About Gender

If there is one topic that’s controversial to talk about it would be the topic of gender. Claims about gender are thrown around frequently, but more than anything else gender is quite vague. Gender is said to be a spectrum. It is said to be performative. It is said to be relativistic and socially constructed. But it is also said to be binary and biologically determined. So, what is gender exactly?

            First of all, we should distinguish between sex and gender. While sex is what you are, gender is what you feel that you are. For example, your sex could be male, and your gender could also be male. When this happens, you are cisgender, meaning your gender conforms to your sex. If your sex is male and your gender is female, you are seen as transgender. Now, sex is sometimes also regarded as a spectrum, though if we view it through a scientific lens, this is not the case. Sex is binary, between male and female. A rebuttal that is often brought up are intersex people who seem to lie in the middle. But just like left and right is binary, it doesn’t disprove this by putting something in the middle. Exceptions rather enforce the rule than that they are a counterargument against them. In sexology, sex is defined by gametes, not your hormones or chromosomes and there are only two: the small sperm cell, characteristic of males and the larger egg cell, characteristic of females. This is what makes sex biological and binary.

            Gender is a term that has become popularized by philosopher Judith Butler. Gender identity is how we feel in relationship to our sex. The way we express our gender identity is called gender expression. For Butler, gender is not something biological of psychological, rather, she sees it as ‘performative’. You perform your gender by being. Because of this, she regards gender as a spectrum rather than something binary. Although this might seem relativistic, gender is not something you can merely choose. Rather, it is imposed upon you by your surroundings, which means society, your parental upbringing, your friends, etc. It is a social construct, constructed for you, rather than something that you can choose or given to you by biology, according to Butler.

            Now, this point of view disregards science and sees this as something science has no say in whatsoever. But leave it to science (as it should) to always try and prove you wrong. In her book The End of Gender, sexologist Debra Soh tries to ground gender in science and to prove that gender isn’t a social construct, but rather something that is biologically predetermined. Just as sex is biological and not really a spectrum, Soh argues that gender isn’t as well.

            Gender difference can be seen when we observe the brain. Sex differences in the brain, which is something biologically determined, also determine interesses and behavior. So, people with a more ‘female’ brain, will behave more feminine; while people with a ‘male’ brain will behave more masculine. Now this doesn’t mean that there isn’t overlap. In my opinion, many of the misconceptions arise when we think of men and women as completely separate and totally different beings. We are more alike than we believe. There is significant overlap in psychological interesses between sexes. When you’re a man, that won’t mean that you might not enjoy feminine things.

            Something that is often said as a counterargument against the gender is biological stance, is that things that are masculine here might be feminine somewhere else and vice versa. First of all, I don’t understand how this would prove the gender is a spectrum claim. But there is something to be said for that argument. Take the color pink for example. Here it is seen as feminine but go back a couple hundred years and the color pink was seen as manly, while the color blue was regarded as feminine. To answer that I would like to say that these things are cultural. There is no genetic code which will make you like the color pink as a girl. The thing that is predetermined by biology is that women will like feminine things. What constitutes femininity is culturally determined. Thus, this counterargument doesn’t disprove that gender is a social construct. It does point out that pink isn’t necessarily a girly color.

            Now, the topic of gender has become widely debated nowadays. There are the social constructionists who claim that sex and gender are a social construct and then you have the people claiming that is not the case. For now, I believe that we should trust science. If we trust science when it talks about climate change, we also have to trust science regarding sex and gender. To claim that you are science-loving when you accept the climate change prognoses, but don’t accept the gender prognoses, is, in my opinion, hypocritical. We have to trust in the facts.

            Now, I believe that most of this outrage comes from a felling of trying to be accepted. There is no doubt that struggling with your identity is difficult. We should respect the people going through gender dysphoria. There are people suffering because of it. I don’t believe however that the right thing to do is just accept what is being said regarding gender. This will have a detrimental impact. It will just make things harder to understand and it will make people who already are suffering, to suffer more. I don’t care what you call yourself and how you want to be called. If you ask me to call you a certain way, I will. It’s called respect and decency. If someone wants to be called mister, I will do so. There is, however, a difference between calling someone something and saying things that have been scientifically proven to be false with no real reason, except because you don’t like the way it makes you feel. Things aren’t always as beautiful as we’d like them to be, but it is better to face reality than to live in an echo chamber, where the only thing we can hear is ourselves.

By elenchusphilosophy

Philosophy student from Ghent, Belgium. I write about what I find interesting which is about nearly anything. Though my guiding question in life is how to be a good person.

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