Gender failure modes

Societies naturally organise themselves and divide their members into specialised labour. Gender roles are one way a society divides responsibilities. I think of gender as "social sex", or more nuanced, "feelings humans have, and interpretations they make, on the subject of biological sex".

Western society makes three claims about gender:

  1. biological sex is the same thing as gender
  2. biology is destiny, gender roles stem from biological predispositions
  3. be yourself

This has two failure modes.

Firstly, there are people whose felt sense of gender does not match their body. I'll wave in their direction, say the magic word "queer", and skip forward, because I don't want to be speaking for a group I don't represent. Please educate yourself responsibly with writings of queer activists.

Secondly, there are people who refuse to match their personas, interests, and/or activities to existing gender roles. They earnestly believe in "be yourself" over "this is how every grown-up wo/man acts." I find this to be a similar problem to what @DRMacIver wrote on taking books seriously but not literally. "Do as I say, not as I do" is the motto of thought leaders all over the world; best ignore them.

Thirdly, some people missed out on socialisation. Perhaps nobody taught them skills necessary to act like a wo/man. Perhaps they did not have peers that would reward them for conformance - for example, poor social skills mean no friends, which means no positive feedback loop; any negative feedback is overshadowed by primary cause of social exclusion.

Now that they're adults, they are penalised for not being good at gender-adulting, because gender-adulting is considered a basic life skill. Accordingly, they are also not rewarded for imperfect attempts to learn the skill, because they "should" already have some base competency with it. The effort-to-reward ratio is similar to child learning its primary language vs adult learning secondary language.

All three groups have grown into a fully individuated personalities that don't fit their expected gender roles, so an attempt to force them to conform feels like a violation. They will protest this violence with "not all wo/men!", and be dismissed as sour grapes. Actually, we'd do well to listen to them because they show us growth opportunities we have collectively missed.

Categories: gender · social justice