Thursday, 15 June 2017

Tell me if I'm missing the point.

In the abstract reproduced below, Swedish gender scholar Åsa Carlson seems puzzled that most women think they're female and most men think they're male. This egregious failure to understand the way things are requires explanation. There are, admittedly, among male / 'male' and female / 'female' non-human animals differences in body size, in markings, in plumage and in pre-coital display, and mate selection based on this. Then there is the matter of which parent guards the eggs, tadpoles or cubs, and which one might snack on the placenta, or the offspring or the sperm donor, and what atavistic impulses might prompt such behaviours, but worrying about whether they are male or female is silly because the animals blindly performing these acts have no words for male or female, so these cannot be natural categories. Obviously.

Maybe there's room for a paper on what we shall term dendrism, defined as the human projection of the categories 'evergreen' and 'deciduous' on a diverse range of woody life forms whether they self-identify as such or not. Then there could be a new field, Emancipatory Dendrology, to keep a few more academics off the dole queue for a while.


Paul Brownsey said...

I find a lot of the things in this neck of the woods mind-boggling, but isn't the point here something like this? -- That *sex* (=man, woman) is biological and *gender* (=male, female) is social-conventional, a matter of socially-approved ways of behaving, so that we can ask why those who are biologically women should be so complacent, so accepting, about living within the gender norms? In that sort of context, the question, "Am I female?" equates to something like, "Yes, I am a woman, but how do I know that my nature is realised in the set of responses and behaviour conventionally dubbed female?"

Google allowed me back in, eventually. They seem often not to recognise my e-mail address.

Steve B said...

I suppose that's the idea but I don't buy the wholly constructivist theory. Male and female behaviour is not that different from culture to culture, despite the odd bit of local colour, like whether you wear a tie or a penis gourd. 'Feminist theory needs a constructivist account of biological sex' because they can't stand the thought that people might not be malleable and reworkable.

Paul Brownsey said...

I have my doubts about constructivist theory, too, especially since what I've read in that genre tends to hover between a *causal* account ('It's society that makes us the way we are'; basically, nurture-not-nature) and something a bit more subtle, namely, that the concepts in terms of which we characterise ourselves are socially provided (so that the homosexual character in Smollett's Roderick Random wouldn't have thought of himself as such because the concept hadn't been devised yet).

What seems to be abroad is the idea that being female is a role that we can opt into or not as we see fit; somewhat as stroppy teenager, heartless bureaucrat, middle-class snob, camp bitch-queen, and bumbling intellectual are roles that we might find suit us. ("Jeremy got out of the mess he was in by doing his bumbling intellectual thing.") By this way of thinking, wearing lipstick and a dress are something that a woman might find suits her; and that a man might find suits him.

Steve B said...

Being 'feminine' or 'masculine' are roles you can exaggerate or underplay, but it seems to me there's a hard-wired male or female identity in most of us that makes us behave in male or female ways long before such concepts as masculine and feminine are introduced to us. This (to me) rather unremarkable fact seems to mystify the writer of the article, and she thinks it needs explanation. Maybe hormones is all the explanation she needs.

Paul Brownsey said...

You may be right. She may also fail to see that 'masculine' and 'feminine' are not offered as, so to speak, free-standing roles such that is it puzzling why a woman might fall into the feminine role. These 'gender roles' are promulgated as, and defined in terms of, what is appropriate to persons of a specific *sex*. There is a conceptual link. Of course, it is perfectly possible that a particular woman might not rate the standard pattern of femininity: good for. But since femininity is sold as what-is-suitable-for-women, it is hardly a puzzle if a lot take up with it. And, as you say, there may be genetic predisposition that way, too.


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