Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Male and Female

With the currency in our culture of the idea that a person can somehow have a body of the wrong sex, and thus be a male trapped in a female body or a female trapped in a male body, there's a new relevance to discussions of what gender means. A typical news story which implicitly asks this question might tell about a little boy who likes pink and enjoys playing "princess" and whose parents thus concluded that he may actually be a girl and are helping him to "socially transition".

But is liking pink or playing with dolls and princess costumes what it means to be female? Clearly not. One may talk about certain tendencies: more girls seem to like to play nurturing games with dolls and more boys seem to like to play with trucks or toy soldiers, but these are only very broad tendencies. Just because a girl hates pink and likes to play with trucks does not mean that she is not a girl, and just because a boy likes to snuggle a baby doll or host a tea party for stuffed animals does not mean that he's a girl. People and their interests do not all come from the same mold, and there is no necessity at all that a girl be interested in the things that other girls are interested in just because she also is a girl.

What then is male-ness or female-ness if it isn't adhering to the stereotypical interests and behaviors of each sex?

It seems to me that it is the experience which comes from being a person who has a male or female body. This leads to certain elements of commonality. Male bodies and female bodies tend to act a bit differently and have different hormones pumping through them. The two sexes experience sexual intercourse differently because we have different sexual organs that behave differently. This means that while there may be a wide range of feelings and attitudes towards sex among men, they all share the experience of addressing sex with male genitals, not female ones, and vise versa for women. In familial life, men can experience being fathers, but cannot experience being mothers. Women can experience being mothers but cannot experience being fathers. Setting aside family life, a man who is trying to live according to a vow of celibacy will experience what it is like to try to live celibately with a male set of genitals and hormones, while a woman who has made a similar vow will have the experience of living it out with a female body.

But within these commonalities, there is great room for variation. And within the wide set of experiences which men have, all of them are male, because they are the experiences of a person who is male. Even if some men have feelings or experiences that bear strong similarities to those that women describe, he still has those feelings and experiences as a man. And even if a woman hears much familiar in the feelings and experiences of men, she is still a woman.

Perhaps there's more that can be said about male-ness and female-ness than this, but it seems to me that if one starts anywhere in trying to explain these concepts than that they are based in having a body of that sex, one opens up to all sorts of nonsense.

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