Monday, June 29, 2009

Swedish Parents Keep Child's Sex Secret Because of Commitment to "Feminist Philosophy" And The Proposition That "Gender Is a Social Construction"

Here, via Metafilter (with discussion in comments).

Where, oh where, to begin?

1. If you want to avoid a good bit of patent silliness, dump the phrase "social construction" from your vocabulary. There are too many confusions packed into it from the get-go. If someone seriously uses the term "socially constructed," it's a good bet that you can just move on to something else, and your intellectual energies will be better spent. It's one of those phrases people use to try to sound smart, but it leads people almost invariably to logical perdition.

There are a subset of cases for which the meaning is clear enough, though, and this seems to be one of them: here they apparently mean that "gender" is something unreal or non-natural, a kind of myth made up by humans. Like, say, caste in India. So let's go with that.

2. Thanks to certain lefty academicians who decided that 'gender' sounded cooler and more like a technical term than 'sex,' we now don't know whether people are talking about sex or gender when they use the word 'gender.' Liberal feminists of yore used to press the very excellent point that sex and gender are two different things. If you're talking about the male/female distinction, you're talking about sex, i.e. something patently natural. If you're talking about the masculine/feminine distinction, you're talking about gender, i.e. something rather odder and perhaps somewhat more a product of cultural convention and human imagination.

3. Sex is not made up. In the deplorable lingo, it's not "socially constructed."

4. How about gender?

Is it (shudder) "socially constructed"? Probably not. Masculinity and femininity are probably at least to some extent real things. They may very well be something like homeostatic property clusters--clusters of properties that naturally tend to exist together and so forth. But I don't know.

5. However, to talk about the significant point at issue with any precision, we--as usually--need to just drop the "social construction" silliness entirely.

Poor Pop's parent's point is probably this one (familiar from old-style liberal feminism):

The proposition that male humans ought to be masculine (and are defective otherwise) and that female humans ought to be feminine (and are defective otherwise) is something that was simply made up by humans...and something that is almost certainly false. The good old liberal feminist point was just that people ought, in this respect, be left to be who they are. This is one kind of case in which it's all good. Males have a tendency to be more masculine, but atypical ones that are more feminine are not ipso facto inferior; females have a tendency to be feminine, but ones atypical in this respect are not ipso facto inferior. This is all a matter of statistics, and not morality.

Though being male inclines one to be more masculine, and being female inclines one to be more feminine, there's nothing morally wrong with being a more feminine male or a more masculine female. It's common for people to believe that there is--it's traditional to disdain and even punish those who don't have the statistically average gender for their sex. But that's bararic, and morally indefensible.

(Footnote: see how the point is made much more clearly without the "social construction" hogwash?)

6. The point I really want to make:
Seems like folks who are really outraged by Pop's plight hold two conflicting points, as they often do in such cases. To wit:
(a) This is horrific and you are abusing "Pop"

(b) Sex and gender are so strongly naturally corellated that the kid will soon enough become more masculine if male, more feminine if female.
As should be clear, though, you can't affirm both points without embarrassment.

7. I am not a parent and, God willing, I never will be. I'm the last person in the world to take parenting advice from. However, were I to give any in this context, it would go a little something like this:

Do not experiment with your child on the basis of intellectual-lefty/PoMo/social constructionist nonsense, nor on the basis of the leftier bits of feminism. Just don't do it. This is too important; the stakes are too high, and the theories are too loony. To do so would be, roughly the lefty equivalent of denying your kid medical care because you think that the space ghost is going to cure him.

Why not do what tons of liberal academicians I know do: raise the kid without pushing it to be either masculine or feminine, but without bending over backwards to be perfectly neutral in the matter? That seems to work pretty well, and the kids are among the most well-adjusted I've ever known.

8. But look: if this is really all the parents are doing, my guess is that there won't be any long-term harm to the kid. We know that if he's male, he'll probably end up more masculine, and if she's female, she'll probably end up more feminine, but that the correlations are far from perfect.

The worry, of course, is that the parents are actually loons who really buy into these kinds of lefty intellectual fads, and that they won't actually let nature take its course, but will try to push some kind of gender neutrality on the kid. I mean...did they contact the newspaper about this, or what? Why is this something we even know about? Sounds like a bit of PoMo performance art or something... But let's hope not. They might be sane and sincere.

9. One response here would be that society has been relentlessly experimenting on kids for ages, turning the mere (and possibly rather weak) statistical correllations between maleness and masculinity and femaleness and femininity into a moral obligation. So, one might say, the danger associated with Pop's parent's worrisome little experiment pales in comparison to the danger of the status quo, in which people are forced to adopt mannerisms which may be completely unnatural to them. In the cosmic scheme of things, it simply doesn't matter whether you speak more softly or more loudly or whatever. And even if Pop's parents do turn out to represent the loony fringe, that won't change the fact that there's something that they're right about, even if they might be taking it a bit too far.


Anonymous Lewis Carroll said...


Sounds frighteningly similar to what I've heard about the kids of this well-known professor where I went to college:

I took the husband's social psych class, which was actually pretty good, and was spared contact with his off-the-rails wife, but oh, did I hear stories...

(I think he invented 'Self-perception theory' as an explanation for human attitudes)

1:45 PM  

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