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Gender-Role Abolitionism, framework of gender, and discourse

This is a restatement (no substantive changes since my most recent statements on the topic) on the definition and foundations of gender-role abolitionism, the gender-theory framework I use, and the type of social shaping appropriate with this framework/discourse.

It is recognised that there are two primary genetic configurations for our species along the line we're talking about, XX, and XY. It is also recognised that these genotypes generally lead to two distinct phenotype-patterns, giving our species light-moderate dimorphism. It is also recognised that occasionally there are genetic oddities leading to other viable genetic configurations, and there are occasionally developmental oddities leading to differences in gene-expression among people with otherwise-typical genetics. It is further recognised that XX members of our species often are fertile and if they are, they may become pregnant through sexual activity with XY members of our species, the combinations of the gametes from such activities possibly leading to issue; at the present time, practically all members of our species came about through such pairings. The characteristics described so far are shared with many other creatures.

It is recognised that individuals have complicated and elaborate notions of self-identity, desired social identity, and categories they use to understand the world on every topic. It is recognised that many societies, for various reasons, have culturally, legally, and traditionally treated XX and XY humans as quite distinct in capabilities, role, legal status, and natural traits. The paths that such societies pave for individuals are also usually specific to their XX or XY status. It is further recognised that for individuals whose phenotype and genotype differ on this topic, or who have a unusual phenotype or genotype, they are potentially treated in ways differing from their XX or XY status, or potentially treated in some other manner.

It is recognised that some individuals are unhappy with the expectations placed on them by their XX or XY status, because of unusual physical or psychological status, because of unhappiness in how constraining these expectations can be, or because of other reasons.

These recognised, I name the distinctions:

  • Sex/Gender refers to one's genetics, with XX being female and XY being male. Other genetic configurations are possible but not defined here. Sex/Gender are interchangable terms.
  • Genital Sex/Gender refers to the sexual organs present on a person.
  • Gender-role/sexual-identity refers to the preferred social role someone takes along these topics; the complexities of identity prevent an exhaustive list of possible gender-roles/sexual-identities, and there are many possible ways to think about this topic. A framework for this is beyond the scope of this theory, it is simply recognised as a topic
  • Traditional gender-roles/seuxal-identities are a (usually societally-specific) binary of norms that act in the sphere of gender-role that pair almost exclusively with gender or genital gender, being a far more constrained space than the possible space within gender-identity. The concent of this is known as gendernormativity (or gender-normativity)
  • Genderfucked is a term typically used for people whose gender-role/sexual-identity is not traditional paired with their gender. There are other terms that are occasionally used for this (or related concepts). There are many particular forms of this.
  • Sexual preference refers to the preferences someone has for the gender or gender-role of their sexual partner(s)
  • Romantic preference refers to the preferences someone has for the gender or gender-role of their romantic partner(s)
  • Heteronormativity is a subset of gender-normatity focusing on assumed exclusive interest in the other gender and its associated gender-norms in partners.
In many languages, pronouns are attached to the most common permutations of sex/gender and gender-role/sexual-identity conflations. In English, we use "he" and "she" for specific people. I leave it to individuals to choose whether to apply it to gender, to initially tie it to apparent gender but use the other pronoun if requested by the person (as I do), or do something different. By leaving it to individuals, I mean that (barring hostile use) I consider either of these choices valid for people to use for anyone they meet and reject efforts by anyone to force (in any sense) a choice on someone.

People who claim to be transgendered are not recognised as such by this framework; they are recognised as having taken a gender-role normally associated with someone with the opposite genetics to theirs. People may, as stated above, use whatever pronouns they wish to refer to them. Governments or individuals may categorise them as said governments or individuals wish, and if they make distinctions between genders (which are inherently suspicious but not necessarily forbidden) or gender-roles or use some framework other than as laid out above, such choices are not appropriate to target through activism just based on discomfort of the individuals whose self-category differs from the external-categories of others. (this is a conclusion of and limit of gender-role abolitionism as described below, but is best mentioned here)

Moving on to gender-role abolitionism, I hold that:

  • While there is sexual dimorphism in our species, on most topics the variance it causes is smaller than the variance within-gender for our species.
  • It is a limit to human potential and happiness to design social institutions and expectations so as to funnel males and females into different roles, and these limits should be viewed as a problem
  • Legal and institutional funnelling are the most harmful kinds of funneling because they act as hard limits to the ability of people to explore their personal skills, interests, and nature.
  • Social funnelling, in the form of strong notions of identity intrinsic to being male or female, remains limiting and harmful, both because it likewise directly limits human potential (by shaping what people want to do) and creates/preserves attitudes in people that causes them to limit each other based on being male or female
  • Linguistic funelling potentially leads to a very weak form of social funnelling, by shaping how people are prone to think about the two genders, but it may also be innocent, and can easily become detached enough from its original context to lose its power to do so. It is only rarely appropriate to target through activism.
A gender-role abolitionist seeks:
  • To weaken or defeat gender-normativity
  • To broaden the scope of acceptable gender-roles so broadly that the variation in it is so broad that it comes down to individual human variance and becomes a completely dilute term
The most appropriate targets of activism are:
  • Bad values (by this framework); speaking from bad norms or malice is one of the few justifications for pushing on the general speech or conceptual frameworks of another
  • Particularly actions from bad values and intolerance; these often lead to violence against people who are not gender-normative. Solidarity against such things in the direct case is mandatory, and in indirect cases, methods that are acceptable by broad metrics should be found to limit these
  • Institutional differences in how paths are paved for women and men that are not justified by sexual dimorphism combined with knowledge of and care for individual variation
Acceptance (in the short-term or the long) of well-intentioned narrow or duration-limited social institutions that are gender-specific (or gender-role specific, as well as the differences between) is beyond the scope of broad gender-role abolitionism), although in general an important metric for policy or social norms is whether it functions the same with the genders reversed, and such institutions that aim to combat sexism (like affirmative action) are less problematic.

Apart from the appropriate targets as above, gender-role abolitionism aims to be a mainstream philosophy; it does not seek to mandate acceptance of any particular vocabulary or system-of-thought (perspective-diversity being acceptable) so long as its ends are meetable, and it it aims to recognise a more limited range of harms and a narrower-yet range of actionable harms than modern forms of queer theory recognise, limiting its notions of acceptable social-pressuring to meet actionable-harm while producing social content itself that may attempt to mitigate nonactionable-harm that it cannot directly target without becoming intolerant of perspective-diversity. It thus explicitly rejects maximal-validation as a goal and avoids radical tactics, while hopefully being suitable to address the majority of the harms that men, women, and others suffer from gender-normativity.

Gender-role abolitionism strongly aims to appeal to and focus on the oppression of both men and women; the dire problem of homophobia (with neuroticity in all males and self-destructive urges in non-straights) in male inculturation is not just an additional concern as it is in many other forms of feminism; it is a first-rank concern just as much as the forces that systemically limit the potential of women is. The problem is recognised as an unfocused cultural one, not oppression by a patriarchy; where patriarchy exists, it is just an effect of gender-roles that would be abolished, and it is only part of the problem of how we think about gender.

I hold that gender-role abolitionism is a form of feminism, grown from the values-centric portions of the diversity of second-wave feminism rather than the Foucault-inspired critical theory of the third. I hold it to be superiour to, more clear than, better-balancible with other values than, more tolerant than, and more understandable using mainstream reasoning than third-wave feminism. It also avoids unproductive ties with marxian or anarchosocialist theory, keeping it studyable as a distinct subject, and while it can intuitively be extended into a parallel framework on race (which I personally do), its lack of broad commentary on economics (it can offer commentary limited by the gender-difference principle outlined above) is a strength, not a weakness. Finally, through proximity to and explicit ends to be built through mainstream logic, it in practice remains open to mainstream criticism and builds communities that reject the social rot and incivility common in radical communities, while providing the leadership and discourse needed to actually shape mainstream society for the better.

Personally: I understand and accept, as a part of the design of this philosophy (of which I am not the author, just one of the refiners, reframers, and asserters of an intuition that has a history that long predates me) that it recognises more harm than it has means to fix that it judges acceptable. I do not see this as a fault. Personally, this set of stances, which is a deep and long-lived part of my identity, as well as the identity of many others I have met and spoken with over my thirty-some years, fits well with my other stances but does not depend on them.


> People who claim to be transgendered are not recognised as such by this framework; they are recognised as having taken a gender-role normally associated with someone with the opposite genetics to theirs.

I think this misses something important. I don't think being transgendered is about the gender ROLE you take on; it's about your gender IDENTITY.

To use someone I know as an example: her birth sex is male, and she generally fits male gender roles -- her demeanor is fairly masculine, she's in a male-dominated profession and enjoys hobbies that are generally associated with men, not women. But her identity is female. She feels herself to be a woman, in the same way I feel myself to be a woman, irrespective of whether I'm fulfilling a feminine gender role at the moment.

So I think it's necessary to draw a distinction between:
  • sex, one's genetic/physical configuration as male or female (or intersex),

  • gender, one's own internal, subjective sense of being a man or being a woman (or being genderqueer), and

  • gender roles, which have to do with societal expectations of what sorts of activities or attitudes are associated with masculinity and femininity.
Our approach is to deconstruct the notion of being a man or a woman (in that sense) until it is gone. We don't recognise anyone as a man or a woman in that sense. These features you describe as being part of identity is what we're struggling against.

Edited at 2012-06-28 03:21 am (UTC)
gender, one's own internal, subjective sense of being a man or being a woman (or being genderqueer)

i think pat's stance here involves being presumptive enough to question that subjectivity. whether or not an ultimate philosophy would have room for this fuzzy+subjective category, i think it's important to question it (and too often to people get called "identity deniers" for questioning things). I have a close mtf friend whom I once pressed to elaborate on/deconstruct this "inherent subjective" sense of gender. Eventually she was just like "I don't know, it just *is*" -- and I'm not satisfied with that!

not that any one person should have to provide a good deconstruction (god knows they have enough trouble justifying themselves as it is), but gender philosophy in general should seek one out.

I myself have some days of feeling "inherently male" and some days of "inherently female". The senses are there, but I wonder if they are not artificial, completely induced by social constructs, underneath at some level.
I dissent on a few points...

Sex/Gender refers to one's genetics -- Sex for genetics is fine, but defining 'gender' as the same is... incompatible with popular definitions. you'll confuse people at best and offend them at worst.

Genderfucked -- I prefer "genderqueer". I'd call myself (mildly) genderqueer; "genderfucked" makes it seem like some sort of disorder. (How can my gender identity be in dis-order if we don't even know what order is?)

I leave it to individuals to choose whether to apply it to gender, or ... I mean that (barring hostile use) I consider either of these choices valid

In society's present state I think it is unacceptable to 'stand by' a policy of tying pronouns to genetics. The question of "How far out of their way should *everybody* go to support people with certain sensitivities?" always requires per-situation judgement, but in this case I think the answer is well past any gray area.

Maybe in your ideal society insisting on "she" for a FTM person would be a valuable exercise of free speech, and the FTM person can feasibly "go make friends with more accepting people" and all that. But today such insistence can cause direct harm, and it's everyone's responsibility to account for that.

Governments or individuals may categorise them as said governments or individuals wish, and if they make distinctions between genders (which are inherently suspicious but not necessarily forbidden)

I would like to forbid such distinctions entirely (thereby rendering transgender categorisation moot). Why would you permit them?

As for role abolitionism, I agree on every bullet point. The variance point and the linguistic point are particularly well-phrased. Thanks for writing.
On sex/gender, there is a lot less agreement on this than you'd think. There is a very vocal crowd that defines them differently, but they're not the only group out there.

Genderfucked is a very old (second-wave) term and it's one I've been comfortable with forever; it was first introduced to me by my first girlfriend (who declared, in a moment which I won't provide a lot of details about that was not actually sexual, that the two of us definitely were genderfucked). It doesn't have connotations of a disorder to me. I think the origin of the term as she used it is people fucked-over by the gender-norms of society. I knew a lot of people who use the term happily as self-identification; I still prefer it to (one of the frustratingly many meanings of) the term "queer", at least partly because queer has had so many meanings over the years.

I don't consider the individual choice on pronouns to be just free speech; it's the perogative to define/construct a worldview, which is a deep and important philosophical right with very few acceptable limitations. Any harm that comes from that can either be dealt with through other means or is something worth accepting out of respect for the perogative I mention.

On categorisations, would you ban gendered restrooms? If not, would you demand one notion of gender apply to all such restrooms? If a restroom said XX or XY on it would you protest? Are federal grants to support, say, programmes for women in the sciences invalid on their face? I'm not sure absolutely forbidding such distinctions is sensible; these are messy waters to wade into, and there is a lot of risk of doing the wrong thing, but I'm not sure we can forbid entry into them entirely.
I'd say they have a gender, and perhaps I can't tell what it is. I'd go with whatever seemed to be the case, and correct it later if I get information to the contrary.
Some of those relevant criteria are part of gender-normativity and would be unrooted as gender-norms fade (sexuality, personality, mannerism). I believe that they're primarily victims of gender-normativity, something which strikes all of us to differing degrees.

As for the rest, I have no objection to them doing what they like with their body. I do think it's strange, but it's fine by me. I'd be comfortable having it paid-for by healthcare too; it doesn't have to make sense to me to be considered a reasonable expense.

I realise this may seem like one of those "you'll see when you get to heaven" moves in a discussion, in that it talks about a scenario that we may never see, but I suspect that there will be a lot fewer people who identify as trans, once gender-norms weaken a lot more. We might see a bit of an upswing once gender-normativity is weakened enough that the current bullying and (literal, not the handwavy version that some radicals talk about) oppression ends before that though, but the radically reduced need will follow the reduced restriction, I believe. I may be wrong though, and I'll remain open to revising my thoughts and positions on this as time goes on, using the methods that I've always used (don't expect me to be friendly either with the radicals or the conservatives or let either of them set the terms of the debate unchallenged, I mean).
> I suspect that there will be a lot fewer people who identify as trans, once gender-norms weaken a lot more

If this were the case I would think there would already be evidence for it, as gender norms have already decreased over time.
Oh, note as well that like any theory, a lot of this is invested in the way things *should* work. Without a good definition of that, a theory's useless (one of the stronger criticisms I have of critical theory is that it focuses so much on (rotten, IMO) methods of discourse and analysis that it never puts forth a positive vision; this fault is strongly present in Foucault, who was one of the fathers of the philosophical movement that inspired the third wave).

We do need to deal with the world-as-it-exists, of course.

If others don't want to dance with one because of one's gender, gender-role, being fat, not being from the same social group, different educational level, different interests, bad hygiene, or whatever, that's really fine with me. I'm not looking to "correct" society to that degree. I have preferences in who I end up with. Others do too. That's fine. There are also expectations that various kinds of people would evaluate me on before they'd consider dating me, some of which I can change (hygiene, some parts of personal style, well-maintainedness of clothes, other aspects of attractiveness) and some of which I can't. Men and women both face these. I'm not trying to nuke all those judgements, nor to eliminate the fact that some of them are pretty broadly based (people who don't use deodorant who really need deodorant? Yuck). I'm just aiming to remove/limit the gender-normativity in them (and they're personal enough matters that I am more comfortable with promoting variety than criticising what's there).

Anyhow, we'll see, hopefully. Provided gender-norms continue to weaken. Maybe I'll be proven wrong on some of my factual points, or I'll feel the need to revise my positions or change my terms.

Getting off the topic: One of the things I've been trying to build a substantive analysis of is the degree to which homophobia is a deeply foundational feature of male inculturation in western society; I don't think I understand it enough to really write more about it, and I worry that my writings would be too tied into my own neuroses and suffering on the topic; I might be unable to write about it to the standards that I'd like. I think it explains many of the ills in human nature, but I worry that I'm just predisposed to that conclusion because of my personal experiences. Not sure what it'd take before I'd trust myself to more comprehensive and direct analysis on it. Maybe never? I may be too close to it. Sigh.
> from what i understand, a transgender* person is someone who believes they have the wrong body shape, genitalia, and hormonal makeup. they may not know why it is "wrong", only that it is, deeply and fundamentally. it's not that they simply want to perform nontraditionally in terms of gender roles.

Yes. Thank you. This is the point I was trying to raise above.

I'm finding this entire conversation immensely frustrating because Pat's framework is so completely unmoored from my experience of reality, and the experiences of all the trans people I've talked to about this, that I can't even figure out how to begin talking about it. He seems to care deeply about internal consistency and about consistency with what he believes would be ideal, but without actually ever talking about the world as it is or why what he thinks would be ideal would be ideal.