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July 10, 2021

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Perhaps one of the reasons I get a sense of a different vibe between the US and UK is that the NHS and other similar organizations have to generate language to explain things and because of public funding, that language becomes a point of contestation. We get a little of that in the US, but not as much because we have no national health program and these sort of differences can be handled quite adequately by using non-gender marking language in those cases.

Separate from that, the process where good or non descript words become bad words is one that would seem to be apparent, but people insist on making arguments on it. In Japanese, the way to start a fight is to refer to a stranger as o-mae, which was originally was used to address someone higher that you (the initial o is an honorific)

But you can use it with a friend informally.

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.664.2425&rep=rep1&type=pdf

kisama is another one of those words

https://linguaholic.com/linguablog/kisama-meaning-japanese/

The problem with language is that it makes a lot of decisions for you. For example, all the native Japanese words for wife carry an implicit meaning of subordination. kanai means 'inside the house', tsuma comes from edge or side and means not the main person. shufu means homemaker. I don't want to use any of those, but if I use waifu, the English borrowing, which is used by some for exactly the same reason, it then becomes a marker that my Japanese fluency is not good. Oh, look at the poor foreigner who doesn't know the word for his wife! Another work around is to use first names, which also marks you out as someone who doesn't know Japanese, unless you are Japanese and everyone knows you are Japanese.

This normally gets played out in my head, but it was fun to see it happen to someone else in a slightly different context. My daughter, in her last term, brought her college dorm mate down. Our home conversations are usually a mix of Japanese and English and the friend's English was good enough to keep up, but when she wanted to ask me a question, she went thru a bunch of different ways of addressing me until she alighted on my first name+san. Which then had her speaking to my wife as first name+san because it was strange to refer to me in one way and my wife/daughter's mother in another. It was quite cute, but it was a constant reminder of the markedness. It is easy to see why some language might always seem like a red flag to some people, so though I have little time for people who just want to use it to signal value, I do recognize that one can't issue a blanket dismissal.

Related to that, I love the fact that awful is an example of that flip, which my Homeric Greek textbook noted worked the same, which is why I noticed it. That idea that something is so bad that you are speechless, or gawping to toss out a briticism, then gets you the idea of awe-filled and from there, awful.

It's actually a great help for me in dealing with some stupidity like you encounter on facebook. Rather than reply, it's like you are walking into one of those big European cathedrals as a tourist. sicut erat in principio et nunc et in saecula saeculorum, amen

Good lord, lj, you should give trigger warnings before quoting the Mass in Latin. ;-)

Whoops! Sorry! I never did figure out how to do that spoiler markup so you could only see it if you clicked on it.

I'm probably revealing too much, but all my serious girlfriends before my wife were Catholics who were going to or had studied law. Which probably explains a lot more than I would care to admit. And I just realized that my mother went to a Catholic nursing school (though she was Methodist). Your past is always there for the ride...

I was just kidding about the trigger warnings, but wow is that Latin evocative.

A slightly longer version, in a more congenial context, the movie Waking Ned Devine. Wonderful movie.

Catholics who were going to or had studied law. Which probably explains a lot more than I would care to admit.

LOL. We won't tell on you.

That was my joking point, unarticulated.

Some days my obviousness amazes even me.

all the native Japanese words for wife carry an implicit meaning of subordination. kanai means 'inside the house', tsuma comes from edge or side and means not the main person. shufu means homemaker.

And in mid-20th century America, "the little woman" was an unexceptional locution for one's wife. (Better not use it today, however.)

Not sure if I broke the blog (the front page only shows my post) or if people are looking at the judo post with that sense of 'awe' as in 'how the hell can he go on and on and on like that'.

But I wanted to come back here and talk about that double valence of critical. I'm skeptical of gender-critical feminists, in part because of who they seem to travel with and also because I don't think gender is immutable, it just feels that way inside our skins. But it's not because of the double valence of critical. I agree with Critical Race Theory, which I noted uses the same tightrope. The school of linguistics I subscribe to is Cognitive Linguistics, but I know full well that 'cognitive' is just a way to occupy the high ground. 'well, I guess you are doing non-cognitive linguistics if you disagree'. So it's not using that as a rhetorical device, I think any naming is going to do that. It's what you do with that rhetoric.

Is 'young lady' condescending these days (or has it always been)? Or is it used ironically towards one's pre-teen daughters exclusively anyway?
The German equivalent is 'junge Dame' and imo primarily used ironically these days.
Which reminds me of another paradox. In German attaching 'young' to 'girl' implies a female in her mid to late teens. So, a girl has to get quite old to acquire the attribute 'young'.

lj, none of the gender-critical feminists I know think gender is immutable (although I accept there must be some who do), they think sex is immutable. I notice you always refer to gender in this discussion, rather than sex. What is the reason, if you don't mind me asking?

Thanks for noticing that, gives me some food for thought. For me, sex is what people do, gender is what people are/may be. I'm not sure it I'm being idiosyncratic or prudish, but I would note that looking up things on the net, if you type in sex, you are going to get a lot of other stuff, but gender, you tend to get documents related to this topic. A quick google has this

The World Health Organisation regional office for Europe describes sex as characteristics that are biologically defined, whereas gender is based on socially constructed features. They recognise that there are variations in how people experience gender based upon self-perception and expression, and how they behave.

Again, I didn't realize my usage, so I'm talking off the top of my head, but I'm not sure I accept that a man is always a man, which seems to be what I would do if I said that this was a 'biological' definition. I would draw on this
https://www.treehugger.com/animals-can-change-their-sex-4869361

Now, we aren't banana slugs, but to my mind, this would have me hesitate to draw a conclusion about sex as being biologically 'defined'. This kind of reflects my feeling about a lot of other things, in that we change over time. Does that make sense?

This doesn't answer Harmut's question, but it is a fun exchange from Newsroom.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvE1CTwPegU

Interestingly, I remembered it as "young lady" rather than "girl".

Ok, lj, now I think I understand, but a lot of the things I've said must have been very confusing to you! This issue is actually at the heart of the debate. It will be interesting to see if and how your thinking on this evolves.

Why would it evolve? I know I'm right! [joke]

I don't think I've really waded into some of the discussions, but if I have and misunderstood things you've written, please accept my apology. I'm looking forward to reading the discussion having that understanding of what you are saying.

No apologies necessary. But truly, this (the difference between sex and gender) is pretty essential to really understanding the issue and where so much of the heat comes from.

I started reading the Wikipedia page on sex and gender and was immediately reminded, by implication, that "sex" is a word that different people define differently. Biologists have one definition (based on gametes), psychologists another ("[t]here are a number of indicators of biological sex, including sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia."), public health folks another, etc.

GftNC, you may have answered this before, and if so, apologies for asking you to repeat it; I've been here less often than usual lately. But: What is your definition, and that of the gender-critical feminists you know and/or agree with?

How many sexes do you think there are? Are there more than two, or do intersex people not have a sex? Is the immutable-from-birth definition you use based on body parts, hormones, brain structure, or what? If body parts, for instance, how non-standard do a newborn’s body parts have to be for that person to, by definition, be barred from growing up to be a woman?

I won’t pretend I’m not skeptical. The sex/gender distinction seems all too convenient to me, like (this is a blast from the past) saying that the inability to procreate with each other is a reason why gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married. Sounds plausible, but falls apart under scrutiny.

(PS Will be out of the house a lot lately, might not see replies, or have a chance to reply, until later.)

...all the native Japanese words for wife carry an implicit meaning of subordination. kanai means 'inside the house', tsuma comes from edge or side and means not the main person. shufu means homemaker.

That got me running through English colloquialisms for 'wife'.

"Her indoors" (usually pronounced "er indoors"). Popularised by the television series Minder.

"Better half". Animae dimidium meae

"Trouble". For "trouble and strife".

"(Old) Dutch". Short for "Duchess".

"Missus". For "Mrs".

Over here we have 'Meine Alte' (my old one) but there is also the term 'Mein Alter' for the husband. The latter is ambiguous though since it is also used by kids as an informal term for 'my father' (while I have never heard that the mother is also referred to that way).
[another ambiguity is that 'Alter' also means 'age', so the question "Was ist dein Alter?" can mean both "what is your age?" and "what's your father (implied: by profession)?"]

ISTM, *sex* is biological and therefore static and *gender* is fluid but not that difficult to conceptualize. For the vast majority of adults, sex and gender are congruent, whether gay or straight or bi (straight men like straight women because they are women and vice versa; gay men like men and gay women like women because they are men or women, as the case may be). That is, their gender aligns with their sex. The fifth category, call it *fluid*, embraces a range of people that may be largely dysphoric or even entirely dysphoric or not dysphoric at all but rather some other descriptor yet to be named (or it is named and I'm just unaware of it). There is a lot we don't know due to lack of objective data and the inherent problems with self-reporting but regardless: everyone plays the hand they are dealt and our social contract needs to be amended to add the outliers who, regardless of orientation, own the same bundle of rights, obligations, protections and so on that are the birthright of every citizen. The execution may be tricky, but the over-arching general principle can't be compromised.

That said, to me, the nature of dysphoria is such that individual classification may be problematic, i.e. how do we classify something most of us cannot understand? Is there language that really captures someone's essence that only that person knows and even then may struggle to fully understand? It's easy being born straight, not so much being born gay, but at least, gay or straight, you have a known orientation. As I understand it, a dysphoric may be entirely male or female oriented but in the wrong body but not all dysphorics fall in that defined category and, if I'm understanding their situation, whatever their *essence* might be, that may be fixed or it may be mutable over time and there seems to be--based on reporting--a lot of variability within the non-binary subset.

How much we, collectively, need to *know* about people with dysphoria is less pressing to me than making sure that we know enough to get past stupid stereotypes and make sure we fulfill our obligations under the social contract. The word "inclusion" has been co-opted by several schools of thought that use the term more aggressively than I like, but in its normal usage, "inclusion" is one of the fundamental terms of our collective agreement: everyone gets to participate equally to the extent of their drive, ability, etc.

It took 40 or so years for the straight world to get its arms around including gay people in the contract, but having managed that, one would think that the learning curve should be a lot shorter for addressing dysphoria.

If I had the time, I'd get into the line drawing and gray area stuff, but I don't due to having started a three week trial this past Thursday. It's a fascinating thread which really makes retiring at the end of the year attractive. I hate sitting this one out.

She who must be obeyed
The ball and chain
(my) old lady (hippie slang, right?)
bae, boo (though that is more girlfriend than wife, right?)

That first one is interesting to me, because it defines a space where the woman is in control, which is the explanation I have for Japanese gender roles being so durable. By granting the other that space, you are also extracting the promise that they will 'know their place' as it were.

My stay in Korea really had me start thinking about this a lot more, both countries are very conservative, but they are conservative in their own way. Koreans have a prudishness about sex that, after Japan, was pretty astonishing as well as a really severe problem with sexual harassment and chikan. Japanese have a pretty relaxed attitude towards sex (in the sense of what you do), yet gender is really persistent, but there is not a lot of policing of gender lines that I see as so problematic in the debates about trans rights or the homophobia that i felt was a pretty powerful feature of US society and still surfaces. Korea has had women commit suicide because they were filmed by hidden cameras (molka) but as the previous link about chikan suggests, this isn't unknown in Japan, but the reaction to it is much less.

Japanese society carves out a relatively large space for privacy so if you don't want to reveal it, you generally do not have to, though this is often suspended when the order of things is broken. I don't know if I passed this article on, but it has some interesting insights to when Queer Eye came to Japan.

https://stevenwakabayashi.medium.com/my-culture-is-not-your-toy-a-gay-japanese-mans-perspective-on-queer-eye-japan-7bb8420660c5

This all wanders quite a bit away from what started this off, but interesting stuff to think about.

this (the difference between sex and gender) is pretty essential to really understanding the issue and where so much of the heat comes from.

Which actually brings us back around to how the language evolves. When I was young, "sex" and "gender" were pretty much used interchangeably. The only difference being that "gender" was somewhat more genteel. Now, as surgery has advanced to the point that at least the superficial attributes of bodily gender can be changed, the meaning of the words is evolving (definitely still a work in progress) to deal with that new reality. If/when we get to the point that sex organs can be replaced with full function, rather than just redrawn, we may have to adjust again.

As a reference, I found this Wiki article about Feminism and Transgender to be pretty good. It collects most of the articles and sources that I found in my own independent research this week and helps to tease out the major threads and conversations and give a decent sense of the timeline:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_views_on_transgender_topics

ISTM, *sex* is biological and therefore static and *gender* is fluid but not that difficult to conceptualize.

The difficulties we are having with this topic arise out of an assumption that we are dealing with objective material facts where sex is concerned and with information or culture where gender is concerned. The truth is that the lines between those are messy and hazy and "nature" appears far more subtle and mutable than thought the more you try to find fixed principles. Nature...umm...finds a way.

Given what we know and don't know, and the complexity of the mechanisms and influences involved, I find myself aligning with those who treat sex and gender both as spectrums because it seems to do the least violence to the open questions we have.

Also, I think our most pressing question is not the larger question about the nature of sex/gender, but the specific question about how we can create a less toxic and damaging model of masculinity to make these other questions less urgent. A more open and accepting masculinity would take a lot of pressure out of the system, especially where the fight over women's spaces are concerned.

As a side note let me observe that, in most of the conversations here, McKinney is our token conservative. (Well, more conservative than me mostly, and I think I'm a conservative.) But his post above would, in broad swathes of the country, be branded as that of a flaming liberal.

Another article, old to me, but maybe new to someone here, worth consideration: https://www.nature.com/articles/518288a

“The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that.”

“The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that.”

Thanks for this, nous. My guess would be sex is also less immutable and fixed at birth than would be convenient for some arguments, but this is one of those drive-bys....hope to be back later.

PS I don't like the word "spectrum" in this context either either. More on that later, perhaps.

GftNC, you may have answered this before, and if so, apologies for asking you to repeat it; I've been here less often than usual lately. But: What is your definition, and that of the gender-critical feminists you know and/or agree with?
How many sexes do you think there are? Are there more than two, or do intersex people not have a sex? Is the immutable-from-birth definition you use based on body parts, hormones, brain structure, or what? If body parts, for instance, how non-standard do a newborn’s body parts have to be for that person to, by definition, be barred from growing up to be a woman?
I won’t pretend I’m not skeptical. The sex/gender distinction seems all too convenient to me, like (this is a blast from the past) saying that the inability to procreate with each other is a reason why gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married. Sounds plausible, but falls apart under scrutiny.

I’ve said before that I’m not crazy about being a spokesperson on an issue I am still wrestling with, but FWIW (and I am not a biologist or scientist, nor do I want to spend more of my time doing research), this is what I think I know.

We are a dimorphic species, which means I believe that our species reproduces by means of two different types of gametes, sperm and eggs, and that the humans who produce them are divided respectively into two sexes, male and female. Contrary to lj’s feeling that humans might be able to change sex, this is not currently nor has ever been possible: people who produce sperm cannot (so far) turn into people who produce eggs, and vice versa. God only knows what future technological advances such as cloning will add into the mix, or how we will evolve in the future.

In addition to the gametes, our species has a range of primary and secondary sexual characteristics which fall into the two categories of male and female. This would cover the body parts/organs item in your list, the chromosome issue I assume (XX v XY) and probably the hormones too. I don’t believe we know for sure yet whether there is any difference between male brains and female brains, and myself I doubt it.

Very clearly, there are plenty of exceptions to parts of all this, but statistically they are not in any way sufficient to alter the combined effect of these definitions. At one time it was common to say that the percentage of intersex people in the population was similar to the number of redheads (approx. 1.7%), but that turns out to be misleading: by more commonly held definitions and combinations of conditions, it seems to be more like 0.02%.

In a 2002 paper titled “How Common is Intersex? A Response to Anne Fausto-Sterling”, physician and psychologist Leonard Sax pointed out a flaw in Fausto-Sterling’s 1.7% statistic; namely, that it included many conditions that cannot be considered intersex in any clinically relevant sense. Indeed, the conditions making up the large majority of Fausto-Sterling’s 1.7% figure do not result in any sexual ambiguity whatsoever. In Sax’s words:
Many reviewers are not aware that this [1.7%] figure includes conditions which most clinicians do not recognize as intersex, such as Klinefelter syndrome, Turner syndrome, and late-onset adrenal hyperplasia. If the term intersex is to retain any meaning, the term should be restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female.

Fausto-Sterling’s central error was to equate any “differences of sexual development” (DSDs) with “intersex.” But while all intersex conditions may be considered DSDs, not all DSDs are necessarily intersex conditions.

Here we can see that the large majority (88%) of Fausto-Sterling’s 1.7% figure is taken up by one condition: late-onset adrenal hyperplasia (LOCAH). These individuals have completely normal male or female genitalia at birth that align with their sex chromosomes. The sex of these individuals is not ambiguous, so to label LOCAH as an intersex condition is a far cry from what most people and clinicians conceptually envision the term to capture.
The next most prevalent DSD on Fausto-Sterling’s list iclude any chromosomal deviations from classical XX and XY (e.g. Klinefelter syndrome, Turner syndrome, etc.). However, these conditions do not result in ambiguous genitalia and therefore cannot be considered intersex in any clinically relevant sense.


https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12476264/

Whether intersex people should be considered male or female, or to have no sex, is above my pay grade. But interestingly, I have read an article in the last few days (cannot find it now, sorry) saying that various intersex organisations are objecting strongly to being co-opted into either the sex-is-a-spectrum or the gender argument.

As for Janie’s flashbacks to the argument that gay people should not be able to get married because they couldn’t procreate, I can only say that the views of people who think that marriage is solely for the purpose of procreation never seemed remotely plausible to me, let alone worthy of scrutiny! It was always clear to me that the prejudice against gay people was primarily religious, at least in origin, and I rejected it along with so much other religious dogma. I was also lucky to be a child of the 60s, and we took it for granted then that human sexuality was on a spectrum from heterosexual at one end to homosexual at the other, and that most people fell somewhere along the line, and I still believe that.

I do see that the current thinking, among people with whom I feel most ideological affinity, is not in agreement with my, and gender-critical feminists’, worry about trans-activists (as opposed to regular trans people) and particularly self-ID. And that is uncomfortable. But, as best I can understand it, I think it is because the well-meaning and benevolent proponents of the trans-activist cause do not allow for the amount of possible contempt, hatred and misogyny out there.

If the Trump phenomenon taught us anything, it should have taught us the lengths that quite a large percentage of the population would go to in order to express their hatred and contempt for the libz, and often that particularly tempting target uppity women, and if they have to call themselves Sandra and walk around with a beard and lumberjack clothing while insisting that everyone calls them by their preferred name and pronouns, and they can yuk it up with their buddies while recounting it all, that’s a perfectly believable scenario. Gender-critical feminists have been no-platformed, sacked, and threatened for saying sex (as opposed to gender) cannot be changed, a statement which, according to pretty much all the relevant scientific experts and authorities, seems to be what we used to call a fact (if the scientific consensus develops along the lines described in nous’s link, this will change, but that has not happened yet. In fact, scientists who believe this seem more to be like those few scientists who oppose the idea of anthropogenic climate change – they exist, but they are in the tiny minority). Only a very recent case in the UK courts has established that stating this belief is now protected from discrimination by law.

There it is. That’s how I’m thinking at the moment. I’m trying not to get too consumed by this issue as lots of otherwise perfectly liberal and lefty women I know are. I don’t want or need to be the spokesperson on it, and if my views change again (as they did from unquestioning support for all elements of trans-activist aims), I will let you know.


Me: My guess would be sex is also less immutable and fixed at birth than would be convenient for some arguments...

The article linked in nous's 2:02 comment refers to this mutability. I won't bother to say more.

As to a "spectrum" of either sex *or* gender (assuming we can even talk about them as different in the long run) -- As a lifelong "tomboy," I've thought a lot about this over the years. A long time ago I might have thought of gender as being on a "spectrum" myself. In fact, as recently as the early nineties my Irish girlfriend, a sometime gardener, joked that we were both "hardy hybrids."

I came to dislike this metaphor, because it doesn't have enough dimensions. Just like the oversimplified binary model of sex as being only male/female, it assumes there's some essence of "male" at one end of a range, and of "female" at the other, and the rest of us are some combination of the two in different proportions.

Even nous's article about the "sexes" undercuts this simple-minded notion. There are far too many variables involved to fit into a two-dimensional model.

Huh, just catching up on all the comments since I started on that!

She who must be obeyed - we must never forget that this originated with Rider-Haggard, but was marvellously popularised by Rumpole of the Bailey

***

Also, I think our most pressing question is not the larger question about the nature of sex/gender, but the specific question about how we can create a less toxic and damaging model of masculinity to make these other questions less urgent. A more open and accepting masculinity would take a lot of pressure out of the system, especially where the fight over women's spaces are concerned.

Well, I can certainly agree with most of what nous says here, with the possible exception of the word "most". It (particularly the bolded bit) is certainly very pressing, and would indeed take a lot of the pressure out. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, recent developments (e.g. Trump etc) seem to suggest that this problem is in a (I hope temporary) upswing.

PS to my 5:52: it's kind of like, if you plot a red pixel down at one end of a row, and a blue one at the other, and mix them gradually in between, you get a range from one, through purple, to the other.

What about yellow and green?

Final PS for now: my comments were written without seeing GftNC's two most recent ones.

I'm done for now.

Before Janie's final PS I posted, but seem to have lost:

Is there a word for a 3-D spectrum?

Is there a word for a 3-D spectrum?

It could be represented on a three-axis scatter plot.

But that assumes that the underlying mechanisms (or at least some measurable and distinct features) can be mapped and measured. This would be dependent on some sort of quantitative data, and getting that data would depend on assumptions and/or data points meant to simulate an observed statistical distribution.

A qualitative approach would produce something more like a cluster map, in which case the arguments would be around how to present that data in a way that doesn't reinforce biases through size, distance, and associations of clusters.

And then there are environmental/contextual relationships and tipping points to be considered.

And only a small percentage of the general public that has an interest in the issues and want to have some input will have the time, patience, and ability to consider any of the inherent biases that get baked into the data presentation. They will just pick the one that feels least disruptive to their own life and their own concerns.

Is there a word for a 3-D spectrum?

When I referred to "two-dimensional" somewhere above, that was a brain glitch. A line is one dimension. That's what "male-and-female-and-hybrids" would be.

A scatter plot would come closer to what I'm picturing, in three dimensions would be nice -- this has some interesting material. For the record, I wouldn't argue that there wouldn'lt be big clusters representing the statistical predominance of "men" and "women" -- just that the clusters wouldn't be as big as is commonly believed, and that there would be a lot more scatter in the dots than we can imagine. nous's linked article lays out a lot of possibilities.

Again my comment was written without seeing a recent one: nous's 7:11. For the record, my musings about the data are offered without the remotest notion that they have anything to do with the general public. They are just my way of trying to explain, in conversations with friends, how I picture what's going on with sex and gender.

IMO "spectrum" is a lazy and inadequate way to account for the range of variation. It has irritated me for a long time, so I've tried to find a way to explain why.

That's all.

Interesting comments. I feel that I need to add some nuance to this (and no, I won't use nuance as a verb!)

Contrary to lj’s feeling that humans might be able to change sex, this is not currently nor has ever been possible: people who produce sperm cannot (so far) turn into people who produce eggs, and vice versa.

If the ability to procreate is taken as the foundation, this is certainly true at the moment and certainly for my lifetime, but I don't think that is all, which is why GftNC's observation that I use gender rather than sex is quite insightful to me.

A euphemism that seems to have fallen out of favor is 'plumbing'. It would be an interesting study to find out when it appeared as that, my literary reference is when Faulkner writes about Caddy Compson getting pregnant and abandoned (the three suitors all leaving town, one because they got her pregnant, the other two because they didn't, gets at something about toxic masculinity) and her brother is infuriated and the father says something like "Well, you didn't expect her to just run water thru it all the time" (note, I couldn't find an online version of the text to check that, but I did find this hypertext version that will probably soak up a lot of time
http://drc.usask.ca/projects/faulkner/ )

That rejection of reduction to a single fact is more at the heart of my opinion than thinking that they can change 'sex'. I understand that for some, it can be something that is non-negotiable. Woman has eggs, man has sperm. But to my mind, that reduces a person to some single trait, which is often at the heart of a lot of problems. We as humans have a tendency to do that, be it nationality, religion, sexual preference. We also use those traits to find our in-groups, so I don't suggest that we deny them. But there has to be some shared notion and leaning hard on the biology seems like a desire to find some non-negotiable point so that there can be no argument. That's my take, which will probably inform my response to wj in the judo post...

But there has to be some shared notion and leaning hard on the biology seems like a desire to find some non-negotiable point so that there can be no argument.

Well said.

I never encountered the euphemism "plumbing" til I came to ObWi, and it mainly seemed to be McKinney who introduced it, or used it the most. I hated it, I don't like euphemism anyway, and it seemed like a pretty creepy one. So there's that.

If the ability to procreate is taken as the foundation, this is certainly true at the moment and certainly for my lifetime, but I don't think that is all

The thing is, lj, sex has a pretty well-established set of definitions. It's not just "the ability to procreate", it's a whole series of things: chromosomes, the type of gametes a person is capable of producing, sexual organs, secondary sexual organs, etc etc. It's not a question of reducing anybody to a single trait, it has an actual meaning, which at the moment and by common consensus of the specialists who deal with this (biologists, geneticists, endocronologists etc etc) is pretty much non-negotiable. That's the point, and that's why gender is so important, because it is fluid, it is susceptible to preference, and to change, and it enables people who are unhappy with their biological sex to adopt their preferred gender and live accordingly, at peace.

So in many ways your preference for "gender" makes sense, because it fits much better with your (in my opinion, correct) concept of the extraordinary variety of ways humans can choose to exist.

leaning hard on the biology

It's hard not to lean hard on the biology, when it is a purely biological category. Unlike gender.

It's two in the morning, so I'm not going back to check, but I think you quoted the WHO definition upthread:

The World Health Organisation regional office for Europe describes sex as characteristics that are biologically defined, whereas gender is based on socially constructed features.

And with that, to quote Janie, I'm out.

It's not a question of reducing anybody to a single trait, it has an actual meaning, which at the moment and by common consensus of the specialists who deal with this (biologists, geneticists, endocronologists etc etc) is pretty much non-negotiable.

Is there really "common consensus"? I would have thought that the people on the other side of this argument have a bunch of specialists they can cite who disagree. Maybe nous knows.

From another angle, the one I've been more concerned with, the article nous linked is a reminder that even if it's that cut and dried for most people, there are a lot of people who don't actually fit into those boxes.

If you discount plumbing is there anything really to discuss? The scatter plots would represent gender but most of the characteristics would have e clusters of their own and suddenly there is a representation of nonbinary gender.

A few of those characteristics would involve sex but my guess is the overlap of those characteristics across clusters would make them less consequential.

Is there really "common consensus"? I would have thought that the people on the other side of this argument have a bunch of specialists they can cite who disagree. Maybe nous knows.

There are always some consensus points and there are other points in contention. Science is about building models of understanding that account for the consensus "stable" facts and give a productive framework for learning new things about the areas of uncertainty. Sometimes new information upsets the consensus understanding of the "stable" facts.

Chromosomal sex has a fairly stable consensus, but what gonads develop and what pheontypes express are not limited by the chromosomes that are involved because these latter stages are influenced by regulatory "enhancers" that are still (as of 2018 anyway) not well understood.

So there are many possible expressions of gonadal and phenotypical sex, and of resulting hormonal effects on the brain, depending on the interaction of the chromosomes and the enhancers.

So any consensus needs to be treated as tentative.

I'm leaving out the references here for brevity, but they were pulled from journals and from the explanations of sexual differentiation in humans for upper division undergraduate classes at well known and respected universities.

We are teaching our next generation of researchers that the scientific understanding around sexual differentiation need to be open to variation because our understanding is not settled despite knowing some of the bigger, more stable and obvious mechanisms.

Take that for what it's worth.

One of my grad school profs, Talmy Givon, was big on linking linguistics to biology, and argued that biology was functional rather than formal. This leads him to argue that if two linguistic structures are used to accomplish the same, they should be considered equivalent. That sort of thing informs a lot of my opinion about biology, though I've not delved into it and things will attract my attention when they synch with that for the most part.

One thing that I did read, but now can't remember where or the exact terms, was that biological taxonomy can be described by two systems, both of which largely give you the same results, but the differences can often be quite revealing and that this is a point of debate within biology. I just spent 30 minutes trying to google something to help me remember, if anyone has a pointer, I'd appreciate it, it's going to drive me nuts. Maybe cladistic versus [???]

lj -- didn't read this, but maybe?

Thank you! That wasn't the article, but it gives me enough to try and find it. This section is worth reading in light of our discussion

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s taxonomy was split into rival pheneticist and cladist camps. However, phenetics ultimately succumbed to internal problems. The pheneticists could not live up to their own standards: theoretical subjectivity kept creeping back in. For example, several different statistical techniques that led to analyses with different results were often equally defensible. The pheneticist still had to make a subjective choice between them.

Cladists also rely on computer analyses to choose between alternative cladograms. The success of these techniques encouraged so-called transformed cladism, which revived the phenetic pursuit of theory neutrality. Transformed cladists argued that it was circular logic to appeal to evolutionary understanding of the relationship between species, for example by weighting some characters over others. Transformed cladism was vulnerable to some of the same criticisms as phenetics. It also lent itself to quotation out of context by creationists, who could cite leading biologists as rejecting evolution—overlooking that they rejected it only as a hypothesis in the reconstruction of phylogeny, which would itself provide powerful support for evolution.

Taxonomy is one of the principal sources of conceptual originality and explanatory force in biology. Not only would other branches of the discipline be unable to proceed without the classification of their data, in many cases they are also indebted to systematics for their theoretical innovations. For example, understanding the concept of species has come largely from taxonomists, as have the foundations of ethology, the study of animal behavior, and biogeography, the study of the distribution of plants and animals.

The last of these is an essential ingredient of the science of conservation, in which taxonomy has played a crucial role, both in assessing the magnitude of the task and exploring the feasibility of possible methods. Fewer than 2 million species are known, but estimates of the total number are much larger, although they vary wildly from 10 million to 100 million and beyond. The arguments behind these estimates appeal to taxonomic reasoning.

One of the most controversial aspects of taxonomy is the place of our own species and its subdivision. Ancient and medieval classifications included man within a “chain of being” that ran from inanimate objects up to God. Taxonomists such as Linnaeus, for whom species were fixed, often acknowledged the similarities between men and apes. Indeed Linnaeus exaggerated them, mistakenly placing the orangutan among the genus Homo. However, the spread of evolutionary ideas meant that this resemblance spoke not to a similar design but to a shared origin. This was much more controversial: Darwin largely overlooked the place of man in On the Origin of Species (1859), postponing the subject to The Descent of Man (1871). The Welsh naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913), who independently proposed natural selection, could never bring himself to accept the human brain as a product of the process of which he was the codiscoverer.

If you discount plumbing is there anything really to discuss?

Clearly, yes. To take the most obvious example (which has gotten some discussion here): hormones, and their impact on physical development. If you get your plumbing revised after puberty, your skeleton, muscles, etc. will have developed in a different manner than those of people who always had that plumbing.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s taxonomy was split into rival pheneticist and cladist camps. However, phenetics ultimately succumbed to internal problems.

Pretty obviously what we're dealing with, in current discussions of gender, is issues of taxonomy. That is, what are appropriate groups when it comes to gender, and how do we determine who is in which group?

No doubt it's my ignorance of the field, but I just can't see how a cladistic approach can add anything. We find siblings embracing a wide mix of whatever groups you can come up with. So "most recent common ancestor" tells you absolutely nothing.

I can see how it works in biology for genus and species. But lj, can you help me with what possible use it is when discussing gender. (Or, more likely, what facets of "cladist" I'm failing to understand.)

I was thinking these points

It also lent itself to quotation out of context by creationists, who could cite leading biologists as rejecting evolution—overlooking that they rejected it only as a hypothesis in the reconstruction of phylogeny, which would itself provide powerful support for evolution.

Taxonomy is one of the principal sources of conceptual originality and explanatory force in biology.

I hope this isn't taken as an insult, but we've seen so often that people will take a fragment of research and then make arguments without looking at the fuller context. The article that I read pointed out that a cladistic typology, which an ordinary person might assume was set and decided, was actually not as set as we might assume. Which is my take on sex.

Clearly, yes. To take the most obvious example (which has gotten some discussion here): hormones, and their impact on physical development.

A book on that subject. Though the author may have given her thesis a shot of testosterone in order for it to carry the weight she puts on it.

"Since antiquity—from the eunuchs in the royal courts of ancient China to the booming market for “elixirs of youth” in nineteenth-century Europe—humans have understood that typically masculine behavior depends on testicles, the main source of testosterone in males. Which sex has the highest rates of physical violence, hunger for status, and desire for a high number of sex partners? Just follow the testosterone.

Although we humans can study and reflect on our own behavior, we are also animals, the products of millions of years of evolution. Fascinating research on creatures from chimpanzees to spiny lizards shows how high testosterone helps males out-reproduce their competitors. And men are no exception.

While most people agree that sex differences in human behavior exist, they disagree about the reasons. But the science is clear: testosterone is a potent force in human society, driving the bodies and behavior of the sexes apart. But, as Hooven shows in T, it does so in concert with genes and culture to produce a vast variety of male and female behavior. And, crucially, the fact that many sex differences are grounded in biology provides no support for restrictive gender norms or patriarchal values. In understanding testosterone, we better understand ourselves and one another—and how we might build a fairer, safer society."
T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us

Still looking, but I think everyone will enjoy the first paragraph of this
https://www.jstor.org/stable/2413605

I can't see the rest, but the first paragraph is a doozy!

At least we seem to have progressed beyond the 'there is only one sex but half of the specimens are highly defective' of Aristotle and in particular St.Thomas Aquinas [femina est mas occasionatus].
My guess is that both guys would not change their mind these days but argue instead that modern biology proves their point (because the absence of certain biochemical factors/influences produces females).

I hope this isn't taken as an insult, but we've seen so often that people will take a fragment of research and then make arguments without looking at the fuller context. The article that I read pointed out that a cladistic typology, which an ordinary person might assume was set and decided, was actually not as set as we might assume.

lj, if this is delicately and tactfully meant for me, I will definitely not take it as an insult! Not only am I not a scientist or a biologist, I am also not a linguist or an academic, so reading about and understanding the difference between pheneticist and cladistic is currently not on my (at the moment rather overwhelming) to-do list. However, I can assure you that if the general consensus shifts, particularly among scientists who don't have an ideological axe to grind (gender-related or otherwise), and sex is no longer defined biologically, and there is no longer an enormous historical structure in which women are discriminated against on the basis of their biological sex, I will be quite prepared to look again at my attitude on this issue.

In the meantime, I will have to rely on my conviction that people of every sex and gender need to be treated with respect and compassion, and that their human rights have to be respected where they do not infringe on the human rights of other groups, and that the views of such groups need to be solicited and listened to in order to make such determination.

Thanks! I should mention, the reason that I was readaing about taxonomies is that there were a spate of papers about language relationships, and they ran into the same problems as biological taxonomies. Anyway, thanks all.

My guess is that both guys would not change their mind these days but argue instead that modern biology proves their point (because the absence of certain biochemical factors/influences produces females).

Did you read the article cited in nous's 2:02 yesterday? If so, I wonder if you know of more recent research that overturns this bit:

For many years, scientists believed that female development was the default programme, and that male development was actively switched on by the presence of a particular gene on the Y chromosome. In 1990, researchers made headlines when they uncovered the identity of this gene3,4, which they called SRY. Just by itself, this gene can switch the gonad from ovarian to testicular development. For example, XX individuals who carry a fragment of the Y chromosome that contains SRY develop as males.

By the turn of the millennium, however, the idea of femaleness being a passive default option had been toppled by the discovery of genes that actively promote ovarian development and suppress the testicular programme — such as one called WNT4. XY individuals with extra copies of this gene can develop atypical genitals and gonads, and a rudimentary uterus and Fallopian tubes5. In 2011, researchers showed6 that if another key ovarian gene, RSPO1, is not working normally, it causes XX people to develop an ovotestis — a gonad with areas of both ovarian and testicular development.

These discoveries have pointed to a complex process of sex determination, in which the identity of the gonad emerges from a contest between two opposing networks of gene activity. Changes in the activity or amounts of molecules (such as WNT4) in the networks can tip the balance towards or away from the sex seemingly spelled out by the chromosomes. “It has been, in a sense, a philosophical change in our way of looking at sex; that it's a balance,” says Eric Vilain, a clinician and the director of the Center for Gender-Based Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It's more of a systems-biology view of the world of sex.”

Science being a work in progress, I fully expect a lot of our tentative understandings to be altered in various ways over time, including these. But it looks like Aquinas and Aristotle will have to find some other reason to insist that women are inferior.

Noreena Hertz, the author of The Lonely Century (2021), is the latest academic to link isolation to populism: she found that loneliness connects far-right-wing voters in the UK, France and the US. “A lot of the hardcore conspiracy-mongering and extremism we’re seeing can be tied to people feeling that they’re not being listened to,” Keohane says.

One of the most compelling passages in The Power of Strangers focuses on Theodore Zeldin, an 87-year-old Oxford professor who hosts events called the Feast of Strangers and is on a mission to meet as many people as possible. Zeldin refers to himself as an “explorer” who has spent his life “discovering the world, one [person] by one.” He has previously stated that he enjoys speaking to people who do not share his viewpoint: “I would argue that finding something admirable, or touching, in an obnoxious person, is also profoundly satisfying.”

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/jul/31/the-assignment-made-me-gulp-could-talking-to-strangers-change-my-life

I thought this, particularly the bolded part, in today's Observer, was very interesting. It certainly immediately resonated on an instinctive level that loneliness and far right extremism could be connected. We're all familiar with the "feeling they're not being listened to" formulation, but I had not specifically linked that to loneliness or social isolation. It makes sense once it's pointed out.

JanieM, no, I was not aware of that more up-to-date research. Not my field of expertise, that's for sure.
But I assume, like professional creationsts, those old miysogynists would happily ignore it, if it violated/s their preconceived notions.

My guess is that both guys would not change their mind these days but argue instead that modern biology proves their point (because the absence of certain biochemical factors/influences produces females).

Even though, as Janie implied above, we're male if we have a Y chromosome. That is, one which is incomplete. Not that mere facts can persuade some people.

You people write faster than I can read.

Also, quantum mechanics is easier to understand than this subtle and fascinating discussion.

Speaking of which, electrons have "spin". The spin can be "up" or "down", but nothing else. Spin is binary.

Well, it's binary when you try to measure it. The "state" of any electron is a vector, composed of some linear combination of the vector UP and the vector DOWN, which are orthogonal to each other because Nature likes to mess with our heads.

"So the spin can't be sideways?" I hear you cry. Sure, the STATE of the electron can be. But there's no way to know the STATE without making a measurement. And when you do that, you get the answer UP or the answer DOWN. Nothing else. So you're still unable to say what the STATE was before your measurement.

If you measure the same electron again, it's guaranteed to give the same result as the first time. Once you measure the electron's spin to be UP, say, its STATE becomes 100%UP, 0%DOWN, until the next time the electron undergoes some sort of interaction. If that interaction is another measurement, you can be certain you'll measure UP again.

What all this has to do with sex, gender, spectra, taxonomies, and social norms or social interactions is ... well, probably nothing. I've been watching too many Susskind lectures on YouTube lately.

--TP

But I assume, like professional creationsts, those old miysogynists would happily ignore it, if it violated/s their preconceived notions.

Aquinas, probably. He always stacked the deck in his own favor when constructing his arguments. Not so sure about Aristotle, though.

I'm thinking, specifically, of the Ethics here and his discussion of happiness. If he were to follow the side of the argument that assumes that sex is a state of being and gender is an activity, then I think that your conclusion would hold. But I do believe that, given these recent findings about the role of enhancers in sexual expression, that Aristotle might well conclude that sex is not a fixed telos, but an activity and thus more like happiness, a thing that is subject to contingencies that place it more in line with becoming than with being, since there are many circumstances that can shift the trajectory away from an otherwise apparent internally contained end.

Aristotle's disagreement with Plato on the problem of happiness makes me think that he's much more willing to acknowledge complexity and contingency than was Aquinas, who was ever the apologist, working to render his position unassailable.

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