When gender found its place deep inside the self

Susan Matthews at the Times Higher on Sally Hines’s Is Gender Fluid?: A Primer for the 21st Century:

Hines is interested in two different questions. Can an individual change their gender identity? And is the categorisation of biological sex really fluid?

Her key idea (drawn from Thomas Laqueur) is that binary sex difference is a cultural construction, cemented in the Enlightenment to underpin gender differences. From Anne Fausto-Sterling, Hines takes the claim that the existence of intersex people undermines the concept of binary sex differences. Cordelia Fine’s work allows her to argue that most claims for binary sex differences in the brain derive from cultural bias. What’s new is not the idea of gender fluidity but the claim that biological sex is a spectrum.

Most 20th-century feminists thought of gender as a social construction that lay outside the self, a kind of false consciousness that the individual could reject. Everything changed when gender found its place deep inside the self as, in Hines’ words, the “core part of who people know themselves to be”.

So is the anti-feminism plain enough yet? If gender finds its place deep inside the self then why bother with feminism at all? Why not just let everyone choose to be either dominant or subordinate and let it go at that?

In the new model, gender paradoxically becomes less fluid. Transgender is “an umbrella term describing people whose innate gender identity or gender expression is different to the sex they were assigned at birth”. Borrowing the language of intersex, sex is “assigned” whereas gender is “innate”.

Sex is mere superstructure, mere dross, while gender is the soul.

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