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Exploring Gender as a Social Construct

This question is directed to people who think gender matters for behavior and mental capabilities. Similar questions could be asked about race and other traits.

Suppose that gender is a social construct. Suppose that gendered behavior is due to just culture, not a mix of culture and genes. Suppose that women are born with equal mental capabilities to men.

If you conceded all that, what would you change your mind about, if anything? Why?

I ask this because a lot of effort is spent denying that gender is a social construct. Many right wing people are quite hostile to the social construct theory and view it as dangerous. But what negative consequences do they think it implies?

I interpret people as thinking something like "If the left was correct that gender is a social construct, then a lot of their political philosophy would be correct, and I'd have to change my mind about a bunch of stuff." I am doubtful of this and don't see that the social construct theory implies much leftist political philosophy.

If gender is a social construct, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Social constructs exist and matter. They can't be instantly or trivially changed or gotten rid of. Culture and memes are important.

This issue is complicated by biological differences between the genders for e.g. muscles. Men are stronger on average. The difference is significant. Reasonable people don't deny that. Try to focus your answer on basically intellectual differences, personality differences, behavior differences, mental differences, etc., which are the things that might be cultural.

Note that the anti social construct view claims that genes influence gendered mental traits, but do not fully determine them. They think a mix of biology and culture leads to gendered traits. They don't claim it's all biology. The social construct view, by contrast, denies the role of biology. It rejects the mixed factors view in favor of a single dominant factor.

For people who think gender is a social construct, I have similar question: What (classical) liberal ideas do you think that contradicts, if any?


Elliot Temple on July 18, 2020

Messages (13)

I am just afraid it will mean more children exposed to hormone therapy and surgery, when it seems much of it happens to be peer pressure and other stuff.

Or what if its mental illness and we are indulging some form of mass hysteria. Like helping people with Bulemia throw up more efficiently.

For the record I have nothing against trans, I respect trans. I'll use your pronouns and take you seriously as a person.

I just don't know if we have really looked at the consequences.

Here is a question I don't know the answer to but might be important to think about. Since we've become more accepting of trans people, we have seen a rapid rise of girls who are identifying as trans, but why are not a bunch of older women coming out as trans now too?

again, I respect trans and have nothing against them. I don't think I am a bigot, I hope I am not.


Periergo at 6:17 PM on August 3, 2020 | #16954 | reply | quote

#16954

> Since we've become more accepting of trans people, we have seen a rapid rise of girls who are identifying as trans,

Do you mean boys who have transitioned / girls who want to transition? (personally i don't like the term 'trans' b/c stuff like trans-male makes things more confusing, not less. i've heard a now-boy describe the frustration of being mis-gendered only *after* it was public that he'd transitioned; a matter made even more frustrating due to them changing schools to avoid bad experiences like bullying etc)

> but why are not a bunch of older women coming out as trans now too?

it seems like the transition society made to being more accepting of homosexuality might be a good comparison. did we see the same frequency of 'coming out' across ages?

in both cases it seems likely that the older someone is the less they have to gain and the more changes they would have already made to cope. like, if we're talking about older pre-trans women and many of them dress fairly gender neutrally, don't have kids or a spouse, etc, then there might not be much point, or they might feel like it'd be an overwhelming change. so they wouldn't do it or be as public about it if they did.

there's also the possibility of exposure bias - who is the media talking about transitioning? etc

> I am just afraid it will mean more children exposed to hormone therapy and surgery

do you mean non-consensually or where they've been brought up without the skills to decide for themselves?

personally, even if the 'trans phenomena' (for lack of a better term) is 100% socially constructed and based on deep/implicit ideas ppl get when they're really young, it doesn't mean that changing those ideas is more important than living a good life (by like pursuing ideas and philosophy or whatever a good life means for that person).


Anonymous at 5:42 AM on August 4, 2020 | #16959 | reply | quote

I meant girls who are pressured into thinking they are supposed to be boys.


Periergo at 3:57 PM on August 4, 2020 | #16962 | reply | quote

> I am just afraid it will mean more children exposed to hormone therapy and surgery, when it seems much of it happens to be peer pressure and other stuff.

If your concern is "People believe that if gender is a social construct, then more stuff like hormone therapy and surgery should happen", then I agree with you. That's a reasonable concern about how people currently think.

But I don't think that any leftist political activism stuff actually follows from gender being a social construct. That's the issue I was trying to raise. (And, FWIW, I think gender roles and gendered behavior are basically social-cultural phenomena.)

BTW, if gender is purely a social construct, surely trans people don't need hormones or surgery, just different ideas...


curi at 4:48 PM on August 4, 2020 | #16966 | reply | quote

#16962

> I meant girls who are pressured into thinking they are supposed to be boys.

what about the girls who are pressured into thinking they are supposed to be girls but want to be boys anyway? (wouldn't that be harmful to them, too?)

i think #16959 was asking about the direction rather than purpose, but okay.

also, originally you said:

> girls who are identifying as trans

identify as the alternative gender to their birth-gender which *makes* them trans.


Anonymous at 10:27 PM on August 4, 2020 | #16971 | reply | quote

#16966

> BTW, if gender is purely a social construct, surely trans people don't need hormones or surgery, just different ideas...

what if it's harder to change their ideas about that stuff than hormones or surgery?

if the conflict between their ideas and body is an issue, why is changing their ideas a better option than tech-based stuff if the outcome is approx the same?

is it *always* better to change one's ideas than those sort of alternatives? are there any conflicts between ideas where doing something physical is preferable to changing the idea?

(well, as i've asked it stuff like "get a cup of coffee" is a physical thing that most ppl prefer to do rather than change their preference for coffee)

idk, just writing the questions that come to mind.


Anonymous at 10:28 PM on August 4, 2020 | #16972 | reply | quote

#16972 What's your goal with this?


Anonymous at 10:37 PM on August 4, 2020 | #16973 | reply | quote

#16966 You bring up another point that I don't think I have explored. If it's a social construct, why the physical need for change with surgery and hormones, particularly upon children. There is a growing community around people who regret having transitioned. I think we might be inadvertently hurting children.

The trans community seems to suffer from a lot of suicides, and transitioning doesn't seem to help. Like I said earlier, what if we are doing the equivalent of helping bulimics kill themselves faster. What if it is a mental illness?

With all that being said. I don't think I will pursue this topic much further as it is not very relevant to me. I don't think I can do anything about it, and I have other more pressing concerns. This is me practicing Elliot Temple's suggestion of announcing a departure from a discussion topic.


Periergo at 11:50 AM on August 5, 2020 | #16977 | reply | quote

> What if it is a mental illness?

See this re *mental illness*:

https://curi.us/archives/list_category/72

and:

http://www.szasz.com/manifesto.html

from:

http://www.szasz.com/


nikluk at 2:45 AM on August 7, 2020 | #16992 | reply | quote

#16992 A quick skim seems to indicate that you would only consider the existence of mental illness if it was the kind of thing that showed up on an autopsy. Which seems completely absurd to me *but* I'd be willing to change my mind on this.

I don't think the mind is the same as the brain, a mind can break but the brain won't show this on an autopsy, IMO.

However, it seems fairly evident that treatments such as lithium for bipolar disorder is effective.

I am not an expert in Psychiatry or Psychology tho.


Periergo at 4:31 PM on August 7, 2020 | #16995 | reply | quote

> However, it seems fairly evident that treatments such as lithium for bipolar disorder is effective.

I don't think physical interventions (e.g. drugs, surgery, electroshock) are effective for "mental illness". I have read some of the research and found none that stands up to criticism.

If behavioral changes were due to e.g. a parasite, that might initially be categorized as a "mental illness", but would be recategorized as a physical illness once the cause was known. Similarly, Alzheimer's isn't considered a "mental illness".

The term "mental illness" refers to bad ideas, not physical ailments. But bad ideas are not illnesses and can't be cured with drugs. Stuff like depression, schizophrenia, paranoia, bipolar, ADHD and autism are ideas about how to live life which clash with society. Sometimes the stigmatized ideas are reasonable, and sometimes quite unwise, but in neither case is it a matter for medicine. People's problems, suffering, conflicts, etc., are real, but need to be viewed as what they really are (the difficulties of life, thinking and interacting with other people) in order to deal with them more effectively.


curi at 10:43 PM on August 7, 2020 | #16999 | reply | quote

>The term "mental illness" refers to bad ideas, not physical ailments. But bad ideas are not illnesses and can't be cured with drugs. Stuff like depression, schizophrenia, paranoia, bipolar, ADHD and autism are ideas about how to live life which clash with society. Sometimes the stigmatized ideas are reasonable, and sometimes quite unwise, but in neither case is it a matter for medicine. People's problems, suffering, conflicts, etc., are real, but need to be viewed as what they really are (the difficulties of life, thinking and interacting with other people) in order to deal with them more effectively.

That's one hell of a claim!

Ok I am open to learn this. Show me the receipt. What is the evidence?


Periergo at 11:03 PM on August 7, 2020 | #17000 | reply | quote

#17000 You could read Szasz books or you could make your own claim or you could try to show some evidence which contradicts my claim.


curi at 11:18 PM on August 7, 2020 | #17002 | reply | quote

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