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Sex and the Mathematics of a Binary

So much debate around whether sex is a binary or a spectrum. The thing is, a binary is a mathematical thing. And there isn’t any need to debate mathematical things. They are easy to prove.

I’m a computer scientist, and if there’s anything we know, it’s binaries.

Let’s start with this. When you have two things, there are four ways to combine them. You can have the first without the second, the second without the first, neither, or both:

1 0
0 1
0 0
1 1

That’s it.

And now: sex. It’s not a coincidence that the word for sex, as in whether you’re a man or a woman, is the same as the word for sex, as in gettin’ it on between the sheets. They both have to do with reproduction.

There are two gametes in human reproduction: the smaller one, called the sperm, and the larger one, called the ovum. If you have those two things, you can make a baby. If you don’t have those two things, you can’t make a baby.

If you have those two things, you can make a baby in a petri dish. Even if there’s no boobs, hips, penises, vaginas, estrogen injections, silicone implants, lingerie, gaffes, tool belts, laser salons, cosmetic surgeons, or anything else anywhere in sight.

If you don’t have those two things, you can’t make a baby. Not in a petri dish. Not anywhere else. Even if you bring all the asymmetrical haircuts and stilettos and ambiguous genitals and pink and blue flags and bathroom bills and clownfish you can muster.

There’s only two things that are needed to make a baby. A sperm, and an ovum.

There are four ways to combine those two things in a human being. The person can produce ovum but no sperm, sperm but no ovum, neither, or both. In reality, the last is exceedingly rare. But the point here is that there isn’t more than one way to do this math. This is a classic binary system. Two things, four combinations. There’s no way to get an endless number of combinations out of two things or even seven combinations out of two things.

Since it takes a sperm and an egg to make a baby, and the question of whether or not folks want babies coming into their lives is an important one to absolutely everyone, it’s useful to have a word for those who make sperm and those who make ovum. Until recently, everyone’s been happy to use the words “male” and “female” for this useful distinction.

But even if you decide these words are harmful, even if you ban them, even if you question and censor every other word that springs up in their place, there will still be two gametes and four ways to combine them. Math is inflexible that way. Reality is stubborn that way.

Intersex? Despite the hype–which tellingly is spread mainly by folks who aren’t intersex–that’s a handful of conditions, and those are disorders of female development or disorders of male development. But it wouldn’t matter if there were a thousand intersex conditions. All intersex individuals produce sperm, ovum, both or neither. All fit into one of the four available combinations. In no cases does a human being produce a third gamete! Or a fourth!

Now if you want to say gender is a spectrum… well, I’ll still say that’s a mistake. But at least it’s not mathematically refutable in five minutes.

A position that requires bolstering with fake data is a weak position.

  One of the problems while debating misguided 3rd wavers, or gender/qu**r activists is that lack of definitional rigour when it comes to the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’.  What is chilling is that these activists often refuse to define their terms, yet as demonstrated here in Canada want these same terms enshrined into Canadian law.  Obviously, this should not happen if clear guidelines and expectations are supposed to be part of our legislative goals.

Canadian focus aside, lets look at Auntie Wanda and krismichelle429 tackle the situation of defining sex and gender in a more general sense.

 

     “In my experience talking to gender/qu**r activists, when they say “sex,” they can mean either “the biological differences between men and women” or “the behaviors that society expects from each sex,” or both at the same time. When they say “gender,” they can mean either “personality” or “the behaviors that society expects from each sex” or “the biological differences between men and women,” or all three at the same time. Oftentimes they switch between definitions without telling you, and then expect you to read their mind and just know which meaning they’re using at that moment. And no matter how many times you explain your definitions to them, they never acknowledge it and choose instead to project their definitions onto your words (or to put it more simply: they hear what they want to hear instead of what you’re saying).

     Like, we have explained our definitions of “sex” and “gender” thousands of times on this site. We have used them clearly and consistently. We don’t change them. When gender critical feminists use the word “sex,” it ALWAYS refers to the biological differences between sexes. When we say “gender,” it ALWAYS refers to the behaviors forced on men and women by a sexist society.

     And yet, we constantly get into arguments with gender/qu**r activists who think we believe that sexist expectations for behavior are biological. We have to explain that we don’t over and over and over again, even though we’ve been very clear about our beliefs and definitions, even though those beliefs and definitions have not changed since we last explained them 5 minutes ago. And that’s because when we say “sex” and “gender,” gender/qu**r activists hear their own definitions instead of ours, and because the words “sex” and “gender” can mean absolutely anything to them, they can hear anything that they want to hear.

     Oftentimes they switch between definitions without telling you, and then expect you to read their mind and just know which meaning they’re using at that moment. And no matter how many times you explain your definitions to them, they never acknowledge it and choose instead to project their definitions onto your words (or to put it more simply: they hear what they want to hear instead of what you’re saying).”

  – See the whole post on [Blackswallowtailbutterfly].

How weird is it that such basic concepts can cause so much furor? It is almost like a certain category of men have decided they strongly dislike a particular objective fact, and expect the rest of the world to fall in line with their new orthodoxy (because they say so).  Conveniently, when it come to basic biological definitions,  all of their the hard-headed skepticism and critical analysis is tucked away.  However, the critical thinking boom is lowered almost instantaneously to repudiate those quaint feminist notions of sex-based oppression, patriarchy,  and rape culture – now there friends, are some legitimate topics for serious Debate (because we disagree with them and it doesn’t affect us much)!

 

If there is a better description that leads to a more accurate description of objective reality let’s hear it. Until that time, and with general scientific consensus, the current definitions look pretty rock-solid to me.

Notes from the gender debate that is ongoing in society. I think that the sooner we recognize that gender is a harmful social construct and move toward removing it from society, the better off we’ll be.

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper continues her examination of sex and gender in part 2.  (Did you miss part 1?)

 

Gender

10. The oppression linked to sex begins at birth, operating through the social imposition of gender. Gender is the label that feminists use to describe the value system that prescribes and proscribes forms of behaviour and appearance for members of the different sex classes, and that assigns superior value to one sex class at the expense of the other. (That’s the same link as the one I said to bookmark in the previous post. I really, really want you to read it.)

11. Gendered socialisation is a lifelong process of inculcation into the gender role for your sex. It begins at birth, is imposed and enforced consciously and subconsciously by us all, in myriad ways, large and small, and operates to enforce certain forms of behaviour deemed desirable for members of the different sex classes and to prevent those deemed undesirable. This is what Simone de Beauvoir meant when she told us that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. To occupy the position of woman is to be socialised over the course of a lifetime into membership of the inferior sex class. Gender prescribes submissionweakness and passivity as desirable female traits, and dominancepower and aggression as desirable male traits. The way in which gender is expressed will vary according to culture and context, so different times and places will impose different norms of appearance, behaviour and comportment for males and females. But the underlying values are the same: females are supposed to perform gender in ways that signal their inferiority and submission; males are supposed to perform gender in ways that signal their superiority and dominance. The function of this system of oppression is to make female weakness and dependence on males seem natural and inevitable, and therefore to facilitate the exploitation by males of female emotional, sexual, domestic and reproductive labour.

12. It is perceived reproductive capacity, not actual reproductive capacity, that determines the sex class you will be assigned to, and therefore the form your gendered socialisation will take and the oppression you will experience. It doesn’t matter if you are actually infertile, and therefore incapable of performing the reproductive function of your sex. Nor does it matter whether or not you are inclined to perform that function. The fact of sexual dimorphism means that you will be socially read as belonging to one sex class or the other, and will henceforth be subject to the gendered socialisation, and sanction for non-compliance, deemed appropriate for your sex. Women in their twenties and thirties will experience workplace discrimination on account of their appearing to be potential mothers, even if as a matter of fact they could not conceive or have no desire to conceive.

13. Crucially, gendered socialisation and gender oppression happen regardless of how the individual happens to feel about herself or her identity. The injustices that are inflicted on girls do not occur because those individuals happen to know that they are girls and to think of themselves as girls. They occur because those girls inhabit female bodies, and so were placed into the inferior sex class at birth. To deny this fact is not only to fail to understand how gender operates; it is also to engage in a form of victim blaming, where girls and women who suffer gender-based violence and oppression are assumed to have identified with this subordinate social position, and to recognise and endorse their own inferiority and submissiveness.

14. Many individuals of both sexes are uncomfortable with the constraints that gender places upon them. All women who call themselves feminists are. The reason we come to feminism is because we feel that gender is an oppressive hierarchy that limits our potential, and we want to be liberated from the demands of femininity, which just is the expression of female submission. Similarly, many men feel uncomfortable with the norms of masculinity, which requires the expression of dominance, often in the form of aggression and violence. Males who find masculinity painful and intolerable, and who choose to rebel against its strictures, face prejudice and discrimination, and we should want to end this. But it’s worth remembering that gender punishes females whether they conform or not. Non-conformity is punished and socially sanctioned for both sexes, but for females, conformity is also a form of punishment, since compliance with femininity is in itself submission and subordination.

15. The degree of distress and discomfort individuals experience trying to conform to the appropriate gender norms will vary from person to person. There are very few, if any, persons who conform perfectly to the gender ideals prescribed for their sex. We all of us make compromises to survive, and to flourish as best we can, under the constraints that gender imposes upon us. We all of us actively endorse some bits, passively acquiesce with some bits, and positively rail against some bits, and the balance we eventually settle on will be an individual, personal matter. While we should be prepared to critically examine and reflect upon our choices, and to scrutinise our complicity in the perpetuation of gender, no individual is to be blamed for the choices she makes in order to survive living under an oppressive system.

16. Wanting to abolish the oppressive and limiting effects of gender does not mean that radical feminists want to stop anyone expressing their personality in the ways that they enjoy. Feminists do not wish to ban make-up or high heels, or to prevent girls from playing with dolls and dressing up like princesses. All feminists want is to liberate all of this stuff from perceived reproductive capacity, so that boys and girls, men and women, can dress however they like, play with whatever toys they like, perform whatever jobs they like. Men and women would be free to develop their capacities and reach their full potential, free from the constraints imposed on them by powerful social norms prescribing submission and passivity to females and dominance and aggression to males. The ideal world would be one in which one’s perceived reproductive capacity has as little bearing on one’s social treatment and expected achievements and outcomes as blood group or dominant handedness currently does.

17. The behavioural choices that any individual makes, their tastes and preferences about dress and appearance, and how they choose to express their personality, are independent of biological sex and – quite obviously – have no impact on it. People can dress however they choose, behave however they choose, modify their bodies however they choose, as long as these choices do not harm non-consenting others. This is to be encouraged, and indeed is an important part of the project of liberating humans from the oppressive constraints of gender. But none of this alters the underlying biological fact of their maleness or femaleness. No amount of challenging and modifying gender norms – or “queering” gender – will make a male person female, because to be female just means to be a member of the class of humans capable of gestating a child. Challenging and playing with gender norms in one’s behaviour and presentation, so that one appears androgynous, is a valid and useful tool in dismantling the structures of gender; but on its own it can never liberate females from the oppression that accompanies living in a female body. You cannot identify your way out of an oppression that is material in basis.

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