To The FemmeMobile! Away!

{November 22, 2010}   Eradicating gender

So, I’ve been reading Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein, and I’m at the bit where she’s talking about how we should eradicate gender because it’s essentially a class system.

I can’t argue with it being a class system; I think she’s probably right. (Can you think of a culture where one gender wasn’t considered ‘above’ another? I can’t.) The thing is, I’m not sure it’s possible to eradicate gender.

Humans evolved to categorize and judge. The sky is blue — that’s a judgment. It’s bad to murder. That’s also a judgment. That person is blond. Categorization.  That woman is wearing a red shirt. That’s a categorization. And so on and so forth. With all the snap judgments we have to make today (it’s safe to turn left at this unprotected light, I shouldn’t ask that stranger for directions, I need to take this call, I should dodge this person to thread my way through the crowd), categorizations are actually becoming MORE important. By putting people in categories, it frees up thought time and helps us make faster decisions.

Are those good decisions? Not always. Are they good categories? Not always. Is it a good thing to categorize gender? Not necessarily. But I don’t really think it’s an optional thing, either. I think this is hard-wired into our neural biology. Not that they need to be categorized as we currently have them categorized, but just that there will always be some sort of gender category, and the default will probably be what’s in the view of the majority. That doesn’t mean the minority can’t be in the view of the majority, but if the majority is unaware of it, then it’s never going to be acknowledged. (Ex: when it comes to race in NorCal, black is in the minority but still in the view of the majority; we are aware there are black people. If there is an undiscovered tribe in South America somewhere, they’re not in the view of the majority and so no one is ever going to assume someone is from an undiscovered tribe.)

I’d have to say that rather than try to eradicate gender, I’d like to see more genders explored and acknowledged as acceptable. Will people still screw up at figuring out what gender someone is? Sure. I would hope, though, that the more genders we have, the more people will be respectful of them, and the more people will realize that, yeah, their gender might get screwed up sometimes — no biggie, just correct and move on.

I’ve heard people talk about cultures where a neutral gender is assumed until they’re told otherwise, but I’ve never actually heard of a culture named, which leaves me wondering if this has happened, or if this is simply a desire. If it’s happened, it would argue against my categorization theory.  Maybe, in that case, we could assume a neutral gender. Even so, though, I find it doubtful. I mean, if someone tells me they have a learning disability, even without any evidence my brain starts trying to categorize it by what I’ve seen, and often assumes dyslexia if there are no obvious cues — that’s the well-known one in our culture. I would guess that if people were assuming gender neutral, it would be the same thing; outwardly you might go with gender neutral, inwardly our brains are still at work. And now that I think about it, if people are giving us their gender then it’s still a categorization; it’s just one they put themselves in, rather than one the world put them in.

Of course, I have to admit I find the idea of a no-gender world distasteful. Kate would, I suspect, tell me that I feel that way because I’m invested in gender due to what the culture has taught me. She’d be at least partly (maybe entirely) right; I like having femme as my identity. Erasing gender would erase a piece of nearly everyone’s identity. Saying some people can be genderless is an interesting thought, but in our culture now the outside world does its best to put gender on people, and I’m sure ‘genderless’ would quickly become a gender of its own, with that sort of force applied.

… I totally sidetracked myself, there. I meant to say that I don’t like the idea of a genderless world, and maybe that’s where my theory comes from; grasping at straws to make gender okay. (I don’t believe so, but I will acknowledge that it’s possible!)

I have a lot more thinking on this to do. Definitely some exploring of my own issues and why gender is important. (Mostly, I think, because it brings me a community — in my case, femme. I can find people to relate to at least on that aspect, and that affects how we’re treated and how we act and react. Thinking about eradicating that means the people I talk to for whom this is really our only shared interest… well, my fear is that I’d basically lose them. I’d lose not only my identity, but my community. Hmmm. There’s lots of blog posts on this, I suspect. *laughs*)

Annnnd, now I need to go train dogs. 🙂



Jen says:

Just gazing at a bit of info about third gender/gender neutral/intersex folks around the world:

Check out the Hijra in India, the Kathoeys (to some degree) in Thailand (they tend to see themselves as outside of gender norms; however, most of the population just sees them as “ladyboys”), Two-Spirit people in native American cultures, Fa’afafine in Samoa (known as Fakaleiti in Tonga, Mahu Wahine in Hawai’ian, Mahu Vahine in Tahitian, whakawahine in Maori and Akava’ine in Cook Islands Maori), Bugis culture in Sulawesi (Sunda Islands, Indonesia) and Waria (also Indonesia)

JB says:

Exactly! Those are all considered genders; some of them even have multiple genders. Not male/female, no, but genders all the same. None of them have a lack of gender!


Jen says:

Well, it was more to the tune of the “neutral gender” concept. In fact, the Bugis/Sulawesi culture actually has five genders, all of which serve different purposes. Yes, I think we’ve been conditioned to think of things in gender, but frankly, if it wasn’t called “gender,” I think it’d just be called something else. People with language would find a way to express that certain people are X and certain people are Y and some are Z. Or more letters. Women would be entities with boobs and no wacky protrusion on their pelvis, and men would be entities with no boobs and protrusions in the pelvic area. Some boobed entities would still be unsatisfied with their physical form and aspire to be more like the other, and vice versa. Some would be satisfied with form, but aspire to act in a way unlike the norm of their body type.

I don’t think you can really eradicate gender unless you essentially start over from scratch, and even then, I think that we’d all be rubbing on whoever we wanted, but it would eventually be defined in some way in the evolution of language and culture.

JB says:

*nods* Yeah, that’s what I was trying to say — you can’t get rid of gender. You can try, and you can call it something else, and you can have lots of genders, but eventually I agree, and you stated it well: it would eventually be defined in some way in the evolution of language culture.

I think, though I may be incorrect, that Bornstein’s argument is that we could get rid of it altogether, and then people wouldn’t be classified as X, Y, and Z at all. That’s kind of my sticking point: I disagree it’s possible to get rid of gender!


G says:

I’m so late to this discussion, but that won’t stop me from voicing my two cents.

I LOVE this post. This is something that has been bothering me for some time, this proposal to eliminate gender. I absolutely agree that we need more terms and concepts for gender variances; but I don’t want to get to the point where we are all just genderless because a) I don’t WANT to be like everyone else, and b) I LIKE my gender. I like identifying (and being identified) as such.

If some people feel they are genderless, that’s fine with me. But I’d rather push for equality to accept every gendered (or non-gendered) person, versus equality because we’ve eliminated gender altogether.

Thanks for this.

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