Gender is A Social Construct, and 2+2=5
Bringing 1984 into 2023
First of All…
You may have heard someone saying, “gender is a social construct.” Usually, it has a “First of all,” in front of it, as some sort of preparation for the gravity with which this declaration should be received. That itself lends credence to the parallels between what Winston in 1984 went through with two plus two equals five and the manner in which this pseudo-truth about gender is declared.
Of course, upon saying that gender is not a social construct you will receive a deluge of protestors telling you how you’re conflating sex with gender. But even if I accept that gender and sex are different in that gender is more the behaviors displayed by people regardless of sex, the science on a link between sex and gender is nothing new and widely accepted.
Here are a couple references for the idea that biology plays a part, and this is barely scratching the surface. Any simple search on the subject will produce innumerable results similar to these:
- “Why do girls and women differ from boys and men? Gender development is typically considered to result from socialization, but sex hormones present during sensitive periods of development, particularly prenatal androgens, play an important role. Data from natural experiments, especially from females with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, show the complexity of the effects of androgens on behavior.” — Beyond Pink and Blue: The Complexity of Early Androgen Effects on Gender Development, 2019.
- “Testosterone plays an important role in mammalian brain development. In neural regions with appropriate receptors testosterone, or its metabolites, influences patterns of cell death and survival, neural connectivity and neurochemical characterization. Consequently, testosterone exposure during critical periods of early development produces permanent behavioural changes.” — Prenatal testosterone and gender-related behaviour, 2006.
As I think about why it irks people so much to state something so obvious, I think I understand. Maybe it’s that they believe the only way to equality is to prove sameness. Argument being that if we can prove gender to be a social construct, then we can eliminate arguments about how our differences warrant different treatment. But this is an incredibly shallow and incorrect concept of what equality means.
Equality in the American sense is the concept that we are, as Michael Zuckert correctly stated, “not subject to the rightful authority of any other human being.” It imbues each human with the dignity of owning themselves — a sense of sovereignty — that limits other human beings from compelling them to live against their will. It is each individual’s dignity as a human being that is equal. We are not all the same. That’s just silly. But what we do want is to pursue this principle as stated here, which would provide gender egalitarianism and more prosperity for everyone. I mean, why chain up and lock away half of your society’s brain power?
So, if we believe gender is a social construct, and then produce gender egalitarian societies, what we will see is that men and women will then even out the playing field so to say. Engineering will no longer be dominated by men any more than nursing is dominated by women because people will be free to pursue what they want, not what the gender binary dictates. Right?
Oops. That doesn’t happen.
The Gender Paradox
Of all countries measured along the lines of gender-egalitarianism, the Nordic countries, particularly Sweden, rank highest in their quest to be gender egalitarian. Because the Nordic countries also have a robust economic security net and offer all of their citizens basic services, individuals are freer to pursue what they want to do instead of what they need to do.
Paradoxically, Nordic countries exhibit a larger disparity between male to female engineers in favor of men, just as they do in nursing in favor of women as compared to other Western countries lower on the scale. And there are a lot more trait differences between men and women that actually grow as societies become more equal.
Here are some of the largest studies on this subject:
- Universal Features of Personality Traits From the Observer’s Perspective: Data From 50 Cultures. This study used factor analysis, asking if personality factors are universal across humanity regardless of culture. This helps us to understand if we can compare cultures when studying personality. Even though there is some variation in the expression of different personality factors in different cultures, the factors themselves remain consistent. This allows us to compare personality in different countries. What they found is that “Sex differences replicated earlier self-report results, with the most pronounced differences in Western cultures.” More egalitarian cultures showed larger differences in personality traits between the sexes.
- Personality and gender differences in global perspective looks at the assumption by social role theorists that “gender differences in personality [would] be smaller in cultures with more gender egalitarianism” and puts it to the test. In reviewing the literature, they find that “Big Five traits, Dark Triad traits, self-esteem, subjective well-being, depression and values — are conspicuously larger in cultures with more egalitarian gender roles, gender socialization and sociopolitical gender equity [emphasis added].” Even more conspicuous was that objective measures like height and blood pressure showed the same patterns.
- Sex differences in personality are larger in gender equal countries looked to advance this research. This study used a more extensive personality measure, the IPIP-NEO-120. What they found confirmed “past research, [as] there was a strong correlation (r= .69) between a country’s sex differences in personality and their Gender Equality Index.
- Relationship of gender differences in preferences to economic development and gender equality studied 80,000 individuals in 76 countries. What they found is that “the more that women have equal opportunities, the more they differ from men in their preferences.”
- The gender equality paradox in STEM education used an international sample of 472,242 and found “Paradoxically, the sex differences in the magnitude of relative academic strengths and pursuit of STEM degrees increased with increases in national gender equality.” The average scores and aptitudes between boys and girls were the same. They just decided to do different things, more so in nations with higher ratings of gender equality.
- Personality traits are real, innate and measurable across cultural divides.
- Personality traits between men and women in nations that are more egalitarian differ more than they do in less egalitarian nations.
- Those personality traits, especially the difference in interest between people as compared to things, manifest as choices throughout life in innumerable ways to include education and occupation.
So not only do we have numerous studies showing that the differences between men and women start with prenatal testosterone, which is not a social construct, we have evidence that gendered behavior is maximized in societies that are the most gender egalitarian. Equality made the men and women more, not less, different.
Now that we’re clear that gender is more than only a social construction, let’s get back to Orwell.
Why Two Plus Two?
If you’ve never read 1984 or it’s been a few decades, the pinnacle of what Big Brother did to people was dramatically displayed by breaking the main character’s mind. Winston was tortured into saying and then actually believing that two plus two equals five as opposed to four.
But just like two plus two being equal to five, nobody truly believes that gender is a social construct. Winston only truly “believed” it after he was tortured into belief. Like two plus two equals five, stating that gender is a social construct is a means for someone to declare their political position with relation to an ideology. It’s a means to plant a flag in the ground and declare with whom they stand.
If challenged, most people will back down a bit and admit that of course there are biological truths that have social implications. But if they can admit that, and if they know that, then why start out by stating an obvious falsehood? Why not just say that gender and its expression are influenced by culture? Mostly it’s because they are simply parroting an ideological statement without being precise in their speech. It’s truly more of a slogan than a statement of fact.
But why gender? And why two plus two?
It’s because the declaration must be foundational. It must serve as a starting point that frames everything that grows from it.
If Winston was forced to declare that E does not equal MC², then he could easily do that. Most of us don’t truly know what it means and it’s a higher-level abstract concept. It would be easy to live with that. It wouldn’t affect much of anything in our brains.
But being beaten into submission until you say and believe that two plus two equals five creates a whole chain of cognitive problems. Big Brother is undermining the very foundation of thought. If two plus two equals five, then what does five plus five equal? What about one plus one? If something so fundamental is destroyed, then nothing else makes sense and Winston’s mind is broken. Once the mind is broken, it can be convinced of anything. It’s the same for confusing us on gender.
“Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”Voltaire
Why Does This Matter?
The development of human consciousness is a succession of categorization, identification and differentiation. This is true on an individual and evolutionary level. The categories we use on ourselves we then use to understand everything not human. That’s why we tend to anthropomorphize — attribute human characteristics to — non-human objects. This process is evident in the record of human art cross-culturally. Any parent who has observed their child’s development in understanding the world knows this as their child’s play mimics their immediate environmental structure.
The most basic categorization human beings use to understand each other and themselves is male/female. This basic categorical system helps us to understand ourselves and put each other into categories necessary for understanding how our societies operate and how we can achieve procreation, necessary for the survival of our species. There is nothing more basic to understand for any species of sexually reproductive creatures. That’s why so much of our world is understood by using those categories and why that is the category under question.
Just like confusing Winston about two plus two, confusing people, especially children about gender, is a tool. Once a person is confused about their basic categorization system, or simply rejects it outright, they can be convinced of anything. Nothing that follows from that basic misunderstanding of the world will make sense. Nothing in the past will make sense. History can be dismissed as the product of people who had no grip on this current fundamental truth. Their internal map no longer matches what they witness in the world.
Once expectations and reality don’t match, up they seek out a new map to place upon the world. There’s a huge gap to fill and that vacuum can be filled with anything. They then clamor to figure out why there is so much confusion, anxiety and anger in the modern world.
Well, that’s what happens when you pull the rug out from under young minds and confuse them about the basics of their existence. Their map of the world is glitching and they don’t know what to do.
Not knowing where you are or what to do is the very definition of anxiety. Doing this to ourselves, and especially our children, is definitely going to leave a mark.