Sex used to be simple. There were just two, defined and fixed at conception. Now intellectuals have discovered gender, asserting that “gender identity is a [cultural] construct” which, far from an either or phenomenon, is construed as a spectrum of genders blending from all female to all male and maybe other.
As much as traditionalists may be appalled, based on findings from behavioral and biological sciences, the basic assertion that much of our sexuality is (or can be) culturally defined seems to be a fact. So, if it’s science-based, what’s the problem?
The problem I see is that gender intellectuals seem to have drawn grossly wrong conclusions from these facts. Essentially, I believe they have simply forgotten or willfully ignored the purpose of sex. For an individual such as myself, my sexuality as a functional part of my persona is not wholly determined genetically but is a combination of nature – my genes and in utero development – and nurture – my post natal experiential development – what I learn and experience (true so far). But according to the latest view of gender, it now also my choices, from whatever impulse or influence, that are the true determinants of my gender, all of which are to be considered equally valid.
In the beginning there were only simple organisms that cloned themselves. But this process is dysfunctional for multi-celled organisms, so nature invented sex. Sex exists for one purpose – to provide complex organisms a means to successfully reproduce. I add the modifier successfully because reproduction is successful only when the offspring reach a state of effective self-reliant maturity capable of continuing the propagation of their species. For a pair of penguins, mating and laying an egg is far from successful reproduction. Their harsh environment requires a period of disciplined behaviors by both parents to protect their egg and nurture the hatchling to a young penguin capable of joining the penguin community as a productive adult. For many animals, especially mammals, successful reproduction requires both mating and parenting.
With most animals, the necessary parenting behaviors are inborn – instinctive behaviors triggered by hormonal and environmental changes. However, nature has given humans very little in the form of evolved instinctive behaviors to cope with the demands of successful reproduction – and yet humans are faced with by far the longest and most challenging process in that endeavor. For humans, parenting behaviors are not only far more complex and prolonged, virtually all the competencies and disciplines humans need to successfully reproduce must be learned – acquired from their parents and their parents’ community.
I suspect that this lack of pre-programming is a consequence of nature having endowed us with free will and intelligence. Humans shape their own culture and the culture they shape, shapes them – a sort of continuous feedback loop. Necessarily, then, it is culture that shapes the management of reproduction and parenting in a society, including defining and transmitting the values, practices, responsibilities, expectations, attitudes and disciplines associated with successful reproduction – in short, the image of what it is to be a (reproductively successful) man or woman.
Every culture has had such internally defined templates for “manhood” and “womanhood.” The great variety of these templates throughout the world and history attest to both the reality of our free will and the necessity of such templates.
How important such templates are can be seen by the scale of the burden successful reproduction imposes on the members of a society. The average girl born into a society must grow up to conceive and raise to adulthood an average of at least two children. That is an enormous amount of time and energy. Assuming an average life span of 35 (in ancient times) to 80 (modern developed nations), the average girl would devote over 60% to not less than 25% of her life to the task. To maximize the probability of success in that task, boys must be involved for the entire process. Since a man’s biological role is very transient compared to that of girls, the “manhood” template is even more important in guiding boys to become men who naturally and effectively assume the responsibilities of a full partnership in the endeavor.
Multiple studies have shown that children raised to adulthood in stable two-parent male-female families statistically have significantly better life outcomes than those raised in any other arrangements. Indeed, studies of people with problems – depression, suicide, criminality, addiction, etc. – reveal that only a small percentage grew up in a stable, two parent man and woman home.
In this sense of the cultural definition of templates of “manhood” and “womanhood,” and in this sense only, can it be correctly asserted that “gender identity is a cultural construct.” However, modern gender intellectuals have stretched it to mean that “gender, gender identity, gender expression,” are essentially choices, choices individuals should be free to both make and define and sex education programs are now being introduced or modified in schools to teach this infinitely flexible concept that tends to focus on sexual experimentation and sex for pleasure rather than the actual natural purposes of the human sex drive. The price of this notion is the elimination from the culture of any meaningfully practical templates defining manhood and womanhood and consequently no effective means for forming and supporting stable, loving families.
Today, at least in terms of the vital reproductive role, there is hardly anything like a defined cultural concept of “womanhood” or “manhood.” Indeed, it seems to me that “manhood” especially has become a word without a definition. I suspect this is partly due to the outworking of the sexual revolution which shifted the focus of sex from pair bonding and reproduction to sex as primarily for individual pleasure; and partly due to a growing fixation on the wants and desires of the very small minority who are non-heterosexual.
What should those templates look like? I don’t know. If forced to give an answer, I would most likely fall back on some comfortable, nostalgic view – hardly objective or scientific.
Objective anthropologists and sociologists (if courageous ones can be found) might give a good start. Perhaps the place to begin is acknowledging the sexual dimorphism in humans that co-evolved as our ancestors became, well, human. All those differences; size, body fat, musculature, flexibility, body hair, bone sructure, etc., and of course, brain wiring, co-evolved in varying environments as adaptations for successful reproduction. We have different races as our ancestors migrated into and adapted to different environments. We have sexual di-morphisms as our ancestors adapted to the demands of successful reproduction. Those sexual di-morphisms that are common to all races are probably the most innate and therefore may provide a foundation for such templates.
It would seem that society needs to engage in a conversation; what are the best templates for defining “womanhood” and “manhood,” i.e., what would be the best sets of values, practices, responsibilities, expectations, attitudes and disciplines to maximize the probability of successful reproduction – in short, the image of what it is to be a (reproductively successful) man or woman while at the same time maximizing the freedom to pursue individual dreams? And then, of course, how might we get there from the current confusions and distractions.