Thursday, 5 May 2016

What's the Name About? Part 1: Gender

Dad is obvious. Gender Critical is less obvious and I owe a lot to the idea, so I should try to explain it. Gender Critical is a big idea, so I'll start by trying to define what I mean by Gender.

None of this is original, I've nicked all the ideas from a book Gender Hurts by Sheila Jeffreys, a lecture by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper and lots of other radical feminists. 

Jeffeys  and Reilly Cooper are brilliant, but they use heavy duty academic language. Everything is precisely defined, every step justified.  When I read it, I know they have taken me from A to Z, but I can never remember the route.  I feel I've got it, and then it slowly slips away.

Gender is in some way related to sex but its not sex, so lets start with sex.  


See  Rebecca Reilly-Cooper for a full rigorous explanation. 

We are mammals, our sex is determined by the presence or absence of a y chromosome.   Except for very rare genetic or developmental disorders, if we have two x chromosomes we develop a  vagina and ovaries, if we have a y chromosome we develop a penis and testicles.  If we get to puberty without any problems or interventions then we develop secondary sexual characteristics such as breasts or beards.

You are either female, a woman with two x chromosomes or you are male, a man, a human being with a y chromosome. This is biology, we share this with all mammals, its real, you cannot change it. Its not a political opinion or a cultural artefact.

The biology of sex has been and still is, used to justify discrimination against and oppression of women. The history of how this developed and how men may or may not collude in and benefit from this will have to be out of scope.  I'm not a historian or sociologist and the last thing the world needs is some old git mansplaining feminism.


Many attributes of human beings vary between individuals. Some of these attributes vary in a way that has a correlation with sex. The variation might be innate (genetic) or it might be a result of the different upbringing of men and women. The attributes can be physical characteristics, behaviours, tastes, strengths or weaknesses, anything that varies between people.

For example height.


Graph showing the distribution of heights for each sex.
On average men are taller than women. There are some women who are taller than most men, some men are shorter than most women.  Tall women are not less female, short men are not less male.

The same thing goes for a lot of things. I would imagine men are on average better at fighting, but I'm sure Nicola_Adams could beat the crap out of me in a fight.

Some things are generally considered attributes of one sex, but in fact its completely the other way round. Men generally consider themselves better drivers than women, but the united opinion of actuaries is that women are less likely to crash, and unless restricted by law insurance companies will offer lower premiums to women.

Men are generally considered to be stronger and have more stamina, I have just watched the final episode of The Island Bear Grylls by the end of the series the men were knackered, but the women were in much better shape and were carrying the men.  Women can have incredible stamina

The association of attributes to sex varies over time and location. I like cooking which nowadays is unremarkable in men, 40 years ago I was the only boy in my school who did cookery. Horse-riding prowess used to be a male attribute, now its almost an exclusively women's thing, at least in the UK, but in parts of the US is macho as hell.

Gender is an attribute that we assign to things that we think are associated with, or are characteristics of, men or women. The association may reflect a statistical correlation, or it might be a purely cultural superstition with no factual basis.

Sloppy thinking may encourage us to put people of a scale with very masculine men on one end and very feminine women on the other. We may even decide that gay men and lesbians belong somewhere in the middle,

As an exercise try to define masculine or feminine with out referring to men, women, male, or female, or just making a list of masculine or feminine things and saying "like that".

You cannot give an objective measure of gender, it has no units, its not in Kilograms, meters, seconds,  mols or kelvin. It only exists in language, communication or judgement. Its has no physical, biological or physiological reality.

Gender is cultural artefact, in our communications, perceptions and judgements including the stories we tell ourselves, our perceptions of ourselves and in the formation of our self esteem.

Gender should not be taken as a limit or restriction of what anyone is allowed to do, neither should gendered attributes be used as a measure of maleness or femaleness.  Sex is binary, you are either male or female. You will have some tastes or abilities, or characteristics that are considered feminine, if you are a man, or masculine if you are a woman, but that does not mean that you are less male or female. Sex is binary.

You may perceive gender in aspects of how you see me.  You may see me on a line somewhere between masculine and feminine or you may see me as a person with a while bunch of characteristics. You may make judgements of me based on that. That's up to you. Its in your head, not part of me.

I have a sex not a gender.

Next: Gender ID and Gender Critical.


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  2. Hi really like this site.

    I've thought a lot about the height thing - it's a really useful example to demonstrate the point with because everybody has a lot of data (from observing the world). The graph shows three things:
    1. there is a significant difference between the average male height and average female height
    2. there is a very large amount of overlap
    3. women cluster round the mean, men have a longer flatter distribution curve.

    These three points show up in a lot of other male/female distribution curves, for example IQ. Robert Trivers' theory of sexual selection provides a hypothesis to explain this no 3. The important word in all of this is AVERAGE.

    I have come to the conclusion that the trans folk are right - gender isn't a binary. But the opposite of binary is not 50 Facebook approved cubby holes. It's analogue. A women who is 6'4" is not a man, she's an outlier - on that distribution curve.

    I should add that I was terrible at being a girl when I was a teenager. I found other girls simultaneously terrifying and banal. I hated wearing skirts, was bored by fashion and make-up, insisted on riding a boy's bike, went by a boy's name and was obsessed with military history (which I went on to study at university). Fortunately I lived at a time when the adults and culture around me told me I was a girl and I could be anything I wanted.

    As an adult, I still don't wear skirts (much) or make-up and I'm still interested in a lot of typically male things. In many respects I'm an outlier. But I also discovered I am a very maternal woman and I have loved motherhood. And the great thing about growing up is not only are you older and more at peace yourself, but you no longer have to hang around with teenagers and their rigid "which box are you in" thinking.

    I wish you the best of luck with your daughter.

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