This week the retail store John Lewis announced their children’s clothes would no longer be segregated into “Girl’s” and “Boy’s”. There would be one line of children’s clothing and it would be “Unisex”. I imagine that John Lewis believed this decision would be met with unanimous praise. I believe they made this decision confident that they would be heralded as ground-breaking by the affluent consumers who shop there for taking the right side in the Gender Studies proxy-war that is contemporary children’s clothing. Instead, there was an outcry from parents calling the decision “political correctness gone too far”. This does not surprise me, however, as I have been following the issue for quite some time, and whilst Gender Studies may be a big deal to some, outside academia and Social Justice Warriors, it is a niche issue.
It is also a very confusing issue. Campaigners, for whom this is a big deal, have no one to blame but themselves for this confusion. Gender Theory has done an incredible about-face since its inception in the 1960s as part of second-wave feminist thought.
We were told by Simone de Beauvoir that: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” — in essence, gender is a social and cultural construct with no objective basis in biology or otherwise. It doesn’t matter if you wear pink or blue, men and women were fundamentally the same underneath the colours and in spite of their genitals. All gender differences could be accounted for by conditioning, culture and/or society. Men were men, and, women were women, but it doesn’t matter, and if it does — it shouldn’t.
Contemporary activists, like those who would praise John Lewis for eliminating gendered clothing, however, belong to a new wave of thought. Second-wave Women’s Studies (late 50s, 60s, and 70s) has given way to the more recent Gender Studies (late 80s, 90s, and 00s) which overlaps with the even more recent Queer Studies and Trans-activism (00s,10s). Generally these later activists would assert that being conditioned as either Gender is physiologically harmful as many don’t feel comfortable with the Gender they were assigned at birth. Suddenly the colours you wear as a child are a Big Deal — fundamental to your development — and by extension, the fabric of our society. This school of thought holds that Trans-individuals are victims of cruel accidents of birth which must be remedied precisely because Gender is important and substantial.
Despite the fact that the former and the latter appear to be related, there are overt signs of conflict and confusion between these two schools of thought. Germaine Greer, who clearly belongs to Second-Wave feminism, caused a furore last year when she asserted that she simply didn’t believe that men who transition to being women were “real women”. This implies that she believes Gender isn’t something you can change by any means. Not surgery, not clothing, not living as a woman despite your biology. In other words, Gender is not a social construct. Contemporary activists were quick to slam Greer, but every other day I see an article praising a celebrity for being ‘Gender Fluid,’ e.g. dressing or behaving like a member of the other sex or a mix of both sexes. That tacitly implies that Gender is a social construct and it is insubstantial enough for you to switch between the two on a whim or be both.
But what about the big bad “B” word? Historically, biology is a bad basis for public policy. Catastrophic, in fact. Policy is best when the State disregards biology (amongst many other things) and treats us all as individuals, but should it be so casually dismissed in academia as it was by Second-wave feminists, or treated as it is now by Gender Studies majors? Gender activists pick from the aforementioned two theories interchangeably despite the fact that the premises on which they are based are fundamentally diametrical. Whilst Women/Gender Studies activists may be able to treat biology as they please, the same cannot be said for the non-social sciences, economics, and medicine. Transitioning sex is a serious, and by most of the accounts that I’ve read, a painful and unpleasant experience. Shouldn’t activists decide whether Gender is substantial or frivolous before championing the procedure, or even before banning pink/blue clothes for girls/boys?
Either Gender is superficial and fluid, and can be changed on a whim simply by dressing or cutting one’s hair differently. Blue? Pink? Both? It doesn’t matter. Or Gender is so substantial, that feeling as though you have been born to wrong Gender is a living hell on Earth — with the victim being trapped in a fleshy prison they didn’t choose. Gender can not be superficial and substantially important at the same time. This issue is not going away anytime soon, and in many respects these activists both have valid points and commentary. Gender activists also deserve to be called out on their inconsistency and hypocrisies.
In the mean time, however, I strongly recommend living as you want. All adults should have the right to shape themselves and their lives as they please — so long as they don’t hurt or impede anyone else from doing the same.