Re: Genderless/FULL societies

Elizabeth Childs (
Sun, 12 Sep 1999 13:42:28 -0700

From: J <>

> > either a "girl" box or a "boy" box is alien to me. The people around me
> > differ much more between individuals than they do between genders, and I
> > think most of the research supports me on that.
> I realize you state Cathy Young's article as a big
> source of information here. However, this is more a sociological
> commentary than a medical/scientific proof. I am all for looking at
> things and commenting from a personal perspective, but this isn't
> exactly hard data. I'm curious what other reading you have done that
> suggests your theory is correct?

I thought she summarized a lot of the research, and its limitations, fairly well. But I do agree that there are limits to that kind of article, and I haven't personally sat down and gone through ERIC (the psych abstract database), which I'm coming to learn is the only way to really understand things thoroughly.

In any case, the claim I'm making is a pretty weak one - individual differences are greater than between gender differences on most scales. As you say, very few people would debate that with me.

> > Do you guys live somewhere with much more rigid gender roles? Just
> > how different your perspectives on women would be if you lived in a
> > traditional Middle Eastern country.Perhaps some of your thinking here is
> > culturally based.
> I would ask the same of you. Simply because you are in Berkeley where you
> correctly stated everyone is a bit nutty (smile that's a joke ;) how does
> that somehow give you more or less proof than those the disagree with you?
> Having a male or female take on the world, isn't about where you live or
> even the society you grow up in. I openly admit that our environment does
> play some part in our reactions but no more so than anyone allows it to do
> so.

My point would be that there is huge variance between cultures in the degree of how important gender is percieved to be in setting socially expected roles; therefore, there must be some degree of cultural conditioning in gender roles. A stable (well, sort of stable) society can exist and still allow people to switch genders completely, or swap back and forth in the course of a day, as many transvestites do.

Now, are most people going to want to do that? No. Are most people pretty happy with their gender, and affronted at the notion of swapping it? Yes.

> Is it possible by your simple desire to not want to see gender as "boy"
> and "girl" boxes that you find answers for it? This is a very human
> attribute. We all want data that supports our claim. The ideal though is
> to want the truth more than you want to support your theories. I'm not
> necessarily accusing you of this, but is it possible at all that you
> simply find it offensive that people would suggest girl and boy
> dichotomies, and based on the idea (for whatever reason) you have reached
> conclusions that don't necessarily match with what is really being shown?

I have long since concluded that boys are in fact on average different from girls, and that this transcends culture, although for any given trait or expectation, there are enough outlyers to confound any gender based expectations a person has.
I just think those differences are averages rather than absolutes. My previous remarks were in response to some very absolute statements that women were irrational yet nurturing creatures who would always choose security over freedom.

> > that yes, there are some differences between men and women, but that the
> > differences between individuals are greater:
> I think this is an odd statement. There is no doubt in my mind that if you
> go from stereotype to individual you ARE going to find great differences.
> I don't think anyone here would debate that fact with you. However, I also
> do not think those that might be differing from your opinion are
> necessarily suggesting otherwise either. To my understanding, everyone
> agrees with you on this point.

Again, I was responding to some statements that were claiming very extreme gender differences. I think some of the other posters were not making such claims, and, in fact, we would find ourselves fairly close in agreement.

> The questions that always come to mind in these kinds of discussions are:
> Why would it be wrong if there were boy and girl boxes? What is the
> negative that comes about if we consider male and females truly different
> creatures in thought, emotion, and physical structure? Why is it a
> negative to enhance the understanding of the differences in sexes to
> better learn to relate, rather than claim some sort of equilibrium?
> For whatever reasons (right/wrong/indifferent) gender is part of each
> human. It isn't just about the sex organs, it is about a feeling of
> "manhood" or "womanhood." We do go about life with different agendas and
> strategies. Yes, we are all human, but male and female human take on
> and differing patterns. We can wish at times to diminish these differences
> but for whatever purpose evolution decided it was currently important. I
> think I much rather take the information that exists and figure it out,
> than try to come up with reasons for why it is wrong. There is a purpose
> for genders beyond reproduction, the key is to figure it out.

I think you've hit on something very interesting here. We can ask questions like "Are men more conversationally aggressive than women?" and "Are men better at math than women?" and "Are women more nurturing than men?" and we can try to pin down exactly what differences we see with research. And it sounds to me like the research finds differences, but not enough differences to put people into just one "box".

But why do people so strongly identify with their gender? It isn't because they are or aren't good at math or because they do or don't interrupt other people while talking. And it isn't because they're nurturing, or aggressive, or any other specific trait. It's a fundamental trait of its own, and you can really see this when someone deviates from the socially expected role for their gender yet very much still wants to be identified with their own gender. For example, female athletes are still viewed by some as "unfeminine," yet to many of them, it's very important to them that they are still feminine. Same for girl geeks and the converse for male nurses.

I think the differences between introverts and extroverts are much greater, but no one will fiercly proclaim "Introverts should be introverts!"

It isn't strictly an evolutionary biology thing, because you can see it in lesbians and gay men as well. And you see the reverse in transexuals, who talk about feeling very strongly that they were the opposite gender while they were growing up.

So I think you've hit on something important; it is important to most people to have a strong gender identity. But I don't think you can easily break that gender identity down into component parts, as it's clear that it transcends any one trait or even constellation of traits. I'm sure there's a lesbian computer programmer out there who rides in the Dykes on Bikes contigent in the Gay Pride Parade and swears like a sailor, but still considers herself a W-O-M-A-N even though she probably has fewer "female" traits than the average male elementary school teacher.