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Two excellent articles: one on political correctness, the other on sexism - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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September 23rd, 2009


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04:09 pm - Two excellent articles: one on political correctness, the other on sexism
I've been annoyed with the way the term "political correctness" has been used for at least the last 15 years, and here's a wonderful article that explains what going on with the terminology and the politics behind it exceedingly well.
The term politically correct is a reactionary term,” he said. “[It was] created by people who were worried by [social] changes…that affected their everyday understanding of the world in ways that pointed out their role in creating or reproducing dominance and subordination.
This article is well worth reading and is one that I completely agree with.

Also, I highly recommend this article about the origin of behavioral gender differences. Perhaps the most important bit of the article is the following:
For her new book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps—And What We Can Do About It, Eliot immersed herself in hundreds of scientific papers (her bibliography runs 46 pages). Marching through the claims like Sherman through Georgia, she explains that assertions of innate sex differences in the brain are either "blatantly false," "cherry-picked from single studies," or "extrapolated from rodent research" without being confirmed in people. For instance, the idea that the band of fibers connecting the right and left brain is larger in women, supposedly supporting their more "holistic" thinking, is based on a single 1982 study of only 14 brains. Fifty other studies, taken together, found no such sex difference—not in adults, not in newborns. Other baseless claims: that women are hard-wired to read faces and tone of voice, to defuse conflict, and to form deep friendships; and that "girls' brains are wired for communication and boys' for aggression." Eliot's inescapable conclusion: there is "little solid evidence of sex differences in children's brains."
I haven't done anything like this level of research into such articles, but I've read a lot of them, and this completely agrees with my own observations. This is both a problem with research on psychology and gender and more generally on inborn behaviors and genetic determinism. From the wealth of absolutely ludicrous studies involving separated identical twins [[1]], to the gender studies mentioned above, the field is filled not just with junk, but with junk that is consciously or unconsciously designed to support existing prejudices and social norms.

The article then goes on to examine exactly how gender-based behavioral differences come about, which the author argues (very persuasively, to me at least) is a combination of parental expectations and unconscious bias, combined with feedback loops based on initially exceedingly small gender differences in behavior (which I might argue are at least as likely due to parental expectations as anything else).

[[1]] Note: Separated identical twins are exceptionally rare, and the research is in all cases conducted after the twins learn about one another, often a decade or more after they learn about one another, for several decades, most such studies have used the same 20 or so pairs of twins.

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From:kinkyturtle
Date:September 24th, 2009 03:22 am (UTC)
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Well, nothing so easily found, anyway.
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From:heron61
Date:September 24th, 2009 07:34 am (UTC)
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I'd put that to a mixture of choice (rare), strong early imprinting, and various other complex factors. One crucial part of dealing with gender preference, as with sexual preference in this fashion is recognizing that a choice, early imprinted desire, or whatever are just as valid and just as acceptable as any supposed genetic imperatives. I see transgender and cisgender as being very similar to religion in terms of how people come to them. Most people are comfortable with the religion they are raised with, while some seek to change religion, both are IMHO equally valid decisions, which are both based on some combination of conscious choice (at minimum, for trans people, the decision to transition is a conscious and difficult choice) and inclination and preference derived from some source, which could be anything (in either case) from divine inspiration, to early imprinting, to the nearly inevitable outcome of other decisions and choices which may have nothing directly to do with either religion, gender, or sexual preference.
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From:aureantes
Date:September 30th, 2009 08:23 am (UTC)
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It seems that "gender preference", as you call it, has to do more with outward presentation and behaviour....gender identity -- which may not even be shown or self-recognised in the same way -- is a much deeper and more persistent awareness once awakened, regardless of changes in externalities and other areas that can accurately be called preferences.

At least "orientation", cf. sexual object-attraction, is a less-impliedly-negligible way of expressing the reality of gender, as natural deviations from the majority tend to be self-realized in the same wide range of ways and stages of life, yet are valid personal natures irregardless of when first observed and officially defined. To call either a "preference" implies (and quite strongly to anyone who wants to run with it) that one is -- or ought to be -- capable of 'preferring' otherwise, or at least dealing consistently with the non-preferred option without any serious negative consequences.

Which is not the case for anyone whose gender identity and/or sexual orientation is hard-wired in any way, shape or form.
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From:heron61
Date:October 1st, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
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I avoid using the term identity for anything, because I largely don't believe in anything remotely like a singular, unified, and enduring identity. None of us are who we were a decade ago, our memories are quite literally rewritten every time we rememder them, this I find the concept of identity (as it is normally used) to be unlikely.

In any case, I believe that everything about sexuality and gender is "learned" (using this term in the broadest sense) behavior, just as most speakers of tonal languages learn perfect pitch in the first years of their lives. I don't see that this way of looking at sexuality & gender is any more or less valid than assuming sexuality and gender are in some way inborn. Societal evidence supports this, in that inborn traits like race is just as much of a subject for prejudice as obvious choices like religion.

As for "hard-wired" behaviors, it's clear that some exist (althogh likely fewer than most people think), but there's absolutely no reason to suspect (& in fact a distinct lack of evidence) that any of these behaviors are inborn. Like perfect pitch, they may well be formed in the first years of life and are in practice unchangable afterwards (which of course, simply means we haven't learned how to change them, just as anything that's actually genetic merely awaits advanced in genetic therapies to change)
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From:aureantes
Date:October 1st, 2009 04:09 am (UTC)
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Enh...well, that does explain a good deal of our difference in viewpoint, because I do believe strongly in identity. Not in set-and-totally-unchanging identity per se, but at very least in a core of selfhood around which all else of personality accumulates. Cells may change, neurons may reconfigure, but character does tend to be fairly consistent as it unfolds.

It seems irrelevant to me whether a variant trait (rather than a functional defect) is acquired genetically -- though I am certain of it in my case and know that it is often thus determined/predisposed -- or by earliest imprinting. So long as it is indeed relatively consistent/persistent once it appears, what point is there in debating or attempting to undermine the matter, unless one is indeed attempting to undermine its existence and validity?

One would think that once we as a society actually do address and eliminate those assymmetrical gender assumptions begun in infancy, then there would be some basis for postulating what is truly innate and what is learned externally when it comes to gendered traits -- and personally, I don't even think there'd be much of a real dichotomy there to argue.

But as for one's self-perception of gender, and as for gender dysphoria, it seems thus far in my experience to be independent of both initially-gendered traits and social expectations/limitations, so I would not (like some post-gender theorists) anticipate transgendered/transsexed self-awareness to be somehow ameliorated given the "proper" gender equity, non-dichotomous atmosphere and symmetrical social expectations. Therefore, I see no good point in considering it less than innate (at whatever level) to the self-conscious individual, and accepting it accordingly, as the individual claims and lives. No one else has any compelling interest in forcing the reverse of that, so arguing it as less than inborn seems a bit suspect to me.
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From:heron61
Date:October 1st, 2009 05:20 am (UTC)
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though I am certain of it in my case

I'm curious, how do you know this?
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From:aureantes
Date:October 1st, 2009 07:36 am (UTC)
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Self-directed study and family observation -- my full-siblings and I all show varying manifestations of having had high prenatal
testosterone levels in the womb, though I surmise that I had the proportionately-highest dose. My fetal heartbeat was typically-male in slowness/steadiness, eliciting the doctor's conclusion "It's either a boy or a very stubborn girl." My mother was a definite tomboy (played baseball when pregnant w/ me, notoriously) and is self-declaredly ambivalent/indifferent when it comes to any firm sense of her own gender. So yeah, I'm definitely certain for me, because I've actually done enough research to back it up -- and I'm also certain that early imprinting and personal choice had very little to do with any of this, considering how long it took for me to consciously realize and claim my gender identity, not even knowing for years that there was any such thing resembling a choice in the matter, or the possibility of changing one's sociophysical condition. It took a long while for my nature to emerge from under all the longterm malaise, dysfunctionality and social conditioning, and I'm still having to deal with the residue of all that conflation and misdirection. If I had always definitely known and wanted what I was, then I could perhaps give some ground to the idea of imprinting and preference -- but as it is, those were red herrings when it came to sorting myself out, and I don't see my self-assertion as being a personal choice so much as an inexorable destiny that had been hiding carefully-veiled for years in my subconscious. Not something that I had the blank-slate freedom to prefer, but which emerged gradually and then inescapably into my awareness as the reason why I never felt quite right in my own skin or social persona.
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From:heron61
Date:October 12th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC)
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I just now realized what lies at the heart of my objection to your comment.

At least "orientation", cf. sexual object-attraction, is a less-impliedly-negligible way of expressing the reality of gender, as natural deviations from the majority tend to be self-realized in the same wide range of ways and stages of life, yet are valid personal natures irregardless of when first observed and officially defined. To call either a "preference" implies (and quite strongly to anyone who wants to run with it) that one is -- or ought to be -- capable of 'preferring' otherwise, or at least dealing consistently with the non-preferred option without any serious negative consequences.

My problem is with the idea that something is more valid, real, or defensible if it's innate and unchangeable rather than either consciously choosen or otherwise something that happened due to life circumstances. In addition to the rather obvious fact that believing that learned (or early imprinted) variations are less valid than genetic (or other inborn) variations is clearly and obviously both foolish and vile, I also just realized that I find the idea that personal choice is less valid than other more innate options to be astoundingly puritanical and exceptionally objectionable - which is not to say that you are supporting any such ideas, merely that your ideas of what would be considered "less-impliedly-negligible" come from living in a culture where this is true. I find that upon thinking about it, I loathe that rather basic cultural proposition.

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From:alephnul
Date:September 25th, 2009 07:38 am (UTC)
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Maybe that is because most of the people doing the positing are transphobes?

To flip your question- If there is nothing inherent that informs gender or gender identity, whither cis-people?

I'm cis-gendered (fairly strongly), but I do not like my gender. I dislike almost everything about being male gendered, but I am (I don't have any particularly objection to being male sexed). Does the fact that I can't give up being male gendered and having a male gender identity make me delusional or misguided, given that my masculinity is not hard-wired in my brain from birth? Am I crazy to continually do all of the numerous actions necessary to continue to be read as male gendered?

No, it does not. No, I am not.

My masculinity has been being written on my brain from the moment after birth. I didn't have a choice when that was done to me (nor, to a great degree did the people who did it to me), nor any choice when I began to be an active participant in driving the feedback loop that continued to make me have a male gender identity, and I don't have a choice now of abandoning that gender and gender identity. I can adjust my gender presentation and my behavior and my thinking, but my gender identity seems pretty stable, and certainly not under conscious control.

There is an additional thing, though, which is that all of this research is about inherentness of our particular cultural overlays on gender: girls like pink and defuse conflict and prefer to play with baby-like toys, boys like blue and are aggressive and prefer to play with truck-like toys, and careful analysis shows that there is a solid lack of evidence that those associations between preferences and behaviors are hard-wired into gross brain anatomy, and a solid body of evidence that we see them in infants when they aren't actually there and then they start to manifest developmentally after we see them. None of that says anything about where our attachment to our genders comes from (and even less about where our attachment to our physical sex comes from).
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From:heron61
Date:September 25th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
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I don't see any easy way to tell the difference between variation due to very early imprinting and variation due to genetic (or other biological) differences. There are a number of differences that are clearly and solely due to early imprinting that are highly stable over time. The clearest example being perfect pitch - nearly everyone (IIRC, 80+%) who grows up speaking a tonal language has it, while it's quite rare among people who don't. IIRC, it's not possible to learn it later in life. I don't see any reason why gender identity could not be the same sort of thing, and in fact telling the difference between the options of variation due to strong early imprinting and inborn variation seems to be exceedingly difficult.

One common perception I've seen in the belief that variations (of all sort, but especially having to do with gender and with sexual preference) due to early imprinting are in some way less valid or less stable than genetic differences, and that's one of the places where my own beliefs as someone trained in anthropology come to the forefront. I simply do not believe this.
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From:heron61
Date:September 25th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)
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And you're not even touching bodily dysphoria in transfolk here. Why not?

Actually, I am. I can easily see that as being just as likely to be due to some sort of early imprinting as to anything inborn.
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From:alephnul
Date:September 25th, 2009 07:27 pm (UTC)
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Please don't think your own insights as a cis man who's uncomfy with gender-role enforcement have anything to do with what I'm going through (or talking about).


Sorry. I absolutely don't mean to equate my discomfort with gender-role enforcement to your feeling that "As a matter of physical sensation, the sexed nature of the boy I'm in is perceptibly squicky and wrong."

I mean to equate the sense that my maleness is right (not in the sense that I am comfortable with it, not in the sense that I want it, just in the sense that it is what I am) to your sense that your femaleness is right (whether you want it or not, whether you are comfortable with it, just in the sense that it is what you are). My discomfort with gender-role enforcement and my discomfort's irrelevance to my gender identity is my rebuttal to the view that trans-people are misguided or delusional. My politics and my beliefs about the origins and nature of gender do not effect my gender identity. Deciding that I shouldn't be cis-sexed and male any more doesn't make me stop being cis-sexed and male. I am not delusional or misguided to be unable to change from being cis-sexed and male.

I am reasonably comfortable in the physicality of the male gendered parts of my body. That is no more or less misguided and delusional than your extreme discomfort with how your body was, and your greater comfort with how your body is now.


You don't have to be an evopsych crank cherry-picking studies to inform your own prejudiced just-so stories in order to think that there might be something to the whole brain-sex differences idea. And the lack of a conclusive case for what Dawkins and Co. would like to tell is is rock-solid proof doesn't mean that individual studies showing interesting data to that effect are invalidated. It means they don't form a rock-solid case, and that the implications the evopsych guys want to draw from it are informed more by their own biases than what's reasonable to infer.


Indeed, as I said in my last paragraph "None of that says anything about where our attachment to our genders comes from (and even less about where our attachment to our physical sex comes from)." Since gender identity is not gender performance, all the baby studies that show that gender performance is imagined in us before it occurs say nothing about where our gender identity comes from. Since gender identity is not a feature of gross brain anatomy, a lack of gross brain anatomy difference between men and women (or between cis and trans) means nothing about gender identity.

No one knows why (at the level of pre vs post natal, at the level of genetics, etc.) I am comfortable with the sexed aspect of my body. I am, and it is great benefit to me that I am. No one knows why (at the level of pre vs post natal, at the level of genetics, etc.) you weren't or why you are more comfortable with it now that you have changed your body. I assume from my knowledge of my own situation that being comfortable with the sexed aspect of your body is a great benefit to you. It doesn't matter to my mind why we are each comfortable with the sexed aspects of our bodies, or that you needed to make conscious changes to your body to get to a body that you were comfortable in and I didn't. What matters is that we are both allowed to get to a point where we are comfortable in our bodies.

Of course (and I take this to be your point in your initial question to heron61), what just-so story we put in place of our absolute ignorance (and we all put one there if we think about this at all) is of vital importance in a number of ways, including having a huge effect on whether you are allowed to get to the point where you are comfortable in your body. A just-so story that means one thing to all of us in terms of gender equality potentially means another thing entirely in terms of recognition of the legitimacy of gender identity.

Apologies in advance for whatever way in which this is unintentionally insulting. If I should just shut up, let me know and I will do so.
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From:alephnul
Date:September 25th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC)

I realized something

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I have been writing as though I am arguing with you or explaining something to you. I'm not arguing with you, and you don't need me to explain this to you. I'm basically agreeing with you. If I'm arguing with anyone, I'm arguing with heron61.

Sorry about that.
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From:rjgrady
Date:September 27th, 2009 07:49 pm (UTC)
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1. On the contrary, it suggests chosen gender is a part of personal identity formation.
2. Gender differences in behavior says nothing about the brain's belief about what it's body "should" look like. Nor is a gender-based difference in personality required to have a strongly held preference one way or the other, unless you wish to imply all transgendered individuals, or indeed all individuals, are identical in temperament.
3. Saying that on average there are no gender-based trends does not say there are not individual variations in behavior and body, only that they do not all go in one direction.
4. Social constructs are not "delusions." They are, practically speaking, identical with what I call reality. I don't consider quantum physics delusional, for all that I know it's an incomplete model of the universe based on a uniquely human perspective. Nonetheless, I expect physics to be continually improved upon in a useful manner, in much the same way I expect humanology to continue to advance.

Imagine someone decided to get plastic surgery to appear less African-American and more European-American. I could accept that this is a heartfelt desire of theirs, and freely acknowledge that the social, cultural, and psychological experiences of whites and blacks are different without believing that blacks and whites possess significant and meaningful differences in brain structure.
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From:heron61
Date:September 27th, 2009 07:53 pm (UTC)
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Well said, I completely agree.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:September 24th, 2009 11:23 am (UTC)
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Quote from the Newsweek article:

"Dozens of such disguised-gender experiments have shown that adults perceive baby boys and girls differently, seeing identical behavior through a gender-tinted lens. In another study, mothers estimated how steep a slope their 11-month-olds could crawl down. Moms of boys got it right to within one degree; moms of girls underestimated what their daughters could do by nine degrees, even though there are no differences in the motor skills of infant boys and girls."

That is very interesting. I have been very clumsy and have had poor balance all my life. I was the kid who dug in her heels and considered gym class an utter waste of time. I wonder if I would be better coordinated if I had been born male, since I would have been pushed harder.

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