’t know how to work a hoover, yet women are magically born with knowing all that stuff.

    I think there is going to be more conversation about transgenders and where they fit in, especially when it comes to things like the Olympics and how we deal with that so it is fair to everyone.,

    Males are normally stronger, taller and faster than females, however that shouldn’t put things out of a woman’s grasps when it comes to careers especially things like stem careers, its a very interesting subject however

    1. That’s an interesting point about figuring out where trans people fit in elite athletics. Equal opportunity aside, there’s definitely the issue around how much the biological playing field needs to be levelled.

      1. I don’t think its even in elite athletics, contact sports would be a big thing for me, like a weekend Rugby team or boxing at a local level, that type of thing. The problem is, that no one has the answer to it

      2. I guess for me… why are only trans athletes at all levels singled out for this “unfair advantage” issue? Doesn’t Michael Phelps produces half the lactic acid of his competitors? Which mean Phelps can recover quickly, which could be argued as an advantage, but you don’t see people saying it’s unfair

        1. I don’t think it is just trans athletes, though. There are a lot of things that get measured, like erythropoietin. Sporting agencies don’t control for every biological difference, but they control for some, and there’s inevitably an element of arbitrariness there. Testosterone has a significant effect on muscle development, so it’s definitely relevant. I guess the question is what sporting agencies decide to do with that, what they use as the basis for those decisions. If they make decisions based on certain levels of testosterone, because they have information to establish that certain levels make for an un-level playing field, they should go by those numbers, regardless of whether someone is cis or trans. As for deciding what differences make for an unfair advantage rather than a fair one, that’s always going to be a subjective call.

  3. Wow, yeah, my dad’s always harping on the fact that women (myself included) are terrible with maps, directions, and spatial awareness. (Guilty! I can barely parallel park.) But it’s true like you said that it won’t apply to every female. Huh. This is very well-written and informative!!

    1. From the little that I’ve read, it sounds like spatial awareness in terns of mental rotation isn’t exactly the same skill as navigation, and it also sounds like studies on sex differences in navigation have had mixed results. In my family, my mom and I are the strong navigators, and my dad and brother are not.

  4. First, may I say that I can’t stand Jordan P? OK then…

    Agree with your moderate approach, which is how I view almost everything. Genetics play a role and so does the environment and socialization. It does irritate me to have trans stuff shoved in my face all the time, just as it used to annoy me when it seemed everyone and his brother needed to announce their coming out. Who cares? Do your thing and leave me alone. I do get that in a hetero world, people want to feel heard, but heteros annoy me too with their PDA and ovrrsharing…

    1. I guess as long as there’s transphobia, homophobia, racism, mental illness stigma, etc., there’s always going to be people speaking out against those things, and some of those people are going to be annoying, especially on social media. And I’m not sure that using social media and staying away from oversharing are possible simultaneously…

  5. I don’t know much about this subject. And, what I do know I get confused. I’ll say this though, I behave more like a woman with certain traits that I have, but I don’t identify as anything other than a male. Again, I get confused on this, so maybe I’m not the best one to be commenting. :/

    1. I think part of the problem with stereotypical gender roles is that they say all women are this and all men are that, when I doubt anyone fits exactly into either of those boxes.

  6. I thought the tabula rasa theory had been kicked to the curb decades ago – my psychology classes back in the 1960’s poo-pooed the concept. Yes there are structural differences between male and female brains which affects how they function, but – yes we are all the same in that we are homo sapien sapiens and we are all equal but only in the eyes of the law (supposedly). I do think genetics plays a huge role in who we are and what our potential is. There are arguments about ‘innate talent”, I believe in it.

    I can’t support puberty blockers because I don’t think at that age a person is capable of making that kind of decision – try out different ways to live and be – yes. I remember wanting to be a boy when I was 12-13-14 years old but by age 20 I was very happy to be a girl. Now at age 75 I don’t think of myself as anything other than a human being…I don’t see where it is important, or significant whether I am male or female. But society does and is still making social generalizations about me. (ageism and sexism is driving me bonkers and I’m getting belligerent about it. I just told someone who is coming to make a repair assessment that just because I am a woman and old, it doesn’t mean I’m stupid – )

    I fear that because of all the attention to gender choices some young people may decide “Hey, all the cool kids are doing it” (I just read a report to that effect) – so there’s your societal impact right there, which is why I support waiting for medical intervention until such time as proper exploration of the impact of that decision has been done.

    All is shades of grey on this topic, humans are deliciously complex.

    1. I would say that puberty blockers are less about making a decision than delaying a final decision. I can start puberty blockers at 12 and decide at 20 to stop taking taking them, and nature will take its course and feminize me, although that’s probably not great for fertility, but if I wait until I’m 20 to do anything about it, and then do decide I’m transgender, I can’t reverse reverse the feminization that puberty has done to my body, no matter how much I operate on it. Is it fair to permanently screw over people in the latter group because adults didn’t think they were capable of self-identifying earlier on?

      My sense is that tabula rasa is a pretty minority belief these days, which seems like it should just be common sense.

      1. Excellent point about the puberty blockers which I had not taken into consideration tho I still think 10 or 12 is still too young to be making a decision about medical intervention. I guess I just need to get over myself.

        1. You misunderstand. No child is getting to choose puberty blockers. They have to be extensively assessed by experienced professionals to have severe gender dysphoria, and their parents can refuse the blockers. And very often they must reach tanner stage 2 and for gender dysphoria to significantly worsen. Many kids get suicidal, many self harm. And no one if prescribing them puberty blockers without gender therapy and a ton of detailed assessments. Puberty blockers just delay puberty, buying time. Yes the majority of gender non conforming children turn out to be be cisgender, but for the percentage that don’t… trust me, it’s better to have a child on puberty blockers than a child killing themself. I’ve personally talked to teenagers who have gender dysphoria so bad that they severely harm themselves, or literally talk about how they want to do surgery on themselves or they buy hormones from unregulated places and risk their lives.

          None of my fellow transgender people do this because “all the cool kids are doing this.” Some of us do this even though our own parents want to hire men to “corrective rape” us, even though we often get made homeless and have to drop out of school, or get beaten black and blue and sent to abusive “therapy”.

          “Rapid onset gender dysphoria” also isn’t factual but a very very very flawed study.

          The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has Guidelines on the clinical care of transgender children and adolescence.

          I apologise if I sound blunt, I’m tired of people unwittingly repeating misinformation, so I’m trying to educate.

          1. @SkinnyHobbit – My post on puberty blockers came after his one, so Grace and I have already talked about that piece of it.

            As a more general comment, what I find interesting is that this is one of those areas where people are going to have opinions, but I think there’s an important distinction between a general opinion based on a concept and an opinion that’s based on coming into direct contact with the situation. To throw out an entirely different topic, if you were to ask people if so-called late term abortion is wrong, a lot of people would say yes. But if one hears the stories of people who’ve actually been through it, I suspect a lot fo answers would change.

            I’ve wondered about what the best way to approach this issue is. Because while one could say that people shouldn’t have an opinion unless they’re well-informed about an issue, that really doesn’t work, because we all have opinions about everything. And that gut sense that something is just wrong isn’t necessarily going to budge with the presentation of facts, even if those facts contradict the gut sense, because gut sense doesn’t operate based on facts. If someone thinks electroconvulsive therapy is barbaric, I could rattle off all the facts in the world, and that’s unlikely to change anything. So I truly don’t know what the answer is.

            Coming back to the transgender issue, I do wonder if a distinction can be made between people who are transgender, with significant gender dysphoria, and people who are mildly gender questioning and gender non-conforming. I say that because the trans people I’ve known or heard from describe a sense of certainty that something’s wrong with their assigned gender, even if it takes them a while to figure out what exactly that is. But I think the sense that people might get from popular culture is that sort of looser questioning kind of picture. I really have no idea if that’s actually what’s going on, but it does feel like the sense of what trans is is very different depending on whether or not people have had direct contact.

            1. Hmm, that’s fair, I forgot which order I read your posts in! Sorry ❤

              Regarding dysphoria, not every trans person experiences significant gender dysphoria, so there’s sometimes those groups (“only dysphoria = valid” vs “no dysphoria is also valid”) fight each other. Which I find sad because I experience significant dysphoria but can’t transition for a number of reasons, and ultimately really just want an inclusive world. Where people are accepted as they are etc.

              And yeah, having direct contact is 1 of the best ways to build empathy…. I just get way too worked up due to my own still healing wounds, so I’m not the best person for that.

              But like how you said ECT… yes, I used to be completely against ECT because I didn’t know anyone at that time who benefited, but clearly I was wrong, and I’m glad to be wrong 😊

            2. Oh regarding my comment, I’m in the 2nd camp – “don’t need dysphoria to be valid” although I do experience dysphoria.

            3. Okay, perhaps there’s a third camp I’m missing. I don’t question people who know they’re trans, but I do sometimes wonder if everyone who questions their identity as an adult is coming from a place of being trans or more from a general place of being unsure of their overall identity in relation to the world. That camp may only exist; I really don’t know.

            4. Re, third camp, anecdotal data points: Some cisgender people know who have questioned their gender, don’t seem to do it periodically or intensely. At most it seems to be like a vague and brief “I wonder…” thing. And some don’t question at all. But, I also know some who do question hard and long, even when they do their best to suppress the confusion, and those later realise they’re trans.

              I do think some people question as part of their overall identity, but haven’t met any in my personal life yet.

            5. I can think of one individual I knew online who identified as non-binary who seemed to have a weak sense of self in general. It was a bit odd to see her (she used she/they) change her whole presentation of self as she moved from one online community focus and then to another and accumulated these various identities. She arrived at the non-binary idea as an adult, and while she would regularly remind people that she didn’t identify as female, none of what she said suggested a sense of being trans, and everything about her gender expression was very female. The whole picture was very odd, and gave the impression of someone who was grasping for a sense of self rather than someone who had the kind of experiences I’ve heard trans people describe.

            6. Interesting about that individual 😊! It could be being closeted for safety but I would expect she’d have mentioned it. A number of my friends, me included, look and dress like our assigned gender, mostly because we’re in a conservative culture where it’s unsafe to be “out” at work or with family or when we attend medical appointments. But I feel usually folks in our kind of situations are upfront to friends on which name and pronouns to use in which situations because it’s really important. And for those who don’t know I’m transgender, I usually let them use my feminine name and she/her pronouns, simply because it’s safer.

            7. This particular situation was weird in many ways, because this person did not appear to be closeting anything; if anything, they were having an open house and leading tours through it. My sense was that they felt lacking in identity but knew that they felt marginalized, and were identifying as much, if not more, with the marginalized component of various identities as the the actual identity itself. That’s not something I’ve ever come across in someone who actually identifies as trans, but I wonder if there’s enough of that marginalized identity-picking online that people who might see that kind of thing online assume that’s what the trans experience is. That might explain some of the perception some people have of trans-ness as a fad.

          2. I just had another thought, which will eventually turn into a blog post. I think most people, as kids, go through a phase of some form of gender questioning as part of coming to understand the social world and different gender norms. We all draw on our own experience to inform our opinions. Developmentally normal gender questioning isn’t the same thing as gender dysphoria, but if the two end up in the same box, it makes total sense that people would say gender questioning shouldn’t be treated medically, and then take that next step to thinking gender dysphoria shouldn’t be treated medically. Hmm, lots of thoughts swirling around in my head…

  7. Like another commenter, we’re super interested in this and thoroughly confused by it! Our gut reaction is that Western Societies have been devised by men for the benefit of men so would it surprise us that men deemed the most remunerative positions in society as ones in which males dominate? Now, whether men dominate (or predominate) due to biology or social construction, these differences have been socially replicated and perpetuated for men’s benefit.

    No prerequisites are needed for equal treatment.

    Boys play with guns and girls play with dolls seem like social constructs to us. Children see others with whom they identify and mimic them, is our inclination.

    Biological differences between sexes seem unimportant to us as regards our economy and life roles: if a person can do the job, documented biological differences seem only a hindrance. As do social constructs.

    Our dad cooked because he was effective at it and he and mom decided it between them. He used to work and she stayed home until he became disabled. Then she got trained and got a job and he took on the shopping and cleaning. Total gender reversal based on social expectations. But it gave us more options because we saw both parents do everything. Now, Spouse and we share roles in ways not typical based on historical gender constructs. Neighbors act like we’re weird or an abomination. Fuck expectations. We live how we want.

    You know we’re not cisgender but we can never remember what categories we belong to lol. We are a person trying to live with any shred of dignity. And emphasis on differences make that more difficult. We want to accept everyone as they are and however they change, express, love.

    1. I think where people sometimes overestimate the impact of biological differences is in assuming that those differences are non-overlapping domains, which isn’t the case. Differences that may be seen across the entire population say nothing about specific individuals.

      I think it’s ridiculous to divide roles in a relationship based on what fits gender norms. It makes so much more sense to do it based on individual interests and abilities. If those happen to fit with gender norms, that’s fine, but I’d rather be weird than live in a box someone has tried to put me in. Fuck expectations!

  8. I think biology and social norms within a community effect gender abilities and preferences. I think you can have the ability genetically to be better at playing piano with ease yet someone else can be just as good or better with hard work. When i say community i mean patent household and support system and culture. I raised my children to love whomever they wanted and i to live themselves more. I have friends of every type and it shows in their openness to think on their own how they will be. I think stereotypes are the dangerous thing when it comes to gender and people’s expectations like women who are not so motherly and fathers who can braid hair better than me and cook a three course meal. I did not buy dolls for my boys but i would have had they asked. I did though play makeup with them and when their father felt they were too old and would get confused we played tattoos. The funny thing is one child loves tattoos and the other hates them. I think it’s a prime example of two people raised with same household will inevitably be different people… so is it biology or something else? Thank you for tackling a tough topic.

    1. I absolutely agree that community makes a huge difference. If someone is born into poverty, they may never get a chance to use their abilities. And if kids don’t have supportive parents, it would be so much harder to discover what they can do.

  9. Imma be honest – I almost skipped the read because of the Peterson reference, which would’ve been a mistake: I enjoyed it very much.

    I’m like you: I think there are biological difference but the overlap between male and female is close. I liked that you pointed out there is little evolutionary change: our “determined” roles are social if they aren’t the same as caveman-life.

    We are very attached to labels. We like to categorize and place things. This, I think, is innate – I see it in children as they try and make sense of the world. Our main problem, I think, is our affection for binary.

    Stephen Pinker’s idea, that equality isn’t sameness, but equal treatment, is on target for me.

    1. It’s always a bit baffling to me that some people are fans of Jordan Peterson, because even if one were to agree with some of what he has to say, he’s quite an ass in his delivery.

      I agree about categorization being innate.

      1. We’re curious creatures, so perhaps it comes from that. “Why” has to be a gene somewhere and that one is both male and female.

        I also like to spend time wondering what is hardwired versus what is learned behaviors. I’m hoping to understand me. Much less is part of the unalterable structure (and thus not up to me and blamable) than I’d have hoped 😃

  10. This is a really good topic to deconstruct given recent social changes and pressures. Thanks for linking to the Pinker video – just started giving it a watch.

    We covered sex vs gender in Psych at college, not so much during my degree, and it made me wonder whether the stuff you’re taught back then would be allowed to be taught now. Don’t get me wrong, it was very open and inclusive, but there’s the set thing about how only women can be pregnant, for instance, which has recently got a woman in a lot of hot water for saying.

    Years ago (many, well before society really heard about gender neutral pronouns) I used to think I’d raise my kid gender neutral, not to give them pink/blue clothes or Barbies/Action Men, etc. I was curious as to how nature vs nurture really plays a part in our identities. My boyfriend at the time thought it was a reasonable idea. I remember mentioning it to my mum and she said it was cruel to make my kids into a psych experiment. Everything I saw back then I saw in terms of psychological understanding. Just as well my body’s too fucked to have kids eh 😂

    1. The pregnancy issue is a bit of a hot potato topic, but I do think that the fact that bodies with uteruses (uteri?) are the ones popping out the babies is likely to have a lot of trickle-down social effects. The corporate world prizes all work and no play, which is problematic in and of itself, but given that, it seems like a logical consequence that bodies with uteruses who are popping out babies are going to be treated differently within that distorted corporate culture.

      It’s a bit creepy actually how highly gendered our culture is, and how that affects parenting. Dressing a kid in purple rather than pink/blue and giving them toys that aren’t consistent with either gender stereotype really shouldn’t be considered a big deal.

      I have all kinds of respect for bodies with uteruses who pop out babies. My body isn’t too fucked for that, but my head certainly is.

  11. It bugs me when Jewish religious outreach groups use the biological/physiological differences between men and women as rationale for certain religious observances. Women are exempt from commandments considered “time-bound” because of the assumption that they will be taking care of children since they give birth, but that rationale doesn’t hold because women without children aren’t obligated in those commandments and single/stay-at-home/divorced/widowed dads with child-rearing responsibilities aren’t exempt.

  12. I wonder how science would explain gender dysphoria. There’s gender dysphoria that’s social (how people see you), and gender dysphoria that’s body (how the body looks, including anatomy). The first is probably easy to explain, but I don’t know enough to be able to explain the second. Only that plenty of transgender people feel horrible dysphoria, more than enough to harm ourselves or kill ourselves. That kind of body dysphoria isn’t as easy to reduce than using a trans person’s chosen name and using their pronouns – which btw reduces the risk of suicide attempts.

    1. For sure. For the gender dysphoria to do with body, it may be useful to consider cultures like Samoans and North American Indigenous groups where a third gender was accepted, and people wouldn’t have had the option of body modification. From what I’ve read, it doesn’t sound like body dysmorphia was an issue because there was cultural acceptance.

      1. Some Asian cultures before colonialism have 3 or more genders too and I definitely wonder if the cultural acceptance significantly alleviates bodily gender dysphoria. One thing I’ve learned is that disconnecting mentally from my body as a gendered vessel can help, although it doesn’t help everyone. Some of my friends still pursued various surgeries, including facial surgeries, saying their face structure feels utterly wrong etc, and that it was surgery or bust, despite having a rich tie to our ancestors and cultural heritage.

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