All posts filed under: Sex

Gender’s Journey from Sex to Psychology: A Brief History

There’s no relief from our current cultural conversation on transgender rights. Its implications touch all of us, and the media coverage is relentless. Here at Quillette alone, you may read about the long-term consequences of transitioning for children, the political costs of deadnaming, Twitter’s policies on “hateful conduct” (including tweeting things like “men aren’t women”), the controversy surrounding trans women competing in female sports events, and the widening chasm between trans-inclusive feminists and trans-exclusive “radical” feminists. Surrounded by this whirlwind, I thought it would be useful to provide a historical meta-survey on the issue, tracing the debate back to its origins, so that we all might be better positioned to digest the next news cycle. Below, you’ll find a brief history of our culture’s “gender” talk: its origins, its philosophical evolution, and its current controversies. Gender as we’ve come to understand it, I will argue, is an idea so shot through with murky confusion. We will soon have to replace it with something more intellectually durable, or abandon it altogether. * * * Once upon …

Attraction Inequality and the Dating Economy

Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. Despite the best efforts of philanthropists and redistributionists over the last two millennia, he has been right so far. Every nation in the world has poor and rich, separated by birth and luck and choice. The inequality between rich and poor, and its causes and remedies, are discussed ad nauseam in public policy debates, campaign platforms, and social media screeds. However, the relentless focus on inequality among politicians is usually quite narrow: they tend to consider inequality only in monetary terms, and to treat “inequality” as basically synonymous with “income inequality.” There are so many other types of inequality that get air time less often or not at all: inequality of talent, height, number of friends, longevity, inner peace, health, charm, gumption, intelligence, and fortitude. And finally, there is a type of inequality that everyone thinks about occasionally and that young single people obsess over almost constantly: inequality of sexual attractiveness. The economist Robin Hanson has written some fascinating articles that use the cold and …

Science Denial Won’t End Sexism

Last week, Nature, one of the top scientific journals in the world, ran a review written by Lise Eliot of Gina Rippon’s new book, The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience that Shatters the Myth of the Female Brain. Both Eliot and Rippon, neuroscientists affiliated with Rosalind Franklin University and Aston University, respectively, are vocal supporters of the view that gender, and the corresponding differences we see between men and women, are socially constructed. Not a week goes by without yet another research study, popular science book, or mainstream news article promoting the idea that (a) any differences between men and women in the brain are purely socially constructed and (b) these differences have been exaggerated beyond any meaningful relevance. More recently, this argument has evolved to contend that (c) there are, in fact, no brain differences between the sexes at all. Eliot’s article appears to subscribe to a hodgepodge of all three perspectives, which not only contradict one another but are also factually incorrect. So begins the book review, titled, “Neurosexism: The myth that men …

Women Needed a Magazine that Doesn’t Lie to Them. So I Started One

 As founder and editor-in-chief of a new web site aimed at women, I often get asked: Why do we need yet another publication in this already crowded media niche? It’s simple: Until now, all of the major players have had one common characteristic. Can you guess what it is? When Bryan Goldberg announced in a blog post that he had raised $6.5 million to start Bustle.com, a site for women, many competitors weren’t happy. “Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips?” Goldberg wrote. A Jezebel writer, Hazel Cills, responded that such sites already exist. And she was right—perhaps more so than Cills knew: All the publications mentioned in her Jezebel article—The Hairpin, The Toast, Bust, Bitch, xoJane, Autostraddle, Refinery29, AfterEllen and Jezebel itself—push a liberal, feminist message. The same is true of older outlets such as Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour and Allure. Go ahead and find me a single successful, mainstream women’s lifestyle-and-culture publication that doesn’t regularly exhibit a bias against conservative points of view. There’s been …

Strange Bedfellows: The Peculiar Alliance Between Centrist Liberals and Radical Feminists

A peculiar new alliance appears to be emerging between trans-critical radical feminists and liberal centrists who are normally critical of radical feminism. Radical feminists’ insistence on the biological definition of “woman” seems to align them with the anxieties of those disturbed by activists’ redefinition of “female” and “male” from objective biological descriptors to self-reported perceptions, as well as with the concerns of non-radical feminists like Helen Joyce who has written cogently on the consequences of denying sex differences. However, radical feminists are beholden to a gender theory of their own, and it ought to be possible to reject the claims of trans extremists without entangling ourselves in another equally dubious ideology. Trans radicalism is not a war against feminism. It is a civil war within feminism, and it is not immediately obvious which side liberals should be rooting for. There is a risk of becoming trapped in radicals’ own mode of discourse. Trans activists advance dubious claims about gender behind a shield of the interests of trans people as a group. There is a temptation …

The Uncharted Territories of Medically Transitioning Children

In medieval times, maps warned adventurers away from unexplored territories with drawings of mythological beasts and a warning that read, “Here be dragons.” Are we venturing into dragon territory with the transitional therapies increasingly made available to transgender youth? 12-16-18 Twelve-sixteen-eighteen isn’t a date, it’s a program developed in Holland for treating children experiencing gender dysphoria, the condition of feeling there is a mismatch between one’s experienced gender and one’s biological sex. When Dr Norman Spack, pediatric endocrinologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, learned of the approach, he decided, “I’m going to do this.” And he did. In 2007, Dr Spack co-founded the hospital’s Gender Management Service (GeMS), the first clinic in North America devoted to treating transgender children. There, he implemented the 12-16-18 program, which has since been adopted by clinics nationwide. (Dr. Spack did not respond to an interview request.) Hormones are the tools of the endocrinologist’s trade, which is why, in 1985, a transgender Harvard graduate sought Dr. Spack’s assistance. The patient, born female, had lived as a male named “Mark” throughout his …

Aristophanes’ Orphans: A Disabled Trans Woman Surveys the Grey Zone Between Love and Fetish

Since I first read Plato’s Symposium, I have been fond of Aristophanes’ account of the origin of love. The tale goes something like this. Human beings used to be spherical creatures with four legs, four arms, and two faces divided evenly between each side. We also used to come in three distinct varieties. Men were those composed of two male halves, women were those composed of two female halves, and the androgynous were those composed of both a male and a female half. Everything was going swell for us, you might say, until the gods meddled, as they were wont to do. Fearing the power of humanity, Zeus sliced every human into two and had Apollo sew up the opening, with our belly buttons serving as a reminder not to test the power of the gods. Everyone found themselves feeling empty and longing for their other half, be it the woman you were attached to or the man you were attached to. Love was born out of the search to be whole. I’m fond of …

A Surfeit of Empathy and an Absence of Compassion

As a parent of an ROGD teen, it has been so disheartening to see so few mainstream sources publishing balanced views on this topic. We have glowing “protransition” pieces in the left-wing press, and (often) angry, and even anti-trans pieces in the right-wing or religious press. These articles are just what we need to open up a more balance, less hate filled dialogue. More, please.  ~comment from parent, Psychology Today. I am an anthropologist and professor of Psychiatry at McGill University. I have published and been mentioned in the media widely on the study of cultural evolution, social media addiction, new internet subcultures, social dimensions of cognition and mental health, and the impact of recent cultural shifts in gender norms on the wellbeing of young people. As an essayist and popular science commentator, I have written extensively on the evolutionary basis of contemporary issues, from tribalism in politics to cultural paranoia in the wake of #MeToo and nocebo effects in the medicalization of everyday problems. So far, I’ve managed to avoid scandal and outrage almost entirely by …

The Unspoken Homophobia Propelling the Transgender Movement in Children

When I was a Ph.D. student in sexology, I had a conversation with a colleague that forever cemented, in my mind, why I needed to speak out against the transitioning of children with gender dysphoria. Nowadays, every left-leaning parent and educator seems content to take a child’s word at face value if they say they were born in the wrong body, not realizing that by doing so, an important conversation is being brushed aside. On the day in question, our research lab had just finished our weekly meeting, and I chatted with my colleague as I packed up my things to head back to my office. He had told me previously about his son, who from the moment he was born, announced that a mistake had been made—“I’m a girl,” he would say. As a little boy, his son loved playing with dolls. He would wear his mother’s dresses and high heels, and wanted to grow his hair long like Princess Jasmine from the movie, “Aladdin.” At school, he preferred the company of girls to …

Consent Isn’t Everything and Sex Is Not Like Tea

“Whether it’s tea or sex, consent is everything.” This we learn from the closing statement of a video entitled “Tea and Consent,” created by the Thames Valley Police. Over the last few years, this short and clever educational video has made its way around the internet, and Baylor University even began showing it to incoming freshmen. The video analogises an offer of tea with seduction. You only make someone tea if that person explicitly expresses a desire for tea and—the video tells us—sex is no different. While the video aims to educate men on the importance of receiving explicit verbal consent for sexual activity, it does so via a clumsy and unhelpful characterization of sex as a simple transaction. The video’s conclusion, “Consent is everything,” and the subtitle, “Consent, it’s simple as tea,” are both false: the complex human activity of sex cannot simply be reduced to matters of consent and it is nowhere near as simple as tea. To pretend otherwise is to endorse a crudely transactional view of sex that favors men and, …