Much of what Rebecca Reilly-Cooper has to say about gender identity is cogent and intelligent. At times, unfortunately, her argument goes off the rails and descends into the kind of paranoid and crypto-Marxist thinking that has bedeviled feminism from the onset.
Yet, she is far more enlightened than noted dimwit Judith Butler.
RRC sees that it all begins at birth, when you are assigned a gender. She sees that you are, effectively, the gender you are assigned at birth. Assigned because of the manifest appearance of your external genitalia. Despite all of the nonsense about gender, no one who has ever had a baby has heard the obstetrician or the midwife declare: it’s undecided.
Only someone suffering from a serious mental defect would say that gender is assigned arbitrarily.
Second, members of each gender are taxed with different duties. Being male or female confers obligations on each and every one of us. Since RRC considers herself a feminist, she does not note that, among these rules is a manly duty to protect women. Nowadays women have decided that being protected is demeaning, and that they are strong enough to protect themselves.
Well, not exactly. They can protect themselves with a myriad of new laws, with the suspension of due process for anyone they accuse, and with the awesome power of the state.
Note well: since gender identity is based on an objectively observable reality, each person’s moral obligations are defined and assigned. Thus, other people will know for a fact whether an individual has fulfilled them.
If your gender identity is known only to you-- an absurd proposition that has become politically correct dogma-- then no one will know whether you have fulfilled your duties or not. And no one will ever really know who you are. If it’s all in your mind, you have no face. And having no face makes you a self-declared pariah. Why this should be desirable is beyond me.
Since human community-- like human DNA-- is structured in binary terms, blinding yourself to identifying gender markers spells the disintegration of community. It makes social anomie a policy goal.
Third, today’s culture warriors have concluded that you should decide your own gender. You, as a splendid individual, have been granted the power to decide who you are and what you are. And you can do so without any reference to the way that others see you or your biological reality. RRC emphasizes a point that others rarely mention: it’s one thing to convince yourself that you are an elf; it’s quite another to force others to treat you accordingly. By definition, forcing people to act contrary to their observation of reality is oppressive.
The culture warriors believe that whatever your biological reality, you can change it reality by changing your mind. Thinking will make it so. The notion borders on delusional, and it becomes even more delusional when you decide that everyone else must see you as you have chosen to define yourself.
Note also that the argument for gender fluidity ignores the best interest of society. It sets the individual off against the social good and social harmony, thus dooming the structure that sustains these deliria.
We to take the notion of gender fluidity seriously, RRC says, we would find ourselves with a reduction ad absurdum. There would be as many possible genders as there are people. And thus gender would be something like personality. She ought to have noted that no one really thinks that there are billions of different personalities or that you can make up any personality you wish.
RRC summarizes the gender fluidity argument:
Once we assert that the problem with gender is that we currently recognise only two of them, the obvious question to ask is: how many genders would we have to recognise in order not to be oppressive? Just how many possible gender identities are there?
The only consistent answer to this is: 7 billion, give or take. There are as many possible gender identities as there are humans on the planet. According to Nonbinary.org, one of the main internet reference sites for information about non-binary genders, your gender can be frost or the Sun or music or the sea or Jupiter or pure darkness. Your gender can be pizza.
But if this is so, it’s not clear how it makes sense or adds anything to our understanding to call any of this stuff ‘gender’, as opposed to just ‘human personality’ or ‘stuff I like’. The word gender is not just a fancy word for your personality or your tastes or preferences. It is not just a label to adopt so that you now have a unique way to describe just how large and multitudinous and interesting you are. Gender is the value system that ties desirable (and sometimes undesirable?) behaviours and characteristics to reproductive function. Once we’ve decoupled those behaviours and characteristics from reproductive function – which we should – and once we’ve rejected the idea that there are just two types of personality and that one is superior to the other – which we should – what can it possibly mean to continue to call this stuff ‘gender’? What meaning does the word ‘gender’ have here, that the word ‘personality’ cannot capture?
RRC offers some good points, but she goes off the rails when she embraces the feminist view that we should decouple gender identity from reproductive function. Thus, she falls into the paranoid thinking, the kind that has bedeviled feminism from its onset. In it, gender roles were imposed on women by a vast patriarchal conspiracy.
Nevertheless she describes it well:
On this view, which for simplicity we can call the radical feminist view, gender refers to the externally imposed set of norms that prescribe and proscribe desirable behaviour to individuals in accordance with morally arbitrary characteristics.
The problem lies with the word “arbitrary.” If feminists believes that gender roles are assigned arbitrarily they must also believe, as RRC does, that these roles have nothing to do with anatomy, with reproduction, with biology or with reality.
If gender identities define men as being stronger than women, this is an arbitrary imposition. If you believe that you will believe anything.
Feminism needs this hypothesis because it sees social organization based on different gender roles as a massive right wing conspiracy to oppress women, to force them to have and to raise children, thus to deprive them of the full self-actualization they would achieve if they were captains of industry or tech oligarchs. Thus, thetranshistorical universal conspiracy has defined the female role as maternal, inner directed, weak, subordinate, passive, submissive, oppressed… what have you.
Oft times you get the impression that many of these women do not like being women. They have no conception of how women exercise power in relationships and in the world and have come to believe that the male way is the only way.
Anyway RRC explains:
Not only are these norms external to the individual and coercively imposed, but they also represent a binary caste system or hierarchy, a value system with two positions: maleness above femaleness, manhood above womanhood, masculinity above femininity. Individuals are born with the potential to perform one of two reproductive roles, determined at birth, or even before, by the external genitals that the infant possesses. From then on, they will be inculcated into one of two classes in the hierarchy: the superior class if their genitals are convex, the inferior one if their genitals are concave.
From birth, and the identification of sex-class membership that happens at that moment, most female people are raised to be passive, submissive, weak and nurturing, while most male people are raised to be active, dominant, strong and aggressive. This value system, and the process of socialising and inculcating individuals into it, is what a radical feminist means by the word ‘gender’. Understood like this, it’s not difficult to see what is objectionable and oppressive about gender, since it constrains the potential of both male and female people alike, and asserts the superiority of males over females. So, for the radical feminist, the aim is to abolish gender altogether: to stop putting people into pink and blue boxes, and to allow the development of individuals’ personalities and preferences without the coercive influence of this socially-enacted value system.
As I said, RRC simply goes off the rails. She ends up in a ditch where there is no gender, where biology does not matter, where facts don't matter, and where we will conclude that all of the social institutions that human beings have ever constructed were designed to suppress women. Thinking such thoughts must constitute a mania.
The way to avoid this conclusion is to realise that gender is not a spectrum. It’s not a spectrum, because it’s not an innate, internal essence or property. Gender is not a fact about persons that we must take as fixed and essential, and then build our social institutions around that fact. Gender is socially constructed all the way through, an externally imposed hierarchy, with two classes, occupying two value positions: male over female, man over woman, masculinity over femininity.
The solution is not to reify gender by insisting on ever more gender categories that define the complexity of human personality in rigid and essentialist ways. The solution is to abolish gender altogether. We do not need gender. We would be better off without it. Gender as a hierarchy with two positions operates to naturalise and perpetuate the subordination of female people to male people, and constrains the development of individuals of both sexes.
Behold the moral blindness and ignorance. You would think that procreation is incidental to human life, that anyone can decide to mother or to father a child, that there are no maternal instincts and that human beings and their societies have no interest in being perpetuated. Without procreation there is no future, of our communities or of our genes. Without providing the best upbringing for children, the community will degenerate and ultimately disintegrate.
We might ignore the Bible and other religious texts. Have these people ever read Darwin? Do they understand nothing of evolution? Don't they see that you cannot base a human community on individual fantasies and delusions.
If you do not like women and want to caricature them as weak and submissive and ineffective that is your constitutional right. But, be aware of the fact that you, by your storytelling are diminishing and demeaning all women who have considered it a valuable human enterprise to bring children into the world and to provide them with the best upbringing. Today’s women have far more opportunities than did women in the past, but they ought not to hold foremothers in contempt for not having said opportunities. The feminist attitude is grossly insulting, to mothers, to grandmothers and to all of the women who preceded them.