human nature that people like to categorize and have thinks set clearly to them in 'black and white'. People have always liked to think in terms of dualisms: there is the Cartesian 'body and soul' and 'paradise and hell', and "good and evil' amongst so many other dualisms. Either one category or the other exists. Belonging to that same schematic order of pattern is 'man and woman'. Shades of grey such as sexless individuals perplex and disturb people. They are bound to react with intolerance when faced with these exceptions. Nonetheless, differences of sex are not so clear. This essay is an elaboration on just that, showing that the popular view that there are only two genders in a dichotomous relationship need not necessarily be so. Gender and biological differences of gender are not so clear.
As part of our evolutionary background, people tend to categorize and think in terms of schema. Researchers, such as Kahneman and Tversky, demonstrated that rationality was reducible to mental heuristics. Appraisals are cognitive in that they occur via cognitive heuristics that quickly size up stimuli based on the observers' past experience and socialization / enculturation as well as based on other heuristics such as availability and anchoring. Most, if not all of this schema are evolutionary -- fast and instinctive and serving to help us spontaneously categorize so that we are enabled to make rapid decisions and free our mind for the lengthier process of the more important decision making. Large parts of decision making are, in other words, routine and rote and much of this is done in terms of 'Either -Or' and categorization.
Appraisal, in short, works via mental heuristics that compel the person to choose that which he is decidedly comfortable and familiar with, rejecting that which is alien, hence threatening to him. Part of this schematic way of thinking is in terms of dualism.: There is the Cartesian 'body and soul' and 'paradise and hell', and "good and evil' amongst so many other dualisms. Either one category or the other exists. Belonging to that same schematic order of pater is 'man and woman'. Starting from the medieval middle ages, created by the Judeo-Christian idea, the Western world (and large parts of the East), divided man and woman into select roles and gave each his -- and her -- task. Man (as per the Bible) was the ruler. He was the breadwinner, the dominator, aggressor, the logician, and, as most agreed, the more superior intellect. Woman, on the other hand, was created for mothering. She was intuitive, emotional, compassionate, and nurturing. She was the 'softy'. Proponents of this view -- and it extended up until comparatively recently -- pointed to the biology.
Cordelia Fine writes that as recently as 1915, a prominent neurologist observed that:
There are some fundamental differences between the bony and the nervous structures of women and men. The brain stem of women is relatively larger; the brain mantel and basal ganglia are smaller; the upper half of the spinal cord is smaller, the lower half… is much larger." (Fine, p130).
This illustrious neurologist, writing in the New York Times thereupon concluded that:
I do not say that [these differences] will prevent a woman form voting, but… they point the way to the fact that women's efficiency lies in a special field and not that of policitla initiative or of judicial authority in a community's organization. (ibid.)
He wasn't the only one to draw conclusions form women's biological differences.
The Bronte sisters had a tough time getting their books off the ground. Charlotte's poems were rejected by England's poet laureate, Robert Southey, who warned her that "literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it, even as an accomplishment and a recreation" (*4).
Later on, Jane Eyre had the following to say of women's role:
Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. (p.145)
Review of the facts; however, show that biological differences between man and woman are actually not that great.
According to several researchers, there is no such thing as gender differences in language skills, and the supposedly larger female corpus callosum may well be a myth (Fine, 138). Similarly, gender differences in visuospatial tasks as well as in operational areas may well be illusionary too. And so on with so many other areas.
John Grey in "Why Mars and Venus Collide" talks about neural differences between the genders whilst in another popular book, "Why men don't listen and women can't read maps', authors Pease claim that the female brain is unlocalized for spatial processing. Fine shows that such alleged differences are actually moot.
True enough there are definite, inescapable gender differences such as a penis for male and vagina for women, as well as larger breasts for the latter sex, but these need not indicate differences in intellect between the two genders nor do they appropriate roles. The 'is" does not necessitate an 'ought' and people too oft rush to connect an erroneous and none-existent connection from phenomena that happen to exist. Women may have smaller and lighter brains than men, but this does not reflect interior intelligence, nor do structural cerebral differences (if there are) indicate the same.
Gatens (1996) tells us as much: males and females are different at birth, but only bodily so. The body is neutral and, therefore, cannot affect the consciousness. Conflating them is committing a logical falsity. Since we do conflate them (conflating 'sex' with 'gender') and since observable differences do exist, Gatens concludes that it must be social / cultural construction that forms gender differences. There is no 'essence' to the sexes; rather supposed differences are culturally constructed. Gatens supports her argument with the research of psychoanalyst Robert J. Stoller whose research suggested that there is no one way women are. Whatever gender behaviors women adopt are, most times, culturally tainted.
The case of the inter-sexed.
The situation becomes even cloudier with cases where gender is not so clear. Gorman talks about such cases:
There exist people who fall outside their bounds. People who "cannot be comprehended by hegemonic discourses of sexual difference" to the order of two and who, in recent, times have begun to agitate for a place in the world as intersex or hermaphrodite subject (p. 182)
These cases particularly disturb people who like to have clarity and distinguish sex into one or other of the categories. It is no wonder then, that unclear cases of sex are victimized. Such is a case in point with the eunuchs of India who face severe harassment and discrimination from mainstream people in society, are not allowed to have any organized source of income, and often sensually arrested by the police (Human Rights Defence).
Since shades of grey such as sexless individuals perplex and disturb people, they are bound to react with intolerance when faced with these exceptions.
Humans seem to like to categorize. Perhaps we do it out of evolutionary necessity. Categorization however fails to notice that feelings, the multiplicity of people or gender is really a fluctuating diversity of homogeneous elements that…