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Is gender as distinct from sex a useful concept? Watch

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    I don't think it is.

    A very loose explanation of the difference between gender and sex is given by Wikipedia:

    Sex: the anatomy of an individual's reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics
    Gender (roles): social roles based on the sex of the person


    Now, in a perfect society, there would be no sex- or gender-based prejudices, expectations or discrimination. An individual would be able to possess whatever characteristics they do and perform whatever social roles that they do without their gonads or chromosomes being brought into it. I could wear what I like, do what I like and look how I like whether what's between my legs is an inny or an outy or something in between. I could be of the male sex and as traditionally feminine as I like, or of the female sex and as traditionally male as I like, and nobody would care.

    How useful would gender (not sex) be in this society? Certainly it could still be used as a label or a description, a bit like 'masculine', 'feminine', 'irritating', 'spiritual', 'rational' and a whole host of other adjectives are now. But would it make sense to consider it a defining feature of who individuals really are, and not just an incidental description of their behaviours and attitudes (and perhaps appearance)? Would most people fit into a binary? I suspect not.

    For example, I'm usually assumed to be male, but I'm not really sure what to make of myself under the sex-gender distinction. I always knew I had a willy and that made most people consider me a 'man', but I had no concept of a 'gender identity' at all until the sex-gender distinction was made known to me. I have characteristics that match closely to those traditionally associated with both men and women, so where does that leave me? I feel like a con artist claiming that I'm not male, but equally I feel uncomfortable picking from 'male' and 'female' genders when I know the asker isn't interested in my biological/assigned sex. Why? Because I tick some of the 'male gender' boxes but miss others by a mile. Why do I need such a label? What purpose does it serve?

    Now consider, in our ideal society, what it might mean to be transgender. It seems likely that sex and gender might still be correlated to some degree, but once we've established that gender and sex are firmly distinct concepts, what would it mean to have a gender that does not 'align' with one's sex? Why would we consider someone whose sex is male to be 'aligned' (cis) if they fit better with male gender roles and 'unaligned' (trans) if they fit better with female? We would long ago have disabused ourselves of the notion that assigned males should fit the traditional maculine role and assigned females the feminine. So what are we really saying by claiming that an individual is cis or trans? Why is it at all significant that I don't fit the roles society used to expect me to? I really just don't get it!

    Would it clear things up if we didn't use the same words to refer to gender and sex? Let's grant ourselves the binary sex divide of male vs. female, and assume for the sake of argument that gender does also fit neatly into a binary. Rather than also calling the two genders 'male' and 'female', why shouldn't we call them 'gyre' and 'gimble'? We've accepted that there's no need for males to be gyres and females to be gimbles, so why refer to them by the same name? And I think once we redefine our terms like so, the strangeness of transgenderism should be apparent.


    I don't think I have anything else to add for now, but I'm really interested to hear people's views - particularly those of people who consider themselves transgender etc. I apologise sincerely if I cause offense - I am legit just trying to make sense of this and don't have a preconceived idea of what I would like to be true.
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    personally? gender doesnt make a whole lot of sense to me. its a human made construct. i dont align as any gender - i just am, and i dont really understand how people do actually identify as a gender, since gender is something so broad. to categorise something so complex into individual boxes seems nonsensical. gender isnt all that necessary?
    (to clarify though, i obviously respect the identities of those who do align as genders, including binary trans people (i just say im nb as its true). i just dont understand it, although that may be partially down to my generally piss poor empathy:/)
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    I think we need to stop labelling everyone and everything and just accept that people will be who they wanna be. End of.
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    I think it sometimes is useful but people take it to an extreme. You can't fully separate nature and nurture. Not without denying and overriding certain truths and realities. The concept can be dangerous if misapplied. The extreme example is that raising a pig as a human and sending it to school would be absurd.
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    (Original post by MrControversial)
    I think it sometimes is useful but people take it to an extreme. You can't fully separate nature and nurture. Not without denying and overriding certain truths and realities. The concept can be dangerous if misapplied. The extreme example is that raising a pig as a human and sending it to school would be absurd.
    I don't think you need to separate nurture from nature to talk about a distinction between gender and sex. They're just defined to be different things :holmes:

    In a perfect world, we wouldn't be raising males as females or gimbles and sending them to school (which I assume was your analogy?). There would likely be a rather negligible difference between how you raise a child of one sex compared to another, and it would hardly come into it at all. Certainly there would be slight differences based on sex (e.g. you need to give your child slightly different support around puberty depending on their sex) but I don't see how gender would come into it at all.
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    (Original post by Implication)
    I don't think you need to separate nurture from nature to talk about a distinction between gender and sex. They're just defined to be different things :holmes:

    In a perfect world, we wouldn't be raising males as females or gimbles and sending them to school (which I assume was your analogy?). There would likely be a rather negligible difference between how you raise a child of one sex compared to another, and it would hardly come into it at all. Certainly there would be slight differences based on sex (e.g. you need to give your child slightly different support around puberty depending on their sex) but I don't see how gender would come into it at all.
    The problem is that males and females are biologically different. How we raise them isn't actually entirely detached from that. Of course, from individual to individual there is the scope for variation but if doesn't really justify abandoning traditional concepts of gender altogether. Especially when plenty of people are happy with their raising or gender role in this respect and the many that aren't often don't have problems related to that or have problems relating to that which don't need eliminating the concept to solve.
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    (Original post by MrControversial)
    The problem is that males and females are biologically different. How we raise them isn't actually entirely detached from that.
    In terms of sex, yeah sure - but we don't need to talk about the concept of gender at all to do this. We should be parenting our children as individuals on a case-by-case basis; not doing things differently and trying to make them behave differently just because they happen to have different chromosomes or hormonal profiles. Obviously this is excepting any situations where chromosomes, hormones etc. are directly relevant - I'm not suggesting we ignore the biology of our children.


    Of course, from individual to individual there is the scope for variation but if doesn't really justify abandoning traditional concepts of gender altogether. Especially when plenty of people are happy with their raising or gender role in this respect and the many that aren't often don't have problems related to that or have problems relating to that which don't need eliminating the concept to solve.
    So I suppose the problem isn't the 'traditional concept' of gender itself; it's when people expect everyone (or anyone) to adhere to that traditional concept. But once we recognise that the traditional concept of gender isn't 'correct', why should we consider someone who doesn't match up to it 'unaligned' with their assigned sex, or 'trans', for example?

    I'm not sure that some people being happy with prejudice and double standards should be considered very good justification for them!
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    "In terms of sex, yeah sure - but we don't need to talk about the concept of gender at all to do this"

    "We should be parenting our children as individuals on a case-by-case basis"

    Unfortunately, this isn't as easy as you would think. Child raising gives limited windows of opportunity and you don't have much room to find out. Sometimes by the time you find out it's too late so you have to take a gamble on some things and any reasonable parent would go by the actually proportions, not by artificially imagined equal proportions. The thing is, I tend to agree with this principle but the fact or reality is you can only pursue it opportunistically, you can't impose your will over reality. There is no magic bullet here. You can't actually entirely make the separation you're trying to make. There are improvements that can be gradually made here but if you're just going to start meddling based on principle alone you're only going to cause more damage.

    There's also a very careful line here that you need to think about. You're talking about binary gender being a social construct being imposed but so is gender neutrality and what is being discussed here often equated to imposing that. Get them why they are young. It's a form of indoctrination that falls into the extreme and threatens to turn millions of children into a socialist nihilistic experiment. The horrifying thing is that with the malleability of the human brain and its ability to ignore or override nature this is actually possible. You may think that is a good thing but then take religion as an example. You are proposing to replace one moderate yet beneficial evil with another more uncertain evil. On the one hand many may have surprisingly reasonable views but on the other I think you'll find not so many such people finding it reasonable to solve a problem with the naive wholesale reprogramming of children.

    In my experience I find that most men and women overall don't have a problem with a gender split with a moderate identity for each gender unless you make it out to sound like they will be socially unacceptable if they don't. I find that many will have complaints about certain aspects and suggested improvements. Those I find strongly against it (for an extreme position on gender neutrality and separation from sex) seem to be following dogma, have not really thought about it, are not immediately affected by it, have vested interests (being outliers) or a huge chip on their shoulders being unhappy with life in general. For the most part stupid aspects of a gender split have been eliminated from our society.

    There is a funny question you have to consider as well which is about hijacking identity. What if biological men and women voluntarily want to be distinct? Lets say that you establish trousers for all, skirts for all, etc (something I support for many segments of society). They no longer have a way to be distinct so invent a new method such as a new unique set of clothing for each not seen in any other culture. If you take that then it's not really cool and they have to invent yet another protocol. At that point you have to ask is this really separate and who is it that's being oppressed or suppressed? Just as most wouldn't dress in Islamic attire even if they weren't Islamic. Technically speaking someone can but you just usually wouldn't out of courtesy and so not to give the wrong impression. Also if you're going down this route, what about religions and other cultures with these identity related behaviours and traditions? What about people raising their children to be religious with far more "social constructs" than in our society? It's hard to say where it is but there is a line you have to draw here somewhere. So we're secular and have choice but there is a limit after which you impose on parental and personal freedoms as well as the right to a particular identity.

    You have a part of this argument where sure, people are treated unfairly or inappropriately and there's no reason for that, it puts no one out for that not to happen. There's another part of this argument however where you can put people out, a lot of people out, simply for the unusual circumstances, conflicting ideals, or excess demands of a few. Extreme caution needs to be taken here. If people cross that line it can genuinely cause a falling out between two groups of people with a real sense of contention over identity rights. The last thing those who mean well and want to further advance the cause of people getting along want to do is to pit people against each other.

    Problems with gender separation are largely best left to cure themselves without taking radical measures especially when those typically come from an extremist section of a minority portion of the population. Unfortunately not every group not matter how small can receive special or sometimes even preferential treatment.

    "But once we recognise that the traditional concept of gender isn't 'correct'"

    You're never going to find anything entirely correct. There are rarely the best of all world solutions that are superior in all aspects. I've had to confront this many times in designing algorithms. There's always a scenario with some approaches that isn't going to be best catered to. Sure, a selection of trans people or anyone in any segment might not feel entirely catered to and put out that treated like royalty but the fact is that so far there's no indication that the sheer majority of people, even trans, aren't reasonably catered to under the current system which itself is evolving and improving. If I had to optimise for a workload of 90% reads I would not be expected to optimise an algorithm to ensure same performance expectations for reads and writes at the heavy expense of all the reads and the overall performance.

    "it's when people expect everyone (or anyone) to adhere to that traditional concept"

    This is usually fine but potentially one of the problem areas. Sometimes you have to put the individual before the group. You can't have everyone put themselves out because of one self centred person. However sometimes the group can take it too far as well. I actually find that throughout much of society that isn't a problem but there are specific segments where it is. Normally, as soon as someone exposes that they are not playing the game, the response is simply, oh sorry or something fairly benign. Mistakes will happen, people will make assumptions, you don't demand they never do, you don't be a horrible person and give the wrong impression, not announce things, not give disclaimers just to be able to get all grouchy about people having the wrong impression and when people do because those things happen you correct it in a civil manner. A great disturbing trend among society is to hold people to too high a standard of infallibility. We should have more norms and philosophies that assume that people will get things wrong. When things don't go down acceptably, you deal with that there and then. Those kind of extreme problems have to be solved tactically, not strategically.
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    (Original post by MrControversial)
    "In terms of sex, yeah sure - but we don't need to talk about the concept of gender at all to do this"

    "We should be parenting our children as individuals on a case-by-case basis"

    Unfortunately, this isn't as easy as you would think. Child raising gives limited windows of opportunity and you don't have much room to find out. Sometimes by the time you find out it's too late so you have to take a gamble on some things and any reasonable parent would go by the actually proportions, not by artificially imagined equal proportions. The thing is, I tend to agree with this principle but the fact or reality is you can only pursue it opportunistically, you can't impose your will over reality. There is no magic bullet here. You can't actually entirely make the separation you're trying to make. There are improvements that can be gradually made here but if you're just going to start meddling based on principle alone you're only going to cause more damage.

    There's also a very careful line here that you need to think about. You're talking about binary gender being a social construct being imposed but so is gender neutrality and what is being discussed here often equated to imposing that. Get them why they are young. It's a form of indoctrination that falls into the extreme and threatens to turn millions of children into a socialist nihilistic experiment. The horrifying thing is that with the malleability of the human brain and its ability to ignore or override nature this is actually possible. You may think that is a good thing but then take religion as an example. You are proposing to replace one moderate yet beneficial evil with another more uncertain evil. On the one hand many may have surprisingly reasonable views but on the other I think you'll find not so many such people finding it reasonable to solve a problem with the naive wholesale reprogramming of children.

    In my experience I find that most men and women overall don't have a problem with a gender split with a moderate identity for each gender unless you make it out to sound like they will be socially unacceptable if they don't. I find that many will have complaints about certain aspects and suggested improvements. Those I find strongly against it (for an extreme position on gender neutrality and separation from sex) seem to be following dogma, have not really thought about it, are not immediately affected by it, have vested interests (being outliers) or a huge chip on their shoulders being unhappy with life in general. For the most part stupid aspects of a gender split have been eliminated from our society.

    There is a funny question you have to consider as well which is about hijacking identity. What if biological men and women voluntarily want to be distinct? Lets say that you establish trousers for all, skirts for all, etc (something I support for many segments of society). They no longer have a way to be distinct so invent a new method such as a new unique set of clothing for each not seen in any other culture. If you take that then it's not really cool and they have to invent yet another protocol. At that point you have to ask is this really separate and who is it that's being oppressed or suppressed? Just as most wouldn't dress in Islamic attire even if they weren't Islamic. Technically speaking someone can but you just usually wouldn't out of courtesy and so not to give the wrong impression. Also if you're going down this route, what about religions and other cultures with these identity related behaviours and traditions? What about people raising their children to be religious with far more "social constructs" than in our society? It's hard to say where it is but there is a line you have to draw here somewhere. So we're secular and have choice but there is a limit after which you impose on parental and personal freedoms as well as the right to a particular identity.

    You have a part of this argument where sure, people are treated unfairly or inappropriately and there's no reason for that, it puts no one out for that not to happen. There's another part of this argument however where you can put people out, a lot of people out, simply for the unusual circumstances, conflicting ideals, or excess demands of a few. Extreme caution needs to be taken here. If people cross that line it can genuinely cause a falling out between two groups of people with a real sense of contention over identity rights. The last thing those who mean well and want to further advance the cause of people getting along want to do is to pit people against each other.

    Problems with gender separation are largely best left to cure themselves without taking radical measures especially when those typically come from an extremist section of a minority portion of the population. Unfortunately not every group not matter how small can receive special or sometimes even preferential treatment.
    With respect (and I mean this sincerely; no passive-aggressive ******** here ), I think you may be being a little melodramatic. Perhaps it's down to a miscommunication on my part, but there's something slippery-slope-esque about what you say here. I don't think what I'm advocating is really that radical; in terms of parenting (which I don't think was originally my main focus) I'm simply saying that parents shouldn't deliberately force sex-based stereotypes onto their children or be prejudiced towards them because of their sex. A very simple example would be to allow your child to have whatever haircut they like regardless of their sex. Or rather, not to base your decision of what haircuts they are allowed on their sex. Similarly (bear with the painful stereotype here), if your kids wants a rocket toy, don't try and convince them that they want a doll's house instead just because they don't have a Y chromosome. Many parents do this already, and that's great. I don't think it's very sensible to equate this to some kind of socialist experiment! It's just like, 'don't be sexist to your kids!'

    With regard to gender, I'm just questioning what the purpose of the label is. By defining the 'male' gender to be the role traditionally associated with the male sex, we're in a way endorsing that stereotype. The implication is that, for example, someone of the male sex is somehow 'less' of a man if they are feminine. Which is just a bit silly. So let's flip this around a bit - what would you say is the advantage of having a concept of gender that is distinct from sex? I don't think that anything you have said really relies upon this label.

    On the emboldened, I don't think I really fit into any of your categories. I used to very much think that the people advocating the sort of view that I now do are brainless idiots, but it really is only careful reason and discussion with various people (of various attitudes) that has led me to my conclusion!

    I'm not sure what you mean re most 'stupid aspects' of a 'gender split' being gone now, but sex- and gender-based prejudice really is still pretty common! In some cases it seems harmless or benign, and in other cases it may be obvious what the problem is, but it's there.


    "But once we recognise that the traditional concept of gender isn't 'correct'"

    You're never going to find anything entirely correct. There are rarely the best of all world solutions that are superior in all aspects. I've had to confront this many times in designing algorithms. There's always a scenario with some approaches that isn't going to be best catered to. Sure, a selection of trans people or anyone in any segment might not feel entirely catered to and put out that treated like royalty but the fact is that so far there's no indication that the sheer majority of people, even trans, aren't reasonably catered to under the current system which itself is evolving and improving. If I had to optimise for a workload of 90% reads I would not be expected to optimise an algorithm to ensure same performance expectations for reads and writes at the heavy expense of all the reads and the overall performance.
    The emboldened is kind of my point. The idea of one conception of gender being 'correct' is nonsense, since this is subjective by definition.

    I don't think a reduction in sex-based prejudice, discrimination etc. would only benefit a small minority, and certainly not at the expense of the majority!
 
 
 
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