The Invention of Gender

I actually place the invention of the modern hegemonic usage of gender as occurring in the 1980s.  I am not surprised to locate it during a period of reactionary misogyny as I tend to see the entire present ubiquity of using gender as a substitute for sex to be a reassertion of patriarchal dominance that had been challenged by second wave feminism’s critique of “sex roles”.

For the last 15 years or so I have repeatedly heard the phrase “gender binary” used as though that phrase describes something real rather than sets of social constructs.

Men are not from Mars and Women are not from Venus.  We are both from Earth and despite the reactionary attempts to use “gender” as a sort of means for separating the men from the women and girls from boys into two distinct categories gender traits are more accurately described by the chart presented  in post ( than as a binary.  In other word gender largely overlaps making the term “gender variant” meaningless as there are not two distinct and clearly defined genders.

I was immediately skeptical regarding the phrase “gender binary” as it seemed to use fashion and patterns of consumption as well as modes of custom that were very time and place oriented as the basis for defining the sex of the individual, something that had in the past been determined by a rudimentary visual examination of the external genitalia.

Somehow the idea that gender is destiny seems as radically unsatisfactory and limiting to people, mainly female people as the idea that biology is destiny.

It seems to me that using gender, a combination of modes of dress and behavior to define who is a man or who is a woman is far more oppressive than using the basic of hole vs pole.  It requires a near Sharia like rigidly defined modes of behavior and dress to make one a man or a woman. To me this is far more reactionary than the ideas of the 1960s and 70s era of both gay liberation and feminism when the goal was to free people from those rigidly defined roles.  For what it is worth, since gender had not become the euphemistic replacement for sex we defined those disparate roles as “sex roles” not “gender roles”.

Indeed the hegemony of gender as semiotic for “sex roles” may well have served as a mechanism for undermining feminist theory regarding the part played by perpetuating “sex roles” as a means of oppressing women.

In the promotion of gender the misogynistic proponents of a return to the reactionary world of Phyllis Schlafly   were able to sidestep the feminist argument regarding the perpetuation of sex roles completely.  After all they aren’t the same thing.  Except they are.

For example.  What is a gender variant?  I see that term on all sorts of transgender sites and mailing lists and all I can figure out is that it appears to be some other label for transgender.

Speaking of which…  Having people my age who didn’t have the courage to put on a dress and walk down the street in the late 1960s often times seem all too ready to tell those of us who did that our calling ourselves transsexuals and using the language we used to describe our life experiences is somehow elitist.  That we are being divisive if we do not accept transgender as the umbrella term even if our having been second wave feminists causes us to question the whole matter of treating gender as something other than an oppressive social construct.

So much of the talk about gender seems like reactionary misogynistic bullshit.

It seems like a snow job from the corporations and churches aimed at selling women the idea that they aren’t real women if they don’t buy XYZ even when XYZ means having hot wax poured on your genitals and the hair forcibly ripped out so that your pubes reassemble those of a pre-adolescent girl.

Gender seems like a way to sell insecurity to both men and women, a way of telling them you are not a real man or a real woman unless you buy this product.

Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones nailed that one some45 years ago when they put out the song “Satisfaction” “So this man comes on the radio and he’s telling me more and more, about some useless information…  But he can’t be a man because he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me..”

Gender at most is like a team uniform, a set of clothes and behaviors that shows the team you are part of.  Sex is what you are when the uniform is off.  The idea of gender as meaningful definition of man or woman mistakes the uniform for the person under the uniform.

Now people could argue that sex is a preponderance of physical characteristics that go beyond genitals and as someone not particularly taken by arguments regarding chromosomes I am certainly open to that.  Particularly when things like secondary sex characteristics have been changed.  But that isn’t about gender…  That is about changing sex and belongs more in the realm of transsexual than transgender particularly since so many of us who do change sexual characteristics are rather fluid rather than rigid in our adherence to some sort of set of imaginary rules of gender.

Feeling at odds with the ideological underpinnings of “transgender as umbrella” and yet supporting hate crimes bills and non-discrimination measures requires empathy rather than accepting of their arguments.  I give my support based on it being the right thing to do even though I feel I am being snowed.

The  transgender argument is too much based in the ideology of the late misogynistic Virginia Prince for me to feel any different.

The problem for those pushing gender as a determining factor as to who is a man or who is a woman is that the ideology of gender as something with deep meaning rather than a social construct is basically reactionary.

2 Responses to “The Invention of Gender”

  1. Dyssonance Says:

    The only problem that’s seriously notable here, Suzan, is the idea that social constructs aren’t real.

    That’s a mistake. Unions are social constructs. Money is a social construct. The ideas of males and female, of masculinity and femininity, are social constructs.

    They are all very much real, all very much something exists, and is readily present and often made somewhat concrete.

    So to say that they aren’t real isn’t accurate. The question isn’t if they are real or not, but of what value to society as a whole are they.

    • Suzan Says:

      The problem with the social construct of gender is that it is a misogynistic means of maintaining male supremacy by requiring women take on oppressive role or otherwise be subjected to being labeled as men. Gender is nothing more than a replacement, a new meme for the sex roles fought by second wave feminists.

      Gender essentialism is sex role fascism that requires the defining of people based on how they dress and act rather than on their sex.

      It says people who dress and act in a certain manner are women. People who act and dress in this other manner are men. That essentially un-sexes women and men who do not conform to some sort of socially constructed imaginary binary based on rigid sex roles.

      That is in and of itself pretty damned reactionary.

      BTW when it comes to taking sides in this argument as a woman I am a feminist.

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