In my admittedly less than humble opinion, both conservatives and liberals are completely screwed up on gender. In a way, I think that their respective derangements feed off of each other and each side becomes increasingly ridiculous. Moreover, I don’t think that either side really understands the roots of their views on gender. So at risk of stepping on a lot of toes, I’m going to delve a little bit into the ideological progenitors and progenitresses of the monsters that now dominate our cultural stage.
Most conservatives would not cop to being Darwinists. Many of them are, all unawares, adopting ideals that came from the Social Darwinists. For those of you who may be a bit cloudy on the history of the matter, Social Darwinists applied Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection to struggles of race and class. They posited that the races of men were competing with each other like species in nature and that the race with the greatest competitive, evolutionary edge would become dominant while the other races would dwindle into eventual extinction. Out of this mindset sprang Margaret Sanger and the Eugenicists, Hitler and the Aryan Nation, forced sterilization of “undesirables”, genocides, segregation, bans on interracial marriage, and a great host of other nasty blotches on our history that many would rather forget. Among other things, the Social Darwinists also believed that a major factor in ensuring racial superiority was having the greatest disparity between males and females of the race. They believed that the most superior race was the one in which the men and the women were as different as possible.
“Separate spheres” was the idea concocted for determining the roles of men and of women in a “highly evolved” race. Not only was it believed that there were intrinsic differences between men and women, but behavioral norms were also strictly enforced. Because the home was believed to be the woman’s sphere and outside the home the man’s, women were discouraged from seeking employment and men were discouraged from lifting a finger to help with household chores. The women of black and immigrant races worked hard alongside their men because they had no other choice. Social Darwinists considered this to be a sign of their low breeding and the inferiority of their genetics. Motherhood and good housekeeping were strongly overemphasized as the appropriate roles for the highly evolved woman. If a woman sought a job outside the home, it was often chalked up to bad breeding, especially if the sought job was not in a field closely tangential to traditional household duties of care and cleaning. Sometimes, women who couldn’t fit into the restrictive little box that Social Darwinism had created for them were even subjected to all sorts of barbaric “medical” and “psychological” treatments in order to remedy what was considered their derangement. It was gruesome. It was the kind of stuff that fuels the imagination of the most pessimistic dystopian writers.
Essentially, what the Social Darwinists did was to create a very restrictive and very false dichotomy of masculine and feminine characteristics and roles which still very much affects how most of us view gender. The greatest restriction and burden was placed on women, which is why women were the ones to so adamantly buck the system. Feminism was the monster spawned by the impossible burden of Socially Darwinistic femininity. Feminism tried to artificially demolish every single distinction between male and female. It went to great lengths to do so, defying common sense in the process and leaving countless murdered unborn and broken souls in its wake. Instead of advocating the natural merging of responsibilities between men and women and engendering egalitarian cooperation, feminism said “men have abrogated their responsibility: women should have the choice to do so as well”.
In the meantime, another way of thinking began to buck the artificial gender norms. Many women simply couldn’t live up to the image of femininity that was presented to them. A fair few of the men found themselves not making the cut for what was expected of them either. A woman who loved math and science and engineering; a man who loved to make clothes: these sorts found themselves in the middle of an identity crisis. The prevailing culture told them that their natural abilities and inclinations, inborn just as much as their plumbing, were unnatural and should be curbed. It caused significant cognitive dissonance. People look for a way to resolve cognitive dissonance. Presented with the false choice of rejecting either their abilities, personalities, and intrinsic self or of rejecting their physiology, they chose to reject their physiology. Thus the rainbow array of gender identities and non-identities that presents you with 50 gender choices on Facebook was birthed.
All of this was fed, ouroboros-style, by the feminist assertion that gender was completely subjective. You were whatever you felt like. On the opposite side, it fueled a backlash amongst conservatives, especially religious ones. Religious conservatives doubled down on trying to build a wall between men and women. Take a walk in any Christian bookstore and look at how many books you will find that encourage men in bold red letters alongside images of combat, sports, and untamed nature scenes to reclaim their “masculinity”. Then look at how many titles, in pink lettering and bedecked with images of flowers, encourage women to be good mothers, wives, and housekeepers. It’s claustrophobia-inducing, and induces other things as well.
Now, common sense dictates that there are in fact differences between men and women. You don’t need a course in anatomy and physiology to know that. There just aren’t as many differences as the Social Darwinists and their ideological heirs thought and think there are. This is the common sense middle ground. Women and men are not completely interchangeable but neither are they completely disparate. There are averages for differences in physical ability and other traits, but even these are not determinant. Not every man is stronger than any woman. Not every woman is a better nurturer than any man. Men can be bested by women in combat. Men can be better dressers and better designers than women. Some men will insist that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, but if you watch cooking competitions, the message is exactly the opposite. The men competing for the position of head chef in a prestigious restaurant will insist that women don’t belong in the kitchen. And don’t get me started about women in positions of authority in Christian ministries. Seriously. Don’t get me started.
If our culture could realize the wisdom of the principles presented in the previous paragraph, I don’t think that we’d be having this whole “Bruce Jenner” conversation that everyone is obsessed with. I feel sorry for Jenner. That particular individual is the product of a culture that has really jacked up what it means to be male or female. We live in a culture that tells you to be yourself, but then implies that being yourself requires all sorts of costly and artificial constructs, whether it is the corset-like constrictiveness of separate spheres or the artificially “leveled” playing-field presented by liberals which degrades both men and women. What surgeons and makeup artists and pharmacists and photoshoppers did to Bruce Jenner is simply a physical manifestation of what our culture does to both genders: they whittle down your very skeleton, cake on a mask of make-believe, make you swallow unnatural things that make your own body alien, and gloss over it all with a carefully crafted narrative and glitzy stills that don’t tell the whole story. You shouldn’t have to distort and torture what you were born with in order to be yourself. But apparently, it’s the way of our world. So Caitlin Jenner was born, and her proud parents are Social Darwinism’s conservative bastard child and liberalism’s soulless homunculus. Mazel tov.