Is gender real?

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Re: Is gender real?

#21  Postby pinkharrier » Oct 01, 2010 12:23 am

Is this discussion about gender in the wide, general sense or is it only about humans? And, if the latter, why?
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Re: Is gender real?

#22  Postby Beatsong » Oct 01, 2010 11:00 pm

Humans only.

The word "gender" may be interpreted in different ways by different people, but only has reason to exist at all to the extent that it means something different from "sex", as in biological maleness or femaleness. Sex is a simple fact of physical classification, whereas gender is about social and psychological factors concerning sex.

Since such factors, as far as we can tell, don't enter into the lives of non-human animals, I don't see how the word "gender" could meaningfully be used in relation to such animals. I'm happy to be proved wrong, if you can show how it's relevant to distinguish between an animal's physical sex and the social conditioning and interpretation of that sex within their group. But thus far I don't see it.
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Re: Is gender real?

#23  Postby Festeringbob » Oct 06, 2010 2:53 pm

the role of genes in the formulation of the mind is not properly elucidated yet, therefor at this time there is no definitive answer to your question of psychological gender being "real" or "innate" as opposed to "learnt" and "imposed", however the wonderful thing about nature is it's ineffable ability to fuck up, and as such we see all sorts of failures in biological systems which help us understand what is wrong with the damaged component (failure in the genes that are responsible for the production of melanin result in albinism for example)

particularly prudent to this case is the existence of gender identity disorder, which appears to be a failure in some mechanism that allows the mind to assume the correct psychological role, whilst no one as yet knows why this happens, it begs the question, how can this happen if gender is learnt?

you might say that the wrong gender has been imposed on the child whilst developing a sense of self but this explanation is lacking when GID occurs in individuals who have the condition despite an upbringing which fixates on aligning their psychological gender with their physiological and genetic genders

so... hoo humm
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Re: Is gender real?

#24  Postby GreyICE » Oct 26, 2010 8:21 pm

The funniest thing is that technology may render this entire question moot before it bothers to answer it ;)
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Re: Is gender real?

#25  Postby Apollonius » Dec 11, 2010 10:09 pm

Men and women have different levels of hormones in their endocrine systems, so it can't be completely explained as a social construct. Whatever that difference in hormones is, it must have some practical evolutionary value. That difference is not a fixed quantity in all people, so there is a lot of variety. How society responds to people that are not just like everyone else is a social construct.
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Re: Is gender real?

#26  Postby tribalypredisposed » Dec 14, 2010 5:01 am

"There is no innate connection between biological sex and certain interests, or contradiction between it and other interests. Since these social expectations are not "real" - they are not rooted in anything to do with physical or innate psychological reality - the idea of "gender" that emerges from them cannot be real either. It is simply a way of describing the interaction between the real elements of a person's body and psychology, and social expectation."

This is a huge claim, the "no innate connection" claim. And it seems to be flat-out wrong. There are universal differences in the normal range of certain behaviors which differ between the two genders. Yes, there can still be significant overlap, but the averages of certain behaviors, for example rough and tumble play, do have a strong innate component determined by gender.

The idea that there is "no innate connection" between gender and expressed behavior inherently depends on the idea that human behavior is not the product of evolution. To me this is Flat-Earth territory, since there is no scientifically sound hypothesis which can describe how our ancestors, alone of all Mammals, evolved without evolution selecting for both behaviors and structural features. Which is to say that when we look under the covers of the trendy politically-correct view that gender is purely culturally constructed we find folks who are forced to assert that humans did not evolve. When we get right down to it humans obviously are built differently physically, and this reflects different optimal fitness strategies for the two genders (as Evolutionary Psychology obsessively informs us). It is very rare, for example and for evolutionarily understandable reasons, for females to be directly involved in combat in war. So we should not be surprised that boys are far more likely to practice skills needed in combat in the form of play than girls are.

There was a recent study which I can track down if anyone cares enough that showed that belief in this idea about gender declines very sharply in the group of people who have had children. Those who are most likely to believe it are Women's Studies and Sociology academics who are childless.

Sure, again, there is variation. Some women are way more macho than me. My mother-in-law, for one. But variation is what evolution selects from, and its existence in no way disproves a role for the "innate" in a behavior. The question is whether or not a behavioral range is universal and seems to be based on evolved predispositions. There are a number of examples of these ranges differing between genders. Of course, culture can alter how these predispositions express, no one is arguing for determinism either. But the assertion that gender is a purely cultural construct and our genes have no part in creating divergent averages or ranges of behavior cannot be correct unless the Theory of Evolution is wrong.
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Re: Is gender real?

#27  Postby vombatiformes » Jan 02, 2011 4:42 am

I'm a female-to-male transgendered person. I was intensely aware from my earliest memories that there just wasn't something quite right with my body. Once I realized the difference between males and females, I was able to more articulately pinpoint what that issue was.

I finished "socially" transitioning at age 14/15 thereabout (in that I finally completely outed myself as trans in all aspects of my life -- school, friends, family, etc. and lived full time as male) and started taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy / testosterone) at age 16. I'm now 20 years old, post chest surgery, etc.

I am actually quite a feminine person, whatever that means. I have traditionally feminine interests, the majority of my income is from commissions I take for personalized crocheted items. I am sexually interested in males -- I'm in a long-term gay relationship. So I suppose for some people my gender related life situation would be somewhat confusing, but honestly the only discrepancy I ever felt was a purely physical one. I had no desire to conform to a male social role. I just wanted/needed a male body to feel comfortable with myself. Beyond that it was purely subjective for me.

Now, I haven't been mistaken for female since I was 14 I'm sure, but I really don't care if people see me as "feminine". The only anger that I felt when people mistook me for female was because it was a sorry reminder that I was not male-bodied. Not because I care whether people think I'm masculine or not, lol.

Just my two cents. :]
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Re: Is gender real?

#28  Postby Mr.Samsa » Jan 03, 2011 11:55 am

tribalypredisposed wrote:This is a huge claim, the "no innate connection" claim. And it seems to be flat-out wrong. There are universal differences in the normal range of certain behaviors which differ between the two genders. Yes, there can still be significant overlap, but the averages of certain behaviors, for example rough and tumble play, do have a strong innate component determined by gender.


I think the point Beatsong was making was that obviously gender and sex are determined by two different things (i.e. sex does not equal gender) - I'm sure he wasn't denying the possibility that one's sex influences one's gender.

However, I'm confused by your example. Do you have a reference for your claim that "rough and tumble play" is determined by biological sex? Given the work done by Bandura and what we know about social influences on gender, as far as I know "rough and tumble play" has not been identified as a sex-specific activity. Instead it seems that this kind of "observation" actually falls into the realm of gender myths, like the belief that women talk more than men, that men are innately better at reading maps, or that men are more aggressive than women etc.

tribalypredisposed wrote:The idea that there is "no innate connection" between gender and expressed behavior inherently depends on the idea that human behavior is not the product of evolution. To me this is Flat-Earth territory, since there is no scientifically sound hypothesis which can describe how our ancestors, alone of all Mammals, evolved without evolution selecting for both behaviors and structural features. Which is to say that when we look under the covers of the trendy politically-correct view that gender is purely culturally constructed we find folks who are forced to assert that humans did not evolve. When we get right down to it humans obviously are built differently physically, and this reflects different optimal fitness strategies for the two genders (as Evolutionary Psychology obsessively informs us). It is very rare, for example and for evolutionarily understandable reasons, for females to be directly involved in combat in war. So we should not be surprised that boys are far more likely to practice skills needed in combat in the form of play than girls are.


Well you've gone too far there. Yes, the brain is an evolved organ but this doesn't mean that all of our behaviors are selected for by evolution. Even if we ignore things like spandrels, we still have the obvious fact that a large portion of our behaviors have nothing to do with evolution and rather it's just general "learning algorithms" which have an evolutionary link. In other words, trying to find an evolutionary explanation for suicidal behavior is ridiculous, but when we explain it according to basic learning rules it makes more sense.

The kind of thinking that leads to the idea that all behaviors are the product of evolution is the cartoon view of creationists. Obviously no scientist believes anything like that.

tribalypredisposed wrote:There was a recent study which I can track down if anyone cares enough that showed that belief in this idea about gender declines very sharply in the group of people who have had children. Those who are most likely to believe it are Women's Studies and Sociology academics who are childless.


That's certainly interesting, but on the flip side I can link you to hundreds of studies showing that parents are extremely poor at identifying causes of behavior in their children, and can usually only guess at things they like and don't like at a level slightly above chance. So what parents believe is entirely irrelevant because parents are terrible predictors of behavior. This isn't a stab at parents, instead it's a result of the fact that parents have a clear bias and personal interest in the conclusions they draw from analysing their kids, so either consciously or unconsciously they draw bad results.

The contradictory results you are referring to aren't solely discussed in Women's Studies and Sociology classes (which you seem to bring up as a criticism of the validity of their conclusions), and it's pretty universal across all scientific disciplines - neuroscience, experimental psychology, anthropology, etc. Any area that studies human behavior will likely have reached the general consensus that a lot of the things we believe characterise gender, usually don't.

tribalypredisposed wrote:Sure, again, there is variation. Some women are way more macho than me. My mother-in-law, for one. But variation is what evolution selects from, and its existence in no way disproves a role for the "innate" in a behavior. The question is whether or not a behavioral range is universal and seems to be based on evolved predispositions. There are a number of examples of these ranges differing between genders. Of course, culture can alter how these predispositions express, no one is arguing for determinism either. But the assertion that gender is a purely cultural construct and our genes have no part in creating divergent averages or ranges of behavior cannot be correct unless the Theory of Evolution is wrong.


I don't think anyone is actually arguing that gender is purely a cultural construct (at least not in the sense that biology plays absolutely no part), instead they're just pointing out that when looking at gender, biological sex is not a perfect predictor.

With that said, however, there is nothing logically that would force us to reject the theory of evolution by suggesting that gender is a purely social construct. This is because evolution does not determine all of our behaviors, and sometimes it is entirely irrelevant to consider. For example, say we are looking at someone's behavior in a choice situation where they can pick A or B. Since both options rely on the same evolved learning mechanisms, there is no need to consider the theory of evolution and instead we just need to look at the environmental variables. So we can say that if a person chooses option A, then it's a "purely" environmental/social decision, given that the genetic influences were equal in both options.
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Re: Is gender real?

#29  Postby pythagoras22 » Jan 03, 2011 2:04 pm

Beatsong wrote:Everyone's on the coffee. Does thinking about gender produce a need for stimulants?


Well, thinking about gender certainly is very stimulating. Yes of course gender is real, as is race. What's your point?
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Re: Is gender real?

#30  Postby campermon » Jan 03, 2011 2:32 pm

pythagoras22 wrote:
Beatsong wrote:Everyone's on the coffee. Does thinking about gender produce a need for stimulants?


Well, thinking about gender certainly is very stimulating. Yes of course gender is real, as is race. What's your point?


:lol:

If you can be arsed to search the forum you will find a huge thread just about that!

:cheers:
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Re: Is gender real?

#31  Postby pythagoras22 » Jan 03, 2011 3:22 pm

I'll bear that in mind.
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Re: Is gender real?

#32  Postby Beatsong » Jan 03, 2011 11:21 pm

I'm feeling misunderstood. :(

I get the feeling a lot of people either didn't read, or didn't understand, my OP and following posts. I'm most certainly NOT arguing that there is no innate connection between biological sex and psychological characteristics or interests. I don't know enough about the evidence either way on this question, but I'm willing to accept for the sake of argument that such a connection may well exist, in terms of probabilities or averages. (Eg, a higher proportion of men than women like doing X, so the probability of a man liking it is higher. But there are still some men who don't like doing X at all.)

My question is not whether such a connection exists, it's whether it is (a) purely an objective measurement by society after the fact, or (b) something which corresponds itself to some real subjective state.

The fact that we can measure things as being connected by probability of occurence, and sort them into categories of the most common connection and the less common connections, doesn't mean necessarily that the categories we so define are psychologically meaningful.

Let's take an analogy:

Suppose we study a population of people, and measure the probability of connection between three characteristics: hair colour, intelligence, and tendency to physical activity. We find that:

40% of the people have blond hair, are highly intelligent and love being physically active
40% of the people have dark hair, are not very intelligent and don't like being physically active
20% of the people have some other combination of these traits: eg they have blond hair, are highly intelligent but don't like being physically active.

Now given the huge difference in size between the 40% groups and the various subgroups of the other 20%, scientists and psychologists would immediately define those 40% groups as "normal" categories and give them a name. Let's call them the "A" and the "B" people.

In time this categorisation becomes more and more accepted by society as a convenient way of making sense of things. For example someone can simply tell someone else that they are an "A", and immediately communicate three sets of information about themselves. For those who don't fit so well into either category it's not so easy, but hey - there you go.

My question is: When an "A" person is out playing football, do they feel "A-ish". Or are they simply enjoying playing football? When a "B" person is sitting quietly in front of the fire, do they feel "B-ish". Or are they simply enjoying sitting in front of the fire?

And the main question which to me answers the other two: Take a person who has dark hair, is not very intelligent, but loves physical activity. When THEY are out playing football, how do they feel? Are they thinking, "gee, you know I feel really 33.3% A-ish doing this"? Is their feeling actually any different from that of the other person who also enjoys playing football, but happens to also have other characteristics that correspond to being "A-ish"?

The categorisation into two types came about by studying the number of times that each characteristic corresponds with other characteristics in the same individual. But even if we accept that such numbers cluster highly to certain correspondences, does that mean that the overall category we invent as a "norm" has a subjectively meaningful reality all its own, outside of the reality of each characteristic taken singly?

Or is it just an artificial construct of measurement, that some people have fooled themselves into thinking is real?
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Re: Is gender real?

#33  Postby Beatsong » Jan 03, 2011 11:40 pm

@ vombatiformes,

Thanks for your input. It's absolutely fascinating, because this appears to be so subjective. It's interesting that you describe the need for a particular body as being completely separate from the trappings of male social role. I can't even begin to imagine how that feels, or what the connection is between that and how a non-transgered person "feels" about their body. :?
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Re: Is gender real?

#34  Postby Beatsong » Jan 03, 2011 11:58 pm

Festeringbob wrote:the role of genes in the formulation of the mind is not properly elucidated yet, therefor at this time there is no definitive answer to your question of psychological gender being "real" or "innate" as opposed to "learnt" and "imposed", however the wonderful thing about nature is it's ineffable ability to fuck up, and as such we see all sorts of failures in biological systems which help us understand what is wrong with the damaged component (failure in the genes that are responsible for the production of melanin result in albinism for example)

particularly prudent to this case is the existence of gender identity disorder, which appears to be a failure in some mechanism that allows the mind to assume the correct psychological role, whilst no one as yet knows why this happens, it begs the question, how can this happen if gender is learnt?


How can there be a "correct psychological role" outside of society's judgment about what is "correct"? :scratch:

"Correct" is not a description of innate reality, it's a value judgment about reality. The vast majority of sheep are white. But when we see a sheep that is black, we don't call it an "incorrect sheep". A farmer may judge it as being incorrect for his purposes, but that is an entirely different matter. In terms of innate reality, there are simply correspondences between things that happen often (like the other aspects of "sheepdom" and whiteness) and ones that happen less often.

Similarly, if a person is born with a penis, a total dislike of all sports and a deep desire to nurture young children (even supposing that we can know such things are "inborn"), what makes the correspondence between those physical and psychological factors "incorrect"? How can that be anything other than society's judgment that such things ought to correspond differently? And what is society's justification for that judgment?

Isn't there aa wierd kind of "is/ought" problem here? A leap from the observation that certain sets of characteristics cluster together the majority of the time, to a judgment that they ought to cluster together the rest of the time as well?
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Re: Is gender real?

#35  Postby Mr.Samsa » Jan 04, 2011 1:01 am

Beatsong wrote:My question is not whether such a connection exists, it's whether it is (a) purely an objective measurement by society after the fact, or (b) something which corresponds itself to some real subjective state.

The fact that we can measure things as being connected by probability of occurence, and sort them into categories of the most common connection and the less common connections, doesn't mean necessarily that the categories we so define are psychologically meaningful.

...

The categorisation into two types came about by studying the number of times that each characteristic corresponds with other characteristics in the same individual. But even if we accept that such numbers cluster highly to certain correspondences, does that mean that the overall category we invent as a "norm" has a subjectively meaningful reality all its own, outside of the reality of each characteristic taken singly?

Or is it just an artificial construct of measurement, that some people have fooled themselves into thinking is real?


Is it a purely objective measurement by society or something which corresponds to some real subjective state? I'd say that it was most probably a combination of both of them. We define ourselves according to social categories and how others see us. So even if we start with a subjective belief that we are a "Group A Person"; to start with this category would not be discrete, and instead it would run continuously into Group B and C, etc, so some Group A's are better examples of the group than others who might be closer to the border between Group A and B. The complicating factor is that if we are "subjectively" feeling on the cusp of A and B, and society encourages us toward our expected group, then we'll behave more in line with that group.

There have been attempts to objectively define "gender" and identify it in society, but it all depends on what initial assumptions you make. Like with race, you can theoretically end up with 40+ categories of gender if you are too narrow in your categorisations. I'm not sure if this makes gender an "artificial construct", at least no more so than a country is an artificial construct.

Beatsong wrote:
Festeringbob wrote:the role of genes in the formulation of the mind is not properly elucidated yet, therefor at this time there is no definitive answer to your question of psychological gender being "real" or "innate" as opposed to "learnt" and "imposed", however the wonderful thing about nature is it's ineffable ability to fuck up, and as such we see all sorts of failures in biological systems which help us understand what is wrong with the damaged component (failure in the genes that are responsible for the production of melanin result in albinism for example)

particularly prudent to this case is the existence of gender identity disorder, which appears to be a failure in some mechanism that allows the mind to assume the correct psychological role, whilst no one as yet knows why this happens, it begs the question, how can this happen if gender is learnt?


How can there be a "correct psychological role" outside of society's judgment about what is "correct"? :scratch:

"Correct" is not a description of innate reality, it's a value judgment about reality. The vast majority of sheep are white. But when we see a sheep that is black, we don't call it an "incorrect sheep". A farmer may judge it as being incorrect for his purposes, but that is an entirely different matter. In terms of innate reality, there are simply correspondences between things that happen often (like the other aspects of "sheepdom" and whiteness) and ones that happen less often.

Similarly, if a person is born with a penis, a total dislike of all sports and a deep desire to nurture young children (even supposing that we can know such things are "inborn"), what makes the correspondence between those physical and psychological factors "incorrect"? How can that be anything other than society's judgment that such things ought to correspond differently? And what is society's justification for that judgment?

Isn't there aa wierd kind of "is/ought" problem here? A leap from the observation that certain sets of characteristics cluster together the majority of the time, to a judgment that they ought to cluster together the rest of the time as well?


I agree. The issues with gender identity disorder are not a result of a conflict between the person's "natural" state and their "misfiring" resultant state. It's a conflict between society's beliefs about how sex and gender should be interchangeable, and the fact that some people's gender doesn't fall neatly in this pigeon hole. I'm not aware of the figures on GID, but I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't largely a problem in Western countries where there are strict expectations on how you should behave, whereas in other cultures there is a more realistic understanding of the variation in human behavior. In Samoa, for example, there is "male", "female" and a third option: Fa'afafine. This is when boys with clearly feminine behaviors (so males identifying with a feminine gender) are identified at an early age and essentially raised as females. Here I would imagine a very low level of GID since there is no room for mental distress as they are accepted as part of society.
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Re: Is gender real?

#36  Postby vombatiformes » Jan 06, 2011 4:53 am

The issues with gender identity disorder are not a result of a conflict between the person's "natural" state and their "misfiring" resultant state. It's a conflict between society's beliefs about how sex and gender should be interchangeable, and the fact that some people's gender doesn't fall neatly in this pigeon hole. I'm not aware of the figures on GID, but I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't largely a problem in Western countries where there are strict expectations on how you should behave, whereas in other cultures there is a more realistic understanding of the variation in human behavior. In Samoa, for example, there is "male", "female" and a third option: Fa'afafine. This is when boys with clearly feminine behaviors (so males identifying with a feminine gender) are identified at an early age and essentially raised as females. Here I would imagine a very low level of GID since there is no room for mental distress as they are accepted as part of society.


Speaking as someone diagnosed with GID and who regularly interacts with OTHER people diagnosed with GID, I would disagree strongly. As I posted earlier, it had nothing to do with behavior for me personally and indeed much of the discussions that center around "how one knows" if one is transgendered or not has less to do with gender-specific behavior (however it is defined by one's society) than how one feels about their body specifically.

There is definitely a growing number of people that identify themselves as "genderqueer" or "third gender" or something of that nature, but the experiences I've had regarding even people who identify as such describe what they desire in terms of physicality (some sort of body that resembles some sort of intersex-esque condition) and not a desire to play with trucks and dolls simultaneously. :]

After all, the only known treatment for GID is physical transition. I feel strangely about my body, not my social role. If male and female social roles were completely flipped or even identical I would still desire a male body.

Unfortunately there have been very few good experiments done on/about transgendered people, or I would point you to some studies. :/ It makes it really difficult to have a discussion about this sort of thing outside of experiences, which are pretty much useless when you get down to it. All I can offer is my interpretation of how GID manifests itself, as someone who fit the criterion for diagnosis and has physically transitioned from female to male.
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Re: Is gender real?

#37  Postby Beatsong » Jan 07, 2011 1:06 am

vombatiformes wrote:Unfortunately there have been very few good experiments done on/about transgendered people, or I would point you to some studies. :/ It makes it really difficult to have a discussion about this sort of thing outside of experiences, which are pretty much useless when you get down to it.


Au contraire. I have to say your description of what it feels like to be transgendered makes infinitely more sense to me than the impression I had got before. I don't know whether I was seeing things through some kind of prejudiced filter, not seeing the things I didn't understand or something, but I was very much under the impression that for transgender people it IS about wanting to play with dolls or trucks. That's why I have such a problem with the idea. I can't see a person who has a penis and wants to play with dolls as having anything wrong with them that needs to be "fixed", no matter how hard I try - I just think "well play with dolls then".

When you describe it in terms of your feelings about your own body though, it makes more sense - particularly when one considers the research done so far into sex development in utero, the different stages of development of the brain vs the genitalia etc.
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Re: Is gender real?

#38  Postby TMB » Jan 08, 2011 3:08 pm

Beatsong, you said,

Obviously gender as a set of social constructs is as "real" as any other set of social constructs. ie, not objectively real at all, but real in the sense that society chooses to operate that way and in doing so, has real effects upon peoples' lives.

I would describe that gender is an intangible in the way you describe it, as opposed to not ‘objectively real’. While it will have subjective interpretations, there is such a thing as ‘gender’.

But I think what I'm referring to here is gender as a person's own subjective sense of "being" male or female, or "identifying" with male or female gender roles.

OK, and I assume then that the gender roles themselves are those elusive things constructed by society and interpreted with limited fidelity by individuals? Meaning that we acquire these personal sensations based upon what we experience in society, however we do so imperfectly and subjectively, meaning we come up with our version of the social norm or counter norm.
I'm going to start from the position that this concept is not real: it doesn't describe any actual psychological reality (in most people, at least), that can't be adequately described by other factors.

OK

As far as I can tell, the factors that contribute to a person's sense of identity in relation to sex, are:

1. Their biological sex

Agreed

2. Their sexuality

What is this? Do you mean their sexual orientation, homo/heterosexual?

3. Their interests

?

4. Their interaction with social expectations about how these factors go together.

OK, but surely this just means that peoples ideas about things are affected by cultural norms? Ie. if a girl is raised in a society where leg shaving is considered feminine, she is highly likely to feel the same way and yet consider it a personal choice?

The concept of "gender" only seems to arise where there is a severe conflict between any of the first three of these factors, and the fourth one. A biological male who happens to be homosexual will have to fight against homophobes who insist on the expectation that men "should" want to have sex with women. A young girl who happens to like playing rough games will be called a "tomboy" and, later, probably be suspected of being gay, simply because her interests don't coincide with what society says they "ought" to be. In extreme cases, a young child can form a transgender identity and insist that they are the opposite of everything people tell them they "should" be.

Agreed.
But the problem with all this is that factor 4 is entirely cultural and arbitratry. There is no innate connection between biological sex and certain interests, or contradiction between it and other interests. Since these social expectations are not "real" - they are not rooted in anything to do with physical or innate psychological reality - the idea of "gender" that emerges from them cannot be real either. It is simply a way of describing the interaction between the real elements of a person's body and psychology, and social expectation.

I do not understand your point. Society is a complex interplay between individual and group wants, there is some cooperation, plenty of duplicity and conflict as this seeks some form of balance. Our culture is strongly subject to our biology, and what you see in culture reflects that. Are you suggesting that culture and biology can somehow be separated and that if it were possible that our biological nature could/should be left to follow its way and for culture to leave it alone?

Anecdotally, I have never known young children to have a concept of their own "gender" that is separate from or additional to these elements. Small children just get on with life. If they want to play with dolls they do. If that is celebrated or discouraged because of the spurious assumptions of the adults around them, then obviously that affects how they continue in terms of seeking reward from their environment.

How have you been able to observe any behaviour that has not somehow been subject to the childs social environment? What cues children and following from a very young age from their peers and adults is a complex topic, and while I accept that childrens awareness of how the environment affects them is limited, they are also sexually immature until puberty, once the hormones get working on their minds its a very different game.
The one exception to this seems to be transgender children, who develop the sense that they "are" the opposite sex from their bodies, largely out of extreme conflicts between their personality or interests and social expectations (ie, factors 3 and 4 above).

I have not studied this aspect, at what age does this emerge. I would imagine that the moulding and indoctrination of children from birth will create issues if there is some biological urge driving against this, but many people grow up in denial of many things, even too themselves of many things, such is the power of social conditioning.
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Re: Is gender real?

#39  Postby Scot Dutchy » Jan 08, 2011 3:42 pm

This is from the Gires (Gender Identity Research and Education Society)

Gender variance is an atypical development in the relationship between the gender identity and the visible sex of an individual. In order to understand this atypical development, it is necessary, firstly, to understand something of the typical development of these elements of our make-up. Many in the scientific and medical professions recognise the terms ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ as having distinct meanings. ‘Gender identity’ describes the psychological recognition of oneself, as well as the wish to be regarded by others, as fitting into the social categories: boy/man or girl/woman. These social categories generate expectations of gender roles, that is, how we are expected to behave in society. ‘Sex’, on the other hand, is usually understood to represent the physical differentiation as male or female, indicated by the external appearance of the genitalia and the presence of gonads (testes in a boy/ovaries in a girl) which will determine reproductive function, and differences inbrain structure and function. Typically, gender identity, gender role and sex characteristics (known medically as the ‘phenotype’) are consistent with each other and with the underlying chromosomal[1] pattern: 46,XX for a girl, 46,XY for a boy.


Continued...
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Re: Is gender real?

#40  Postby Beatsong » Jan 08, 2011 6:24 pm

TMB wrote:
I'm going to start from the position that this concept is not real: it doesn't describe any actual psychological reality (in most people, at least), that can't be adequately described by other factors.

OK

As far as I can tell, the factors that contribute to a person's sense of identity in relation to sex, are:

1. Their biological sex

Agreed

2. Their sexuality

What is this? Do you mean their sexual orientation, homo/heterosexual?


Yes.

3. Their interests

?


People often speak of gravitation towards certain types of interests as being part of "gender": Playing with dolls and dressing up for girls - later making house, shopping etc. for women. Physical activity, fighting, taking things apart and building things for boys and men...

I know of course that this is bollox, but it's part of the socially constructed narrative about gender and no more bollox than the rest of that narrative, as far as I can make out.

4. Their interaction with social expectations about how these factors go together.

OK, but surely this just means that peoples ideas about things are affected by cultural norms? Ie. if a girl is raised in a society where leg shaving is considered feminine, she is highly likely to feel the same way and yet consider it a personal choice?


It's interesting this. I think one source of my difficulty describing what I mean in this thread is that I'm a person who always makes a clear distinction between internal, "real" personal feelings and those imposed upon one by society. But when I think about it I know you're right - all of our feelings are affected by how we've been brought up and interacted with society, however much we think otherwise.

The concept of "gender" only seems to arise where there is a severe conflict between any of the first three of these factors, and the fourth one. A biological male who happens to be homosexual will have to fight against homophobes who insist on the expectation that men "should" want to have sex with women. A young girl who happens to like playing rough games will be called a "tomboy" and, later, probably be suspected of being gay, simply because her interests don't coincide with what society says they "ought" to be. In extreme cases, a young child can form a transgender identity and insist that they are the opposite of everything people tell them they "should" be.

Agreed.
But the problem with all this is that factor 4 is entirely cultural and arbitratry. There is no innate connection between biological sex and certain interests, or contradiction between it and other interests. Since these social expectations are not "real" - they are not rooted in anything to do with physical or innate psychological reality - the idea of "gender" that emerges from them cannot be real either. It is simply a way of describing the interaction between the real elements of a person's body and psychology, and social expectation.

I do not understand your point. Society is a complex interplay between individual and group wants, there is some cooperation, plenty of duplicity and conflict as this seeks some form of balance. Our culture is strongly subject to our biology, and what you see in culture reflects that. Are you suggesting that culture and biology can somehow be separated and that if it were possible that our biological nature could/should be left to follow its way and for culture to leave it alone?


The first part - that they can be separated at least in terms of analysing how they operate and what consequences flow from them. Certainly I don't think culture can ever operate in a way that is separate from biology, but there are plenty of things about biology - growth; ageing; disease; appetite; physical fitness etc - that can be analysed as fundamentally biological processes, even though they are affected by our experiences within our culture. (For example, death is a fundamentally biological process and everyone, without exception, will die. But people in poor societies tend to die earlier, on everage, than people in rich ones.)

This is different from something like, say, sexual modesty, which is a purely cultural process. A baby is not born with any concept that they should cover certain parts of their body, they have to learn it (whereas they ARE born with a body that is already programmed in such a way that it will eventually die, no matter what kind of culture they grow up in).

Or to extend your own point: our culture is strongly subject to our biology, but there are some aspects of our biology that are only superficially affected by culture, and will always fundamentally be biology.

But this is not about my assertion of that, it's about the implication in much current discourse about gender that a person's "gender identity" is largely "biologically innate" like this.

Now I can accept that some of the components of gender identity (as I listed above and you seem to broadly accept) are so biologically innate. Obviously having a penis or a vagina is. There is a growing consensus that hetero or homosexuality is. I don't know, but I'm happy to accept the possibility that certain personality traits are.

My point is that these things only become "gender identity" by virtue of interacting with the last, vital ingredient: society's grouping of those components and characteristics into two overall categories and naming them "male" and "female". Telling us that a person has a "male gender" is not therefore telling us anything about their own innate or biological qualities that we can't know from a description of those qualities in isolation. And it's not even telling us anything about those qualities, since each of those qualities in isolation can exist in either gender (eg, a person can fancy women, and even have a penis, and still have a female "gender").

So what IS it telling us?

Some people seem to feel that it describes something about how they "feel about themselves". This seems to be particularly the case for transgender people.

For me, I can't internally isolate anything that I feel about myself that corresponds to this idea. I mean, I have a penis and fancy women, but we are told that this is not necessarily an indication of a particular gender. I have certain interests and characteristics, some of which I'm told are typically male and some typically female. Beyond that, I'm just me.

So I don't understand what it can be, other than a purely cultural social construct. However I'm beginning to understand that this is highly subjective, and some people like vombatiformes DO feel something that can only be described as "gender".

It would be interesting if the conclusion is that it DOES exist as a real psychologically experienced thing, but only for some people. Like a phobia or something.
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