Social Construct is a Hammock for the Intellectually Lazy

In a comment regarding the death of Kiira, Edith Pinkelton, a regular commenter to this blog threw in the trite phrase, “Yes, intersex, as is all sex, is a socially constructed category.”

I’m not singling out Edith for criticism, even though her phrase triggered this post.

It is just that the idea of everything being a “social construct” has become the post-modern new age equivalent of “What’s your sign.”

Throw it in and thinking is supposed to stop.  Like how saying so and so is a Pisces is supposed to cause everyone to sigh and say, “That explains everything.”

I’ve had Simone de Beauvoir’s book, “The Second Sex” on my nightstand for months.  Every evening I read three or four pages and it is an over 700 page book.

I also watch Animal Planet and many of the documentaries about different species of animals.

I feel kind of safe in saying sex is biological even if male and female tend to mostly overlap with the majority of their physical being.

As for what we call gender and its place in the realm of “social construct.”  I find that to be an intellectually lazy statement like, “What’s your sign?”

What constitutes a social construct?  Seriously…  What makes something a social construct?

Is it something being a learned skill rather than a biological trait?

Is the whole “social construct” idea one of those mind traps, an ideological trap we fall into when we are too lazy to explain, or lack the easy words to explain something far more complex.

I’ve criticized both the HBS Borg and Transgender Borg for their resorting to the use of dogmatic slogans rather than actual thought.

The reason I get along much better with activists rather than theory people is because activists focus on issues rather than dogma.

Maybe it is time to retire “social construct” as an unexplained buzzword that is supposed to substitute for an explanation of something more complex.

Post-modernism is the neo-liberalism of academe and has had as negative an impact upon the lives of ordinary people as neo-liberal economics have.

10 Responses to “Social Construct is a Hammock for the Intellectually Lazy”

  1. dentedbluemercedes Says:

    If you can show me where “girls like dolls, boys like trucks, girls are bad at math, boys don’t cry,” etc are somehow hardwired into men and women, then we can dispose of the idea of social constructs.

    Until then, it remains that society invents a whole pile of assumptions and overgeneralizations that fail.

    Where I might agree with you is that we place too much weight on the idea of social construct, just as we did when the term / focus was “socialization.” It doesn’t mean, though, that social construct and socialization don’t exist.

    To me, everything that makes people what they are will always be a combination of biology, construction and choice — often struggling against each other (perhaps ironically, that was my take-away from debating about de Beauvoir’s writing, along with Dworkin, Califia and MacKinnon, years back). Erasing or discounting any one of the three will inevitably obscure our understanding of life.

    • Suzan Says:

      Mercedes watch some Animal Planet shows on various wild species and get back to me about the idea of all gender being a social construct. FYI there are even occasional transgender animals who exhibit cross gender traits.

      The whole looking at humans as different from other animals is sort of speciest and egocentric. We are just animals like the rest of mammals. We share many of the same gender traits with them too.

      Although perhaps gender should be reserved for clothes and mannerisms, stuff that is taught, gender has become this all purpose substitute for everything from sex parts to taste in clothing.

      It would be helpful if people were to say what they mean rather than tossing out some sort of open ended catch phrase that is really meaningless if you look at it.

      It may well be that there is this innate layer of pre-gender that influences how kids are treated right from emergence from the womb. We are seeing 4-5 year old transkids now who are learning that social gender in real time instead of vicariously.

      There probably is a place for the social construct of gender, but it has to have context and not be this hammock where thinking takes a nap.

      • dentedbluemercedes Says:

        I never said that all gender was a social construct, or that biology doesn’t play a part. Only that we can’t dismiss construction as a contributing factor, or dismiss that it can have significance — just as we can’t dismiss biology. When we look at anything as exclusively biology or exclusively construction (or spend too much time trying to dismiss them), we fail. We’re complex creatures, and draw from our instincts, our lived experiences, our predispositions and prejudices, our tastes, our fears and ambitions, our education, our bodily limitations, our innate sense, and more.

        We’re talking about theoretical concepts, so unfortunately, the conversation’s going to be mired in theory.

        You wrote:

        “The whole looking at humans as different from other animals is sort of speciest and egocentric. We are just animals like the rest of mammals.”

        I’ll agree with that.

  2. steviejayne Says:

    It’s a case of the old nature vs nurture argument. John Money must be laughing in his grave that his discredited theory still has credence. The influences which define us are both natural and social. Our nature will give us a starting point and then our social class, our education, our experiences will add flavour to the mix. Humans are complex beings but for most of us who are transsexual or post-transsexual nature will overcome the social influences but the kind of person we are post-transition will be affected by other factors. Let’s not forget also that within the cis-female realm there are butch women and there are effete cis-men. One of the biggest mistakes that the gender identity clinics made was expecting patients to conform to the expected norms for male and female. Luckily that is not always the case now and those such as myself who are not typically feminine or those who are t-m but not ultra-macho do receive treatment and are allowed to just be ourselves. If people such as myself are not ultra-femme and conforming to the expected female stereotype it doesn’t mean we are not women. In the cis-female realm there are plenty of women who are accepted as women even though not conforming to the expected female constraints. So, why should those of us who are t-f or t-m be any different?

  3. Edith Pilkington Says:

    the last name is Pilkington and I said :

    Even the ISNA website acknowledges that,

    “Intersex is a socially constructed category that reflects real biological variation.”

    Yes, intersex, as is all sex, is a socially constructed category

    That was rather awkward. I should have said:

    Yes, intersex is, as is all sex, a socially constructed category.

    Refer to J L Austin in regard to performative utterances.

    • Suzan Says:

      Correction made.

      And I’d rather refer to Darwin than J.L. Austin as science trumps both religion and its secular kin philosophy.

  4. pasupatidasi Says:

    racism is a social construct, classism is a social construct, sexism is a social construct….
    society doesn’t construct a three year old’s gender identity! especially when that child has been raised by such as am i, a gender non-conforming type…and hasn’t watched alot of t.v.
    sexual preference also is not a social construct,…how can it be when society for so long has attempted to deny it a place? and intersex…if it refers to the physical condition of having parts of both female and male anatomy or dna is definitely not a social construct!
    i begin to wonder just whether this person, edith pilkington, has a grasp of the meaning behind social, construct …altho she seems to know what category means.

  5. tinagrrl Says:

    Unless my reading skills have totally eroded with age, Suzan never said social construct does not exist, is not some part of gender, or whatever.

    She did say it has become a “shorthand” in too many cases, a “shorthand” for laziness, for an unwillingness to specify what you really mean. It has become one of those jargon terms that allows you to deny you “really” said this or that — as your mood might dictate.

    As such, its usefulness has been diminished.

    Oh, by the way, are you a “social construct”? Why or why not? Please use only concrete, easily understood words — any use of jargon will lead to points being deducted. Jargon tells me you actually have no idea what you’re talking about.

  6. Susanna Boudrie Says:

    Berger & Luckmann wrote their book with an eclectic base of Marx, Nietzsche and Mead (and other sources of inspiration). At the time, 1966, it was read as what is said, a social constructivism; meaning that you’re constructed (mainly; they recognized an inherited element) by your social environment. But since a Foucault reading of Berger & Luckmann, it has become an individual constructivism: you can construct your own identity. This is the American dream made into theoretical religion, gone wild. It says that people eating junk food, having bad health and are poor, have chosen that. And that the Romney’s have chosen their dream of cocktail parties with Britney Spears, driving a Ferrari.. It is not class, not color, not religion, it is choice…


    Susanna Boudrie

  7. Edith Pilkington Says:

    I did not say or mean to imply that sense of self is socially constructed. I was referring to frames – the way sex categories are constructed. The way sex categories are constructed has to do with what people as a whole are comfortable with. The category of sex is constructed based on statistical probabilities which do not take into account exceptions to the rule. People born transsexual are exceptions to the rule. This is what causes legal and social problems.

    If you want to discuss history and convention, of course, the convention is to determine and assign sex based on a cursory examination of genitalia. That has a lot of implications. Everyone knows that this fact leads to the most bitter arguments. I won’t divide into categories those I am referring to. We’ve all seen way too much acrimony between various factions, factions, very often constructed by those not belonging to the very factions they construct, like “transsexual separatist” . . .

    For the record, I am sure the root of my transsexualism is innate.

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