Is Gender a Social Construct? Kinda

“Social construct” is one of those weird terms that gets tossed around a lot online without knowing what exactly it means. A lot of people think “social construct” means “made up” or “fictional,” but it’s more complicated than that. Now I’m not a sociologist, so don’t take my word as gospel, but based on what I’ve read, hopefully I can clear up some things.

For starters, according to Dictionary.com, a social construct is “a social mechanism, phenomenon, or category created and developed by society; a perception of an individual, group, or idea that is ‘constructed’through cultural or social practice.” Wikipedia goes a bit deeper and explains, “A social construct or construction concerns the meaning, notion, or connotation placed on an object or event by a society, and adopted by the inhabitants of that society with respect to how they view or deal with the object or event.” So when it comes to gender being a social construct, it means our society’s ideas about what it means to have either a penis or a vagina are determined by society, not necessarily biology.

Simone deBeauvoir sums it best with the classic line from The Second Sex, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” To be a woman in society is to meet certain preconceived expectations and roles, and if you don’t meet those roles, society says you’re not doing it right. Judith Butler echoes deBeuvoir’s observation by explaining “gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time–an identity through a stylized repetition of acts.” Hence, according to Butler, gender is performative.

Unfortunately, the social construction argument overlooks one key factor that goes into gender: the scientific basis for gender identity.

As I’ve mentioned before, several studies show a connection between neurological patters and gender identity, so the catchphrase “gender is a social construct” doesn’t always show the full picture. I think trans activist and biologist Julia Serano explains it better than I can:

While [queer theory and post-structuralist] feminism differs from [identity-politics-focused/cultural] feminism in many ways, it shares its predecessor’s tendency to artificialize gender expression. This is often accomplished via gender performativity, a concept developed by Judith Butler to describe the way in which built-in expectations about maleness and femaleness, straightness and queerness, are constantly imposed on all of us. Butler uses the term “performativity” to highlight how feminine and masculine norms must constantly be cited. She uses the example of the child who becomes “girled” by others at birth: She is given a female name, referred to with female pronouns, given girl toys, and will, throughout her life, have her “girlness” cited by others in society. Butler argues that this sort of reiteration “produces” gender, making it appear “natural.” However, many other [queer theorists and post-structuralist] feminists have interpreted Butler’s writings to mean that one’s gender is merely a “performance.” According to this latter view, if gender itself is merely a “performance,” then one can challenge sexism by simply “performing” one’s gender in ways that call the binary gender system into question; the most often cited example of this is a drag queen whose “performance” supposedly reveals the way in which femaleness and femininity are merely a “performance.”

In other words, the idea that gender is just performance doesn’t tell the full story.

I think a better way of explaining it is this: gender identity has a scientific basis, but gender roles are social constructs. Rosey Grier isn’t less of a cis man because he crochets. Dori Mooneyham isn’t less of a trans woman because of her butch presentation. AFAB non-binaries are no less non-binary if they present as feminine. Society may say they’re not performing their genders right, but that’s because our society has some fucked up views about what it means to be either a man or a woman. We’re better than this, right?

So yeah, hopefully this clears things up some.

Bi Any Means Podcast #92: Race, Atheism, and CPAC with Tiffany Harding

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My guest for today is Tiffany Harding. She’s one of the co-hosts of Road to Reason TV, a weekly TV show which airs on Fairfax County Public Access channels that discusses issues involving atheism and skepticism. Today we’re going to talk about her backstory, representation in the atheist community, and sneaking into CPAC.

Listen to “Bi Any Means Podcast #92: Race, Atheism, and CPAC with Tiffany Harding” on Spreaker.

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The Biskeptical Podcast #21: Have You Tried Not Being Poor?

We start today’s episode talking about the new GOP healthcare bill, and how it’s going to screw us all over. Then after we get a history lesson from Ben Carson, we discuss Christina Hoff Sommers’ latest video debunking the gender wage gap, and how it overlooks a lot of social hurtles.

Listen to “The Biskeptical Podcast #21: Have You Tried Not Being Poor?” on Spreaker.

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Bi Any Means Podcast #91: Secular Celebrants and Building Bridges with Galen Broaddus

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My guest for today is Galen Broaddus. He is a secular celebrant through the Center for Inquiry, with whom he recently won a case allowing secular celebrants to solemnize marriages in Illinois. He also blogs about atheism and humanism at Across Rivers Wide, which can be found on the Patheos network. Today we talk about his journey, his blog, and his work at a secular celebrant.

Listen to “Bi Any Means Podcast #91: Secular Celebrants and Building Bridges with Galen Broaddus” on Spreaker.

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ICYMI, Three Recent Splice Today Articles I Think You All Will Appreciate

As you may or may not know, I recently started writing for Baltimore-based website Splice Today which covers politics, art, and culture. Here are three recent articles I wrote for them that I think y’all might like:

Fear Builds Walls: How Pink Floyd’s The Wall Predicted Trump

Gender Dysphoria as a Still, Small Voice (It’s pretty emotionally raw, so discretion is advised)

The Failure of Classical Liberalism (Oh boy, this is gonna piss off the Free Speech Warriors!)

So yeah, hope you like them.

Your Favorite Mondegreens

A mondegreen is what happens when you mishear or misinterpret a phrase, specifically a song lyric. The term comes from Sylvia Wright, who thought an old Scottish ballad said “And Lady Mondegreen” instead of “And laid him on the green.” Some of the most well-know mondegreens are “Wrapped up like a douche” from “Blinded by the Light” (actual line: “Revved up like a deuce”) and “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy” from “Purple Haze” (actual line: “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky”). Mondegreens fascinate me because it’s another example of how our memories aren’t always reliable, like the Mandella Effect (no, seriously, I was pissed when I found out the Berenstain Bears weren’t Jewish).

Today I thought we should take a brief break from the dumpster fire that is the Trump administration, and talk about some of our favorite mondegreens. I’ll start with mine:

1). “Arthur’s Theme” by Christopher Cross. I used to watch that movie all the time when I was a kid, and I was convinced Cross was singing “If you get drunk between the moon and New York City.” It makes sense since the movie is about an alcoholic, right? Nope! Turns out he’s singing, “If you get caught between the moon and New York City.” I like my version better.

2). “Paris (Ooh La La)” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Now this is a bizarre one because I used to think she was singing “If I was a maid, I’d save your spoon.” Dafuq is that supposed to mean? Fortunately, she’s actually singing, “If I was a blade, I’d shave you smooth.” Which is why this song always gets stuck in my head when I shave.

3). “Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan. Okay, this one is pretty controversial. For years I thought they were singing, “All those dago freaks who used to paint their face, they’ve joined the human race.” I was like, “Did this motherfucker just call me a dago?” Fortunately that’s not the case; they’re actually singing, “All those day-glo freaks who used to to paint their face.” Phew, for a moment I thought Donald Fagen was a racist!

4). “Jump” by Van Halen. Here’s another funny one; I used to think David Lee Roth was saying, “I eat the worst chips you’ve seen.” You would think Roth would be able to afford better quality chips, right? Turns out he’s actually singing, “I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen.” Ah, much better!

So what are some of your funniest or most embarrassing mondegreens?

Bi Any Means Podcast #90: Debunking Woo with Kavin Senapathy

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My guest for today is Kavin Senapathy. She’s a skeptic blogger who writes about pseudoscience and woo for Forbes and Grounded Parents, and is the co-author of the book “The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House.” Today we’re going to hear about her backstory, her work, and why you shouldn’t get nutrition advice from the Food Babe.

Listen to “Bi Any Means Podcast #90: Debunking Woo with Kavin Senapathy” on Spreaker.

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A Dream Come True–My Guest Spot on This Week’s Everyone’s Agnostic Podcast

One of my favorite podcasts is Everyone’s Agnostic where every week Cass Midgley and Bob Pondillo interview people about their deconversion stories. I always wanted to be on their show, and a few weeks ago I got my wish. Our discussion is now online, and you can listen to it here.

The Biskeptical Podcast #20: Vagina Woo

Today we discuss all the weird and wacky pseudoscientific woo surrounding vaginal hygiene. We talk about vagina lipstick, jade eggs, steaming, and everything else designed to awake your inner goddess. Plus I read a Dr. Seuss parody written by friend of the show Revan Reborn. Enjoy!

Listen to “The Biskeptical Podcast #20: Vagina Woo” on Spreaker.

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Bi Any Means Podcast #89: Women Beyond Belief with Karen Garst

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My guest for today is Karen Garst, author and editor of the book “Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life Without Religion.” She also blogs about feminism and atheism at FaithlessFeminist.com. Today we’re going to talk about her backstory, her book, and how religion hurts women.

Listen to “Bi Any Means Podcast #89: Women Beyond Belief with Karen Garst” on Spreaker.

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