Since Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution in the middle part of the 19th century, explanations for the physical differences between men and women have been relatively constant. Thousands of years of evolution, it is generally posited, explain the differences between the sexes, because of the different roles to which our bodies (and minds) had to adapt. The male is larger and stronger, in general, because males had to hunt and fight. The woman required less muscle mass, and all the rest of it, because of their evolutionary role as a mothers and nurturers.
While time has dramatically changed the roles of the two genders, the basic explanation for the differences in physiology and mindset has always been reasonably widely accepted. Until now, anyway.
A new paper in the Australian Feminist Law Journal posits that actually gender differences are primarily a result of violence inflicted by parents and the state, by assigning a child a gender (emphasis added):
Registering a newborn’s gender/sex on the birth certificate is usually seen as a mere formality that reflects a natural state of affairs. This article, however, shows that the registration of gender/sex does something else than record naturally given sex differences in bodies; it actually produces and shapes bodies to develop in a way conformant with understandings of sexual dimorphism. Sexed bodies are therefore not pre-discursive and static objects, but they are constantly in the process of becoming, influenced by socio-legal procedures, including gender/sex registration. By analysing the effects of registering the legal gender/sex on birth certificates and the change of gender markers thereof in various jurisdictions, in particular Australian states and territories, the article aims to show how bodies of intersex as well as endosex cis and trans persons are made into what they are expected to be: sexually dimorphic. It concludes that legally assigning a gender/sex has intrinsically violent effects on bodies, something that could be avoided by eliminating the public registration of gender/sex.
In layman’s terms, what the author, Lena Holzer, is saying, is this:
By registering your newborn as a girl, you are partnering with the state to tell her that she is a girl, even though she may want to be a boy. Because she has been told that she is a girl, she will naturally try to develop into a girl, and therefore she will strive to develop the physical characteristics of girlhood, whatever those might be.
In other words, she will change her body to fit what her parents and the Government want her to become.
If left alone, and assigned no gender, the paper posits, there’s a reasonable chance that the child might develop more like a boy.
Because we have assigned a gender to the child, we are therefore influencing what her body looks like, and this, as such, constitutes “intrinsically violent effects on bodies”.
The solution, therefore, is not to assign any gender to a child at all, and to let them decide later in life whether they are in fact a girl or a boy.
Lest this sound to you like some kind of nonsense fantasy from a weirdo academic, it’s worth noticing that this theory is already being put into practice by oddball parents worldwide:
Gender-neutral parenting typically begins as early as possible, whether it’s opting for an androgynous color for the nursery or steering away from toys that have a particularly gendered slant. How parents navigate those first few years is critical, says Darby Saxbe, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.
“We know that children are shaped by early experiences really profoundly, at the level of the brain, the body, health, and well-being,” she notes. “The effects of caregiving, even with small variations, can have a significant impact.”
When trying to approach gender-neutral parenting with infants, keep in mind baby clothes create a point of contention. Girls’ onesies will be pink and say phrases like “daddy’s little princess,” while boy’s bibs will be blue with “rough and tumble” embroidered on top. Dr. Saxbe says that this phrasing and color coordination creates gender biases before kids can even conceptualize what self-identity is, let alone have a say in it.
Of course, the question of whether gender neutral parenting is simply a fashionable thing for right-on folks in the Hollywood hills, or whether it can actually measurably change a child’s physiology is an entirely open one.
Clearly, the best thing to do here is to experiment on children and see what happens. Maybe some children born “male” will, if not assigned a gender, develop shapely hips. Maybe some “girls”, offered the choice, will start to grow facial hair.
Experimenting on children is the only way to find out. And sure, if a few of them end up odd and damaged by it, what’s the harm, compared to the inexorable forward march of social justice?