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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Social Misconstruction of Reality: Sex and Gender Again

I went online recently to check the status of my Driving Convictions. I was surprised to find at the head of the page which dealt with me the words   “Gender: Male”. Well, I have to say I never told them that. I am pretty sure that when I filled in their forms however many decades ago I responded to a question which asked me for my “Sex” by answering “Male”, which was truthful and true. If they had asked me for my “Gender” I might have replied – well, I hope I would have replied - “Not sure” or “Changeable” or “None of your business” or “My role model is Jeremy Clarkson”

Gender is an adjectival rather than a nominal aspect of people’s selves and it is rarely uncomplicated. Few people are as straightforwardly “cis-gendered” as is assumed by those whose imagination does not rise above deleting the word “Sex” and inserting the word “Gender” in misplaced Homage to that excellent high school sociology textbook, Peter Berger’s and Thomas Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality.

Equally, few people are completely “trans-gendered”.  So maybe there is a normal curve of distribution ( a Bell curve ) for gendering - though I am sure the curve will vary from society to society. I have read lots of Op Ed pieces telling me that over recent decades in my society boys have found it harder to develop masculine characteristics resulting in a “Crisis of Masculinity”. Statistically, that would come out as a change in the shape of the distribution curve.

But when big companies are castigated for not having a “gender balance” at top executive level no one would be amused if they adopted the following strategy:

Look, we’re all men I know but, hey, some of us are less masculine than others – more feminine. Yeah? So why don’t we start by scoring people for their masculinity and their femininity. Like, you know, everyone says I am a “Good Listener” which must knock 10 points off my 100% Masculinity index. So why not credit those 10 points to the Female side of our Gender Balance Sheet? That way, we at least make a start on changing the Gender Balance here. Yes, guys?

No, guys. The truth is that your critics are talking Anatomy. They don’t like to say so, may even deny it, but Anatomy is what they are talking about. 

Why should Anatomy be so important?

Anatomy is important because it is an extremely powerful Profiling tool. You never need to be screened for prostate cancer if you tick the F box, and (though with a bit less confidence) you never need to be screened for breast cancer if you tick the M box. Your athletic abilities also can be read off from your M or F profiling, which is why we have Men’s and Women’s events for most Olympic sports. And so on.

Because of the normal curve of distribution, M and F are still good gender profiling tools, though less reliably so: in my culture / society if you are strongly cis-gendered, then you will be a better listener if your sex is F than if your sex is M. True? And if you are cis-gendered and M, then you are more likely to have driving convictions for Speeding. True?

We can wish it otherwise and we can work to make it otherwise. That thought is only intelligible if you accept the basic distinction between Sex and Gender and don’t try to deny it by conflating the two as has now been done on my Driving Licence.

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