Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Gender Bending

Okay, so there is this daycare in Stockholm, Sweden called Egalia, where they've decided to try this crazy social experiment to try eradicate "stereotypical" gender roles in boys and girls. They have carefully analyzed and designed all the aspects of the toys including colour and made sure that there is nothing stereotypical about them. They don't use any language that refers to "he" or "she" or "her" or "him", everyone is referred to as "friends" and they've even invented a new pronoun that didn't exist in the language previous to this so that they can refer to everyone in an gender neutral way. And there are no fairy tales on the shelves. In fact according to reports nearly all the books on the shelves focus on homosexual parents, single parents or adopted children. They claim to be doing all this to even out the playing field for girls. Apparently at that age level they think girls' toys are under valued and boy's toys are more valued and so they want to change this perceived inequality.

(I wonder if they've considered the research that shows that boys are being left behind in the classrooms because schools these days cater so much to girls. In fact if you look at university graduation rates women outnumber men and the rates of boys dropping out of school far outnumbers the girls who do the same.)

Now, I've met women and I've met men. I've met women who used to be men. But I've never met anyone who claimed to be or even wanted to be Neuter. The fact is that down to the very cellular level we are male or female. I recently read a book that goes into these differences in detail (and as a side note I think every mother with a son and every father with a daughter needs to read this) called Why Gender Matters, by Dr. Leonard Sax. In it he outlines the most current research that is being done to study sex differences between boys and girls, men and women. Did you know that a trained researcher looking at a segment of brain under a microscope can tell you whether that brain belonged to a man or a woman? Our very neurological structure is different. And that whole thing about the language centre of the brain being on the left side only applies to men; women who suffer a stroke on either side of the brain have effects to their language capabilities equally, regardless of which side it happens on. These are things that aren't socially engineered.

These differences between the sexes exist regardless of how we feel about them. In fact our sex is central to our identity. It's usually the first thing we learn about any given person. It necessarily informs the way we relate to each other. As we grow from children to adulthood we need to learn how to relate appropriately to members of both sexes. Things can get very confused otherwise!

The centrality of our sexual identity is why I've always held that crimes of a sexual nature are the very worst crimes that can be perpetrated on anyone, because it attacks the person on the very level of their identity. Who they are at the core of their being and the role that they are given to play out in society is attacked. But we live in a society that is topsy-turvy in many ways.

We need to value each sex equally, but "equally" does not mean "in the same way". The women's movement has focused largely on workplace equality and birth control. I think it was just in the last year that "the pill" turned 50, and there were special interest groups who held large parties to celebrate the milestone, but given that big pharma is largely in the hands of men, I always wondered why women were so gung-ho to jump on board and be experimented on. It has always struck me that one of the most wondrous things about being a woman is the ability to actually gestate new life within us. Apart from the fact that it takes two to start the process it is women who carry on the progeniture of the species. I think men are scared by and jealous of this to a degree on a subconscious level. Consequently I think we've been sold a bill of goods thinking that that ability needs to be curtailed.

For those of you who know of C. S. Lewis, you may be familiar with his Cosmic Trilogy. In the third book, That Hideous Strength, he lays out a concept that I found to be fascinating. He asks the reader to consider that masculine and feminine as we know them on earth are but mere shadows of true masculinity and femininity. That, at the level of our immortal souls, true masculinity and femininity are even more pronounced and wondrous than the way we experience them here on earth. What if that is true? What if we don't know the true extent of masculinity and femininity and here we are trying to reduce it even more and getting further away from our true fulfillment as people.

What I'm pretty sure of is that as long as the proliferation of the species relies on a relationship between men and women, there are going to be differences in the way we relate to male and female from the cradle to the grave, and that's not a bad thing.

1 comment:

  1. "As we grow from children to adulthood we need to learn how to relate appropriately to members of both sexes."

    - you know this is one of the reasons that I've never been particularly comfortable with gender-exclusive institutions. Girl guides, Boy Scouts, Boy's Camps, Boy's or Girl's private Schools. There is some research that suggests that pupils do better in single gender classes - but surely we must learn to live up to our potential in a mixed gender world.

    I am also reminded of a story I used to like quite a lot, and I think I still do, though I also think the Stockholm thing may just be a step too far: http://tiltedworld.org/2009/07/22/boy-or-girl-x-a-fabulous-childs-story-by-lois-gould/ The story of baby X by Lois Gould.