Wednesday, July 20, 2005

No man or woman?

The Melbourne University Student Union has a queer officer by the name of Alex Ettling. Ettling has joined the ranks of those who are pushing to abolish separate toilets for men and women and instead create "pan-toilets" to cater for "all gender possibilities". Why? Ettling told The Age newspaper today that,

Part of our intention is to break down the belief that there is just man and woman. Ideally we'd like to see a world where there are so many gender expressions that you just don't see there being man and woman any more.

Now, you can understand why a gay man would dislike the existence of just two genders, male and female. Being gay doesn't only mean having a sexual orientation toward other men, it also often involves a confusion of gender identity. A gay man might not adopt a fully masculine gender identity, nor a fully feminine one. So he may feel alienated by the idea that there are just two sexes.

But, of course, there are two sexes and it is at the heart of heterosexuality to appreciate this fact. Most men not only want women to exist, they want very obviously feminine women to exist. And women for their part are attracted to the masculine qualities of men.

So we have a clash between what some gays would want as part of their ideal society and culture (the breaking down of the categories of man and woman) and what the heterosexual majority would assert as their ideal (the upholding of a distinctly masculine manhood and feminine womanhood).

It is therefore naive for people to believe that homosexuality will be seamlessly integrated into a heterosexual culture. There are areas in which the two are incompatible, so that the claims of only one can win out. And the heterosexual majority needs to proceed with the confidence that its own claims should be the ones to dominate society.

Some people might object at this point that the homosexual objectives are so unrealistic that there is no chance that they will ever be of influence. But there is a problem with this argument. The gay men who want to abolish the categories of man and woman have a powerful ally. Their goal fits in all too well with the reigning philosophy of liberalism.

Remember, liberals start out with the idea that we are human because we have the freedom to choose for ourselves who we are and what we will do. This makes liberals hostile to those parts of our identity which we don't have the power to choose for ourselves. And this includes our sex: the fact of being man or woman. We don't get to choose this for ourselves, but are born either man or woman as part of our "biological destiny".

So liberals have already tried to make gender "not matter" by attempting to reverse traditional gender roles. For a liberal it is a positive thing for a woman to break gender "stereotypes" by playing football or working as a bricklayer and for men to do the same thing by staying home to look after babies.

So what gays are advocating is simply a more radical application of an existing principle. Instead of denying the legitimacy of traditional gender roles, they are denying the legitimacy of traditional gender itself.

The claim that you can abolish the categories of man and woman seems ridiculous. But people take seriously a similarly unlikely claim: that masculinity and femininity are merely socially constructed and an impediment to human freedom. For many years liberals have asserted that "the mind has no sex" when it is a biological fact that it does.

So obvious biologicial facts can't be relied on to win political arguments. Mr Ettling may still get to see his wish fulfilled and to have politicians repeat the mantra that there is no man or woman.



  2. /Wellesley/1421/essays/misogyny.html