I recently finished The Fate of Gender: Nature, Nurture, and the Human Future by Frank Browning, a former NPR reporter and writer for several other publicatins. There’s been a strong buildup to this book for me and it came at the perfect moment in my life. I spent the last spring from January – April studying gender and sexuality at Oxford through the lens of western european medieval literature which introduced me to both new ideas and ways of processing more complex sociological information, something I’ve had close to no training in besides my independent reading. My spring semester at Oxford in connection with new levels of maturity that enable to me see more clearly how I perceive and interact with my own gender identity provided the perfect time for me to read The Fate of Gender and it was not a disappointment.
I don’t want to diminish the value of my time at Oxford because it taught me important research skills, but I learned much more about how we as humans perceive sex and gender while reading this book than in all of my tutorials. And all it cost me was $10. The book clearly demonstrated to me how the biological and social sides of gender have affected us as a society and how the changing landscape of how we see gender is directly linked to many current world events in both politics and culture. (One brief passage of the book even explains Trump’s success as a backlash against changing gender politics.) And the language of the books is pretty accessible.
Since the beginning of history (/documented civilization), humans have almost entirely lived within masculine societies. As far as I can tell, this status quo is protected through monotheistic religions that use masculine gods to enforce a male superiority that has gone unquestioned for thousands of years. Though we are far from removing the masculine bias from human culture, we’re beginning to see a shift and it is causing a mix of fear and excitement. Early on Browning states:
“To the traditional pinstriped executive in his smoking room or to the laid-off line workers at U.S. Steel, or to the evangelical ministers in Alabama, Kentucky, and Arkansas, these arguments for “equity” constituted nothing less than a full-fledged assault on the natural order of the universe as designed by a singular and unmistakably male god leading to the current unwinding of strict masculine and feminine roles.” p. 10
I see a gray area here that I know will scare many people: how are these changing gender norms not natural? Nature is not constant. Even strict creationists must admit that nature is constantly undergoing an evolutionary process. What is “natural” one moment may not be natural the next. Furthermore, people who argue against the changing face of gender assume that what is natural is good. Is it? (Though this argument can go either way.)
The gender norms that we have developed as a society, though perceived as “natural” by some, may not therefore be good. This can be applied to my previous thought as well. More gray area, but that is barely the beginning of why this excites me.
“You cannot invoke Nature as the basis of human behavior. For if you do, then you might as well legalize infanticide too since certain animal species practice that! But seriously, these days when we very often hear references to what is supposed to be ‘natural’ it’s very often a cover for people who oppose marriage and adoption for everybody.” p. 114, quoting Frank Cézilly
Though gender is far from over, it’s changing. I suggest you pick up a book and figure out your own feelings about the changing face of sex and gender in our society. It excites me, and I hope it excites you as well.