We’ve been having a lot of interesting items here on Science 2.0 coming from an Anglo-Oz joint venture called The Conversation,. One that struck me most forcibly has been Masculinity And Terror: The Missing Conversation, linked to a paper When Bad is Cool: Violence and Crime as Rites of Passage to Manhood which stirred all sorts of thoughts in my mind. That paper is well worth reading, but in their article itself they say (referring to a 1961 book “The Rites of Passage” by Arnold van Gennep):
There is plenty of research that shows that masculinity is highly variable and above all is a social achievement, which is largely independent of biology.
That seems to me to be “one of those statements”. Now there is a lot to agree with in their article and in their paper, but such statements seem to be part of a wider phenomenon. I could start going into the masculine side of things, but a much more extreme version of this comes from the feminine angle, in this Pacific Standard article
Girls on the Run: When Efforts to Empower Girls Go Wrong
by one Scott Richardson of Pennsylvania. Again, quite a lot to agree with there, such as:
Second, by bombarding girls with “positive” messages about themselves meant to counteract negative ones, the program implicitly gives credence to the idea that girls aren’t considered equal to boys. What messages are girls really getting when special programs are aimed at trying to make them feel good about themselves as girls?
Which makes one think of a totalitarian state where one could end up in prison for saying “Our Leader is Right” — thereby implying that The Leader could have been wrong.
But before that he says:
First, encouraging girls to “girl it up”—or, I prefer, “glam it up,” so that we don’t appropriate these behaviors just for girls—can be fun, an opportunity to step out and beyond what is practiced in everyday life. But there’s no corresponding encouragement to “butch it up” if they desire, or do some combination of both. In the end, then, this simply serves to reproduce gender stereotypes and the old-fashioned and false notion that gender is binary.
Two things stand out here. One is the juxtaposition of “old-fashioned and false”. This seems to me to be an example of anthropological intimidation. As Edwyn Bevan noted:
Rashdall used to remind us that the mathematical conceptions of the most advanced mathematicians at the present day were connected with rudimentary ideas of primitive men about numbers by a process of gradual correction and expansion. That does not cause us to regard the conceptions of mathematicians to-day as a survival of primitive fancy.
Eartha Kitt may have been an “Old Fashioned Girl”, but I am not arguing that old-fashioned is generally good. Even many things from when I was a boy are, in my opinion, much better for having been flushed down the Toilet of Time.
But gender not binary? Are we to have three sexes, like in Isaac Asimov’s novel The Gods Themselves? (Or even, as in an old BBC comedy sketch, like people from a planet with seventeen sexes? Not much fun: they needed all seventeen to make a quorum.)
I have my own ideas about this, but gentle readers (as Bhaskaracharya used to say), what do you think is driving this apparent Anti-Gender Agenda ?