Monday, December 11

Sex and gender and why the hell do we have this discussion?



Yes, I haven’t been very active here recently (and only very recently in my writer’s blog again), but now I’ve stumbled over something which really grinds my gears: the gender discussion which usually ends with those opposing the idea of more than two genders calling everyone who is not adhering to their idea of gender mentally ill.

First of all, we have to get the actual words used straight. Male and female in the biological sense is not gender, that is sex. And even that is opening a can of very moody sandworms. Masculine and feminine is gender. So let’s start out with biological sex and sandworms.

Before the invention of genetics, biological sex was easy. If someone had a penis, they were male. If someone had a vagina, they were female. Two sexes, everything sorted out. Only, that doesn’t account for those people (often guessed to be around 1 in 1000 births) who are born with both sexual organs. Then came genetic sex, which is based on the two sex chromosomes: X and Y. Everyone with a Y chromosome is considered male (because everyone has at least one X chromosome, so that wouldn’t help as a definition). But there are people with multiples of some chromosomes, that also goes for the X chromosome. Interestingly, foetuses with two or more Y chromosomes aren’t capable of surviving, but there are people who don’t have an XY composition (which is normal male sex), but something like XXY or XXXY. Those people are physically female insofar as they have a proto-vagina. They do not, however, have an uterus or ovaries, so they are not capable of giving birth. For genetics, they are male, because there is a Y chromosome. Following the old definition of biological sex, however, they are female, because they lack a penis. Then there’s cases in which a foetus with XY chromosomes doesn’t develop a male sexual organ. All foetuses start developing a proto-vagina first. If they’re female, what will become the ovaries will wander up and take root at the top of the uterus. If they’re male, what will become the testicles (and happens to be the same as the future ovaries above) will wander down and the proto-vagina will turn into a penis. Sometimes, foetuses don’t develop correctly at this stage. The foetus stays female by the old biological definition, even though it genetically is male. The person, however, will be infertile, because there are no ovaries or uterus. Nevertheless, biological sex in the sense of ‘what is or isn’t there’ can be determined as female.

Gender is a different question and has to do not with what biology says, but what society says. Traits and abilities are sorted into ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’ Sometimes, depending on the society in question, there’s also some neutral traits and abilities everyone is allowed to have. If you look at different societies or even the same society at different times in history, you will see those traits change.
Today’s ‘men don’t cry’ trait for masculinity would have been utterly wrong for Ancient Greece, where a ‘real man’ was supposed to cry at suitable times.
The idea that women can’t fight would be utterly alien to societies like the Mongols, which as a nomad people, didn’t make a difference between males and females when it came to going into battle. Whoever was physically capable, went out fighting - men and women alike. They still don’t make a difference.
Other definitions have been overcome by time. When my mother was young in the 1950s, she would have loved to become a carpenter and, honestly, she would have been marvellous at it. But in 1950s Germany, no carpenter would have taken on a woman as an apprentice. Today, that’s hardly a problem any longer.
Even the idea that women are naturally ‘nurturing’ and men are not is merely a social construct. It’s damaging, too, teaching boys that they are not allowed to show that side. There’s many good fathers out there who are doing a wonderful job at taking care of their kids, aren’t they nurturing, too? And there’s women, such as me, who never feel any ‘motherly instinct’ when they see a child.

But if gender is a social construct, unlike physical or genetic sex, then why are people so hyped up about those who do not define as their supposed gender? Or see themselves somewhere in-between, because they have traits and abilities from both spectrums? That is what grinds my gears. Everyone is an individual, even a twin. We’re all different from each other from the moment we’re born. We have different interests, different likes and dislikes. We may identify more with the feminine model of our society or with the masculine one. If that happens to fit with our biological sex, people have no problem with it. If that doesn’t fit with our biological sex, we’re suddenly supposed to be mentally ill. And that makes me ill, but not mentally. It makes me want to throw up.
Instead of telling a girl that she’s supposed to be all nurturing, to be interested in dolls and toy ovens, why don’t we ask that girl what she’s interested in? Perhaps she likes dolls and toy cars. Perhaps she wants that science experiments set. Perhaps she likes a cuddly stuffed bear. Perhaps she wants to play with that Superman action figure (because those are for boys and definitely no dolls). And, perhaps, her brother has been eying that toy oven for a while now, because he wants to bake a cake.

I was brought up like that, because in the 1970s and 1980s, people were trying to raise their children ‘non sexist’ - meaning they wanted to raise the children as personalities, not according to their biological sex or the gender expectations. There were a lot of ‘gender neutral’ toys around. LEGO was absolutely neutral once, only colourful building blocks for whatever you wanted to build with them: a nice house, a space station, a castle, a racetrack.
The 1990s saw a backlash at that. Suddenly, toys became colour-coded. Pink for girls, blue or black for boys. Even LEGO suddenly was divided by gender, depending on the set in question. Technology was for boys, dolls remained something for girls. Technology bleeding into the girl territory masqueraded as something typical for girls, such as a game where you could buy stuff with a credit card or call one of several boys. Or as a diary that would only open for your voice, so your little brother couldn’t read it (though I dare say most teenage girls were more worried about their mothers reading it).
Today, I look at the girls, see the early age at which they are sexualized, because media tells them to be pretty first and foremost. The thoughts which my parents abhorred, that my biological sex should define my future, as it had often defined theirs, have come back with a vengeance.
Today, young women want to be models before everything else. Models, excuse me for saying so, are walking clothes hangers, nothing more. And today, neither the clothes nor the models are really fit for reality. In a time when more and more women are fatter (in a neutral way) than they have been in the past, as the statistics show, the models have gotten thinner and thinner. And most of what you see on the catwalks is surely not fit for being worn on the street, not if you don’t want to be arrested for indecently exposing yourself. I also wonder how much longer it will take until the fashion designers realize that digital models are the way to go - they can be shaped any way the designer wants them to be, they never make a mistake, they will lose and gain weight at the click of the mouse.

Even biological sex is up for definition these days, since the physical sex can be changed with surgery. Genetic sex can’t be changed like that, but doesn’t always translate into the physical configuration which should be going with it. Gender is merely a construct and shouldn’t always be confused with the sex of a person. Honestly, if you have a problem with saying or typing the word ‘sex’ somewhere in social media or in other discussions, don’t enter them. So what if a person identifies as male, but is a biological and genetic female? So what if a person doesn’t identify as one sex, but as both (or none)? And, while we’re at it: so what if men love men, women love women, or some people love everyone? If your invisible friend in the sky, whoever it might be, has a problem with that, then don’t do it yourself. But remember a sentence from the bible: am I my brother’s keeper? You’re not, so let your brother, sister, or undetermined sibling love whom they love.

Mind your own business and don’t try to make other people feel bad, just because you can’t or won’t understand their side. Nobody forces you to identify with another gender definition or get a surgical sex change. Tolerance is the name of the game. Try it and you might live much better.

Thursday, August 10

Women in STEM



With the very recent case of a Google senior engineer being fired over a 10-page ‘manifesto’ explaining that the low number of women in the STEM field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) has nothing to do with bias during hiring or the sexist reaction of male colleagues, but with the fact that women are, to put it simple, biologically bad at all of the above (you know, STEM, science, technology, etc.). They get too little testosterone before they’re born, apparently. Which makes me wonder whether or not that problem then could be solved with some prenatal injections of testosterone. (NOT.) Here’s the link to a Gizmondo reprint (also includes the company’s answer through the appropriate vice president in charge of diversity and other things).

He, like many people before him (and, unfortunately, probably also many people after him), uses the good old ‘women are better at social and artistic work and far worse at anything which can be considered systemic work’ prejudice. Why is that a prejudice? Go and Google (yup, use their search engine) people like Emmy Noether or Annie Jump Cannon (yes, that really was her name). Annie, for instance, was doing a job which required a very good grasp of science: she was a Harvard Computer. Those were, long before the computer as we know it today (the electronic device) became a thing, low-class assistants at universities who spent their whole day computing data - and they were overwhelmingly female. They, essentially, did what computer programs do today. And Annie was especially good at finding new stars through her calculations, even devising a new system (so much for systemic work) of classifying stars. The system is still used today. Emmy Noether, on the other hand, was one of the most brilliant mathematicians who ever lived. But, of course, mathematics aren’t part of the STEM field (since it’s now only the STE field).

Then there’s the ‘women are not speaking out and asking for a raise, then they complain they don’t get it’ thing. I’m still sure that if a woman did that, she’d be out of a job, not getting a raise, because it’s not what women do. And it’s not what men expect, so it would shock that boss to have a female employee ask him in a no-nonsense way which a man might use.

Next comes the ‘women don’t rise in hierarchy, because they’re not ready to spend all those long hours working which are required for a leader position’ spiel we’re also familiar with. First of all, a jacket over a chair’s back doesn’t signify long hours of work. But, yes, in middle management, you usually do a lot of long hours. Most women, however, never get to that stage, they are kept further down, ignored when it comes to promotion, pushed into jobs at the company where there is not further space for promotion.

‘Women are more cooperative than competitive.’ I guess this guy never came close to any ‘Miss something’ contest - women are highly competitive among themselves. But even if they are not: I can’t see where in the STEM field competitive behaviour would be better than cooperation. More eyes and more minds equal more work getting done. Sharing new information instead of keeping it to yourself (so you can get all the praise) might lead to quicker development.

The guy seems to think women don’t choose STEM mostly for the work. The truth is most women don’t choose STEM, because of what you hear about that ‘boys club’ behaviour towards female colleagues. Like that guy who complained that he can’t work with women around, because they’re distracting. Like ignoring and belittling female colleagues. Like that other guy who thought that during a panel at a science conference he should explain her work to a female colleague in front of all (and who was only stopped by a woman from the audience calling him out and telling him to shut up and let her talk, because the host was actually not up to his job). Women hear these stories and decide not to go into science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. They have what we usually call a sense of self-protection. They are ready to work long hours and devote their life to STEM, they’re just not willing to do it in an atmosphere in which they will constantly be challenged, overlooked, harassed, or belittled. Personally, I can’t find a fault with that decision, but it makes things worse for the few who are brave enough. With more women coming into the field, they could form alliances to protect themselves and fight back. One woman is easily belittled or harassed, a group can stand up to those doing the belittling and harassing a lot better.

Society starts early to teach kids, boys and girls alike, what they should strive for. It teaches boys to be competitive and girls to be ready to compromise. It teaches boys that they need to work hard in their future chosen field and girls to look out for those hard-working boys so they can marry the right guy. It tells stories about the prince rescuing the princess, but few stories about the princess saving her prince (and those stories so far haven’t been picked up by Disney for large feature films). It tells girls to be ‘nice’ (which does not include talking loud, being decisive, and telling a guy to go to hell for bothering them) and boys that ‘boys will be boys’ when they’re doing something wrong. You know, like telling a talk-show host behind the scenes that when you’re rich, you can grab them all by the pussy.

Society also tells girls how boys are better at science and maths and that they shouldn’t, in essence, burden their pretty head with such stuff. Girls with an interest in the STEM field have to fight an uphill battle from early on, many tire at some point, give in, and go into other jobs. Teachers will not recognize their interest or ability, but still prefer the boys. Boys will make fun of them, girls will make fun of them. Relatives might tell them that it’s not what a girl does, that they should develop a more appropriate interest. So some give in during school. Some give in during college, when things become even worse in male-dominated classes where they are ridiculed or simply ignored. Some give in once they’re out of college and looking for work, only to find themselves cast aside for men who might not have better marks, but are in possession of a penis and a Y chromosome. The boys club does protect its members well - just as similar clubs in field like the law or high-level business positions. Few go into the fields, usually stranded in a low-level position, ignored by their superiors who’d rather promote a guy - because we all know all women will drop out and found a family sooner or later. Or for some similarly stupid reason - few of those superiors will admit that they do it, because they believe that a man is better suited, even if evidence at hand suggests something else.

So, yes, there’s fewer women in the STEM field and as long as the perception of a female scientist, technician, engineer, or mathematician doesn’t change, that won’t change much, either. There are quite some women who do not strive for a family (including those who get themselves sterilized at 20 these days - I wish I would have gotten that chance myself). There are as many intelligent women as there are intelligent men. Women have been computers in the past (NASA even had their female computers check the results of the first electronic computers for possible mistakes), they can do numbers. A woman wrote the first programming language of the world - for a machine which didn’t even exist (check Ada Lovelace).

Sunday, September 25

Entitlement is bad



There have been several articles out recently about topics like men complaining about women’s expectations, how to speak to a woman wearing headphones and so on. They all have one thing in common however: they deal with the entitlement many men feel they have a right to. Let’s put it down using three examples: men complaining they don’t find an attractive girlfriend, men telling women to smile, and men speaking to women who don’t want to be spoken to.

Let’s start with the headphone example, which I already covered in this blog post. How to speak to a woman wearing headphones in public? Not at all. Certainly not the way the guy who posted that advice tells you to. Honestly, what he suggests is extremely close to harassment and might get you a kick in the nuts, if you try it with the wrong woman. Wearing headphones is the universal code for ‘I have no interest in communication with anyone.’
And let’s take a look at men telling women to smile in public. There is no reason why you should do that, unless you’re a) a photographer and the woman is modelling for you or paying you for taking her pictures or you’re b) her boss and she’s working in a service job where you should always smile at the customers. A woman has as much of a right to glower, frown, or just not show any emotions in public as a man does. Even if she has down this ‘completely free of feelings’ face my chancellor Angela Merkel has perfected, she has the right to show it in public.
And now about the complaint that you can’t find an attractive girlfriend. What makes you think you, the average or below average man, has a right to an attractive girlfriend and every woman should want to go out with you? Hollywood, that’s what. In Hollywood movies, the average-guy hero gets the good-looking female lead in the end (at least horribly often).

All of these examples have one thing in common: they speak of entitlement. Men feel entitled to demand a woman’s attention when they want it, hence they’d harass a woman wearing headphones until she takes them off and enters the conversation. Men feel entitled to see a woman smile (because she looks better or because it signifies everything is well), so they tell her to smile and expect her to do so. Men feel entitled to the attractive girlfriend the movies promise them and get very nasty when they realize it’s not going to happen.

It’s not the women who don’t give you what you’re owed - it’s you thinking you are owed something which you are not.

Wednesday, August 31

About men's complaints



When I read about this blog post teaching guys how to speak to a woman wearing headphones, my first reaction was pretty much the same as that of most people commenting on it: Just don’t. Women normally wear headphones because they’re not in any mood to talk to other people, no matter the gender. Then I thought about some other complaints men often make about women and stuff like pickup-artistry. And that led to this post.

First of all, the headphones. Women usually wear headphones in public or read books in public transport to avoid speaking to other people. Yes, being able to finish that great novel you started last night or getting to hear your favourite songs is a nice bonus, but not the main reason. So if you happen to see a woman wearing headphones (or reading), just leave her be. Don’t try to get her attention or to get her to speak to you (unless, that is, she’s in danger). Women are not for your amusement or self-esteem. They are fellow human being and have the right to their privacy.

Which brings us to pickup-artistry as a such. A pickup-artist is nothing more or less than a con-artist is. You think he’s not? Let’s see. A con-artist uses psychological techniques to coerce people into doing something (usually giving him/her money). A pickup-artist uses psychological techniques to coerce female people into doing something (usually having sex with him). I imagine you can also use specific techniques to coerce male people into that, but most pickup-artists target women. Pickup-artistry isn’t about winning the heart of a woman. It’s about getting her into bed once or twice. Most pickup-artists actually brag about the fact that they don’t sleep with the same women twice or about how many women they’ve already slept with. If you tried to use the same techniques to win a woman’s heart, it wouldn’t work. The techniques in question are supposed to lower a woman’s self-esteem and put psychological pressure on her to make her do something. That works for a night in the sheets, but will sooner or later destroy a relationship.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not about never having a one-night stand. There’s women around who like those as much as men do, so if you meet one of those and you agree on a night together, everything is perfectly alright. If you make it clear to a woman you only want sex with her and nothing more and she freely agrees to it, there’s nothing wrong about having sex and moving on.

Women don’t want a ‘nice guy’ as a boyfriend is another complaint you hear often. ‘I’m always nice to women and they talk to me, then they go to bed with an asshole who doesn’t treat them well.’ Question: Did you make it clear to the woman in question you were interested in being more than a friend? Because, you see, those assholes do. They make it painfully clear from the beginning that they want a sexual relationship. Sometimes, that’s even all they want.
Women make a clear distinction between a ‘friend’ and a ‘boyfriend’ for good reason. We cherish friends much more than sexual partners. A friend is a long-term companion, someone we confide in, someone we keep close. A boyfriend might turn into a life partner, but these days chances for it aren’t always good. And since making a friend a boyfriend and then a friend again usually doesn’t work, we rarely allow a friendship to turn into another kind of relationship. So if you want a relationship other than a friendship, don’t make the mistake to think ‘if I befriend her, she’ll sooner or later be my girlfriend.’ It’s not going to work. Ask a woman you like out on a date and make it clear it’s a ‘date’ date, not just a ‘friends’ date. You can still be nice to her, but make it clear you’re not interested in being a friend, but in being a boyfriend.

Women only want men who are tall, good-looking, and rich is another one. Yes, just like men, we have certain ideals for our perfect partner. Men might be looking for the size of the breast or the right build, women look for men with a great ass, a certain height and other, more personal things. But the idea that our partner should be tall, good-looking, and rich doesn’t mean we’ll never date or even marry someone else. My mum wanted a tall blond and ended up with a short brunet. They’ve been married for 52 years beginning of this month and they’re still in love.
Movies, novels, and other media influence the idea of the perfect partner. Women still often are ‘coached’ on looking for a man who can provide for a family, which doesn’t necessarily mean ‘rich,’ but at any rate ‘well-off’ or ‘with a well-paying job.’ And a lot of men wouldn’t accept a wife who will continue to work once the kids are there and have them stay at home to care for the children and the household. So you’re not tall, not good-looking in that ‘Hollywood’ kind of way, and not rich? There’s millions like you while the amount of ‘ideal’ men is limited. You can still find a woman, but make sure not to pretend to be something you’re not - that never works out long-term. Like women, you will have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the princess (well, women go looking for the prince, normally). Just keep in mind the princess might not be the way you want her to look, either.

A lot of the complaints seem to come from a very wrong idea about women which men have: that women are somehow there for their entertainment or self-esteem. If you are a man, keep in mind that a woman is a human being as well. She has the right to her own opinion, to her own ideas, to her privacy. She doesn’t have to like you, she doesn’t have to admire you, she doesn’t have to stop what she’s doing to pay attention to you. And treating a woman like a human being because you believe she is will enormously heighten your chances.