What is gender, anyway?

Originally published by Sarah Ditum at the New Statesman

This can be perplexing terrain, in which it’s not at all clear that everyone is speaking the same language, although they might be using the same words. In popular usage, “gender” is often simply a synonym for “sex”, and it’s unquestioned that “woman” and “female”, and “man” and “male” are naturally and irrevocably paired. (This could be called the essentialist account, or “gender is in one’s pants”.) Essentialism comes in slightly more sophisticated variants too, and one current proponent is Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, who has written extensively on what he calls “the essential difference”, claiming that the male brain is inherently systematising and the female brain inherently empathising, leading to a natural division of roles on the basis of a physical difference. (Baron-Cohen does allow that “not all men have the male brain, and not all women have the female brain”, but the fact that “systematising” roles occupied by men tend to be well-paid and prestigious, while “empathising” ones performed by women are less valuable or even entirely unpaid, is regarded as an unfortunate coincidence.)

Feminist analysis has vigorously challenged that view.

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Not gender fluid – just children

Originally published by the Brighton & Hove Independent

At primary school, children should be able to play and learn freely, developing wide interests – without being taught that girls do one thing and boys another. Children who enjoy non-traditional activities should no more be labelled ‘gender-fluid’ than they should be called gay. Parents of budding female engineers or male ballet dancers should value all their children’s talents, not assume their skills indicate gender dysphoria.

In a culture which regularly exposes children to images of sexual violence and exploitation, we should resist anything encouraging further sexualisation. We should not stoke anxiety in parents nor over-zealousness in teachers – nor excitedly impose the latest ideological fashion on children already allowed very little real childhood.

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Being a Minority of One.

Originally posted on Gender Critical Dad

My daughter has decided to become a man, wants a mastectomy and testosterone, the group that she’d been going to, turns out to be a cult, teachers I trusted had been enabling her delusion to boost the self righteous liberalism and pompous patronising tolerance . I’m supposed to come to terms with this and support her on this brave journey, but just I could not buy it.

It left me reeling, questioning my beliefs, my sanity, my decency and my motives. Why did I disagree with the consensus? I’ve always been a big headed git, but also capable of reflection and I think, reconsideration, but this stuff just left me in a spin

Its so gob smacking, that I didn’t want to talk about it in depth with my partner, If she agreed with me, it could just be to keep the peace, or because I’d worn her down.

I hit the internet, searched, somehow found https://www.reddit.com/r/GenderCritical/ and from the sidebar in that loads of links, full of sane women, frequently repeating the objections I had to trans, filling in details, providing a calm, reasoned argument, why the transgender system off belief is fundamentally flawed.

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Letter to a “TERF”

Originally posted at Bauhaus Wife

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It’s interesting to me that you seem to take offence to my pointing out biological facts about my son’s body.  He does indeed have a penis and testicles, that will, at some stage in his life (I assume, as all signs point to his body being healthy and functional) produce sperm.  My understanding of science is admittedly rudimentary, but he is clearly a male human and as such, he will never become pregnant through sexual intercourse, or give birth spontaneously to a child.  How could such a simple observation be contentious?

And I’m really not sure what you mean by “TERF-Y”.  I have heard that this is an acronym for “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist”. Who exactly am I “excluding” by observing the material reality of biology? I cannot fathom.

I agree entirely that the body does not always dictate our gender–this is, in essence, the underlying point of my original article: “Gender” is simply a set of social conventions and societal attitudes that inform, suggest, and sometimes even enforce, through subtle and not-so-subtle pressures, notions of masculinity and femininity.  “Gender” conventions shift and change from era to era and from place to place–that which is considered masculine at one time or in one culture, may be considered feminine in another.  “Gender” and what this means also varies greatly among individuals.  There is no metric to measure or quantify “gender”, and every human is “gender-fluid”–incorporating elements of that which is considered masculine and feminine, to some degree or another.

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A letter to … my little girl, who identifies as a boy

Originally published in The Guardian

So what if you become convinced that your particular body is “wrong”? Soon, from the vulnerable age of 16, you will be able to start down a road with serious drugs that will alter you for ever, drugs that will make you infertile, surgery that will cause side-effects for the rest of your life. And various “liberal” parts of society will call me an abusive parent for disagreeing with all of this.

I look at you: your perfect body. I can’t bear the idea that someone may try to convince you that you’re in the wrong one because you like dinosaurs and pirates, and hitting things with sticks.

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Default: male

Originally posted at language: a feminist guide

The idea behind substituting ‘non-men’ for ‘women’ was to be more inclusive of trans and non-binary people. It will be news to nobody that this is a contentious issue in contemporary feminist politics. But whatever position you take on the issue itself, ‘non-men’ remains problematic from a linguistic point of view. It cannot easily be made to function as an inclusive, feminist or non-sexist term, because it repeats the most basic and ubiquitous of all sexist linguistic gestures: treating men as the default human beings while relegating women to what the radical feminist linguist Julia Penelope dubbed ‘negative semantic space’. ‘Non-men’ defines a subordinated group in relation to the dominant group, ‘men’: consequently it ends up, in today’s jargon, ‘centring’ the dominant group, even if that isn’t the intention.

The idea of maleness as the default setting is manifested linguistically in all kinds of ways. My last post discussed a different linguistic expression of the same principle—the gratuitous gendering of women like Zaha Hadid, who was often referred to using the gender-specific label ‘female/woman architect’, whereas men are simply ‘architects’. In many languages the male-as-default principle is built into the grammatical system, requiring masculine forms of articles, adjectives and pronouns to be used both in generic references to a category and in specific references to any group containing even a single male individual.

But it isn’t just in language that this principle holds sway. It influences the way we process all kinds of representations of the world—visual as well as verbal.

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