This is completely off topic, but I have a blog, and blogging I shall go.
It’s actually not completely off-topic, as some fantasy/GameLit novels have been criticized as pandering to an ideology. So, I’m going to note a difference between pandering to an ideology vs. showing a necessity for extra genders.
The issue I’m talking with today is based on four parts of the larger, generically termed “Social Justice” movement. One of their pet projects has been fourfold.
- To redefine the word “gender”
- To redefine the use of pronouns.
- The institution of a Social Constructivist view.
- To pass legislation to try to force people to use their way of understanding gender and pronouns.
Thus, we have to ask some questions. What is gender? What are pronouns? Should we use the force of law in applying these things?
The other portion of this, dealing with writing advice, is that if you’re using some third-gender pronouns or society, you need to ask the question, What role does this extra gender serve in society not provided by the other genders? Otherwise, you will come across as pandering to an ideology rather than arising from a natural consequence of a society’s structure.
This is merely looking at this from a social angle. There is a case for extra sexes to be made from a biological standpoint, but it doesn’t hold much scrutiny when applied to humans. It could be useful for looking at other fantasy creatures/races however.
What is gender?
Gender is a social construct. Yes, it is. But, and this is crucial, so is our entire language. The key thing here is all social constructs must serve a useful purpose or they get discarded. For example, I can use any combination of words, sentences, phrases, paragraphs, etc. to communicate my intent. But if what I write doesn’t convey that information, those words are useless.
So this social construct, language, is a shared social construct. Language is used to communicate, and we negotiate our understanding of language within a wider social construct, I don’t just get to make up words and their meanings because the purpose of language is to communicate, and if I do that, my language cannot communicate anything.
In philosophical terms, I have a contradiction in will, where the thing I want is self-destroying. I cannot make up words because words are meant to communicate, and I cannot communicate anything using words other people do not understand. Visit a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and you’ll realize how true this is.
Gender comes the root of genus, or “What what type of thing is it?” So, why do cultures have it?
In all cultures I studied in anthropology, the idea of gender is tied to the sexual biology of the person. There’s a reason for this. The rules of the culture dictate how you interact with people of different genders. That’s the social construct.
Cultures which recognize other genders than two have assigned specific roles to those other genders. The berdache were men who never completed the rituals to transition into male. They cut themselves to imitate menstruation, performed women’s duties, married men, stuffed their clothes to look like pregnant women, and their role was to perform several religious ceremonies. *
You can find more or less genders in culture, but they all roughly boil down to masculine male, feminine male, neutral, masculine female, and feminine female. When societies do have these genders, they also have unique roles that these genders identify.
America has two genders for all practical purposes. In most cases, the gender identifier is superfluous. A female doctor and a male doctor have no special meaning. But we do have lots of rules for how we deal with women vs. men.
If you’re in the military and someone yells out Female on Deck, it has the immediate meaning of “put some damn clothes on.” While being nude or semi-nude in front of other men isn’t an issue, it is one in front of women. Likewise, using profanity, telling crude jokes, sex stories, and a whole host of other behavior that men engage in regularly is considered inappropriate in front of a female.
The issue with the made-up names brigade is that society has no actual role for these people. Hence, their gender identifiers do not have any meaning to society as a whole. Gender is meant for genus, what is it, and what are the rules of society for dealing with this type of person?
Frankly, there are none for most of the made-up genders. Thus while we understand the rules for dealing with MtF, (refer to them as “her” or “she”, open doors, don’t tell crude jokes in their company, etc.) and for dealing with FtM, (opposite), we don’t have any cultural understanding for how to deal with a zie, sie, ey, or ve. This classification has no meaning.
Should a fiction writer have a universe where zie had a special meaning and understanding, then that’s great. But there has been no negotiated understanding with what these terms mean. Instead, the meaning has been imposed.
The argument is that we should respect whatever someone wishes to call themselves. Bullshit. Trump sees himself as an honest, hard-working, diplomatic, intelligence, and sophisticated man. That is his understanding of himself. I see a crude, crass, belligerent, petulant, ill-informed man who got his wealth through inheritance and gaming the political system for favors, like allowing him to discharge his debts and not pay his workers.
The fact that he has one set of understanding and I have another means doesn’t mean his gets preferential treatment. Yet this is precisely what many of the activists are claiming, that because they want to call themselves something, everyone else should. Should your friends or colleagues come to some shared meaning with you about your self-identify, great for all of you. But you have no right to demand such from other people.
The irony here is that I think this is a huge step backwards for gender equality. The term “gender identity” is defined as “a person’s internal or individual experience of their gender.”
Great. So if I feel female, can I apply for positions, grants, university positions, (women are preferred at universities two to one), and other reserved positions because of my feels? Does my feels count for a workplace claiming to hire more women? Wouldn’t that be discrimination if someone claims my feels are not valid for claiming that a workplace hires more women or zies?
This is the reason third-wave feminists and second-wave feminists are at crossroads with each other. If you think corporations and Universities won’t use this to their own benefit, I can only laugh at your naivete. My favorite example is a student protest. The Dean talked to the students about safe spaces and said that the workers deserved safe spaces too. The students looked dejected. By agreeing that safe spaces were more important than freedom of speech, the students effectively granted the University the unequivocal right to censor them at any time.
If you insist I must believe your personal beliefs, I find you childish the same as I do Trump’s insistence on his own virtues.
Camille Paglia, second-wave feminist, on made-up gender pronouns. She makes the same points that I do, particularly about how this should evolve into the language naturally.
What are Pronouns?
Pronouns are verbal shortcuts used to communicate information either about who is speaking (I/you) or someone who has been referred to earlier, (he/she/it/they). I could say, “Ryan spoke with Jeff, and Jeff thought that the new book is great. So Jeff is going to perform it and see if Jeff can understand the characters Jeff is portraying.” That’s tedious, and pronouncing Jeff’s name is easy.
Instead, we say, “I spoke with Jeff, and he thought the new book is great. So he is going to perform it and see if he can understand the characters he is portraying.” It’s important to note that I am not using “he” here to make Jeff feel better, I’m using it so whomever I am addressing will understand what the pronoun is in place of. This is why people who say they is acceptable alternative are simply not paying attention to language.
“I spoke with Jeff, and they thought the new book is great. So they are going to perform it and see if they can understand the characters they are portraying.” This would confuse any listener, because they have no idea who the other party is being referred to here. The only time they makes sense is if used as the previous sentence, where the number of people being referred to is indeterminate.
The made up pronouns do not help clarify either who is speaking or who has been referred to earlier. If they were useful, they would evolve naturally like any other word.
Social Constructivism has killed more people than any other ideology. The main proponent of this theory was a man unknown in the West, but famous, (or infamous) is Trofim Lysenko.
Lysenkoism is the belief that genetics don’t matter, and that plants and animals are strictly the results of the environment. Every farmer knows genetics matter a whole lot, it’s why prized studs are sought after, and it’s been known since the time of Plato when he observed that strong bulls had strong offspring.
Lysenko’s theories resulted in mass imprisonment, murders, and the deaths of millions of Russians as the produce from agriculture and livestock plummeted. In a more personal level, John Money believed that sex was a social construct and tried out his experiment on David Reimer, by performing sex reassignment surgery on him.
He committed suicide. Yes, the environment plays a role, but the role environment plays is 100% mediated through biology. Ignore this fact at great peril.
The results of this can basically be boiled down into a group of people who are saying, “I’m too special to classify.” Well yes, every human is unique and blah blah blah. But really, most humans aren’t that unique. They’re basic.
One Jean Paul Sartre’s most famous philosophical passages is the encounter with Pierre the waiter. Pierre is a good waiter, but playing it robotically. He’s too much of a waiter. Pierre is saying by his behavior that he playing the part of a waiter, but the real Pierre is not a waiter.
Sartre’s observation is that we are condemned to be free. Yes, Pierre isn’t just a waiter, but he is a waiter. A person who has been a coward before like Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim is a coward based on his actions. But he is free to stop being a coward at any point. He is both free and not free, and his future freedom does not relieve him of the burden of the fact that he made free choices in the past.
You can’t be free of what you are just because you say so. Otherwise, no one would be in prison right now.
These people seem to want a world where they are free to do whatever they want and face no repercussions. Bullshit. Yes, you can tattoo your face, get piercings all over, and look like whatever gender you want. But don’t be surprised when the reaction to that is one of revulsion because you look like an uncanny valley character.
We do evil when we try to reduce the whole to the part, (metonymy) or refer to someone in an unflattering way (dysphemism). No one is just their gender. And this I find ironic in the social justice push.
They seem to want to make race, socioeconomic status, disabilities, and gender the defining characteristics of a person. These are the least consequential and most unimportant things about any person I can imagine.
Trying to pass legislation to force others to agree with your made-up fantasies pushes you beyond the realm of the respectable. If you want to negotiate your gender/made-up pronouns with wider society, fantastic. But if you want to leave that realm, from demos and debate and into dictatorship, I say and you do, then you become evil and vile at that point.
The attempt to get fake names and honorifics isn’t new. It’s how you can spot a dictator very quickly. They often want things they have done nothing to earn.
Kim Jong Il also had a nice list of names for himself, including Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have. Wanting to give yourself a name that isn’t part of wider culture is a dictator’s impulse, and using the law to force it is a dictator’s methods.
Shouting people out, assaulting them, etc. are also a dictator’s toolset. Go look up the brown shirts.
Tl;dr: If you’re an author writing a third-gender, make sure it has an actual role in the society it is part of. Current proponents of the theory that you can make up a gender based on “Feel(ing) free to mix and match your own prefixes and suffixes to create the identity that best describes you” are naive at an almost childish level where boys insist they are Batman and girls say they are Elise from Frozen.
Should you wish to persuade me otherwise, show me what unique societal roles and the societal rules we have based on your unique gender identification is. If you can’t, (and you can’t, because otherwise, it would be part of the known cultural milieu), then you’re essentially making up nonsense and using the power of law to enforce it.
That’s when the killings begin.
- The name has since changed to “two-spirit”, having one male and one female spirit. Also, not every Native American tribe recognized this tradition.
Can new terms be added?
The issue isn’t if they want/need new terms. If they want to introduce new terms, they should have an argument about why, and then society can accept or reject those claims. That’s how this system works.
The issue is they are using legislation to do it and have presented zero viable arguments for why anyone should take them seriously.
Let’s look at how to do this right. When the term “Ms.” first came out, it wasn’t a commonly used term. So a magazine came out called… “Ms.”, by Gloria Steinem.
What changed in society? The introduction of the birth control pill. Throughout all human history, women have been mothers. But the introduction of the birth control pill and legalized abortion changed this. Women now had the ability to take on a role that was previously unavailable.
The argument she used was that most languages have a diminutive form of addressing people, “-chan/kan” in Japanese, and an augmentative form, a way of addressing people who are elderly regardless of their marital status. English doesn’t have this.
Women who never married were still referred to as “Miss”, even in their 40s. So they wanted a new word to convey that they were adult women, regardless of whether or not they married. They wanted an English version of a augmentative form. “Ms.” is the result. No legislation was passed to enforce this standard, society naturally adopted it.
Again, note everything that happened here.
1.) . An argument was made for why this change needed to occur.
2.) . An argument was presented to the public.
3.) . The public accepted that argument.
There’s been no such coherent or cogent argument made on the side of “ze” people, they simply say, “You must refer to me as this, and if you do not, we will pass bills that will fine you. And if you do not pay those bills, we will throw you in prison. Also, crucially, we have no justification for why you should call us this except our feelings. And we can change the terms whenever we want, and you must accommodate us on this or you are evil and deserving of fines/imprisonment.”
You could rightfully call this linguistic imperialism.