Thursday, April 12, 2012

On the Impossible Question and are the original posts.

When I tried to comment, the system would not take my submissions.  I suspect that someone using my ISP has been too active in posting spam and so the filter software has blocked the ID from the ISP for a while.

The result is I am posting my responses here.

The question relates to
"the supposedly “impossible question” [Rachael] posed to Kathleen Flake at the Methodist-Mormon conference back in February, regarding the definition of femininity and masculinity"
 The real question is closer to what are gender and sex and how are they important or significant?

Rachel wanted a definition and an answer that:
a) did not reduce them to mere sexual characteristics or biological difference (which, on its own, seems void of real significance, and furthermore, seems difficult to untangle from temporal causes like evolutionary strategies, which don’t seem to be necessary in a pre or post mortal existence)
b) did not reduce them to character attributes (which seem to boil down to characteristics that should ultimately be universally shunned [coarseness, aggression, emotional neediness, etc.], or universally cultivated [compassion, gentleness, creativity, reason])

At present, just about every discussion of sex and gender either reduces to mere characteristics that are measurable or to stereotypical character attributes.

First, defining terms.

To quote from the Wiki:

The word gender comes from the Middle English gendre, a loanword from Norman-conquest-era Old French. This, in turn, came from Latin genus. Both words mean 'kind', 'type', or 'sort'. They derive ultimately from a widely attested Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root gen-,[8][9] which is also the source of kin, kind, king, and many other English words.[10] It appears in Modern French in the word genre (type, kind, also genre sexuel) and is related to the Greek root gen- (to produce), appearing in gene, genesis, and oxygen. As a verb, it means breed in the King James Bible:
Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind
Leviticus 19:191616
Most uses of the root gen- in Indo-European languages refer either directly to what pertains to birth (for example pre-gn-ant) or, by extension, to natural, innate qualities and their consequent social distinctions (for example gentry, generation, gentile, genocide and eugenics). The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED1, Volume 4, 1900) notes the original meaning of gender as 'kind' had already become obsolete.
Gender (dʒe'ndəɹ), sb. Also 4 gendre. [a. OF. gen(d)re (F. genre) = Sp. género, Pg. gênero, It. genere, ad. L. gener- stem form of genus race, kind = Gr. γένος, Skr. jánas:— OAryan *genes-, f. root γεν- to produce; cf. KIN.]
1. Kind, sort, class; also, genus as opposed to species. The general gender: the common sort (of people). Obs.
13.. E.E.Allit. P. P. 434 Alle gendrez so ioyst wern ioyned wyth-inne. c 1384 CHAUSER H. Fame* 1. 18 To knowe of hir signifiaunce The gendres. 1398 TREVISA Barth. De P. K. VIII. xxix. (1495) 34I Byshynynge and lyghte ben dyuers as species and gendre, for suery shinyng is lyght, but not ayenwarde. 1602 SHAKES. Ham. IV. vii. 18 The great loue the generall gender beare him. 1604Oth. I. iii. 326 Supplie it with one gender of Hearbes, or distract it with many. 1643 and so on.
The word has come to mean sex, though it has a secondary meaning where it is used to mean identity.  Who and how the word is used depends on who is using it.

The use of gender to refer to masculinity and femininity as types is attested throughout the history of Modern English (from about the 14th century).
The word sex is sometimes used in the context of social roles of men and women — for example, the British Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 that ended exclusion of women from various official positions. Such usage was more common before the 1970s, over the course of which the feminist movement took the word gender into their own usage to describe their theory of human nature. Early in that decade, gender was used in ways consistent with both the history of English and the history of attestation of the root. However, by the end of the decade consensus was achieved among feminists regarding this theory and its terminology.
The theory was that human nature is essentially epicene and social distinctions based on sex are arbitrarily constructed. Matters pertaining to this theoretical process of social construction were labelled matters of gender.
The American Heritage Dictionary (2000) uses the following two sentences to illustrate the difference, noting that the distinction "is useful in principle, but it is by no means widely observed, and considerable variation in usage occurs at all levels."[13]
The effectiveness of the medication appears to depend on the sex (not gender) of the patient.
In peasant societies, gender (not sex) roles are likely to be more clearly defined.

In the last two decades of the 20th century, the use of gender in academia increased greatly, outnumbering uses of sex in the social sciences.

You can see that modern language hasn't helped things much.  Gender has gone from, by definition, the inherent qualities  (to natural, innate qualities and their consequent social distinctions) to either being a term that is used in place of the word "sex" or that is used for social distinctions not founded in inherent qualities.

That makes the question impossible to answer if one takes some definitions -- what is inherent about characteristics that are defined as the social structures and roles not related to inherent differences?

But, otherwise, it leads somewhat, given human variability, to a reduction to a de minimus difference.

I think it helps to look at slime molds.  To quote from an essay that invokes them:

a slime mold (genus Physarum), an otherworldly creature with 29 variants of sex-controlling genes, dispersed among eight different types of sex cells. To ensure genetic diversity, each slime mold sex cell can only fuse with a sex cell that has completely different variants of genes than its own. If you calculate all the possible combinations of genes and sex cells, you will find that Physarum have more than 500 different sexes.
500 different sexes.  (The essay the quote comes from is about how fluid sexual identity is in nature, with some species being able to change their sex up to thirty times in a day, some having many more than just two sexes).  Do those animals have inherent sexual identity that they came from eternity with and will leave into eternity intact?  And, what about slime molds that are in asexual mode (they have that too)?

Once you start thinking about slime molds and other species, the possibility becomes more consistent that there might be two things going on.

First, that sex and gender exist for reproductive purposes -- to allow us to pair in a way that makes us (a) pairs and (b) pro-evolution (i.e. that results in faster/better evolution and adaptation).

Second, that sex and gender need not exist for any other purpose that to allow us to pair with those who are defined as "other."  That is exactly what goes on with slime molds.  All a slime mold needs for pairing is an "other."  The more types of "other" the easier that is.  So, with an evenly distributed slime mold population of 1000, there would be two of each sex and each slime mold would have 998 potential partners (999 if asexual mode is included).  In comparison, humans having no asexual mode of reproduction, and only two sexes, have roughly half the number of potential mates (assuming two genders/sexes).  Various types of distributions can increase or vastly decrease the numbers.

In this I agree with Rachel's observation that "In essence, (and I’ll visit this more in future posts exploring homosexuality’s place in Mormon doctrine) gender is otherness, which Lehi taught was so crucial to preventing all things from being a compound in one."

Which reverts back to taking an approach that has "interpreted the Genesis story in this way—descriptively, not prescriptively" (something I have written on several times).   It also segues nicely into the concept that priesthood "is not about possessing power or authority; it is about being given callings to perform" -- which is well seen not only against D&C 121, but against the story of Christ washing the apostles feet.

Priesthood is given to remind people to serve, not to give them authority or dominion.

But as to what the difference is, it may well be that the difference is that there is difference.  That may be all that is necessary.  It works for many species and it may very well be what works for us.  It would also work with the feminist reduction of Elder Nelson's talk implying that proper marriage exists wherever two are able to become one:

Perhaps.  But I think we learn a great deal if we approach the entire topic by looking at slime molds as one of God's creations, and then by asking what that implies.


FYI, my Wheat and Tares post is: 

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