A question about social constructionism

Commenter Generalheinz57 asked a question this week and I always answer a question if it’s sincerely asked. I thought I’d write the answer as a post because I tend to be long-winded.

you talk a lot about gender roles, and unless I am misunderstanding your position, you seem to be of the opinion that they are almost completely, if not 100%, patterns of learned behavior. women are submissive, timid, fragile, nurturing, sensitive, empathetic, while men are domineering, gregarious, combative, independent, courageous, assertive. my question is, if you are willing to believe that there is an innate basis for MBTI personality types, and that you have to heed your nature in order to care for yourself, why do you believe that so-called “gender roles” are simply socially constructed, toxic for both sexes, and that they should and must be shed? do you think there is no value to the idea of balance between the sexes, in a yin-yang sort of way? do you not think that rather than shedding the roles entirely, there are healthy ways of embodying both sets of traits, and that it is okay for men to find feminine women desirable, or women to find masculine men desirable?

As regular readers are aware, my views have shifted a lot over the last few years. Some of my views have adjusted a bit and one of them (political lesbianism) did a complete 180. The topic of social constructionism is something I’ve shifted on.

I see a continuum between social constructionism and biological determinism where many feminists are pretty far to the side of social constructionism and many conservatives are pretty far to the side of biological determinism, although there are lots of exceptions and nuances. Feminists tend to believe that gendered behaviours are socially constructed and if we construct a different society, we can construct different behaviours. However there are a lot of different versions of feminism out there and there are some feminists who are biological determinists. Those are the “men are inherently evil” variety and from what I’ve observed they’re fairly rare. Generally it’s understood among our movement that people can change, and we don’t have to embody stereotypes and male violence can be solved by raising boys differently and holding criminals accountable for their behaviour. Feminists will sometimes point out that if we did believe that men were inherently evil, there would be no need for feminism at all because there would be no hope of changing anything.

I would say that around 5 years ago I was pretty far on the side of social constructionism, and I’ve been steadily drifting away from it. However, I’m not going to drift all the way to being 100% biological determinist either—surely both nature and nurture are factors in our behaviour, and nobody is unaffected by either force.

Where this leaves me in terms of gender roles is that I do think women tend to be more nurturing and more emotional, and men tend to be more aggressive and violent, due to the effects of estrogen and testosterone on our bodies and minds. After having listened to trans men talking about how they change going on and off testosterone injections, it’s hard to deny that a person with more testosterone in their body cries less often, feels more anger, and has a higher sex drive.

This doesn’t mean I’m giving up on feminism though. I don’t believe that men are hopelessly violent with no possibility of reform. I think they are competent people able to control themselves and behave properly. And I don’t think women are too emotional to be in positions of power. We may cry more often, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use our brains. We certainly can. There are some people who would probably want to burn me at the stake for saying there is a biological basis for masculine and feminine behaviours, but I think there is. I think we can acknowledge that while still calling for a culture that is less misogynistic and that doesn’t constantly promote stereotypes about men and women, to the benefit of us all.

This might sound contradictory because I always say that masculine and feminine behaviours are complete bullshit. When I come across as contradictory I’m always willing to examine what I’m saying to try to make it more clear.

There is a tendency in popular culture to present people as very one-dimensional and stereotyped, and we are actually a lot more complex than the way pop culture presents us. For example, it is probably true that women purchase more chocolate than men do. That’s fine and I don’t need to pretend that difference doesn’t exist. However, if you look at a TV commercial, women are senseless chocolate-obsessed animals who will run in front of a truck trying to get their hands on some chocolate. This is a silly example, but I think you can see what I mean about the difference between (a) a real-life difference that exists between the sexes and (2) that difference turned into a ridiculous spectacle by pop culture.

I don’t have a problem acknowledging a statistically proven difference between men and women, but what really makes me angry is when people expect others to behave just like the over-the-top stereotypes that pop culture sells to us.

If masculine and feminine behaviours are biologically determined, that may appear to justify trans people’s claim that they have the mind of the opposite sex based on the fact that their natural personality reflects the usual gendered behaviour of that sex. But I’m not buying that line of thinking, because there are always exceptions—there are men with “feminine” traits and women with “masculine” traits and this is because humans are all unique. Just because a person is an exception to a rule doesn’t mean they are literally a member of the opposite sex.

If I was born with a personality called “INFJ,” then yes, that does mean I believe other people are also born with personalities. They might be born with certain traits that are classifiable as masculine or feminine, and they might be born with tendencies to be violent, and they might be born with tendencies to develop dysphoria, and any number of other things.

When someone describes what INFJs are like, they are definitely generalizing about a large group of people. Stereotypes can definitely emerge. Sometimes when I see a narrative posted online about how an INFJ would behave in a certain situation I identify with the overall message but disagree with specific details. We are all, of course, individuals. I’d say about 95% of what I’ve read about INFJs deeply resonates with me, and that’s enough to make me unlikely to worry about a few details I don’t identify with.

I hope that answers your question, and if anything is still unclear, feel free to ask.

I’m going to throw in one more subject I’ve been shifting on lately, just for the fun of it. It’s regarding the subject of how much blame should be given to structural and external problems versus our own attitudes and behaviours in creating our personal life problems. I used to be really far over to the side of blaming structural problems, such that I’d be full of rage when anyone suggested that a change in attitude and behaviour might help a person. My blood would boil and I’d shout that there’s no way that the way a person thinks has any effect on what bad things happen to them in life. Bad circumstances surely are born from the physical world around us and are not created by our thoughts! Ridiculous!

I think that’s partly because people are not sufficiently nuanced for my taste when they talk about this. It’s pretty easy to scoff and dismiss someone who says that the physical world is literally created by our thoughts. Because the physical world is literally not created by our thoughts. But if these people would stop being so simplistic about it and say something like “If you keep expecting bad things to happen you’ll be super sensitive to anything that can be perceived as bad and you’ll feel as though bad things are always happening” then I would be able to buy into that.

With a bit more life experience, I’ve come to see that some people react to bad experiences and circumstances by milking them for all the suffering they can get, rather than trying to rise above it and overcome. And I’ve come to see that I can heal myself and gain a better quality of life by changing my limiting and negative beliefs. I’ve actually started doing some new-age healing methods that I would have dismissed as ridiculous bullshit not too long ago. However, they are working.

Well, since I’ve already wandered down a tangent into the topic of “other things I’ve been thinking about lately,” here’s something that’ll feel kinda random to leave you with. I’ve been researching how people lived in historical times, and it’s been giving me amazing perspective on life today. For example, I watched some YouTube videos of people making soap out of ashes and animal lard. Our ancestors had to collect ashes from many fires, mix them with water, boil them, strain them, mix them with exactly the right proportion of animal fat from animals they had to hunt and kill themselves, stand at the pot stirring for hours, and then end up with a finished product of one bar of soap, which they then had to use to wash with. These days we just buy detergent at the store, pour it into the dishwasher, and press one button. Voilà! Instant clean dishes. This just shows you so much about why people are the way they are these days. People have become much less resourceful and brave and strong, and they’ve become much more entitled, lazy and spoiled.

I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to write a historical novel, and maybe I won’t, but the journey so far has been so rewarding. I’m fascinated by human behaviour and learning about the past is really quenching my thirst for cultural analysis.

I have even more disdain for people who think “misgendering is violence” these days. These overprivileged college kids sit in their ivory towers with all their modern conveniences and cry oppression over nothing, when their ancestors experienced more hardship every day before breakfast than they’ll ever experience in their whole lives. What a disgrace!

Well, thanks for the question GeneralHeinz, and sorry about the long tangent!


8 thoughts on “A question about social constructionism

  1. When I talk about feminine and masculine genders being socially constructed, I am not talking about the fact that men are generally more violent than women. I also think that women, because of our bodies and the potential childbirth aspect, automatically experience life differently than a male individual. When I say I believe gender is socially constructed I am talking about the ideas that women love makeup, clothes, are nurturing in a specifically passive manner, aren’t interested in science, like being taken care of, and then rhe gender expectations of virginity, etc. in women as compared to the horn dog expectation of men. What trans ideologists never explain is what they MEAN by having a “male” or “female” brain. Do they realize traditionally a female brain meant the inability to do math, science, vote, govern, etc.? Because that’s the feminine gender. Or are they just talking about structural brain differences, which science has proven to be minimal? When I say I want to abolish gender, I mean the aforementioned crap, not actual biology. I really am beginning to think that people have forgotten women were and are oppressed by gender, and what all gender roles ACTUALLY mean.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Actually, it is not that people have forgotten about gender roles being oppressive, it’s that the dialogue on the feminine gender is being lead by trans women – i.e. MEN who will never understand the true oppression of the feminine gender role. And even if the gender roles are abolished, they still cannot understand being a woman because I believe being in a female body matters.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m probably also in the middle somewhere in my beliefs about nature/nurture and gender roles. But I’m curious about the idea that testosterone makes people more violent and horny. I wonder if there has ever been a double blind study with participants who have never taken testosterone, ( so they wouldn’t recognize the feeling ), using both testosterone and placebos. Because if a person expects to feel more like the masculine gender role every time they did testosterone, they might feel it even if it were a placebo. And what does that mean for Women who have reached menopause, who have more testosterone, and less estrogen? And what would that mean about men in Thailand who are not very domineering, gregarious, combative, independent, courageous, or assertive. Do they have less testosterone? I know it’s not simple, there are many hormones and they act in concert in mysterious ways I’m sure.
    Regarding nature/nurture and gender roles, there have been societies in Nepal, Africa, and southern Mexico, for instance, in which Women’s gender roles were what we would consider “manly”. So many conversations about nature and gender roles seem to exist in a realm divorced from cultural anthropology! ( And as though we’re all white Women.) My understanding is that we’re more able to talk about gender roles because of the work of feminist anthropologists like Margaret Mead, who found a great variety of gender roles from country to country, and even village to village. Anthropologists helped Women here look more critically at our own culture, and question the assumed naturalness of our roles. The gender roles vary here in the U.S. because of race and class and it looks like Black Women have different gender roles than white Women. And if that is so, how does it affect the nature/nurture conversation?

    Liked by 1 person

    • My other thought about the whole thing with trans-identified women taking “T” and having higher sex drives is that they are all excited about their transition and making their body how they want, so now they HAVE a sex drive, as I can’t imagine hating your body and feeling disconnected from your sex organs gives you much of a sex drive. Literally everything on trans is made by assumptions, there are no studies about why someone is feeling some way.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for answering this question as a post. I’ve actually been struggling with my views on these very issues recently, and hearing what you have to say makes me feel a lot more sane.

    Its so awesome that you’re questioning issues that can be so controversial and are willing to share your thought process with us! Especially the structural reality vs attitude and behavior issue. The more life experience I get the more I agree with your thinking.

    If I can ask, what kind of new age healing modalities are you interested in? I’ve recently gotten involved in learning energy work, and am interested in discovering more alternative healing techniques.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. really appreciate the thoughtful response. it does sound like you’ve gone through some pretty serious personal upheaval lately, and that you’ve come out stronger, wiser, and more balanced. I have tried to do that in my own life too. your comment to the effect of being overly sensitive to negativity is spot-on, and in that regard we really do “create” our own reality, or at least exert a pretty non-negligible influence over it. and I do agree very much that as a society we have to reinforce those positive traits that are inherent in each of us, whether it is for our biological sex or other reasons, while doing our best to control or redirect the negative ones so that they don’t cause harm.

    history is so interesting, right? I am sitting in on a class on old germanic languages right now, and while the focus is linguistics, you see the common humanity reflected in words throughout the ages, and studying that history honestly does give you the impression that there is so much we take for granted–not even in a cliched way, but in this real, tangible disconnect from physical struggle that’s developed in modern times. I feel the same way about “words = violence”. I just want to shake these people and get them to ask themselves, “what the hell am I on about?” but they are so out of touch, and so enveloped in their own superficial outrage that it feels impossible to reach them. I am someone who gets very passionate about such things too, which is why I liked your blog in the first place, but I’ve had to learn to step away too for my own health. it’s hard when, as a naturally reflective person, you see something that may not directly affect you now, but whose consequences you will have to live with as a member of the future society, and you know there’s so little you can do. I’ve started to feel it’s fairly likely the worst of those consequences will have to bear themselves out and cause serious societal damage before people will wise up and reel back, so the best we can do is remain wary and care for ourselves and those we love the best we know how in the interim.

    anyway, keep that new wisdom close to heart, and take care of yourself.

    (it’s telling me i already posted this, but i don’t see it showing up. feel free to delete this if i did actually doublepost somehow)

    Liked by 1 person

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