Posts Tagged 'gender'

XX, XY, and ‘Other’

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Ariel Levy writes in the New Yorker an article about Caster Semenya which, along with discussing the mismanagement and insensitivity of the testing she underwent, and the various politics influencing said manhandling, also examines the difficulty of establishing gender in any irrefutable way; when one reaches the point where there is a degree of crossover, there is no clear binary distinction – however specific and scientific the tests may be, all they reveal is a greater muddle.

There is no absolute – not everyone is either XX or XY, not everyone has the biological, chemical, and/or hormonal capacity to create and obey various cues which develop what we consider to be the markers of a particular gender.

What is interesting, though Levy does not go into this point in detail, are the implications this ambiguity holds for the rest of us.

If we were to admit that at some level we don’t know the difference between men and women, we might start to wonder about the way we’ve organized our entire world. (Currently, the United States government recognizes the marriage of a woman to a female-to-male transsexual who has had a double mastectomy and takes testosterone tablets but still has a vagina, but not to a woman who hasn’t done those things.) We depend on gender to make sense of sexuality, society, and ourselves. We do not wish to see it dissolve.

emphasis mine

What would it mean if people accepted that gender existed on a spectrum rather than as a binary trait? So much of how society is arranged is determined by gender (and by extension, sexuality, since that is another assumed binary that evidence suggests is also more of a spectrum), however much gender roles have evolved over time. Would an acknowledgement of this gray area assist in the deconstruction of gender roles? Would it allow people to be more tolerant and accepting of the variety of ability and inclination, and would culture and social infrastructure come to reflect that?

At present, what exists is, I think, more of a third category, with most people assigning themselves and others to either A or B, and relegating a small percentage of the population to a ‘neither A nor B’ category, and not considering it beyond that. The only people for whom the idea must be complicated are those in that third category.

And why? Because there are value judgments placed on people based on how much or little they correspond to their gendered categories. However much one might be completely at peace with their body, sexuality, voice, wardrobe, haircut, weight, walk, and interests, the rest of the world, when it bothers to pay attention, makes assumptions and judgments about that person’s value, attractiveness, propriety, and intelligence (however wrongly), based on such information.

Can there be a world where people are more or less masculine or feminine without a value being assigned to that quality? Or where everything is deemed gender-neutral and therefore a matter of inclination or biology, something personal rather than a way of organizing people and society?

Hopefully, as people are periodically confronted with the necessity of thinking about such things, as unfair as it is to whomever is in the spotlight, there will be a consideration of the individual, and as the ambiguity on a scientific level is manifest, there will be a movement away from judging such things cruelly, and more acceptance of such variation as just that, a variation, like hair colour or eye colour.



BMI Airlines Muslim Dress Code

Do I look inferior in this plane?

Do I look inferior in this plane?

I have just sent a very angry letter to bmi.

I was appalled to read in the Sunday Times that bmi sacked a stewardess for refusing to adhere to frankly misogynistic requirements for the service to Saudi Arabia. She (and all female employees on the service) was to wear an abaya (black robe) and follow behind all male employees – the fact that they felt the need to add “regardless of rank” seems additionally ridiculous.

It is one thing to show respect for culture, it is quite another to ask employees to obey the tenets of a religion not their own (or any religion), particularly when the practices in question are based on the supposition that women are inferior and their bodies capable of inciting aggressive behaviour in men.

As the story states, it is by no means expected or even suggested that Western women travelling in the country wear anything beyond ‘conservative dress’ or walk behind men. How dare they even consider such debasing requirements? How dare they fire someone for refusing?

Whoever created this policy should be heartily ashamed for creating such asinine and discriminatory rules.

What’s even more upsetting is that an ‘employment tribunal’ reviewing the case decided that “there was no evidence that women would regard BMI’s requirements on wearing the abaya, or walking behind men, as “placing them under any disadvantage”.”

What disadvantage could there be in dressing to be invisible and walking around like an inferior?

This is absolutely horrifying and terribly depressing, that a large company in a secular, liberated country that recognizes equality between the sexes would determine that the opinion of a few hardcore Muslim customers is more important than the dignity of their staff and the basic principles of their own country.

I highly recommend boycotting this airline.

image from

Sloppy Sciene to Reinforce 1950s Gender Rules

Jezebel points to news coverage of “research” printed in the Journal of Theoretical Biology that uses game theory to suggest that if women deny sex early on in dating/relationships, they will be more likely to attain a commitment from a ‘good’ (“reliable”) male, as they are more likely to wait.

Professor Robert Seymour, from University College London (UCL), who created the model, said (…) “A male’s willingness to court for a long time is a signal that he is likely to be a good male. (…) A male is assumed to always want to mate with a female, but a good male is more willing to pay the cost of a long courtship in order to claim the prize of mating.”

“The female’s strategy is a compromise – a trade-off between on the one hand the greater risk of mating with a bad male if she mates too quickly, and on the other hand the time cost of delay. ”

His most telling comment: She cannot eliminate this risk completely unless she decides never to mate.
(quoted from the Telegraph).

Naturally, this study trips up logically where it makes a few broad, gender-based assumptions:
a) all men (‘good’ or ‘bad’) want only sex (‘good’ = willing to wait, ‘bad’= not)
b) all women (who aren’t divided at all) want commitment over sex
c) only women use the courtship period to ‘gather information’ about their ‘mate’
d) all men aren’t interested in commitment

It’s frustrating that this kind of “research” is even getting funding. With a premise so heavily flawed, how can one hope to gain any valid information? If one is really interested in finding out the evolutionary basis for long courtship periods and monogamy, surely one should start out by looking at what the advantages are for the parties and communities involved, and then draw conclusions, rather than the other way around.

In this case, the conclusions were, sloppily, drawn first, and based entirely on the assumption that all men want the same thing, all women want the same thing, no men and women want the same thing, and relationships are a kind of competition where each gender attempts to get the most of what they want while surrendering the least of what the other person wants.

Needless to say, this also completely ignores the 10% or so of the population that aren’t heterosexual, and the portion that remains single.



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