Ramey: What is gender?


Gender is a widely debated topic. Columnist Lucas Ramey comments on prominent viewpoints.

Lucas Ramey, Columnist

Gender revisionists think the classical definition of man/woman(adult human male/female) is simplistic and harmful. So, what are the new ideas?

Over the past few decades, many people have proposed new views surrounding gender based on explaining social phenomena, destroying oppressive power structures or even with just the intention of respecting everyone’s self-identification. This has, of course, become a controversial topic. 

It should be noted there is no one view of gender that is undeniably true. All views of gender come with their issues, and there is still much dispute and discourse regarding them.

One prominent view comes from postmodern, post-structuralist thought, queer theory. More specifically, Judith Butler, who argues that our gender is not an essential and natural truth with a biological basis, but something to be performed in society. 

This view tends to hold that no one is born a man or a woman, but we interact with different social dynamics and people and decide which gender we are. Anything viewed as “normal” is automatically questioned and challenged. Categorization into certain groups such as gender without the control of the person being identified is seen as lending to the elites who want to separate us into groups to control and oppress us. This is an attractive view because there is a liberating feeling when all these categories are seen as socially constructed and within our control to change their meaning.

There are problems with this view. If gender has no biological basis, how can we possibly justify any sort of medical intervention? It also seems that if gender is completely socially constructed, instead of intervening with medical care, we should look more toward some kind of restructuring of society to accommodate different identities. This view will not be so attractive if you think that transgender people were “born that way,” since it rejects this idea because gender is more something you do rather than something you are. There is a clear rejection that gender identity is innate and natural, or even neurologically based.

Another common view is that gender is not socially constructed but has to do with our neurological state. This view is many times referred to as the “brain” sex argument. It is very much in contrast with the first view described as it implies that there seems to be an underlying fact of the matter regarding our gender, that there is an objective fact to be found with a biological basis rather than being completely socially constructed. This view came to light when studies came out that showed that the brains of transgender people resemble their gender identity.

This view sees gender as something innate and natural to us. However, it has some problems. There is an implication that someone can identify they are transgender but ultimately be mistaken, meaning it is simply not enough to say you are a different gender. The nature of gendered brains is also not settled. In fact, when controlling for other co-founding variables like homosexuality, the brains of transgender people seem to more resemble their biological sex.

It also does not take into account that many cases of gender dysphoria resolve with psychotherapy or even naturally. It seems that identities are not necessarily fixed. 

A third view, which is currently the most unpopular, is the gender-critical view. People who fall into this camp generally reject the concept of gender identity and believe that people in society should be viewed, and treated, based on their biological sex, which is real, binary and immutable.

Proponents of this view believe that there are negative externalities with unquestioned affirmation of one’s identity. Examples of this would be sports, locker rooms, the realm of dating, medical transition of minors, prisons, etc. There have been many controversies about justice and fairness regarding some of the examples listed, and the gender-critical crowd generally supports categorization or exclusion based on biological sex. Other views regarding gender seem to brush off and heavily downplay these potential negative externalities, making this view unique in that respect.

Of course, the obvious objection to this view is that it on its face rejects the identity of transgender people, and it seems like this is not a good attitude for society to adopt. One could object by pointing out that rejecting the identity of transgender people is an overall net harm to society. That this view alienates a certain part of the population and could lead people to live a life they don’t truly feel is right for them to avoid being an outcast. It also seems to downplay many of the psychological aspects of transgender people. To promote the common good, any formulation of this view should amend these criticisms. 

With respect to this topic–which is very important to discuss–we should keep in mind that the most important part of being a good person is to remain kind and understanding of everyone and lend them our help and support whenever it is needed while also acknowledging that truth is essential to a flourishing society.