Does Gender Exist?
Hint: the idea of "gender" is itself a social construct.
Much of the discussion around “gender” rests on the assumption that sex and gender are two different things. Sex, so the theory goes, is about genitals, chromosomes, and so on. Gender, so the theory continues, is about social roles and identity.
The problem is: this idea is very new. In the English language, until very recently, “sex” and “gender” have been used interchangeably. (And before the 1950s, “gender” wasn’t used at all.) So why two words for the same thing? What’s this all about?
Here’s what seems to have happened: the word “gender” has always been a specific term used in linguistics to denote the grammatical gender of nouns and other words, as in the Latin genus. This may seem confusing to English speakers, but in most languages, certainly in all Romance, Semitic, and most Germanic languages (but also in Russian, and in different forms in Japanese, Mandarin, etc.), there is such a thing as a masculine, feminine, and in some cases neuter form for nouns, and even verbs and adjectives. In English, all that’s left of this are the pronouns.
Along came one, shall we say, controversial theorist in the 1950s called John Money who hijacked the linguistic term “gender” to proclaim that there is a distinction between biological sex and socially constructed sex.
But this alone doesn’t explain the word’s success. So what happened?
Here’s what I think. In English, of course, “sex” also refers to the sex act. Now, beginning in the 1950s and gaining speed in the 60s and 70s, everybody suddenly began talking about sex, having sex, sexual liberation, etc. As a consequence, one might argue, the word “sex” as a scientific term used to tell apart the two sexes lost a bit of its innocence.
Now, the English, who are a polite and rather prudish lot, didn’t like talking about sex, so they gravitated towards using the freshly-minted term “gender” when referring to sex in the sense of the male-female distinction, especially when talking about humans. It also sounded kind of Latin, and therefore kind of scientific. Hence, it became a synonym for sex in that sense, whereas “sex” was used for the sex act.
In other words, the word “gender” might be just a random artifact of the historical development of the English language, brought into existence by prudish English speakers to avoid talking about sex.
(The word sex/gender has never been terribly important anyway, because it mostly concerns biologists and bureaucrats in hospitals and governments who need to keep track of such things. In real life, there never has been any ambiguity to speak of, and hence no need for the word: we recognize a man or a woman when we see one. And in the rare cases where there is ambiguity, we don’t ask “what’s the sex” or “what’s the gender,” we simply ask, “is that a boy or a girl?” or “oh dear, I thought this was a woman!”)
Now, the French, on the other hand, are not renowned for their prudishness. Consequently, they just talk about sexe, both in the sense of sexuality, the male-female distinction, and even genitals. When talking about the grammatical gender, they use genre, obviously derived from the Latin genus. It would be ludicrous for a French speaker to apply genre to human beings. Although, it must be said, some French gender theorists do try, but this is entirely an import from the English gender studies crowd. And luckily, the French love their language very much, and so stubbornly refuse to have their language messed with by gender ideologues. Barbarians!
As for the Germans, they can be a very coarse lot.
They use the word Geschlecht, which literally means “genital,” both for the male-female distinction and the grammatical form. In their typical straight-forwardness, they traditionally call the sex act Geschlechtsverkehr, which literally means “genital traffic.”
How did German gender theorists react to this state of affairs? Why, they just imported the English word “gender,” and explain the word as meaning soziales Geschlecht, which literally translates “social genital.”
This begs the question: what, pray, is a social penis? Or a social vagina? Strange images come to mind. Perhaps Disney will make something of this…
The point is: there is no difference between sex and gender. It is just an awkwardness of the English language, which happens to have developed a synonym for “sex” by hijacking the term “grammatical gender,” which had already been hijacked by John Money for his own purposes.
(If there is a gender studies professor out there who feels the sudden urge to do something useful, she could carry out a historical study to see if I’m right, and find out just how this English particularity developed. Then again, this is already surprisingly well covered on Wikipedia. Nothing left to do, really, for the gender studies professors!)
In other languages, as in English before the 1950s, we just use one word to describe the male/female distinction, and this word refers to biological sex and genitals.
Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t more to “maleness” or “femaleness” than our reproductive organs. As I have argued elsewhere, I think it is ridiculous, for instance, to reduce the word “woman” to biological organs. There is a whole world of meaning behind such words that we intuitively grasp if we have any sense, but that is impossible to capture with a verbal definition.
When we talk about humans, when we say He, She, Man, Woman, Boy, Girl, we automatically and naturally perceive biological sex and social behavior as the unity that it is, with all its complexity and mutual dependence. Separating them, or reducing one to the other, is impossible and obviously ridiculous. Female behavior, or male behavior, is neither determined by biological sex nor by human society. Neither has priority. They simply belong together. They form a whole.
But we don’t use the word sex/gender to figure out what womanhood or manhood is. It is merely a technical term used by bureaucrats and biologists to label life forms according to objective criteria, such as genitals. It has nothing to do with societal roles or the like, or even real-life interactions. Heck, we don’t even use it to determine the sex of a cat: we don’t ask “what’s its sex?”—we simply ask: “is that a He or a She?”
So there: the word “gender” is just an artifact of the English language. One might say, it is socially constructed by and culturally relative to the English-speaking world :-)
In other languages, there is no such word, and we just talk about biological sex, because that’s what the word has been invented to facilitate: bureaucratic and scientific labeling.
Because the grammar of most languages (except English) deeply reflects the binary (gasp!) male-female distinction,some languages use a specialized term for that, often derived from the Latin genus.
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John Money was an individual you should definitely not look too closely into if you are a sensitive person and don’t like horror movies and abuse stories.
To give just two examples for the benefit of English speakers, who don’t know about such things, from a Romance and a Semitic language:
In French, if I’m a man, I write Je suis arrivé (I have arrived), but if I’m a woman, I write Je suis arrivée. And as a man I say Je suis beau (I am beautiful) but Je suis belle as a woman.
In Hebrew, if I’m a man, I say Ani olech (I go), but if I’m a woman, I say Ani olechet.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Almost all languages, as far as I can tell, are so full of the masculine-feminine binary (sometimes adding neuter to the mix for objects) that it’s utterly inconceivable to perform some kind of exorcism as some gender ideologues are trying to do.
It’s interesting that the whole gender concept is a transplant from the specific case of grammatical gender, and that there is now an attempt to change precisely that grammar to make it conform to gender ideology. It seems we have come full circle.