A Brief History of Gender

In 1955, sexologist John Money borrowed a term from linguistics and used it for a new concept in the study of human sexuality. “Gender” thereby became the go-to label for what is essentially a bundle of stereotypes associated with biological sex. This bundle includes roles in home and society (e.g. men go to work and earn money while women tend the home and children,) patterns of speech (e.g. it’s not ladylike to curse), fashion (e.g. in formal settings, women wear gowns while men wear tuxedos), and innumerable other other social touchstones for men and women. Feminists in particular bought into the concept of gender as it was a useful way of highlighting what they believe are unfair social restrictions designed by men to oppress women.

Naturally, in subsequent years, people began to realize the blatantly obvious fact that stereotypes are fluid. After all, some cultures have different stereotypes than others; stereotypes in the same culture change over time; and everywhere you look, you find people who do not conform to some (or many, or most) of the stereotypes associated with their biological sex. Again, this transformation was adopted and stressed by feminists in particular, as establishing fluidity of this sort would make it much easier to change what they considered to be repressive social norms.

Today, of course, this recognition of fluidity has been emphasized to a truly extreme degree. Some have multiplied the number of genders by orders of magnitude beyond the original two. Others have gone so far as to assert that there is no real difference between masculinity and femininity and thereby abolish the original two genders for all practical purposes. What’s more, many have altogether disassociated gender from biological sex while simultaneously attaching all sexual referents in our language (he, she, man, woman, etc) to gender instead of sex, deliberately leaving sex in a linguistic no-man’s land.

To progressives, of course, this brief history of gender is necessarily a brief history of progress. By their reckoning, people used to think that there were male humans and female humans, but science has now advanced to the point where we realize that this distinction–so fundamental to not only human history and civilization but also to continued human existence–was really just an illusion all along.

But even this brief history makes that conclusion a hard sell for non-progressives who examine it critically–and recognize the fact that half a century is a pretty tiny slice of human history rather than an indelible upward trend. For if gender has become so fluid that male and female are essentially meaningless categories, then the concept of gender has utterly failed at the purpose for which it was invented–to help describe the various social structures associated with males and females. In other words, this recently invented notion of gender has now become a fundamentally useless concept. Is doubling-down on a useless concept really worth the kind of ridiculous social upheaval being carried out by social justice warriors?

And so, there is a choice before us: On one hand, we could accept both the chaos that accompanies the idea that men who think they’re women are actually women and the consequent authoritarianism that requires anyone who disagrees to be deemed a dangerous science-denying bigot who must be punished. On the other hand, we could accept that the concept of gender turned out to be a failure–a thought experiment that ultimately fell apart–and return to the very real concept of biological sex. A blind ideological faith in human progress requires the former; but wisdom tells us that sometimes when you have made a wrong turn, true progress requires you to retrace your steps until you can get back on track.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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2 Responses to A Brief History of Gender

  1. Gunner Q says:

    The fun thing about sex and gender is it’s a scientific question. You put their cells under a microscope and either there’s a Y Chromosome or there isn’t. Then you solicit gratitude for setting them ‘straight’!

    Once science proves the existence of God, people will stop believing in science.

    ” Is doubling-down on a useless concept really worth the kind of ridiculous social upheaval being carried out by social justice warriors?”

    The alternative is accepting correction, which would imply that right and wrong exist as absolutes.

    • Matt says:

      Exactly. Sex is straight up biology like you describe. Gender is social science, which is squishier, but its concepts are still supposed to be judged by their scientific merits–what is its predictive value, how well does it categorize the variations we observe, and so forth. If you’re at the point where the concept of gender is completely blind to the differences between men and women–the very thing it was designed to catalog in the first place–then it has absolutely zero scientific value and should be discarded.

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