Friday, 20 November 2015 12:57

Feminism or the Mistake about Who You Are

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Feminism or the Mistake about Who You Are

Thomas Martin

Thomas Martin teaches in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. You may contact Thomas Martin at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I found the following student writing assignment on the teacher's desk in the classroom in which I am teaching Introduction to Ethics at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Expository Writing II/ENG 102 Fall 2007/Gender Identity Short Essay
This essay calls for you to examine your gender identity. Please address all three of the bulleted questions below in a 2-4 page typed essay with 1-inch margins. While I do not want you to include a title page or cite external sources, you may give your essay an intriguing title.
* Do you think of yourself as masculine, feminine, or a combination? Why?
* Would you like to be more masculine or more feminine? Why?
* How would your life change if you woke up tomorrow as the opposite sex?

How the times have changed! When I was a freshman, taking the equivalent of English 102, gender was a grammatical term used since the 14th century to refer to nouns designated as masculine, feminine, or neuter in various languages of the Western world. We did not learn to write by answering questions that belong in a women's studies program or a sociology class, but by answering questions about the characters and ideas in the literature of James Baldwin, Thomas Wolfe, Shakespeare, Richard Wright, Hemingway, and Melville, to mention but a few. It was English, after all, and we had more to do than wonder what we might think, and do with -- and to -- ourselves if we happened to wake up one morning as a member of the opposite sex.

Then again, in 1971, I would not have been able to answer the questions these students at UNK are being asked to answer for the simple reason that the updated idea of "gender" was still being constructed by some members of the feminist movement on the theory that human nature is epicene, that is, lacking the characteristic of either sex.

Here is how it works. We start out as neuters because masculinity and femininity are not the inherent characteristics of males and females. They are social constructs determined by the expectations and norms of the culture or society in which a person is socialized.

Parents may socialize a biological boy (XY chromosomes) into a traditional masculine role, which includes the gender characteristics of being dominant, courageous, and aggressive. Likewise, parents may socialize a biological girl (XX chromosomes) into the traditional feminine role, including the characteristics of being submissive, timid, and sensitive. In other words, boys are made to play masculine roles by a patriarchal society which forces them to play with guns and build roads with imitation bulldozers [phallic symbols?], while girls are made to be feminine by playing with Barbie dolls and pretending to cook pies in play ovens. Gender roles are like parts actors play and, therefore, may be changed like costumes. Switch the toys and the overly aggressive boy, recklessly dominating the earth with his bulldozer in the confines of a sandbox, will be neutralized by combing a Barbie doll's hair and thoughtfully coordinating outfits while playing house. Believe this if you will, but we must remember, for fear of being heretical, that sex is what a person is by nature, and gender is what one is by the circumstances of environment.

Listen to Nancy Hirschmann, in The Subject of Liberty: Toward a Feminist Theory of Freedom, explain how human relationships are shaped:

The idea of a social construct is that human beings and their world are in no sense given or natural but the product of historical configurations of relationships. Our desires, preferences, beliefs, values -- indeed, the way in which we see the world and define reality -- are all shaped by the particular constellation of personal and institutional social relationships that constitute our individual and collective identities.

Obviously, human beings are "shaped" by relationships with other human beings, their families and their communities in which they are raised. However, if there are no "given" or "natural" relationships, then the shape a person has is initially indeterminate. A person is but a lump of clay, forced from dust into his/her shape by the forces of circumstance being applied. Put the child -- having no gender role as of yet -- in a sandbox with a miniature bulldozer, dump truck, shovel and pick and it plays, as we have said, the dominate masculine role; place it in front of a doll house with a well-endowed Barbie doll, barrettes, combs, and assortment of clothes, and it plays the submissive feminine role. This is why we have a number of gender roles, some of which are characteristic of the opposite sex. One must remember that sex is what we are biologically; gender is what we become socially. Gender identity is our own sense of conviction of our maleness or femaleness, while our gender role is the cultural stereotype of what is masculine and what is feminine.

[Anyone who has been a child or had children -- or been around long enough to enjoy grandchildren -- might notice that not all children adhere to the role-engendering transformation of the sandbox and dollhouse. This, however, simply shows the force of the complexities emanating from children that permits them to avoid the conditioning of circumstances. Oh, well.]

It is also important to note, that when Hirschmann professes that human beings and their world are in no sense given or natural she has stated a given. Here is Hirschmann's given: there are no givens or inherent natures in the world.

Hirschmann's fallacy is the basis of feminist ideology: there are no given or natural female and male desires, preferences, beliefs, or values. Her philosophy reminds one of Karl Marx, who also thinks man does not have an inherent nature but is a soulless creature shaped by his material needs. The economic systems of his place and time define human relationships in an antagonistic power struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed. These are the opening of lines of the Communist Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

History moves forward by the power struggles manifested in relationships between human beings created by an economic system that contains their own seeds of destruction. In the economic power struggle, the roles are determined by the means of production -- in feudalism, the lord and the serf; in capitalism, the bourgeois and the proletarian -- necessarily moving toward the era of socialism which eliminates the private property fostering individualism. The next stage of human development after socialism is Communism, a utopian society where the oppressive opposing forces created by the economic means of production will cease to exist as humanity gels into a classless, genderless Itdom.

Here is the shape of the family in the "social construct" of a capitalist society according Marx:

The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parents and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all the family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour . . . . The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion than the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women.

We have all been constructed by society. It is heretical for the modern student to think otherwise (that it is human beings who create society). Fortunately, it is not my fault that I am a bourgeois sexist who treats my wife as a submissive domestic worker, an instrument. I am simply a social construct whose "gender role" is unconsciously enforced by the capitalist economic system.

Oh, well.

Back to the Gender Identity questions from English 102:

* Do you think of yourself as masculine, feminine, or a combination? Why?
* Would you like to be more masculine or more feminine? Why?
* How would your life change if you woke up tomorrow as the opposite sex?

It is good the student does not have to cite external sources or even look to his own family as an example to answer these questions because this would only create confusion in his mind. The word "feminine" is from the Latin femina, which means characteristics unique to women; the word "masculine" is from the Latin masculinus, which means characteristics unique to men. [The thought police need to correct the dictionary before the next generations of students are given this writing assignment.]

In this respect, being female or male is by definition an accidental biological quality, like being a particular race or having a particular color of eyes, neither of which has anything to do with what a person thinks.

Inherent in the Gender Identity question is Hirschmann's law: human beings and their world are in no sense given or natural. This is why the question asks students to separate themselves, as it were from themselves, by asking "Do you think of yourself as . . . ?" So, does one have a self one thinks of oneself as?

Let's pretend.

Ask the student reading Hamlet to think of himself as Hamlet, then ask him to think of himself as Ophelia, and then have him play the role of each. We could do scenes in class in which all the girls take turns at playing Hamlet and all the boys take turns at playing Ophelia. In all of this the students are acting the part, but none of them really is Hamlet or Ophelia.

Imagine for a moment a play in which the actors become the characters they played on stage, off stage, and you will have an idea of what Hirshmann is about in claiming that human beings and their world are in no sense given or natural, but [their] desires, preferences, beliefs, values -- indeed, the way in which [they] see the world and define reality are only social constructs playing the parts, gender roles, which have been constructed for them.

Implicit in the idea of the social construct of gender roles is that while a person at birth is male or female, as distinguished by the genitalia, a person's birth gender is neuter, as in no sense given or natural. Oh, that Hamlet's uncle or mother would have remained a neuter!

So now, we can ask the students this question: Do you think of yourself as a father or do you think of yourself as a mother?

Given that being a father is not a matter of one's given biological nature but of playing the dominant, courageous and aggressive gender role, and being a mother is not a matter of one's given biological nature, but of playing the submissive, timid and sensitive gender role, then a women can be a gender-role father to her son and a man can be a gender-role mother to his daughter.

This results in a pretend world in which no one is true to his being and everyone is playing at being something which is not given or natural. We are now left with the feminist ideologues' idea of emasculated men and effete women in a world in no sense natural or given in which they are trying to engineer children and students after a nihilistic vision of sameness in preparation for neuterdom.

In 2008, I would not be able to answer the gender identity questions (which would never have been asked of me in 1971) because I do not have a gender. Furthermore, I do not think of myself as masculine, feminine, or some combination of the two, which means I cannot think of myself as wanting to be more masculine or feminine. Finally, I cannot think of how my life would change if I woke up as a member of the opposite sex because I am what I am -- complex -- and that is a given. *

"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." --G. K. Chesterton

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