Constructing an understanding of social constructs

Throughout the discussions on gender that have been sweeping through our circles of late, there’s been one particularly maddening dichotomy in thought that’s been thrown into sharp relief for me — that people having this conversation evidently have competing ideas of what a “social construct” actually is. Will has a great post on the gender discussions proper over at Skepchick, which has a passage that I think highlights exactly why people are getting it wrong in our communities:

It is no coincidence that many people within the atheoskeptosphere tend toward essentialism. After all, most people in these communities tend to highly value the natural sciences and think of science as a culture-free objective enterprise. Thus, the “soft” social sciences (and the non-scientific humanities) are often viewed as being wishy-washy and far less objective than the natural sciences, and so any theories developed in these disciplines are subject to increased, if not hyper, skepticism.

I cannot think of a more accurate statement to summarize why people in these communities are having such a hard time with these conversations.

Content note for topics that involve violence against certain genders or identities, assault on personal autonomy, and might trigger dysphoria amongst people prone to such. I’m trying to be sensitive herein, but we’re talking about gender-prescriptivists and the nexus of sex and gender.

Full disclosure, I’m a heteronormative heterosexual cis white middle-class male — pretty well the privilege royal flush in our society. But I have a particular interest in society and the so-called “soft sciences” of sociology; of human interactions, gender, and social justice. So, I’m bending my thoughts to the fights I’ve witnessed over many many years of blogging and other internet conversations. Correct me if I get anything wrong herein, please. I’d strongly prefer you voice your concerns and I alter part of this argument, than that I cause anyone (especially those already under scrutiny or oppression) any undue pain.

[Read more…]

Ashley Miller loses her father

If you haven’t already seen this post by Ashley Miller, you probably should. Especially if you’re under some misapprehension that we’re in a post-racial society just because Obama got 51% of the vote. She didn’t lose her father to disease, or to an accident. She lost her father because her father decided his Southern upbringing was more important than his filial relationship.

I’m sorry to be doing this over the phone, your father has forbidden me from seeing you in person. I’m sorry, he just cannot support your lifestyle anymore, he will not be speaking to you again, he asked me to tell you.

That was my stepmother, the day after Thanksgiving, the day after she discovered I was dating someone. Someone who was not white. Someone who was black. Someone who was sitting in the next room and knew what the phone call was going to be about before it even started.

Your father wants you to know that he still loves you. But you’ve gone too far.

This broke my damn heart.

And what’s more is, I’ve seen something very similar myself when my father all but disowned my sister for being gay. And in a way, it would have been better if he had disowned her, rather than simply harboring a “father knows best” grudge that he brings up every time we communicate with one another. My sister and I are both practically estranged from my father except for the very rare and awkward call. Whenever these calls happen, I cringe inwardly knowing that if conversations venture anywhere near my sister’s “life choices” and his disapproval, I’ll let fly with a rant about how she no more chose her sexuality than I chose my eye color.

And yes, I know that elides a lot of the argument of how much sexuality is a choice. But frankly, when someone talks about how they disapprove of someone else’s lifestyle choices, it damn well ought to be a lifestyle choice you have total control over. Who you love is not a choice you can truly make, any more than you can choose to be convinced about something. What you choose to accept as true without ever examining critically, on the other hand — especially if it’s a revulsion to a whole class of people so well internalized that all you can do to defend said revulsion is to preface your otherwise blatantly hateful statements with “I’ve got no problems with the coloreds or the the queers BUT” — that’s a choice.

You can choose to examine that loathing of miscegenation or of homosexuality. Or you can choose to lose a person who represents a valuable part of your life over your dogged determination to stick with your “traditions” or “values” because of how you were raised. It’s your call to make — to decide that your daughter’s happiness is expendable and must be subsumed into her strict obedience to the social mores of your older generation.

You may only get to make that call once, though. And you will both be the poorer for it.