Modern feminism submits that the problem is not making women and men equal, the problem is that women and men are false categories to work with. Some women exhibit “manly” characteristics, some men are “girly”. So making such a big thing out of the detail of possessing or lacking a Y chromosome is senseless – we could perhaps have a gender spectrum, but your biology shouldn’t enter into the matter.
Structuralist anthropology as Lévi-Strauss sees it states that humans exhibit the common trait of being able to think with symbols. Hence language. The idea is that the brain receives many sensory stimuli from many sources, but somehow manages to create a single total experience for our consciousness to grapple with. How? It copes by dividing the world into lots of categories. Lévi-Strauss spent most of his time talking about how these categories interrelate and the implications for social behaviour, but the relevant point here is that we cannot deal with the world without simplifying things into nice boxes. In fact, most things are simplified into only TWO boxes. Lévi-Strauss believes that when you get down to it, everything can be reduced to a binary pair. This is how we work.
This theory certainly explains a lot for us gender theorists. This is why no one can deal with the suggestion outlined in the first paragraph. We like there to be two easy categories: XX and XY. Neat.
Other anthropologists such as Leach or Douglas have posited that when we encounter something that does not fit into our system of categorisation, we treat it totally out of proportion. Sometimes we revere it as a god, sometimes we label it “impure” and subject it to overkill taboos. For example, Douglas claims that the Jews banned pork because in their system, which categorised a) cloven-hoofed, cud-chewing animals as worthy for consumption, and b) animals without these features as either unclean or as pets, pigs were too much to handle because they had cloven hoofs, but didn’t chew the cud.
Hence, the suggestion that an individual might have breasts and lack a penis but still not shave their natural hair is horrifying to modern society for the same reasons Leviticus has a vendetta against swine. It just doesn’t fit! Outrage! Shun the uncategorisable beasts! How dare they not chew the cud, and yet presume to keep their cloven hoofs! It’s not that people are particularly adverse to the idea of women doing what they want or having power, though this may also be the case, but primarily it’s that people just don’t like the idea that a human being, with all the psychology, opposable thumbs, capacity for speech and rational thought that that implies, might simultaneously be a man and want to wear tights. It simply doesn’t fit the boxes. Somewhere deep in the grey matter of the whirring and clicking of the brain, a clerk at a desk is going, “Aaaah! Which filing cabinet does this go in!?” And the whole machine delivers you an impassive “Message could not be displayed. Program terminated,” and shuts down on your ass.
So the lesson is: what we’re fighting against isn’t the prejudices of people who are simply mean because they’ve been brought up that way; we’re fighting against the actual human brain. Now clearly, this isn’t as bad as it sounds. People can and have overcome the boxing problem. It involves creating new boxes. But the hardest part is the destruction of the old boxes, which are the result of the distilled collective internalisations of millennia of millions of misled minions of misogynist cults unconsciously reproducing flawed social structures since the dawn of time. So pack the explosives extra tight and add a little napalm just for good measure.
PS: I was reminded of this issue in a particularly powerful context today when I was reading a well-intentioned author who used the phrase “she or he”. This is not too uncommon these days – the intention it seems is to switch the normal order of genders to remind us that men don’t always come first. But the very fact that we need to be careful about such an order threw into stark relief the boxing problem described above. There are literally only two kinds of pronouns in the entire English language to describe gender. How are we supposed to talk about gender spectrums and false dichotomies when we don’t even have the necessary vocabulary? What if we wanted to say, “they treated Robin like a more masculine person than [insert pronoun] actually was”? Currently, our word-use is tied inextricably to biology. If Robin has a womb, the correct word is “she”, if not, it’s “he”. Someone in our brain asked the clerk at the desk to come up with some personal pronouns for gender-related stuff, and they apparently went to the filing cabinet and pulled one word out of each of the relevant boxes (ie, the two relevant boxes), and that’s all we can possibly think with. So our conflict extends from the actual human brain to the actual Oxford English Dictionary. Damn!Share