Thursday, May 18, 2017

Michael McConkey: Why We Should Stop Using The Term 'Gender' (Plus Some Fascinating I-Told-You-Sos)

   This is right about a lot of important things--things (ahem) that I've been saying on here for a long time. 'Gender' has come to mean everything and nothing, and that's for tactical reasons. The PC/PoMo left is, as McConkey notes, using it to advance a "social constructionist" agenda. There is a legitimate use of 'gender' to talk about non-linguistic facts about humans: it used to be a term for the behavioral categories masculine and feminine (and (sort of) androgynous). It was a term used to mark half of the sex/gender distinction, and to help make the point that men--though male--can be feminine and women--though female--can be masculine. That was an important point, true point. But feminism has, as we might say, moved beyond feminism. Feminism is now "intersectional," and anti-realist (not exactly in the analytic philosopher's sense of the term). Feminism has bigger fish to fry that equality of the sexes. Feminism--like the rest of the PC/PoMo left--now uses 'gender' to help advance a theory about transgenderism that brings in tow a non-realist, social constructionist metaphysics that it wants to install in the culture. This is an escalation of--and a sneaky tactic in--the nature-nurture controversy: sneak in a term that lets you equivocate in a lot of different ways. Then use it to mean some things that are patently, inherently social...and many things that only have peripheral, inessential, social effects. Use the term to suggest that the latter things are every bit as "socially constructed" as the former things. Sneaky, sneaky...

   If 'gender' were being used in its earlier, clear and helpful sense, I'd argue for keeping it around. but now it's nothing but a hindrance and a tool of intentional and unintentional confusion. 'Gender' is now used to mean sex (the biological property), it's used to mean masculinity and femininity, it's used to mean "gender identity"...which really means sex self-concept...and has nothing to do with gender at all...and it's used to men some really confused things about social sex-roles. When this combines with the at least ten completely different meanings of "social construction" (everything from x is an inherently social institution to humans created the word 'x'), conceptual chaos ensues.
      Oh, and: as McConkey notes: pronouns are linked to sex, not to gender. 'She' is not properly used to refer to effeminate males--it's an insult to use it that way. Were, say, Caitlyn Jenner--who is a man--to insist that you must use 'she' to refer to him, he would be insisting that you misuse the language in order to conform to his desire to think of himself as a woman. And you are always justified in refusing to participate in other people's fantasies. You might choose to do so in order to be nice or accommodating--but you are not obligated to do so.
   However, I think we should generally refuse to comply with such requests, for reasons mentioned above: to misuse pronouns in this way is to participate in a practice that suggests and promotes the acceptance of social constructionism--which is a catastrophically confused tangle of nonsense. To agree that we should call male people 'she' is to agree either that sex--the biological property--is created by feelings and beliefs, or that one should allow the false beliefs and fantasies of others to dictate one's actions. Both of those things are nuts. To allow other to control me by insisting that I must do things like violate clear, established rules of language is to cede control of my life to them--to acquiesce in their violation of my autonomy.
   I'm really, really happy to see that people are finally/suddenly starting to call bullshit on this bullshit.


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