A disparate impact analysis of gender’s social liability

A lot of people think gender is really cool. They might celebrate gender “diversity.” Or they might believe that legal protection for “gender identity” and “gender expression” is a fundamental human right because it is a shortcut for deconstructing sex stereotypes–it’s not. But at the very least, most people view gender as neutral. Harmless, really. They might say, hey, gender is just a categorical system to organize people along a natural binary! You know, it’s like yin and yang. Complimentary. Two sides of the same harmonious coin. It’s kind of romantic, isn’t it? I mean, there’s no conspiracy! The global crisis of women’s oppression is just an unfortunate mistake. Gender has been misinterpreted. Because really, there is nothing wrong with men being men and women being women; that’s just how the world is. Deal with it. Stop judging.

Maybe you’ve heard this one before? Or some variation of it. At a party, maybe a family dinner, or even at work last week. I’ve know I’ve heard it a million times before. They tell me that gender is just natural; and gender inequality is like a big misunderstanding.

At this point, I’d like to introduce a legal theory of liability known as disparate impact.* To be clear, this is an American legal principle most commonly applied in the contexts of employment and housing. But it has relevance to my “results” analysis. Disparate impact has been defined as:

A theory of liability that prohibits an employer from using a facially neutral employment practice that has an unjustified adverse impact on members of a protected class. A facially neutral employment practice is one that does not appear to be discriminatory on its face; rather it is one that is discriminatory in its application or effect.

Applying disparate impact theory to gender would mean that even if one does not believe gender is discriminatory against women on its face, the disparate impact that gender creates for women renders “gender” fundamentally unjust in practice, and therefore indefensible.

Gender is harmful to women because women are limited, damaged, and literally shortchanged by sex-based social roles in every context imaginable. As I explained in “A feminist critique of cisgender,”

Notwithstanding variations caused by intersecting factors such as economic class, national jurisdiction, and cultural differences; the collective female social location is consistently less than similarly situated males in terms of: (i) material resources received as an infant and child, (ii) respect, attention, and intellectual encouragement received as an infant and child, (iii) risk of being sexually exploited or victimized, (iv) role within the hetero family unit, (v) representation and power in government, (vi) access to education, jobs, and promotions in the workforce, (vii) property ownership and dominion over space.[vi]

This is just a high level overview of the disparate impact of compulsory gender roles at the expense of girls and women. It gets worse, too. But the central point is that these sex-based gender roles persistently undervalue half of the human race just for being born, just for being female. It isn’t rational or necessary and the results aren’t neutral. We are talking about the world’s oldest prejudice. Gender isn’t cause for celebration or lazy dismissal.

Women cannot insulate ourselves from sex discrimination and gendered oppression by being “good girls” and conforming to our gender role. Feminine behavioral virtues (deference, openness) and appearance mandates (hairless, skinny) are used as tools of oppression against  women to keep us docile, distracted, and under control. Femininity is demanded of women (see Jespersen), and yet we must be aggressive and competitive (see Hopkins) in order to thrive in the marketplace of labor. Even a professionally feminine appearance can elicit unwanted sexual attention up to and including sexual aggression from men. And still, internalized feminine socialization makes it difficult for women to set boundaries because saying no is ungracious. Gender hurts women regardless of whether we comply or resist. It is a catch-22. It is a double standard, ladies. We can’t win. Because the gender game is rigged against us.

Gender is not a neutral phenomenon. The logic of a disparate impact analysis demands an immediate “cease and desist” of the sex-based social roles that are at the root women’s oppression. Gender can and should be liable for the objective and persistent inequality it has created on the backs of women. Legally, this would require strict enforcement of prohibitions on irrational sex-based treatment and a moratorium on (or overturning of) laws that support the naturalization of gender by prioritizing gender-identity over sex. Socially, this would require everyone to stop celebrating gender as a cool thing and as an important way of “knowing” oneself, and to stop confusing sex with gender. Gender is a dangerous ideology. It hurts women.

______________________________

*Disparate impact theory has been used to protect women in other situations, such as when faced with domestic violence related evictions in publicly funded housing. See link for details. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was reauthorized in 2013 and is theoretically notable for its implicit acknowledgement of gender’s disparate impact on violence: an alarming number of women are victims of violent crimes and a disproportionate number of these violent criminals are men. Facts are facts; and facts prove disparate impact. VAWA does not explicitly name sex-based social roles (aka gender) as the source of this well-documented disparity in violence, of course, but I’d argue that the result presumes a cause–whether the source is social or biological is always a contentious discussion. Ultimately, though, we must always remain mindful that: “…the criminal justice system is a limited tool in addressing what is a social, political, and economic problem.” [quoting Kimberley D. Bailey, “Lost in Translation: Domestic Violence, “the Personal is Political,” and the Criminal Justice System.,” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, vol. 100, no. 4 (Fall 2010), pp. 1255-1300.]

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9 comments

  1. “Gender can and should be liable for the objective and persistent inequality it has created on the backs of women. Gender is not a neutral phenomenon.”

    Well said…

    This is an excellent video from a brilliant young woman.

    “The End of Gender: Revolution, Not Reform”

  2. oserchenma · ·

    Thanks, yes, that’s a useful legal concept, and “adverse impact” is useful too. There’s a similar distinction as you know between “de jure”, that is, legally-enforced discrimination, and “de facto”, discrimination enforced by something other than laws, such as application of tradition. I think the starting point here is to acknowledge that a number of the laws that used to discriminate against women by law in developed countries, such as laws forbidding them from entering into contracts on their own if they were married women, laws forbidding them from having abortions (still a legal problem in some respects), and denying them the vote, for examples, have been changed to become “facially”, that is, “de jure”, non-discriminatory. Yet both the application of those laws and the application of “de facto” societal constraints discriminatory in their application, as you say – they have an “adverse” or “disparate” impact. Of course it needs to be added that in most countries worldwide, the laws are still discriminatory as well as the applications of the laws.

    This is such a confusing topic conceptually, and I think the problems, as others have said, like you and Rachel in the video above, are definitional and center around the word “gender”. Pardon me for paraphrasing so much when I comment here. It’s just that I feel that many radfem viewpoints and language sets could help us all figure out all this.

    I’ve read the statement by several radfems, for instance, that “gender is hierarchy”. I can’t quite get that. “Gender is hierarchical”, I get, but I can see then that certain clarifications of the word gender would make the statement much clearer.

    “Gender is hierarchical” unpacked, to me, says something like this: “Traditional bi-gender roles, assigned rigidly based on biological sex, are arbitrary and capricious and in most cases operate to constrain autonomy and freedom in society. Even when laws are made gender-neutral in some Eurocentric societies, they are applied so that they have an adverse, and disparate, impact on the autonomy and freedom of only one of the sexes.”

    If this is even somewhat accurate, it exposes some confusions that need to be clarified:

    1. “Gender”, in this context, means “gender roles”. And “gender role” means “gender roles” unless one is talking about a specific role. I think it’s evident that there are many gender roles for men and women.

    2. “Gender roles” in a feminist discussion, have a dual quality of being unlinked to biological sex, in the sense that they are arbitrary and capricious (and if they ever were not arbitrary, they are now), and at the same time being sex-based in the sense that they are applied rigidly and differentially to the two biological sexes. There is a differentiated set of “male” gender roles, and “female” gender roles that is rigidly enforced by law and/or by society.

    3. Some “gender roles” are pernicious, and others do reflect differences between the 2 sexes expressed by women and men. I think this is not brought out enough. Women, left in peace without male oppression, would of course still express themselves in society, and I think their social expressions would vary to some extent from men’s. But these “gender roles” would be constructive, not pernicious or hierarchical.

    4. The sex-based but arbitrary set of gender roles currently and historically applied to women universally places them in an inferior position of autonomy, freedom, and power compared to men. The current sex-based set of roles is therefore hierarchical and ethically pernicious.

    5. Many or most radfems agree that the end of this hierarchy can be achieved, not by abolishing gender roles, but by abolishing bi-sexual, arbitrary gender roles. The result will be a degree of androgeny and a degree of sex-segregation in non-pernicious societal expressions of biological sex. I think this is a key clarification.

    6. Trans theory has had a confounding and invasive impact on feminist theory. I will try to state fairly what is going on. Trans theorists adopt the pernicious traditional set of two and two-only gender roles that are arbitrary and hierarchical. To some extent they are only accepting current social reality, but in doing so they undercut feminist theory, which seeks to end the current reality. Their political aims are to allow transfers between the two pernicious and rigidly-defined sets of gender roles. These aims conflict with crucial feminist aims, which are to end arbitrary gender roles and hierarchicalization of such gender roles altogether. Inadvertently or not, trans theory therefore reinforces such gender roles.

    You do a great job of pointing out how our current set of gender roles are crazy-making for women. We cannot win. The situation is intolerable. We are being blocked to some extent by conflicting aims of the Trans movement in developed countries.

    I personally feel that an open dialogue and rapprochement is possible that will have due regard for the safety and freedom of biological women.

  3. Hi oserchenma,
    Thank you for your comment. I agree with most of it, especially number 4– I think you answered your own question about what it means that gender is HIERARCHY. 🙂 That is surely what *I* mean when I say it.

    Where we differ is that I dont think there are ANY non-arbitrary “gender roles.” Ever. Yes, there are physical differences between the sexes. ONLY females (never males) can be impregnated, just for example. But that is not a social role; that is a biological function. I do not believe that feminine care-taking is a natural or inevitable aspect of being female or of female reproductive capacity. Similarly, I do not believe that male testosterone is an acceptable explanation for male violence. I believe that people can be equally responsible for their behavior and for caretaking others– including their own offspring– regardless of what genitals they possess.

    To me, “gender” is essentially synonymous with arbitrary. My analysis of gender is 100% about social customs, rituals, and expectations. Even the predictable assignment of social roles by genital-appearance-at-birth is socially constructed and enforced.

    But instead of saying that we should have free choice of 2 gender roles, I think we should destroy the constructions altogether. Human diversity is too complex for this binary bullshit. Plus, the disparate impact on women is clearly HUGE. And not an isolated incident or one-off accident. The inequality is pervasive and enduring and manifests EVERY SINGLE TIME.

    So my theory is ANYTHING that is socially appropriate for one sex, should be fair game for the other sex. I use law again as a conceptual framework:* we do not have different murder laws for males and females. We do not have different theft laws for men and women. If it is illegal, it is illegal for EVERYBODY.* ALL humans should be held to the same standards of conduct and behavior.

    This is my problem with trans narratives that inevitably reduce “man” and “woman” to the following: well, she’s a girl so she shouldn’t do that. Or, oh, she’s a girl so of course she does that. Or, I like pink so I must be a girl. It is an explicit NATURALIZATION of the “gender” roles that underpin women’s oppression.

    In your number 6 point, above, you suggest that trans theory says there are 2 and only 2 genders. This is not entirely true (because trans theory is a disorganized mess of identity politics with no core definitions of anything), but any self-identified trans person who wishes to TRANSITION their sex/role for the purpose of passing as the other sex is definitely validating the binary. As is anyone who supports that “transition” as medically necessary and totally understandable/harmless/liberatory. Because they are confusing sex with gender (roles). And that is woman-hating based on the documented disparate impact gender roles have on women.

    *Yes, yes, I know disparate treatment and disparate impact and biased judges and biased juries! Those are caused by SOCIAL PREJUDICES. This is the entire point of developing theories of LIABILITY that look at the RESULTS of something, rather than relying on the superficial appearance of its neutrality.

  4. oserchenma · ·

    Thanks for responding, Elizabeth. It’s so great to try to talk about these emotion-laden issues from a quieter viewpoint.

    I’m glad that we seem to start with many points of contact. I do think it’s useful to discuss the somewhat differing positions we have taken. I’m not sure we differ much after all.

    I understand that you suggest that gender roles are always arbitrary (meaning, I think, that they are constructed to women’s detriment, and that none of them reflect any biologically-based”difference” between male and female). My answer to that, very frankly, is that:

    1) I have a belief that I can’t prove that women are different from men based on their biology, and that their “natural”, unoppressed societal roles would reflect this properly. I don’t know what these differences are at present (how can they be studied? My ideas about that so far have been pretty half-cooked) and I admit this belief is based not on scientific studies but only on my experience in life and as a woman. I’m not sure my belief should be dismissed solely on that basis, though. It sounds like you also have a sincere belief that there is no difference whatever based on sex. Fair enough.

    I’d have to say that once we were rid of the current set of gender roles and we could all express ourselves without them, the answer would be forthcoming, and that we can’t know the answer until women for once in the long long history of mankind develop their natural societal expression. I wonder if we can therefore state together that the first step in liberation from the hierarchy of gender roles is to abolish all gender-based roles, and watch and wait to see whether men and women eventually adopt some non-oppressive gender roles. I’m open to the idea that there may be gray areas – for instance, using your example, it may turn out that women tend to gravitate toward care-taking roles, while at the same time men may be socialized to enjoy them just as much. I certainly think socialization toward non-hierarchical roles is possible and a positive thing.

    If they don’t, then there is no difference. If they do, that’s fine. The point I’m making is that I can see a two-step process being needed, with the first step, the priority, being to liberate men and women from gender-based roles, as you advocate. The initial necessary step may be to enforce an androgenous set of societal roles. Would you then agree that so long as hierarchy is prevented, the societal roles may or may not include gender roles that are non-oppressive, and we simply don’t know how that would turn out?

    2) Another point of difference you point out, which again is problematic for both of us since there are so few scientific studies on the topic – one might even say the topic is taboo – is the topic of the sources of male violence. We both agree, I think, what a scourge it is, and that violence is a sex-specific phenomenon – correct me if I’m wrong. You say, “Similarly, I do not believe that male testosterone is an acceptable explanation for male violence.” I would like to unpack that important point and explain my position at the same time I acknowledge yours.

    a) We both agree that “testosterone” is not the sole source of male violence. I suggest, again in the absence of scientific proof either way, that there probably is a biological disposition toward violence which is encouraged, tolerated, and exploited with the development of social roles. This biology would include a panoply of endocrinological and other physiological expressions of the Y chromosome. I would advocate encouraging scientific research on this topic. Maybe it’s just my personality type, but I feel the only way forward in stopping violence is in discovering the truth about its sources, whatever that truth is, and whether it is politically acceptable or not. Do you have further comments on this?

    b) If I understand you correctly, you find that there is no “acceptable” biological component to male violence. What does the word “acceptable” mean here, if I can ask? I ask that because I have read several radfem thinkers I respect who find the notion of any biological component unacceptable for political reasons (it’s not relevant to the liberation movement whether true or false), and because historically, discussing the presence of a biological component in men exposes women to the argument that their current gender roles are also biologically-based (the discredited argument of male supremacists that women are nothing but their biology), and because it’s felt that there’s no practical way of sorting out biological vs social bases of violence. All these are important and valid points. But I think it’s crucial to sort out the political from the “objective” arguments. I’m not interested, personally, in political considerations..

    c) I have been struck by the arguments of Factcheckme and others that all human societies have been patriarchies, that is, structured around the needs and desires of men, including constructing social roles for the oppressed class of women that reflect only the utility of women to men, not women’s own natural inclinations. If so, one crucial corollary is that male social roles will tend to NOT be arbitrary (unlike women’s roles); that is, they will rather faithfully reflect the dominant society-forming group. Then male violence will be likely to reflect “natural”, i.e., biological dispositions of men. I think this is a powerful argument, in the absence of much scientific investigation to date, that there are such dispositions.

    BUT, and this is another crucual corollary, women’s gender roles will NOT reflect anything about their biological dispositions. Women’s natural dispositions, to the extent that they do not reflect the overall male-dominated society, have been made irrelevant.

    I like this sentence from your response very much: “Human diversity is too complex for this binary bullshit”. I do agree in the final analysis. But looking at the current situation, I suggest it’s too soon for women to give up their “identity” because of the tragic romance of postmodernist academics like Judith Butler with 19th century misogynists like Heidegger and 20th century misogynists, only slightly better disguised, like Lacan, along with the attempted erasure of biological women by transactivist theorists.

    I am a proponent of the identity “woman”. I believe this identity is universal, ahistorical, and real. I do suffer much of the same pain as women all over the world. I know them and feel a kinship with them. I start there.

    Thanks again for allowing me to engage with you on this blog, Elizabeth.

  5. Hi again, oserchenma! I think you have made an excellent review of our differences here.

    1. I think that male and female bodies are different. But I don’t believe our behaviors are *qualitatively* differentiable. I care about the science of it in regard to “gender identity” and “transsexualism,” but I agree here with Catherine Orian that IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER BECAUSE WE ARE HERE NOW and that won’t just magically CHANGE unless we CHANGE IT. So what I think we can agree on is this:

    “I wonder if we can therefore state together that the first step in liberation from the hierarchy of gender roles is to abolish all gender-based roles, and watch and wait… I certainly think socialization toward non-hierarchical roles is possible and a positive thing.”

    Yes, agreed here. But I do not want to ENFORCE androgyny. In certain, limited contexts it may be necessary. Using employment as an example, I’ve always said I’d rather wear khakis and a button down that looks totally awful on me every day for the rest of my life than be forced into the make-up and hair regimine demanded of Darlene Jespersen, see the 9th circuit case. But there is no reason why skirts can’t be open to everyone. And pants as well. If it’s socially permissible for one sex, it should be socially permissible for the other. It’s THAT simple.

    Then you ask, “Would you then agree that so long as hierarchy is prevented, the societal roles may or may not include gender roles that are non-oppressive, and we simply don’t know how that would turn out?”

    Well, preventing heirarchy is top priority, I think. But it’s the ROLE thing that I hate. I don’t think we should have pre-conceived expectations of a person’s personality, behavior, or proclivities based on their physical attributes. I mean, of course, if you are missing a leg, it makes walking hard. But your personality shouldn’t be affected, ya know? Same for reprodcutive capacity. Simple. And agree, we simply don’t know what would happen!

    2a. Here are a couple of links on testosterone that I discussed in my Open Letter to Denise K Brogan last month.
    Testosterone’s effects on women:
    http://www.nature.com/news/2009/091208/full/news.2009.1131.html
    Testosterone’s effects on men:
    http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/89/6/2837.full

    I guess my conclusion here is that ALL BEHAVIOR can be socially controlled. Violence, nudity, all of it. Sure, mental illness exists. But as a general matter we are able to control our impulses and instincts more than we are not. So hormones are not an excuse for ANY behavior ever. It’s like, yeah, I’m cranky when I have PMS. Does that excuse my insults to other people? No. Does it give me license to hit someone? No. SELF CONTROL is queen.

    2b. Yes, I agree there. But I think the 3rd reason you gave is the most important: it’s IMPOSSIBLE to really know. Truth searching is futile. Here. Now. Here. Now. We have a problem Houston, let’s deal with it. I am vehemently opposed to violence as anything other than necessary self-defense. I would only resort to violence-as-“solution” if it were determined that male violence were BOTH biologically rooted AND impervious to social conditioning. It is clearly not impervious social conditioning because some men can be taught to control their behavior.

    2c. Yes, I am familiar with FCM’s argument and it doesn’t move me. Not ALL societies have been activley patriarchal, so that’s a problem to begin with. See: the Iroquois. What kind of bio freaks are those, right??? I mean, is that what she’s arguing?

    And I don’t agree with the corollary’s you cite: “If so, one crucial corollary is that male social roles will tend to NOT be arbitrary (unlike women’s roles)” and “this is another crucual corollary, women’s gender roles will NOT reflect anything about their biological dispositions.” I think those are saying the same thing, essentially.

    It simply doesn’t make any sense that males would have a shared behavioral pattern based on their shared biology (hormones, genes, gametes) but females would not. And if one were to argue this, she’d have to have a pretty persuasive reason or evidence to draw such a distinction. Like maybe the clitoris (a fmeale-specific body part) prevents us from homogenizing across behavior? FCM doesn’t have any explanation. It’s pure speculation. I don’t buy it. As I told Catherine Orian in comments to the post I have linked above:

    “…biological assertions require biological proof. Correlation is not causation. As far as LOGIC goes, if there is another possible or reasonable explanation for one’s hypothesis [ie, nurture], then deductive reasoning FAILS as proof of cause. I will not accept that kind of reasoning or conclusion-making without actual scientific evidence. In this respect, “brain sex” and a biological cause for male violence are just different sides of the same argument.”

  6. Hi again Elizabeth, and thanks for responding so thoughtfully. I appreciate the clarifications. Please let me say again that I am just feeling my way through this and not particularly happy to have to take the positions I take. But my emotional responses wouldn’t be a help here..

    One of the most frustrating things for me in the past couple of years has been the sense that there is some basic point of confusion in my own thinking that needs to be clarified before I can move on to think clearly what is to be done about male violence. Going to Catherine Orian’s article you link to (which I had read and thought was open-minded and intelligent), seems to bring up that mystery again, when Catherine writes :

    “What I don’t understand in this whole debate is why those who claim that men’s behaviour is inherent can do so given the huge amount of (incontrovertible) evidence that men’s behaviour is socially constructed.”

    I’m one of those from the other side of the fence who beleieve, in the absence of hard evidence either way, that men’s behavior is partially inherent and partially socially constructed, so I guess I’m part of the group Catherine is referring to (I’m not aware, as I’ve said, of any feminist on earth who is a full biological determinist in the sense of denying that human beings are always profoundly influenced by their environment).

    I’d like to ask you (and Catherine, if she is interested):

    1. If male violent behavior is completely socially constructed, why was society originally constructed this way, and why is this social construction so intractable over all of known human history? In other words, isn’t the quote above begging the question? Who socially constructs this behavior and why? What forces brought this construct of violence into being and maintain it so rigidly generation after generation after generation?

    Catherine seems to me to be saying that social constructs brought social constructs into being. What kind of argument is that?

    This is the core of my head-scratching at her statement. There has to be a reason society is constructed the way it is and always has been. We know almost all societies have been male-dominated, often brutally so. We know violence has been glorified and tolerated by these societies. We know the male class dominating these societies has had the only power to develop these constructs. It must have been desirable to men to do so. Why was it desirable to men as the group in power to do so? In the beginning there were no social constructs, just small family groups in the forest that had very few contacts with other humans. (I’m sorry to dispense with cites here in order to keep this brief). Why did society develop as it did?

    That is what I don’t understand about your and her position, the mystery I don’t get. Violence has always been seen in society as a preferred method of gaining food, territory, and women. The question I repeat is, why? Social constructs weren’t handed to humanity on a tablet. They haven’t always existed. Social constructs aren’t the reason for social constructs.

    To me it is incontrovertible to reason instead that the social constructs glorifying and tolerating male violence developed because they expressed, and continue to benefit, the natural dispositions of the dominant group within the society, its men. I just can’t get past that reasoning.

    You say that all behavior can be socially controlled, which implies that it doesn’t matter what underlies the behavior. That sounds reasonable in many ways, because feminists have worked a lot on social controls and are therefore experienced with that approach, because social controls certainly do work to some extent, and because there’s a lot of work to do now, so if we can avoid having to look at this issue because we don’t need to, it saves gynergy for the here and now, as you point out.

    But saying all behavior can be socially controlled also begs the question: so what, if those in control will never want to control the behavior? Will logic and education and morality cause those who have ultimate social control to use their control to end aggressive violence? Or is there some other factor involved so that education and appeals to basic morality won’t end up causing the behavior to be controlled? I don’t see women, including feminists, having the degree of social control necessary to lead to a peaceful, liberated society. I don’t see the men in power having the desire to do it (and Catherine says she agrees in her article). Then what use is it that the behavior could theoretically be socially controlled, if it will not be? Aren’t we forced to back up and ask ourselves why this behavior, which could be controlled, is not controlled? How else can we assess our options?

    2. If male violence isn’t based at least somewhat on intractable male biological dispositions favoring violent behavior, then how are we doing with our feminist work of the past 150 years? We have tackled the social constructions in developed countries and increasingly all over with legal and political strategies, with stunning success. We have achieved legal equality in some countries, and gained the ability to support ourselves and to contribute to political life, and we have equalized educational access. Many young women in developed countries seem to think the work is done, and that they are free along with their descendants.

    But don’t we all also recognize that at the same time we have forced some “societies” to give women legal equality, another group of forces has come in play that are tending to resist the expansion of our liberty in powerful and insidious ways, by re-making invidious social constructions as fast as we can tear them down?

    The ongoing resistance to women having control of their reproductive capacities, the rise of hard-core, universally available, pornography, the persistence and legitimization of prostitution, the ineradicability of sex trafficking and rape and incest (which affect male as well as female victims), the online harassment of feminists (and the minimization of its impacts on development of feminist thought and organization), the rise of quasi-political groups like the men’s rights online groups, the slowness of legal progress in many parts of the world, the general foot-dragging on essential restructurings of industries like the child care industry, the active resistance of fundamentalist and other churches, the constant and never-ceasing warring, the inability to stop rape being used as part of war, the academic and transactivist attacks on the basic notion that women even exist as a class…are we overcoming all that resistance, or is it slowly growing and beginning to wear us down?

    This is where I believe our biggest point of disagreement lies, and maybe it is the point where radfems are in disagreement generally. I believe you and Catherine are arguing that with enough work, enough law, enough money, enough liberal activism, enough persistence and enthusiasm, the kind that has led to these strides forward, we can continue our progress, prevail over these resistant forces, and “construct” humanity globally into a non-aggressively-violent species.

    I tend on the other hand to believe that these resistive forces will probably end up reversing our progress, leaving us with hollow legal equality and continued subjugation as a sex, as has been the case all through human history (and I include the Iroquois Nation, which had strict differential gender roles and made war, even though women had a higher standing than usual).

    That is, I think we will come to a point in our efforts to re-make social constructs when no more change occurs and we will begin to move backward. We will hit a wall, and that wall will be the place where social constructions end and a male biological disposition connected with solving problems with the use of violence will show itself. Then I think even our legal progress will begin to reverse and the resistance will become an onslaught.

    3. If there’s anything at all in the notion that there is some biological component to the use of aggressive violence, isn’t it incumbent on feminists to prepare to hit that wall and to have strategies for dealing with it? Don’t we need to consider this in assessing the degree and type of resistance to come? Shouldn’t we be encouraging and funding research on the topic? (I’m sure you’re aware that the study you cite on the effect of administration of a single dose of one male hormone, testosterone, on 28 men, isn’t going to prove much either way, though I’m glad to see any study).

    Wouldn’t incorporating this possibility into our theory explain many puzzling things, such as the universality of male domination and war among men, the enormous differences in male and female uses of violence, and the intense resistance to de-glorifying violence and ending toleration of it? How can we simply banish this from feminist discussion? Isn’t this an ostrich-head-in-the-sand position? Is truth-searching really futile, as you say?

    Ok, well, I’ve taken up too much space here and gone too far from your original posting. I really wish I could address so many other issues that are raised already, like Cordelia Fine’s book and more on Iroquois society, and get more into the use of statistics to prove discrimination using disparate-impact and adverse-impact theory, but enough. Thank you very much for this discussion.

  7. […] Now, if gender is innate and male masculinity is the most “authentic” presentation of the male gender (see also the narratives of transmen), then it follows from this argument that some iteration of male aggression is also innate. This is not the view of most gender critical feminists, of course, because we believe that gender is a purely social construct. But the grave and enduring harm caused to women by men is a problem that must be explained. If gender is biologically fixed, as those who believe that all humans have an innate and unchanging “gender identity” say it is, then male violence is inevitable. I call on trans advocates to address the epidemic of male violence against women in light of the gender essentialism they preach. It is, yet again, a massive hole in their reasoning. Gender hurts women; address the problem. […]

  8. […] Now, if gender is innate and male masculinity is the most “authentic” presentation of the male gender (see also the narratives of transmen), then it follows from this argument that some iteration of male aggression is also innate. This is not the view of most gender critical feminists, of course, because we believe that gender is a purely social construct. But the grave and enduring harm caused to women by men is a problem that must be explained. If gender is biologically fixed, as those who believe that all humans have an innate and unchanging “gender identity” say it is, then male violence is inevitable. I call on trans advocates to address the epidemic of male violence against women in light of the gender essentialism they preach. It is, yet again, a massive hole in their reasoning. Gender hurts women; address the problem. […]

  9. I am neither Elizabeth nor Catherine, but I’ve stumbled upon this conversation (very, very late to this party!) and it seems a shame that it just got dropped. Some pressing questions seem to me to be emerging, and then everything just drops off. So in the interest of possibly reviving this conversation, I thought I would leave a response to some of oserchenma’s points.

    When you ask “who socially constructs this behavior [male violence] and why?” aren’t you in part loading the question unfairly, by asking it in a way that suggests that someone socially constructs male violence when the agent—sociality, which is not a “who” but a “what”—is already named in the phrase “socially constructed” itself? The “who” to “social construction” is no one except for all of those who participate in a social group, which basically means that there is no “who” at all. It’s a “what.” It’s a structural & discursive effect.

    I think a distinct but related trap you have fallen into is wondering about who or what “created” social construction itself (not specific instances of it, like money). But this is not something that had to be created, it is a possibility inherent in what humans are. Humans are social animals and, like all social animals, we are extremely dependent—biologically, socially, and in short for our very lives—on sociality. Human infants, like many social animals’ young, can die without social interaction purely because of lack of social interaction. So it is not simply “biology” nor simply “sociality,” but a social reality constructed in and through a material context.

    When you ask “What forces brought this construct of violence into being and maintain it so rigidly generation after generation?” I think you should be aware that you are representing the history of male violence as somewhat monolithic—an “it” that was “maintained rigidly” over space and time—when we can see, if we look at the huge variety of human societies that we know about, that there wasn’t a monolith but a slow spread of social and material conditions in which male violence became adaptive (began to make sense).

    Of course the origins of patriarchy have been addressed by radical feminists, socialist feminists, and by famous political thinkers (most famously, Engels). The general gist, as far as I understand it (and have filtered it through my radfem lens), is that humans lived largely in extremely egalitarian, classless, nomadic foraging societies (bands) for 99% of human history. That is, patriarchy is not and never was the “natural” or even principal form of human societies,as you suggest. I repeat: 99% of human history was patriarchy-free.

    What allowed patriarchy/ gender as we now understand them to develop is what allowed all class-based system of exploitation, hierarchy, and division of labor to develop (the intimate relationship there is crucial). The neolithic revolution, through the discovery and fostering of agriculture, animal husbandry, and division of labor, allowed humanity to gather surplus and thereby become less nomadic and more sedentary. That in turn led to labor specialization and social stratification, technological strategies to “managing” nature, and also increased populations in towns/villages, which led to a need for more resources than had ever been required by a foraging lifestyle. All of these factors led to increasingly hierarchical, socially stratified cultures and, of course, increasing violence to maintain those hierarchies and in the stealing of resources from others. Radical feminism I think rightly recognizes that women’s reproductive capacity was exploited by men, and that it is on this basis that patriarchy, specifically, took root. Some people posit that men controlling the reproduction of animals (animal husbandry) led directly to the idea / reality of men controlling the reproduction of women, using women like non-human resources to be controlled and used. Also, as private property and surplus become important, the passing of resources and status from one generation to the next become important. One way to manage the anxiety around that process was to control women more tightly in order to ensure that heirs were “legitimately” the children of a property-holding man.

    Anyway, that in a nutshell (the neolithic revolution) is what transformed humanity from egalitarian hunter-gatherers (living in a huge variety of culturally and bioregion-distinct small bands, not, as you oddly stated,“small family groups in the forest”) to societies that leveraged things like hierarchy and separation from (= control over) animals /others/ natural resources /women and, eventually, to wars in the name of gaining control over further-flung resources and people.

    In short, you are mistaken when you say that that “violence has always been seen in society as a preferred method of gaining food, territory, and women.” You are mistaken when you suggest that “We know almost all societies have been male-dominated, often brutally so.” You are also mistaken when you say that “In the beginning there were no social constructs, just small family groups…” because social constructs are inherent to human (social animal) life and have always existed in human communities (and that is not by any means a bad thing).

    Here’s another crux of the issue: You say that, “to me it is incontrovertible to reason instead that the social constructs glorifying and tolerating male violence developed because they expressed, and continue to benefit, the natural dispositions of the dominant group within the society, its men. I just can’t get past that reasoning.”
    I don’t understand why male dominance can’t be contingent to you. I don’t understand why the sentence couldn’t equally read: “male violence developed because it expressed the context-dependent dispositions of an historically dominant group (men), and continued to benefit them.” There is nothing in the logic of “something happened, and happened for a long time” that means that it involves “natural dispositions.” In fact the entire concept of “natural dispositions” seems to me to be completely suspect and obliterated by the presence of profound human (& animal) diversity throughout history and space.

    You write that when “[Elizabeth] says that all behavior can be socially controlled, [this] implies that it doesn’t matter what underlies the behavior. […] But saying all behavior can be socially controlled also begs the question: so what, if those in control will never want to control the behavior? Will logic and education and morality cause those who have ultimate social control to use their control to end aggressive violence? “
    I think that saying that behavior can be socially controlled (or at least socially shaped/produced) implies that it DOES matter what underlies that behavior, in fact it posits specifically that what underlies the behavior is social (and material) context. The “and material” part is crucial there, for once again human sociality is embedded in material realities, you can’t separate it from material contexts, bodies, etc.
    The fact is that behavior isn’t really “controlled” or “not controlled” by social and material reality, it is produced by and within social and material reality. And so, if those in control do not want to “control” their bad behavior, who cares? What would it matter what the Donald Trumps, Barack Obamas, 1%ers, capitalists, or men in general would “want” when they stood in the literal, physical rubble of their destroyed industrial capitalist patriarchal nightmare? Without the vast infrastructures and institutions–social and material—of their nightmare, they cease to have the power to “behave” badly in the way they once did. It’s not about changing their minds, and (in my view at least) it isnt about a mass movement that ideologically agrees with us (although that would be nice). It is about altering the material bases of power, throwing wrenches in the gears, and forging social and material autonomy for women. Men in hunter gatherer societies couldn’t create patriarchy because they had no material (and also/ therefore no social) control over women. Women had autonomy. And it isn’t unless you cripple someone’s ability to have autonomy that you can control them so profoundly as men did, chaining us up inside the kinship system like cattle, a resource to be exploited and controlled.

    You said, “I think we will come to a point in our efforts to re-make social constructs when no more change occurs and we will begin to move backward.” Now, insofar as anyone views the work of feminism as *purely* to remake social constructs, then I disagree vehemently with that person. Feminism is not about thought-crime or ideology-production, it is about oppression, that is to say, exploitation. It is about exploitation because fundamentally patriarchy (and capitalism) are about resource extraction and symbolic violence. We need to attack on all fronts, but neglecting to attack on the level of material reality in favor of some sort of thought-reform or even behavior-reform movement seems frightening and doomed to me. I don’t know any feminists who favor that, except liberal feminists and from the radfem perspective it is clear that theirs is a dead end. Liberalism is short-sighted. It fails to question the basic things, and goes merrily along with its surface insights (“consent,” “identity,” “beauty is on the inside,” “choice,” “medical abortion,” glass ceiling”) without ever scratching the surface to find the roots (coersion through material deprivation, globalized capitalism, racism and colonialism, patriarchy, PIV / women’s reproductive capacity being exploited by men, “mandatory hetersexuality,” gender socialization since birth, the family structure, etc.).

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