Guest post: A patriarchal hierarchy of normative worth

Originally a comment by Nullius in Verba on How things actually are in the world.

Shannon @ #20:

Let’s tackle these in reverse order.

3) Multi-gender social orders do not entail what you think they do. Whether we examine the Navajo or the Indian “genders”, what we find is not a system of biological classification, but instead a patriarchal hierarchy of normative worth stinking with misogyny and homophobia. The function of these systems is to exalt the masculine and crush the feminine. In those systems where the additional gender or genders are categories of male people, those genders are for males whose masculinity is perceived as deficient or corrupt in some way. Masculine deficiency can be such things as physical weakness, small genitals, or pacifism. Masculine corruption could be interest in dolls, an effeminate manner, or homosexuality. The “third gender” hijra is not a category of liberation; it is a way for a patriarchal society to protect their honor from the shame of having to admit the existence in their families of gay boys and gentle boys. It’s a way for a father to deny that one of his sons is a failure, because it is preferable to mark a son as a hijra than as a filthy faggot.

This analysis has far more explanatory power than the epistemologically relativist notion that these multi-gender cultures had/have some special insight that the rest of the world failed to grasp. It explains why homosexuality is illegal in Iran while the nation performs the second most transsexual surgeries in the world. It explains why women who resist bear the brunt of the venom from activists. It explains why so much of the justification for knowledge claims about “gender identity” derives from gendered—i.e., sexed—stereotypes regarding acceptable behavior and interests. It explains everything.

2) Complex question hiding false assumption: sex is not defined by genitalia, nor is it defined by brains. Sex is defined by the reproductive functions involved in sexual reproduction. There are two such functions, represented by two types of gamete. A creature’s sex refers to which of those gametes its body is configured to produce. Because such configuration is temporally unstable, we also include in each category (A) those whose bodies are no longer so configured (e.g., due to age, hysterectomy, etc.) and (B) those whose bodies are not yet so configured but eventually will be (e.g., due to youth). We also include (C) those who at any point fit into (B); e.g., a boy castrated at five. Group (C) naturally gives rise to including those whose sexual development goes awry, and so we also include (D) those with DSDs.

The concept is neither uncommon nor controversial. The overwhelming majority of temporally unstable categories behave in the same manner. My hair is black, and I remain black-haired even if I shave my head. Humans are bipedal, and so I remain even if my leg be amputated.

If your brain were removed from your body and placed in a vat where your consciousness survived, we would have to stretch our language in order to describe the situation. Natural language develops to describe situations that speakers encounter. No one has ever encountered the brain-in-a-vat scenario in reality, so we don’t have a way to comfortably describe it. This lack forces us to default to analogy. By analogy, if all that remains of your body is your brain, then you have had your legs amputated, and you are still a bipedal creature. By analogy, if all that remains of your body is your brain, then you have had your gonads removed, and you are still either male or female.

1) A word’s dictionary definition is often—nay, usually—not its complete or technical definition. Dictionaries provide definitions that capture general usage. Crucially, definitions of words for things in the world tend to be satisficing. That is, they are true of the things described. For example, Merriam-Webster provides this as sense 8 for its definition of C: “a structured language for creating computer programs that is designed to be compact and efficient”. This is certainly true of the programming language C. It is a structured language for creating computer programs, and it was designed to be compact and efficient. However, there are many structured languages for creating computer programs that were designed to be compact and efficient. These other languages are not C.

Similarly, “a group of organisms that share a genetic heritage, are able to interbreed, and to create offspring that are also fertile” is true of species, but there are also groups that fit this description that do not qualify as species; e.g., the set of all tigers and lions. Further, by this definition, any infertile organism cannot be a member of a species, because an infertile organism cannot create offspring.

Does this mean this is a bad definition? No! It is a good definition for its purpose: general, non-technical distillation of a complex concept.

What it does mean is that we are dishonest if, knowing how dictionary definitions function, we conclude from their imprecision anything about the things they describe. The plurality programming languages relative to the dictionary definition of C does not entail that computer science categories are fungible or mysterious. Neither does the “messiness” of biology relative to the dictionary definition of species entail that biological categories are fungible or mysterious.

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