It has been a virtual global and historical axiom that gender is rooted in sex, that masculine and feminine have their respective bases in male and female. Sex is biological; gender, although very much rooted in biology, is influenced by culture. What has been taken as axiomatic, however, is now undergoing deconstruction. The new view that is gaining headway is that gender is entirely constructed by society and therefore should be liberated from nature so that individuals can choose their own gender.
Thus, Anne Fausto Sterling presented a paper at the Beijing Conference on Women entitled, “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough.” She added “herms,” “merms” and “ferms” to the traditional two. Others envision far more than five genders. Deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Lacan, along with the support of similar thinking feminists, has declared, “There is no such thing as Woman.”
The practical implications of this revolution are being felt, especially in universities. First Things reported that the University of Chicago was adding new bathrooms for those who feel uncomfortable about classifying themselves within what is called, the “hegemonic taxonomies of bourgeois heteronormativity.” Translation: the middle class imposition of a two-sex classification. Here is an instance of what David Leyman, in his excellent critique of deconstruction (Signs of the Times) refers to as deconstruction’s “idiosyncratic and arcane vocabulary.”
Wendy Shalit, author of A Return to Modesty, reports from Williams College that at the beginning of each year, male and female students in each dormitory unit vote on whether or not to have coed bathrooms. The vote always goes for coed bathrooms because those who might vote for privacy are intimidated by the charge that they are not comfortable with their bodies. Nonetheless, in this awkward and inviting situation, males are sternly warned against objectifying women with their “male gaze.” The first step is to invite mayhem, the second step is to condemn it when it occurs.
The Lincoln Public School District in Nebraska has decided, contrary to parental approval, to implement a free-wheeling gender program. They are told not to address children as “boys and girls” and not to separate them into lines or groups that are based on the traditional “heteronormative” model. Students are encouraged to choose their own self-identifying pronouns. A boy may prefer to be called “she,” while a girl may prefer to be called “he.” Or they might prefer altogether different pronouns. This is all done in the interest of getting the children to “think more expansively.” Parents, who have not yet undergone any deconstruction of their own sexual identities, have complained about what they regard as a sinister form of indoctrination imposed on their children.
“Thinking more expansively,” however, may carry the price of not thinking essentially. The gender of another is the first thing we notice and the last thing we are likely to forget. It is entrenched in all those many languages that employ gender terms prior to nouns and pronoun. Will the new generation prefer listening to Il Traviata and La Trovotore? Can languages be expunged from their gender terms? Can history, as well as all literature, be rewritten so that the terms “boys” and “girls” do not trap people in atavistic stereotypes? Will Maurice Chevalier’s rendition of “Thank heaven for little girls” be placed on an index of forbidden songs? What will replace the maxim, “Boys will be boys”?
Nature is that fundamental reality that will not allow itself to be deconstructed. Education must build on nature just as what we eat must conform to the biological nature of the digestive system. The attempt to deconstruct nature is at the same time the attempt to destroy it, which is a rather futile endeavor. As Steven Goldberg states in the Inevitability of Patriarchy, “It is terribly self-destructive to refuse to accept one’s own nature and the joys and powers it invests.” In this light, Cicero is worth quoting, “Custom will never conquer nature; for nature always remains unconquerable” (Numquam naturam mos vinceret; est enim ea semper invicta).
Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.