(philosophy/psychology) "Putting the Sex Back into Gender"

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Hi again, all. Some interesting food for thought for the weekend...

Putting the Sex Back into Gender A Tentative Theory Of Femininity And Sexuality by Diana Mertz Hsieh

Date: 6 May 96 Forum: Washington University in St-Louis, Topics in Feminist Philosophy class Copyright: Diana Mertz Hsieh


Note: Much of the basic thesis of this essay was turned into the essay "Sex and Gender through an Egoist Lens: Masculinity and femininity in the philosophy of Ayn Rand" published in 1999 in the anthology Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand.

Section I: Introduction and History

For the past three years, the issue of a proper normative conception of femininity has intrigued me, on both a personal and philosophical level. When I started my investigations into the subject, I was at a complete loss as to how and why my sex should impact my behavior and attitudes (if at all). Since that time, I have slowly managed to develop the rudiments of a normative theory of femininity and in recent months I seemed to have found something of my own inner sense of femininity.

Because my views at this point are only tentative, I approach this paper as an exploration of some of the issues surrounding normative femininity, from sexuality to gender-based modes of habitation, rather than as a definitive statement of my position. In section I, I examine my own personal history as it relates to my interest in normative conceptions of femininity. In Section II, I use Susan Brownmiller's basic methodology in her book Femininity to bring gender norms into the light of critical reflection. In Section III explores the power of gender norms. In Section IV, I examine the proposal to divorce sex from gender and propose my own theory of gender.

In an article "'X': A Fabulous Child's Story, Louis Gould constructs a hypothetical situation in which a child of unknown sex (except to the parents) is socialized to be gender X, i.e. no gender at all. Despite my reservations about the article, I do feel an affinity with this child who was raised as an X, in the sense that I believe that I encountered much less gender socialization growing up than most individuals.

Being from a family of three daughters, I never experienced differential treatment by my parents due to my sex in any area of my life, from rules to chores to values. My parents never advocated, not even implicitly, the view that there are different "masculine" and "feminine" virtues (e.g. courage and empathy). I attended an all-girls' school from eighth to twelfth grade, which basically eliminated the peer-enforced gender differentiation that is so powerful during that age. I was heavily encouraged by both my parents and my school to develop my intellect (particularly in mathematics), to speak my mind, to be athletic, and take physical risks, which is often not the case for females in American culture.

These examples, a few among many, indicate that I was at least partially insulated from gender socialization in a number of key areas of life, such as intellectual and physical expectations. Although I certainly was not raised as anything like "Gender X," few explicit gender-tied expectations were conveyed to me. I did not grow up with a sense of what it meant to be a woman, apart from what it meant to be human.

My upbringing serves to explain why the issue of normative femininity has plagued me so much since I arrived at Washington University. At the time, I was suddenly thrust into an environment in which there was a strong undercurrent of socialized gender differences. Instead of the independent, strong-willed females that I was used to from home and school, I found females who wouldn't speak up in class or go to dinner without ten of their friends. I found myself to be more similar to the males that I knew than the females in behaviors and attitudes. This lack of identification with my own sex, for reasons that I could not identify, precipitated a "crisis of femininity," in which I struggled to discover the meaning of being a woman, of being feminine.

With that framework, I struggled to develop an acceptable theory of femininity. Despite a strong desire to sort through the issues, I found myself unable to even develop a basic methodology of thinking about how to conceptualize femininity. I suspect that this mental deadlock has its roots in the way that genders are socialized. Unlike with other areas of life (such as developing political and ethical views), learning one's gender does not involve taking a critical perspective on prevailing opinions or even explicit acceptance of certain behaviors, but rather subconscious adoption of attitudes and behaviors that are often little more than implicit in the culture.

Section II: Brownmiller on Femininity

Susan Brownmiller's book Femininity, provided me, for the first time, with a critical perspective on traditional norms of femininity and a partial method for evaluating the legitimacy of those cultural norms. Throughout the book, Brownmiller examines the consequences of traditional norms of femininity, from attitudes to dress to body shape, by (at least implicitly) asking the following questions:

Are they anti-functional? Do they result in restriction movement? Do they cause medical problems or pain? Do they focus attention on inconsequential minutia? Do they seek to unrealistically "impose a uniform shape upon the female body"? (Brownmiller 33) Do they result in dependence and helplessness? Do they interfere with the pursuit of a woman's legitimate goals?

Examples of devices to alter the female body, such as the Western corset and Chinese foot binding, provide the most dramatic examples of irrational cultural standards. Of these "painful device[s] of immobilization," Brownmiller states

"Each device of beautification restricted her freedom and weakened her strength; each provided a feminine obstacle course through which she endeavored to move with artificial grace. Each instrument of discomfort was believed by her to be a superior emblem of her privileged position and a moral requisite for correct behavior, and each ingenious constriction was sentimentalized by men as erotic in its own right, apart from the women that it was supposed to improve. (Brownmiller 33) The fact that women today recoil in horror at the thought of foot binding and or having to wear a corset is certainly no cause for rejoicing, however. Women's bodies are still manipulated out of their natural form, by the less than healthy methods of yo-yo dieting and high heels, for example. In concluding her chapter on the body, Brownmiller writes that "appearance, not accomplishment, is the feminine demonstration of desirability and worth. In striving to approach a physical ideal, by corsetry in the old days or by a cottage-cheese-and-celery diet that begins tomorrow, one arms oneself to fight the competitive wars." (Brownmiller 51) More precisely, feminine attractiveness, however narrowly defined, however unrealistic, however unhealthy, is itself regarded as an accomplishment at which no good girl or woman ought to fail.

Even though I often disagreed with the particulars of Brownmiller's analysis, her methodology of essentially asking whether certain behaviors and attitudes are to the benefit or detriment of an individual's life and flourishing is a powerful one. As a basic tool of critical reflection and evaluation on gender norms, four virtues of this methodology stand out. First, it does not rely on preconceptions about what gender norms ought to be (or even if there ought to be any), thus allowing for a dialogue between individuals with strongly divergent perspectives about femininity. It does not require knowledge of or investigation into the motives of men who find the ideals of femininity desirable, but rather only knowledge of the effect of certain values and traditions on our own lives. For example, we need not even speculate (as Bernard Rudofsky has) "that men find deep sexual excitement in the hobbling of women." (Brownmiller 33) Additionally, the methodology has a broad-reaching application, such that an individual can critically examine both the norms of femininity that she has adopted and those present throughout a culture. Finally, the methodology can illuminate ways in which women can make their "feminine" behavior and attitudes more healthy, such as by focusing on building muscle and losing fat than than on shedding pounds in the attempt to trim one's figure.

The answers to these questions that form the basis of Brownmiller's methodology do not, in and of themselves, establish the rationality or irrationality of gender norms. A focus on certain minute details of life is not by itself harmful, such as in the Japanese tea ceremony, in which it is the focus on detail which gives the ceremony its beauty and meaning. Practices which give a positive answer to one (or more) of the questions can be warranted by the pursuit of a higher value, if that higher value itself can be justified and if there is no less detrimental way to pursue it.

At the very least, one must admit that women have subjectively perceived compelling reasons to engage in destructive ideals of femininity that have existed throughout history. Without doing so, the only explanations for women's allegiance to the "compelling esthetic" of femininity are sheer irrationality on the part of women or complete mind control by men of women, neither of which is a plausible explanation. (Brownmiller 235) A stronger hypothesis (if only out of respect for the metal capacity of women) seems warranted, namely that there are good reasons for adopting norms of femininity in some cases, even when those norms have harmful consequences. It is this hypothesis that I will explore in Section IV.

Section III: The Power of Gender Norms

Brownmiller's book does not go into significant depth regarding the reasons why gender norms, despite their often-harmful consequences, are so influential in our culture. To say that the norms are commanding because we are socialized in a particular way fails to explain why gender norms have changed radically through time and why individuals often reject the values with which they were raised. In short, such an explanation, in which we only to account for rewards for conforming to gender norms and the penalties for violating them, ignores the human capacity for self-reflection and the willingness to endure the disapproval of others for more important values.

One explanation for why gender norms are so powerful is that they serve a deep psychological need to regard oneself as sexually efficacious and attractive to the relevant sex. (In times past and in some American subcultures today, regarding oneself as a good spouse or potential spouse was/is the overriding value sought.) Through cultural sexual symbols and behaviors, i.e. by letting our outward appearance and our body language convey information about who we are as a man or a woman, we gain a sense of self-esteem and sexual visibility when others respond favorably. Given the importance of sexual interaction in our dealings with others, the desire for this feeling of sexual efficacy is a powerful one that can and does determine much of our behavior. The methods of conveying sexual information (by adopting different gender norms), as well as the information that it is desirable to convey, vary widely with time and cultures. Indeed, during sexually repressive eras (such as the Victorian era), conveying a woman's chastity and modesty was of utmost importance, whereas today being feminine is significantly more sexually suggestive.

Although the reasons why destructive gender norms have so frequently arisen is outside of the scope of this paper, we can say that the fact that sexual attractiveness is sexual attractiveness to someone else, i.e. is dependent upon the perceptions of others, makes people particularly susceptible standards that they would normally consider unrealistic, harmful, or irrational. In the case of feminine norms, the perceptions of others can have a particularly strong pull, since femininity often "requires reactions from other people," in the sense that frequently the virtues of womanhood (e.g. empathy, attentiveness to the needs of others, passivity) necessitate another person which whom to interact. (Weitzman 167) Male standards, on the other hand, tend to focus on self-reliance and often "can be developed alone." (Weitzman 167) Those male standards are hardly as benign (to the self) as Brownmiller assumes in saying that "while the extremes of masculinity can harm others (rape, wife beating, street crime, warfare and a related inability to concede or admit defeat), the extremes of femininity are harmful only -- only! -- to women themselves in the form of self-imposed masochism." (236)

The cultural norms of masculinity are often inwardly directed (as in the case of steroid use to "bulk up") or cause physical harm (as in violent sports like football and ice hockey). Additionally, we cannot say that the norms of femininity harm only women, since a substantial portion of men find the traditional "feminine" traits in friends, lovers, and wives completely undesirable. So it seems that, for either sex, weakening the power of gender-tied mores would be beneficial.

Section IV: Deflating Gender Norms

One commonly-advocated method of reducing the power of gender socialization is complete separation of the concepts of male-masculine and female-feminine, thus allowing the concept of gender to be a way (unrelated to sex) of describing a constellation of characteristics in a non-normative fashion. (Conway-Long) Gender socialization grounded in sex is regarded as wrong, regardless of the content of that socialization.

This proposal has three basic problems, two substantiative and one pragmatic, which justify its rejection. First, the concepts of masculine and feminine are left too broad, encompassing unchosen physical characteristics (e.g. amount of facial hair), chosen physical characteristics (e.g. hairstyle and manner of dressing), outward behaviors (e.g. assertiveness), and learned skills (e.g. empathy). It is not clear why there should be a single distinction running though all of these aspects of a person's being or why we would even need the concepts of masculine and feminine, rather than describing traits more precisely and directly with well-defined terms like "empathic" and "assertive."

The second problem with freeing gender from sex is that the assumption that gender norms are bad per se is unwarranted. Difference, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. In the case of gender socialization, it is the way that those differences are instilled and enforced and the consequences of those differences that carries the normative weight. Indeed, if females are taught to be more aware of the emotional states of others than males, it has allowed them, for example, to be much better horseback riders, which requires a keen awareness (often through barely perceptible channels) of the emotional state of the horse. If girls are taught this skill at the expense of, for example, learning how to throw a football, it can hardly be considered a loss. There are, after all, only so many things that can be taught during childhood, and in many cases teaching based on gender is no less arbitrary than any other method of selective teaching.

On a more pragmatic level, I suspect that individuals who do not understand or embrace the independence of sex and gender (which will be the vast majority of individuals) will not divorce sex from gender in their own minds, and thus still regard the labels "feminine male" and "masculine female" as pejorative. Without questioning the basic assumption that traditional norms of gender are "natural" by attempting to drastically reduce the scope of those concepts, I fear that irrational gender norms will only become more entrenched.

Another way of restraining gender norms, an approach that I would favor, would be to eliminate the deterministic and collectivistic element in current conceptions of gender. The view that all men and women have certain RnaturalS roles would be replaced an individualistic perspective focused on authentically conveying one's internal, sexual self to others. Let me unpack this conception of gender one element at a time:

Conveying the internal, sexual self to others: Because of the "problem" of other minds, others must be content to know us only through our outward manifestations of behavior, which convey information about our inner states. Some of that outward behavior will concern our inner mental states about sex, such as our perception of our own attractiveness, the attractiveness of others, and our morals concerning sex. This behavior about one's own sexuality is thus province of gender. And so we see the proper scope of gender drastically diminished, which will diminish a portion of the authoritarianism of masculinity and femininity.

Authenticity: In going about our lives, we can choose to have integrity, to be loyal to the values which we believe to be right or we can betray them. Authenticity is a species of integrity, in which the value at stake is our own inner person. To authentically convey information about our selves is to not hide our inner selves from others through outward deception. For example, in the realm of sexuality, authenticity would demand that a lesbian not pass as heterosexual and that a sexually active young woman not portray herself to her morally conservative friends as uninterested in sex. Unlike traditional gender roles, in which it is the adoption of a certain set of behaviors and attitudes that is normatively significant, in this conception of gender it is the authenticity of those behaviors and attitudes that carries normative weight.

Individualism: The individualism in this conception of gender is, in fact, nothing more than a rejection of universalism, i.e. of the view that there are two and only two legitimate sets of values for men and women to pursue, namely traditional masculinity and femininity. By focusing on the authenticity of sexual behavior, we can easily accommodate variation between individuals and the fact that "the range of differences within each sex is much greater than the differences between the average members of opposite sexes." (Weitzman 168) We will judge a person's femininity or masculinity based on what we know about that person as an individual, not in relation to some abstract, universal standard to which the sexes are supposed to conform.

Although this conception of gender is not universalist, it is also not relativistic in the sense that it does not hold any inner attitudes about sex to be better than any others. For example, the view that sex before marriage is sinful not only needlessly deprives individuals of the perfectly healthy pleasures of sex, but also tends to induce them to marry more quickly (and often less happily). Unfortunately, the acceptable range of attitudes about sexuality is outside of the scope of this paper.

One of the virtues of this conception of gender, however, is that it gives us a more complete methodology for critiquing gender norms. By asking whether the gender norms that we have adopted authentically convey our inner attitudes about sex and sexuality, in addition to using Brownmiller's approach to determine the basic legitimacy of gender norms, we can critically evaluate the benefits and costs of adopting or continuing certain gender-related behaviors. Additionally, the process of becoming feminine (or masculine) on this account is not blind adoption of values implicit in the culture, but rather critical reflection on what type of sexual person one is and how to best present that sexual person to others.

Section V: Conclusion

Gender socialization in American culture, despite all its variations, is remarkably homogeneous when compared to the possibilities. Critical reflection on those norms that inevitably comes with every wave of the feminist movement, has given a huge number of women the opportunity to consider the impact of their attitudes and behaviors on their lives. But the real solution to the problem of gender socialization lies not in attacking the old norms, but rather in reconceptualizing gender so as to build in mechanisms of critical reflection for those who wish to do more than blindly adopt social mores. I do hope that my theory of normative femininity, as I have tentatively laid it out here, is at least a small step in that direction.

Works Cited

Brownmiller, Susan. Femininity. New York: Linden Press, 1984.

Conway-Long, Dan. Guest lecture for Anthropology 221B, The Biological Basis of Human Behavior, Washington University. Spring 1996.

Gould, Lois. "'X': A Fabulous Child's Story." Feminist Philosophies. Eds. Janet A. Kourany, James P. Serba, and Rosmarie Tong. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1992. 43-8.

Weitzman, Lenore J. "Sex Role Socialization." Women: A Feminist Perspective. Ed. Jo Freeman. Palo Alto: Mayfield Publishing, 1979. 153-216.

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), June 08, 2000



The opinions expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of the poster, although at first pass they look pretty cool.

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), June 08, 2000.

No disclaimer necessary HERE. Individualism is what I've been trying to define as criteria in the "military" thread.

I should really read some of Ayn's stuff again. She's been dead for 18 years now, but her thoughts were golden. [She had great eyebrows as well.]

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), June 08, 2000.

Reading through this I'm reminded of Saturday Night Live's Pat. We never knew her/his sex or is it gender?

-- Maria (anon@ymous.com), June 08, 2000.

Or, in a nutshell, one should think for oneself. The stranglehold of gender studies has reduced academic writing to such simple assertions, merely to get beyond a thicket of competing and often ludicrous theories of gender. Here, the notion of independent thought is laudable, but is it original?

This reminds me of a memorable encounter at my last regular job. While working at my desk with a brilliant scholar, I was surprised by his response to something I had said. With a dim light of awe in his eyes, he asserted in a perfectly serious voice, There is no difference between the genders, Celia. We are all constructed.

I politely repressed a sardonic smile. Could he really have bought into all that? Yes, he could have. He was a product of the university system of the eighties.

Generalizing about gender can certainly be rather intoxicating. Given enough time, one can build a set of artificial abstractions from which one takes solace and sometimes even direction. But such generalizations seem fairly useless when considering how short life is. Being attractive is ultimately a spiritual proposition, a matter of creative will and force. Truly attractive individuals will forever be spiritual dynamos, universalists, persons who willfully transcend time, gender, space, cultural mores and constraints....

Women complain that men sexualize them, that men want women who are passive yet smart, attractive, affectionate, sexy yet modest, willing to be subservient to the family, etc. This may be largely true. Yet women desire and often expect certain behaviors from men. Most women, when pressed, will admit they like a man to hold a good job and provide for the family. They also will sometimes admit that they like aggressive, assertive men, men who are accomplished, taller than them, ruthlessly successful, etc. So women sexualize men as well.

Put together a very feminine woman and a very masculine man, and the result is often disastrous. Women want men to respond emotionally to them, to give something men have not been trained to give: unlimited, unconditional emotional attention and communication, seemingly inexhaustibly. Men want women to work uncomplainingly at home, to be good mothers, preferably to look fabulous, and in most cases to contribute to the household earnings.

Woman is enslaved to man because of the attraction she feels for the strength of the male, because of the desire for a home and the security it brings, and often because of her attachment to maternity. Man is enslaved to woman because of his desire for possession and dominion, because of his wanting nookie, and because of his attachment to the little comforts and conveniences of married life.

The relation between the sexes remains false because of a couples unwillingness to openly admit what they want from "the contract." Until we can freely admit that the relation between the genders is primarily transactional, as in a business deal, we will be stuck in mutually bitter cross-accusations and sterile gender theories, draped and dramatized in comedic programs across our nations campuses.

-- Celia Thaxter (celiathaxter@yahoo.com), June 08, 2000.


What you say seems to make a lot of sense.

-- Lurker2 (lurking@for.good.reason), June 09, 2000.

I do not expect my lovely, gracjious, mother and teacher of seven, best friend, and lover to contribute to the household income. At least not by going and "working" for someone else. Thats my job! She already gets to do all the other fun stuff!.

-- The_guy (The_guy@home.org), June 09, 2000.

Anita, although at this point Ive just skimmed the essay -- if that whole piece could be summarized with one word, I think you just did it, with "individualism." And yes -- you've gotta give Ayn another shot  eyebrows and all. I pick up more every time I reread something of hers.

Celia, very interesting post. Id like to respond, but I want to study and reflect on the essay in depth first, which I intend to do sometime this weekend.

Mariawell, all I can say is that I think Pat deserves a thread of her/his own.:)

Back at yall as soon as I can

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), June 09, 2000.


"Until we can freely admit that the relation between the genders is primarily transactional, as in a business deal..."

For one thing, your model should be a business partnership, involving many deals....with parameters changing over time.

How would you realistically quantify the amount of value of investment - the cost/benefit ratio?

{Maybe it's because I live in California, but I don't even see this as strictly an issue between genders. It would affect same sex life partnerships as well}.

-- flora (***@__._), June 09, 2000.


How do cost/benefit ratios work? I don't know if I could quantify a personal relation that way. I'm thinking in more general terms. In spite of this culture's romanticizing marriage and love, people want pretty basic things from their partner. I think it's good when people are honest about what they want, and don't silently make assumptions or expect benefits from someone else (a form of hoping their partner can mind-read).

I think most of us approach relationships with our own self-interest uppermost. A few people genuinely care for their partners more than themselves. I guess that's the test of love.

I'm not sure about same-sex relations. I was thinking of this more in terms of how men and women are socialized, and in terms of my own experience with men. Differences in the way men and women approach relationships are strongly reinforced in this society. In a same-sex relation, I'm not sure if the same dynamics apply. But I agree it would still be primarily transactional.

In truth, a part of me, a holdover from youth, would like to believe there exists a "soul mate" factor -- something that could transcend the purely transactional. Most marriages I observe, however, seem basically utilitarian. The partnership works if both people get what they want and need from the (usually unspoken) contract.

-- Celia Thaxter (celiathaxter@yahoo.com), June 09, 2000.


I know absolutely nothing about gender studies -- or what women and men generally want from one another. I like, very much, what you say about attractiveness.

Your thoughts on the transactional nature of male/female couplings are perceptive, yet saddening. I don't know you, but I suspect life may have forced you into the sad cynicism that can only be experienced by a disappointed idealist.

I get a lot of joy out of idealizing other humans and to consciously dwell on the terms of the "contract" is to risk losing the ability to enjoy and believe in one of the few beautiful mysteries we encounter in our lives -- the love,desire, attachment, bonding, sense of comfort . . . "je nes se pas!" that can occur between two souls. The moments when this occurs seem to be the moments that people crave -- probably more than any other moments in life.

Partnership and contracts are important and yet mundane unless they are matters of survival to the parties. The real prize in life is to find those moments of mystery and beauty and transcendence.

-- James (jchutchinsons@hotmail.com), June 09, 2000.


Hi -- lots of food for thought in your post, but I'd like to focus on a few issues for now...

Would you elaborate on on your observation that, "Truly attractive individuals will forever be persons who willfully transcend...gender..."?

I'd also like you to elaborate on that tantalizing comment from your colleague, "There is no difference between the genders, Celia. We are all constructed." And, would you explain what you mean by your comments about women and men being "enslaved" to each other? Are you hinting at determinism with these two comments -- that we (or at least most of us) have these and other "feminine" or "masculine" characteristics and predispositions which are not only inborn, but which may even be permanently entrenched and unalterable? Further, if this is your position, how can we ever "transcend" gender, as you indicate above?

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), June 12, 2000.

James-you should post more.

It has been a few days since I read through this. I remember liking much of it. I have been on record that gender is a construct; that although the sex organs are different, the soul know no gender.

It is an interesting study to see people guess on this forum, regarding anons, who is male and who is female. There have been numerous wrong guesses in this area, and I find this quite interesting.

Why do you think people guess inaccurately? Is it based on use of language? Attitude? Type of reasoning used in debate? I would be interested in all answers.

-- FutureShock (gray@matter.think), June 12, 2000.

FS that's an interesting question.

It was often thought that Old Git was a man. I thought so too, at first.

If someone calls themselves "Old" as a handle, it must be a man, I think one assumes. A woman would rarely do so. I think the perception was unconscious and automatic on my part. Could be other things that reinforced it early on, such as her interest in police scanners. It never occcurred to me to question it; when she first mentioned her husband by name (also a non gender specific name, Sweetie), I assumed that this was a gay partner. LOL! It took her use of he/she in posts to wake me up.

Attitude also. Can't remember about OG specifically, if her writing style influenced that perception. But in general, I think that women show more concern with rapport in their communications. It does not seem to bother men nearly as much, to argue and disagree as a pure invigorating exercise.

Further that may be why *I* assume that most anons putting up abrasive and/or abusive posts are male (being a jerk, for sport). .... Just a knee-jerk assumption on my part, you understand! I KNOW there are female anons, and very specific ones, as do we all.

-- Debbie (dbspence@usa.net), June 12, 2000.

Strike that last (female/catty) sentence, and make it "Unless I have specific reason to believe an anonymous troll is a female, I either (1) assume it is a male, or (2) don't form any perception at all of the gender."

-- Debbie (dbspence@usa.net), June 12, 2000.

Hi, FS -- yes, that's one I've certainly thought about from time to time; and it's fascinating to ponder.

An example: Before I knew, I assumed Z was a man -- and I assumed it for quite a while. I don't know -- maybe it was his handle, which somehow seemed a little too cryptic and off-the-wall for a female. And maybe some of it was that he was in the sciences, where my bias was that if it's the sciences and I don't know, then it's probably a male.

But then -- somewhere I read that someone "knew" Z was a female. Then, well -- after momentary surprise and confusion, I accepted him as a female. And this went on for another month or so, when I finally read his own statement that he was in fact a male. Then, after another temporary state of shock, I accepted him as a male again.

Hi Debbie -- well, just know that I held a pretty big grin most of the way through your posts.

Hey, James -- nice contribution.

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), June 12, 2000.

Oh yes...FS, you said that the soul knows no gender. Well, I believe this. I could talk about this all night, but for now...I was raised pretty much as the author of the essay was -- non-gender- specific -- and I'm grateful for it. I was taught good, universal virtues, and constantly try to live up to them.

Re my "masculine" side...as a young girl I played sports with the boys, I love to watch hockey and play soccer and basketball with my boys and their friends, I'm assertive regarding my opinions, desires and needs, I felt joy in my independence when I chopped and brought wood for the fire last winter, and I have an intense interest and fascination in "doing philosophy" for hours on end where many times I was the only female in the group.

On my "feminine" side, for example, I feel that I'm passionate about many things and show it, i.e., I don't try to hide my emotions (unless it's inappropriate, I have anger that I should try to "walk off" first, etc.), enjoy gardening and plants, and try to be empathetic, sensitive and compassionate, and giving of myself and my time to others.

But, you know, I dont think these gender-specific terms ("feminine" and "masculine") are really even valid, which is why I've put them in quotes. I like a man to have a good balance from both sides, and many that are attributable to neither.

The bottom line here is, though -- I feel 100% female -- and love it.

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), June 12, 2000.

I just posted the following over at EZ, in response to some concerns various posters had with the essay. I'm posting it here in the hopes that it might help to clarify a few things...

In a nutshell, the author is emphasizing the importance of examining what would be to the benefit or detriment of your life and flourishing, as a standard, rather than blindly accepting tradition or what others feel is appropriate for you, in terms of expressing your "femininity" or "masculinity. She encourages us to constantly critically reflect on the societal norms and see whether theyre appropriate for us as individuals before we adopt them.

I think that parts of her essay were poorly written, though, and I can see how that might lead to some confusion. I know that I had to read some of it more than a couple of times.

I have access to a subsequent essay on this subject by this author, where she indicates in what way these views might encompass homosexuality. She says:

The discussion here follows (the context of man-woman relationships), not due to any bias against homosexuality, but rather because I suspect that the concepts of masculinity and femininity function somewhat differently in heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Thus, I would neither wish to presume uniformity between heterosexual and homosexual relationships nor attempt a separate discussion of gender in homosexual relationships (a subject of which I have too little knowledge). (from Sex and Gender Through an Egoist Lens: Masculinity and Femininity in the Philosophy of Ayn Rand; anthologized in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, edited by Gladstein and Sciabarra, Penn State Press, 1999)

My take on how she might have viewed the homosexuality issue is that while its not the emphasis, it certainly seems  on its face  to be within the ambit of the discussion. But in view of her comment from the other essay, the author appears not to understand homosexuality enough to have intentionally  if implicitly  included it here.

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), June 12, 2000.

To Eve and All:

The next interesting hypothetical question might be this: If we were all confined to our computers-If somehow we were born into a celibate world and knew nothing about sex, and our only access to each other was the internet. Would we over time come up with two categories of folks and describe them roughly as male and female?

In this scenario, do you think there would be any confusion as to who fit what category, should we decide there were categories? Or would we come up with 16 categories? In this world, our minds work at the same level they do now, and human nature is the same.

What do you think?

-- FutureShock (gray@matter.think), June 12, 2000.


Had a long day and I'm dead tired, but I'll try to quickly answer your questions...

As to what my colleage said about our all being constructed -- beats me! At the time I thought it was a pretty stupid comment, especially as pertains to gender. I continue to think there are major differences between the sexes that we must acknowledge arrive with us from birth...

I don't have any particular notion about their being a "male" part and a "female" part of each of us, or of being "determined" in that way. I think I'm fairly female, and most of the men I know are fairly masculine... actually, I think it's hormone distribution that makes us so different from one another within gender and compared to opposite gender, among other things... (gosh! I'm tired).

About transcending gender, I mean that ultimately we are all spiritual beings. The body, the gender, the name, personality, all the little things that we think we're made of -- these are just the casings for the soul. The soul is above gender, it doesn't think in terms such as I am female, I am male. It thinks in terms of I am God, you are God, all the world is God. That's the best way I can think of to summarize it. To transcend gender would be to rise above the idea of being any particular way, or being beholden to any particular behavior or set of ideals, merely because of one's gender...

In truth, I don't think I could do such a thing (in this life), yet I think and hope I could find a partnership that was based on mutual spiritual commonality that would supercede other questions such as income, personality, looks, profession, "chemistry," etc., or what veils we wear to cover what we are really seeking, but cannot say, because it is too vulgar or materialistic or self-serving.

Future Shock, good question. Whenever I read an anonymous post, I usually think in terms of male gender. I can't explain why I do, expect perhaps the age-old American/English habit of using "he" for "one."

Well, g'night.

-- Celia Thaxter (celiathaxter@yahoo.com), June 13, 2000.

Celia: About transcending gender This paragraph is nectar. Thank you for the reminder.

-- Bingo1 (howe9@shentel.net), June 13, 2000.

FS, to address your second hypothetical question - not a chance. Its our physicality (dictated by karma) which engenders this need for male/female stereotyping, more specifically without hormones urging most of us (not all - LOL) to procreate, gender becomes irrelevant. I'm assuming we the cyber-celibates would be bereft of such hormones in your scenario.

It is those evil (not really) hormones that urge us on to create firm lines of demarcation with gender the focus, IMO. Theres little doubt in my mind we would attempt to pigeon-hole our cohorts in some manner or other. My guess is there would be many, many groupings based upon like/dislikes, politics, rational/emotional action/reaction, etc.

It is the nature of duality.

-- Bingo1 (howe9@shentel.net), June 13, 2000.

Here's another response I just posted on EZ. Again, I'm posting it here in the hopes that it may clear up some more points, from the author's (as well as my own) perspective...

You referred to the author's apparent discomfort with the norm -- held by many -- of regarding oneself as a good spouse or potential spouse as an overriding value sought, calling this perspective elitist. But I think you may have misunderstood the author's intent. What I got out of this is that valuing these norms may be ok IF they're yours and yours alone. Even then, though, if you suspect (and you should always check for this) that those norms may have an OVERRIDING value to you as ends in themselves -- to the point of causing you psychological or other harm, then you should critically examine whether those are right for you.

By the way, an "end in itself" is a goal that is itself not a means to some higher goal -- e.g., your happiness or your overall quality of life (or pleasing God, if you're religious) could be "ends in themselves," whereas something (a lesser value) that leads to these goals would not be.

With respect to your comments that extremes of femininity may be harmful to others as well (the author apparently thinking that extremes of femininity harmed only the self):

I agree with you here. And if you read on to the author's next paragraph, you should note that the author was trying to bring this out herself. In the first paragraph on that point, the author was just quoting Browning, NOT agreeing with her. In the next paragraph, she compares and contrasts Browning's view with her own, which appears to be in diametric opposition to it. But, you know, I thought this whole point was very poorly written and developed by the author. This was one section that I had to read more than once to even figure out what she was trying to say.

Later you seem to indicate that she had a lack of self-confidence in her own identity, and that she had a "large difficulty" with respect to this. I see the opposite -- that she comes across as relatively free from constraints of tradition or what others would have her do (without at least critically examining whether they were right for her), and that this would imply a strong self-confidence.

Celia, FutureShock, Bingo 1, thanks for your interesting posts. Back atcha as soon as I can...

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), June 13, 2000.


I apologize if this comes off as know-it-all. I just figure you'd like to know in case you want to use the French expression again. I'm pretty sure that the phrase you were reaching for is "Je ne sais quoi" ("I do not know what").

-- Lars (lars@indy.net), June 13, 2000.

Here's a comment on an interesting study that was made (quoted from an interview with Nathaniel Branden (psychologist and expert on self- esteem) from "Full Context" magazine):

"As an interesting aside, a psychological study isolated a group of men and women who by their peers were judged to be highly creative individuals. They gave this group a battery of tests and what they found was that creative men tended to exhibit a high number of traits the world calls feminine, and that the women manifested a high number of the traits that the world calls masculine. That doesn't mean that the men were effeminate and the women were butch. But they seemed to have more of the traits commonly associated with the opposite sex.

I have an explanation for this, which is the following: highly creative people are at least in some respects more independent than the average person; they are much more attentive to their internal signals, and because of this, they are less likely to block off or disown pieces of themselves that don't fit cultural stereotypes."

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), June 14, 2000.

FS, On your second hypothetical question...

Given your context, I don't see on what basis any such groupings would ever come about. As Celia very nicely put it, ultimately we are all spiritual beings and transcend gender. Since I believe this essentially exists now, there's no question I would believe it under your scenario.

Celia, very nice response on transcending gender, except that our beliefs regarding God's role don't appear to coincide. By the way, if you're tired, it's ok to hold off before you post. I'd continue to check the thread and wouldn't mind at all if you're "off the map" for a long time, or whatever time you need.

Bingo 1, you get the award for giving the most colorful compliment (to Celia, and most deserved, btw) I've seen here in a long time. And your "many, many groupings" observation was right on, assuming an implication that there could very well be rational bases for the groupings you describe, although as we're all well aware, people are very complex...

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), June 14, 2000.

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