We agree on the facts but not on your conclusion. It matters absolutely
that gender roles are socially based because that means they can be
changed. If they are inherent, essentialist, built into genes, they are
inescapable. Much of early feminist thought--most specifically in
Wollstonecraft--was focused on denying, for example, that virtue is
gendered. If women are essentially defective, created only to
procreate, rightly therefore owing obedience to men, one can argue that
a woman's only real virtue is chastity. I don't need to tell you the
long history of such ideas. And it is unfortunately not the case that
such notions have disappeared from the world--or, even, the United
The point I, at least, am making is that gender and sex do not
necessarily or even mostly match up. By 19th century "scientific" views
of gender, I am incapable of understanding complex ideas or difficult
books. Like women then ("they usually objected"), I disagree.
So the issue is that social construction has a far greater impact on
what is possible than simply an answer to origins. Gender roles are
real, but gender has a very different status from sex. Yes, I know the
arguments that sex is also constructed, and that can be maintained. But
it remains the case that one can distinguish between what is social and
therefore alterable and what is essential and therefore beyond
alteration by law or culture. It was the recognition that race was not
essentially one thing or another in any sense that defined human
intelligence or capability that changed laws about civil rights.
The same is true of law. If law is created by, for, and of people,
people can change it. If law is the word of a king with divine right,
These issues are not comparable to the questions you raise of evolution.
One may chop off a hand--by law--or genetically engineer, perhaps,
handless creatures, but humans who reproduce will continue to produce
offspring with hands--absent mutation, medical experimentation,
extremely rare genetic differences. So I think you are offering a very
faulty analogy, and in any case, analogies prove nothing even if far
>>> Tom Gray <[log in to unmask]> 07/17/07 4:24 PM >>>
My question is about the argument that gender is
socially-based. As in the original example, law is
socially-based. What is the point of this argument?
My impression is that the implicit argument is that
entities that are socially based are somehow
artificial and not real. I brought up the example of
Dawkins because I see the same sort of argument
brought up in discussion of Darwinian evolution. This
is a confusion between the reality of an entity and
how it has been produced. That the hand was produced
using the methods of Darwinian evolution is an
interesting fact. This, however, has only marginal
application to the understanding of the utility of
the hand. The hand has great utility because it has
the properties of being a hand and not because of the
Darwinian historical explanation for its development.
The came could be said of gender. It is socially
defined and is the result of an historical process.
This does not make it any less real and does not make
it any less good or bad.
So the issue that I have is that the whether or not
gender is socially based is beside the main points
that are being made here. It seems that some regard
the current gender roles as things that should be
changed. This is probably something that I agree with.
However it has little to do with the fact that gender
roles are socially based.
The law is socially based. However the law is not
inherently oppressive because of this.
--- Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Perhaps it would be helpful if you state what that
> underlying argument is--on gender, not all things.
> For there is, of course, a Jamesian semantic
> argument. If one assumes a direct parallel between
> genetic, anatomical, and hormonal sex on the one
> hand and a set of characteristics and social roles
> on the other, then one may say gender is sex. But
> then one simply has to find a new set of terms to
> differentiate them.
> >>> Tom Gray <[log in to unmask]> 07/17/07 2:54
> PM >>>
> Teh argument is that gender is socially defined.
> However law is socially defined and language is
> socially defined. Many philosophers even argue that
> reality is socially defined (As an aside, this puts
> Dawkin inanities into perspective).
> So if the argument is that gender roles are socially
> defined. The answer would be that the argument
> nothing. There is an underlying argument that is not
> being made explicit.
> Tom Gray
> --- Diana Manister <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Well then. Heaven will be full of all these sexed
> souls with no options but premarital relations or
> abstinence -- another absurdist joke on us made by
> creator? heh. Diana
> Jesus said the would be no marriage,
> but I don't think he said anything about sex. ;->
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Diana Manister
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Sent: Monday, July 16, 2007 6:35 AM
> Subject: Re: Sex and Gender, was Jeremiah ...?
> Perhaps those social roles are fig newtons of our
> imaginations. It comes as news, however, that souls
> are sexed. I thought we could be done with all that
> heaven. heh.
> It is then astonishing how many brilliant scientists
> and poets and
> thinkers throughout history saw social roles.
> >>> Kate Troy <[log in to unmask]> 07/15/07 1:07 PM
> As an artist (painter), it is clear to me that the
> differences between
> and female go beyond the biological and the contour;
> it is, in fact, a
> of heart and soul, and social roles have nothing to
> do with it.
> In a message dated 7/15/2007 12:53:55 P.M. Eastern
> Daylight Time,
> [log in to unmask] writes:
> Nancy Gish wrote:
> > Eliot is a dead poet and a topic of debate and
> study, not a
> > in the debate.
> > Gender does not mean sex, and its separate
> is one of those
> > has become quite distinct in usage. It is not a
> euphemism for sex,
> > which does not need a euphemism anyway, as in
> academic terms it
> > to biological difference as distinguished from
> social roles. Read
> > current or recent texts on gender.
> > Nancy
> Considering how fixed the distinction between sex
> gender is I'm
> amazed that any literate person isn't familiar with
> Even after making the distinction (gender = social;
> sex = biology)
> still remain problems: Up until a couple centuries
> ago (this is debated
> by some of course) the model was one sex, two
> genders: the difference
> between men and women was a difference of degree --
> women were
> incompletely 'cooked' men. See Thomas Laqueur,
> _Making Sex: Body and
> Gender from the Greeks to Freud_ (Harvard UP,
> See also a fine
> review by Stephen Jay Gould, "The Birth of the
> Two-Sex World," NYRB,
> June 13, 1991.
> Gould emphasizes that in terms of biology there are
> equal arguments for
> the one-sex and the two-sex models. Politically I
> have held elsewhere
> that probably the most desirable model is one-sex,
> many genders. But
> that _is_ a POLITICAL not a biological or medical
> issue. The biology is
> quite neutral on the topic.
> From Gould's review:
> The "two-sex model" replaced this concept of woman
> and man as two
> on a graded continuum with a notion of two
> fundamentally distinct
> entities, bearing different organs that imply
> divergent behaviors and
> aptitudes; (divergent perhaps, but still eminently
> rankable, for sexism
> is the one invariant in this history of
> Laqueur writes:
> Thus the old model, in which men and women wee
> eighteenth century to a
> new model of radical dimorphism, of biological
> divergence. An anatomy
> and physiology of incommensurability replaced a
> metaphysics of
> hierarchy in the representation of woman in
> to man.
> Why did this transition occur, and why over a broad
> stretch of time
> centered on the early eighteenth century? The
> cannot lie in any
> simplistic notion of empirical discovery wrested
> nature by
> triumphant science (quite a set of male images). I
> shall return to the
> role of empirics among other causes of transition
> later in this review,
> but a simple reason suffices to debar factual
> adequacy as a primary
> agent of the switch: neither model is "correct" by
> any morphological
> standard; both capture elements of anatomical
> Both models have supported male-supremacist
> but in different
> ways, which can be crudely summarized as
> vs "scientific."
> Gould's review discusses that contrast also.
=== message truncated ===
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