This post originally appeared on I Am The F-Bomb.
Discussions on gender are a verbal war zone, with battles raging both between and within sexes. Feminists blame the patriarchy. The men’s rights movement rallies against female privilege. Sex-positive feminists call anti-porn feminists prudes. Anti-porn feminists say that sex-positive feminists were brainwashed by the patriarchy. Women Against Feminism wonder what all the fuss is about, urging an acceptance of male superiority. Profeminist men call the men’s rights movement a bunch of “crying diaper man-babies.”
You’re probably wondering which side I’m on. I hate to disappoint, but I hesitate to identify with any of the aforementioned groups because if I do, others will think they already know my stance on a variety of complex issues. They won’t really listen to what I have to say. This contributes to an atmosphere of endless bickering that serves no one.
Neither a feminist nor a masculist, I promote “gender transcendence.” I believe that both feminism and the men’s rights movement are one-sided and divisive. Feminists say it is men who enjoy privilege; masculists say it is women who enjoy privilege; neither considers the possibility that men are privileged in some ways while women are privileged in others. In our admittedly patriarchal society, the obstacles faced by women are more substantial. Yet even when women are liberated from patriarchy, you may yet remain subject to the tyrrany of gender. The path to complete liberation, not only for women but for every individual, is the path to gender transcendence.
A few years ago, a Canadian couple created an international stir when they announced their decision to raise their child gender-neutral. No gender-specific pronouns. “The infant,” as they affectionally called their child, was not limited to pink clothes or blue clothes, dolls or toy guns. I was stoked when I came across this story, but (why was I surprised?) not everyone shared my enthusiasm. A heteronormative psychiatrist appeared as an “expert” witness, calling the parents misguided, essentially arguing that gender is hardwired in the brain and should not be tampered with. (Now you see why I put “expert” in scare quotes.)
Sex is biological, a distinction based on anatomical differences. Gender, on the other hand, is a culturally relative clusterfuck of social expectations. Depending on what kind of genitals you emerge from the womb with, you are forced into a particular psychological mold. Through a system of rewards and punishments, ranging from subtle to violent, society sends a clear message about what’s expected of you.
Gender roles are not genetically hardwired in the brain. If they were, then gender defenders wouldn’t get so worked up over gender-neutral parenting. They would be confident that the “correct” gender would emerge naturally, without the need for parents to teach it. But gender is in fact learned, and if it can be learned, then it can be unlearned, and we can refrain from teaching it to younger generations.
Gender may have served a purpose in our evolutionary past, but it has outlived its adaptive value. Almost nothing in human experience is immutable. If transhumanists can transcend human nature by hacking their biological hardware, then certainly we can transcend gender by reprogramming our psychological software.
In Greek mythology, humans are descended from a race of double-bodied beings. As punishment for an attempted revolt against Olympus, Zeus chopped these beings in half. That’s why you feel whole when you find that special someone, your “other half.”
Carl Jung saw this myth as symbolic of gender norms. Every individual experiences the full range of thoughts and emotions, but, depending on our sex, we are “chopped in half,” i.e., conditioned to repress any aspect of self that is incongruent with the gender role you’ve been assigned. The goal of Jungian psychology is individuation, to become a whole individual not by finding another half to complete you, but by integrating what you lost in the process of socialization. For men, this means integrating the anima, or feminine side. For women, it means integrating the animus, or masculine side.
“Women who seek to be equal to men lack ambition,” said Timothy Leary. To the extent that feminism seeks only to elevate femininity to the level of masculinity, it will fall short of liberating women. Not everyone woman is, or wants to be, “feminine.” Our goal should be a society in which a woman can be assertive without being called a butch, and a man can be passive without being called a sissy. Our goal should be a society in which one can be one’s self without interference or judgment from society. Our goal should not be limited to freedom for one gender or another, but expand to include freedom from gender for all.