Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘gender

A few thoughts on the word “gender”

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The abuse of “gender” for “sex” has long annoyed me, but I have taken the view that the use for “self-perceived sexual identity” (or similar) was acceptable or even beneficial—if nothing else, the latter is a separate concept and using a separate term for a separate concept is usually a good idea.* However, I unconsciously based this view on a faulty premise: that the grammatical gender was inherently a division into masculine/feminine/neuter or something along similar lines (e.g. just masculine/feminine or masculine/feminine/neuter/common; while an apparently genderless language can equally be viewed as having exactly one gender**). Using this premise, an application to similar*** divisions in other areas would not be absurd—if a good word was not already present.

*Indeed, one of my more common complaints about the PC crowd is the high-jacking of words to mean something different from what would be historically expected and/or expected among other speakers, e.g. (in the same area) that “man” and “woman” would refer to self-perception instead of biology. It would be much better to introduce new words for these new concepts. Even worse is deliberate re-/mis-definition for purposes like manipulation, as with e.g. “racism” and “rape” in some circles.

**At least, assuming that it follows a pattern somewhat similar to the typical Indo-European languages, as e.g. a version of English where “they” (“them”, etc.) was abused as a full replacement for “he”, “she”, “it” (“him”, etc.)—which is where, regrettably, English seems be heading. (The abuse as a generic third-person singular is already dominant.) A sufficiently different language might behave too differently (but is then unlikely to be relevant in this context).

***I stress that e.g. a grammatical “masculinity” does not automatically imply a physical or biological “masculinity”, which is obvious from languages with a more differentiated system than English—hence, “similar” above. This differentiation is another reason not to use “gender” for “sex”—grammatical gender and biological sex are not always coinciding. (In German, words for things can be grammatically masculine, feminine, or neutral, even when a logical neutral might be expected. Words applied to men can be feminine (e.g. “die Person”/“the person”); words applied to women can be masculine (e.g. “der Mensch”/“the human”); words for either can be neutral (e.g. “das Individuum”/“the individual”. Of course, the gender changes based on what word is used—not based on the entity referred to.)

This, however, is not strictly the case: it happens to be true in many languages, including English and German, but other divisions are possible. For instance, Proto-Indo-European might have had an animate/inanimate division. Even my native Swedish deviates through a somewhat arbitrary division into utrum and neutrum:* The members of these genders, for all practical and modern purposes, only differ in what indefinite (“en”/“ett”) and definite (“den”/“det”) article is used and whether an “-en” or an “-et” is to be suffixed in certain situations.** Indeed, they were more often referred to as “en-ord” och “ett-ord” (“ord” = “word(s)”) than “utrum” and “neutrum” in school.

*The discussion of actual Swedish grammar in school was superficial, incomplete, or even incorrect—a problem that native speakers of other languages might also have encountered. For this reason, I had simply never really reflected on the implications of the Swedish deviation until today. As an added complication, there are several different perspectives on Swedish genders (above, I discuss the most common) and the situation was historically different.

**E.g. “en sak”/“a thing” vs. “ett träd”/“a tree” and “den saken”/“that thing” vs “det trädet”/“that tree”.

Looking outside of grammar, there have been many uses of the word “gender” that also follow the line of a more general classification, e.g. that being English/German/whatnot or belonging to a certain family was discussed in terms of “gender”. Older use for sexual division (e.g. “the female gender”) is just a special case of this, and not* a precedent for a specialized use relating to sex or sexual identity. This makes it the more illogical to use “gender” when it is actually the sex (or even sexual identity) that is intended: a “Sex:” on a driver’s license calls for “M[ale]” or “F[emale]” with some clarity**, while “Gender:” might equally call for “E[nglish]”.

*Similarly, the fact that we could speak of someone being of the “female persuasion” does not make “persuasion” a good replacement for “sex”, because we can equally combine “persuasion” with other words implying group membership. Note that this applies to a wide range of other words too, e.g. “class”, “set”, “category”. (If it had just been “persuasion”, it might have been rejected as an abuse, or something to restrict to humorous formulations, for other reasons. The choice of “persuasion” as an example is based on the higher frequency of “female persuasion” over, say, “female category”.)

**Or at least it used to… However, even for those who cannot or does not want to be classified as male or female, the type of the classification is clear. On the other hand, confusion with sexual acts is highly unlikely outside of the famous joke about the girl who found her mother’s driver’s license (“Mommy! I know why Dad divorced you! You got an ‘F’ in sex!”).

I re-iterate my recommendation never, ever to use “gender” when “sex” is the traditional word. When it comes to sexual identity, the question is trickier because, again, a separate* word makes sense, and I am unable to offer an alternative that is both sufficiently understandable and has a sufficient current use to not cause as much confusion as “gender”*. However, this might be an area where “persuasion” (see earlier footnote) has some possibilities, actually gaining through its more regular meaning in the area of opinions and convictions, e.g. in that the-athlete-previously-known-as-Bruce would be considered of the male sex and the female persuasion.** Possibly, some shortening of “sexual persuasion”, e.g. “sexper” or “seper”, might work as a replacement for “gender” in such an attempt.***

*Another strong argument against the abuse of “gender” for “sex” is that many will assume a reference to sexual identity where biological sex was intended and vice versa.

**Or at least was so “pre-op”. Possibly, additional terminology is needed for the “post-op” case.

***Using an unabbreviated “sexual persuasion” would be too lengthy in many contexts, e.g. on driver’s licenses. It would also risk a dropping of “sexual” in sloppy use, with negative effects on other meanings of “persuasion”—just like “discrimination” and “intercourse” has seen a drift towards using the word solely for a special case implied by a longer phrase. To start with just “persuasion” would be even worse.

Addendum to the linked-to text:
Possibly ten years ago, I wrote “The possibility that existing literature eventually would be actively re-written to adhere to ‘gender-neutrality’ is not at all far-fetched:”. Indeed not: Consider e.g. my (much later) text on distortion of Blyton, where I lament that the actual events and characters of her books, not just specific words, have been altered for similar reasons.

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Written by michaeleriksson

April 1, 2019 at 7:47 am

Six feminist myths

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A few days ago, Pär Ström, one of the leading fighters against prejudice and media misreporting in Sweden, published a book titled “Sex feministiska myter” (“Six feminist myths”).

Packed with references, quotes by researchers, statistics, and specific examples, this book makes short shrift of the following myths:

  1. Sex/Gender (“kön”) is a social construct:

    In reality, there is very strong proof of biological sex differences, including genetic differences and variations due to different levels of various hormones (both current and in utero). The effects of these on abilities and preferences are significant within humanity.

    Note: The word “kön” can be translated as either “sex” or “gender”, depending on context. In an English discussion (where there is often a differentiation per definition into biological/sex and non-biological/gender differences), it would make less sense to discuss whether sex/gender is biological, but whether the biological influence is unimportant overall—which is what feminists of the long-debunked “tabula rasa” school like to claim.

  2. Women receive less pay for equal work:

    In reality, there is no discrimination against women to be found when equal work is compared. Differences in raw numbers stem from comparing unequal work (e.g. with regard to working hours, experience levels, field of work). Increasingly, among young people, women have an actual advantage…

  3. Women have it harder making a career:

    In reality, there are no signs of this. Differences in outcomes arise from different life priorities and similar factors. Indeed, there are many examples of anti-man discrimination, where the wish for equal outcomes, even over an age-stratified work-force, forces organisations to give women an unfair leg up—sometimes two…

  4. Men hit women:

    In reality, men are the victims of violence noticeably more often than women. Even specifically domestic violence is a roughly 50–50 issue, with a slight lead of women as the perpetrators and men as the victims.

  5. Women work double (“dubbelarbetar”) in the house-hold and the workplace:

    In reality, men work more than women overall. It is true that women work more in the house-hold; however, men work correspondingly more in the workplace—and then 19 minutes a day.

  6. Women have worse health-care:

    In reality, there are no notable disadvantages for women. On the contrary, there are signs of clear discrimination of men in some areas, including cancer research and treatment.

The recurring reader will not be surprised by any of the above, which has been discussed (in less detail than the book provides) on a number of occasions on this blog and which is the accepted truth among non-partisan specialists in the respective subject areas. (A good starting point for my writings is [1], which also contains a number of later track-backs.)

The book is available free-of-charge (in Swedish) from http://www.dnv.se/mou/feministiska_myter.htme and is discussed by the author under http://genusnytt.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/min-bok-sex-feministiska-myter-slappt/e.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Comment censorship and comment policies IVc: Excursion on “nature vs. nurture” and related issues

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During the discussionse that spawned this part IV, a side-discussion seemed to branch out into a formal debate on nature vs. nurture (or, possibly, epistemology…), but ran out in the sand as the nurture (or, possibly, post-modernist…) participant backed out. It resulted, however, in some private correspondence on my opinions in the area. A summary of these opinions based on the correspondence is provided below:

  1. More or less all characteristics are influenced by both “nature” and “nurture” (and often from the subset “society”).

  2. To say that the one is more important than the other is only possibly within limits. In particular, there are many characteristics that are strongly “nature” (e.g. to have two legs), but can be changed by external influences (e.g. by stepping on a land-mine). This need not be true for all characteristics, however. (Cf. the case of David Reimer on http://www.slate.com/id/2101678e and David_Reimerw.)

    In addition, circumstances can affect the relative strength of different factors. A good example is IQ, which can depend strongly on access to and quality of food in a country with nutritional problems, but will be largely determined by inheritance in e.g. Germany.

  3. I have very strong objections to “Gender as social construct”, as this idea is refuted by scientific studies with a high degree of probability. (With some reservations for the exact definition used, and for the possibility that border-line cases could be moved with ease in different directions.)

  4. This does not mean, however, that society has no influence on “gender-roles”, behaviour, and similar. Based on my own (subjective) observations and basic considerations, it seems plausible to me that the more basic a particular characteristic is, the stronger is “nature” and the harder it is to affect it through “nurture”. Conversely, characteristics are the easier to change, the less basic they are—in particular, when they can be seen as conscious or unconscious choices based on more basic characteristics. (That women wear high-heels is hardly caused by genetics; but the wish to be attractive, which is the cause of the wish to wear high-heels, is a different matter.)

  5. An important, but originally left-out issue: Even, absolutely speaking, small differences can have a very major impact in a narrow context. Men and women pose excellent examples of this, with differences that are far smaller than between humans and mushrooms, spiders, dogs, or even chimpanzees. Yet, these difference have a great impact within the context of human behaviour.

    To take an extreme example, a difference in 100m-time of 0.10 s (a nothing in most contexts) can make the difference between a world champion and an also-ran (as in 1991w).

    The differences between men and women are small, but the context is sufficiently narrow that these differences have a great impact—and, ironically, by narrowing the context further by blurring the roles of men and women, these differences could conceivably grow even more important. (Consider the career of Usain Bolt if he was forced to run long distance or Haile Gebrselassie as a forced sprinter.)

I also discussed a few aspects of the alternate topic that both illustrate common problems with feminist (or e.g. Creationist) reasoning: The claims that we cannot know anything for sure and that it is unfair to give greater weight to non-feminist authorities than to the feminist:

  1. Even in science, it is impossible to reach perfect certainty. It is still possible, however, to make some statements with near certainty or with a high probability. Other cases include “we do not know for sure, but a lot speaks for X”. It is important to not hide ones head in the sand, when confronted with such statements—and a lack of perfect certainty is something very different from a question of faith (“Glaubensfrage”, as was claimed by feminists)—the latter implying holding on to a belief despite a lack of proof, or even a preponderance of negative proof.

  2. Authorities should not be believed because they are authorities, but because (respectively, if) they bring good arguments and facts. If one adheres to this, the question of what authorities to believe is a non-issue (and it is clear why feminist authorities tend to have a hard-time with critical thinkers).

Those who speak German may also be interested in an informal debate on nature vs. nurturee that did take place, without my participation, as an off-shot of a blog entry by the nature proponent dealing with why the formal debate did not take place.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 11, 2010 at 2:32 am

Disney’s princesses and the wishes of women

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Time and time and again, I stumble upon blogs, newspaper articles, and similar, with a thesis along the lines of “Disney and its unrealistic princesses teach little girls what they should like.” (with many variations on who is the culprit, what age the women are, and other details).

Every time I read something like that, I have a near identical comment in mind:

You assume that the girls/women are altered by Disney/whomever. Stop to consider the far more likely explanation that money-makers simply happen to know what women like—and have done the complete opposite: Altered the message to fit the women.

In order to save some time in the future, I have written this post instead, for easy linking. (If you have found this page over such a link, please bear in mind that a one-size-fits-all is rarely a perfect fit: Apply the principles, not the details, to the post in question.)

Disclaimer: I do not claim that this is necessarily a one-way street, but fully acknowledge, e.g., that Disney can affect the girls. My point is rather that the opposite, by Occam’s Razor, should be the default assumption, that the burden of proof is on those blaming Disney, and that, even to the degree that a two-way street is present, the effect of the girls on Disney is likely to be the considerably stronger.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 16, 2010 at 1:03 am