Fulfillment View and The Larger Than Oneself View Discussion

Fulfillment View and The Larger Than Oneself View Discussion


Fulfillment View and The Larger Than Oneself View

Elizabeth Barnes: The Metaphysics of Gender!!!581
Objection 2. The ordinary word “redhead” does not appear to refer to a biological
category, because it applies not just to natural redheads—an artificial redhead is also rightly called “a redhead.” This would be true even if there were
only a handful of artificial redheads, perhaps living (unbeknownst to us) on
a remote desert island. In this hypothetical scenario, everyone we actually
(and rightly) call “a redhead” is a natural redhead. But our word “redhead”
still applies to the isolated artificial redheads, even though we never have the
chance to actually call them “redheads.” Thus the fact all the things that we
actually (and rightly) call “X” are members of a biological category B does
not show that “X” refers to B. Okay, let’s grant that everyone we actually (and
rightly) call “white” is a member of the Eurasian continental population. By
the argument just given, that does not show that “white” refers to the category
Eurasian continental population. In other words, even granted all the fancy
stuf about genetics, Spencer has not shown that (some) terms for folk races
refer to biological categories.
Exercise: How might Spencer respond to these two objections? Are they damaging to his
theory or not?
Elizabeth Barnes (b. 1983)
Barnes is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia and works in metaphysics, social philosophy, and feminist philosophy. She is the author of The Minority Body:
A Theory of Disability (Oxford University Press, 2016).
Ama is genderqueer. She is female, but identifes as neither a man nor a woman.
People ofen say they are confused about whether Ama is a man or a woman. Ama
uses the women’s bathroom because it’s easiest both in terms of not getting harassed
and of menstruation needs.
Ben is a trans man. He has some characteristically female anatomy, but he’s taken
regular testosterone supplements for several years, and most people think he’s male
when they meet him. He uses the women’s bathroom because his state recently
passed a law requiring him to. When he does, people yell at him and tell him he’s
in the wrong place.
Chi-ah is a gender-nonconforming woman. She identifes as a butch lesbian and
typically wears mens’ clothing. People ofen mistake Chi-ah for a man, especially when
she’s with her wife. She uses the women’s bathroom because she’s always identifed as
a woman.
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Deena is a feminine woman. She uses the women’s bathroom because it has never
occurred to her that she would use anything else. However, unbeknownst to her, she
has XY sex chromosomes instead of XX sex chromosomes.
What does it mean to really be a woman (or a man, or a genderqueer person, etc.)?
Is it a matter of how you think about yourself? Of how others treat you? Of your
personality? Of what your body is like? People disagree about which of Ama, Ben,
Chi-ah, and Deena are really women. And they disagree about which of them belong
in women-only spaces like a woman’s bathroom. But there’s a lot of confusion about
what we even mean when we ask whether someone is really a woman.
1. Sex and Gender
People ofen assume that the issue is pretty simple: you’re a woman if you have XX
chromosomes, and you’re a man if you have XY chromosomes. But it turns out not
to be that simple at all.
To start of, let’s talk about sex. Your biological sex is determined by a special set
of anatomical features—although the relationship between sex characteristics and sex
classifcation is complicated, and not all human bodies can easily be classifed into a
particular sex category. Biological features that determine sex include chromosomes
(XX or XY in typical cases, but there are also rare combinations like XXY), hormones
(overall balance of testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, etc.), reproductive organs
(ovaries, testes, uterus, vagina, penis), and more difuse anatomical characteristics
that ofen correlate with sex (e.g., prominent Adam’s apple, body hair patterns, facial
shape, etc.). A typical male has XY chromosomes, testes, and higher levels of testosterone; a typical female has XX chromosomes, a uterus and ovaries, and higher levels
of estrogen and progesterone. But it’s important to note that these characteristics can
be combined in various diferent ways, which is part of why human bodies don’t sort
neatly into a sex binary of male and female—there’s a lot of intersex variation between
those two categories. Still, sexed characteristics are an important biological aspect of
human bodies, especially because of the role they play in human reproduction.
So our anatomical sex characteristics are an important part of our bodies—but
do they explain or determine our gender? Once we look closely, it seems pretty clear
that they don’t.
To begin with, someone can be a woman without clearly being female. Some women,
like Deena for example, have a condition known as androgen insensitivity syndrome
(AIS). AIS is one of many conditions that can result in bodies that don’t easily ft our
classifcations of male or female. In some cases of AIS, for example, a person with XY
chromosomes can develop all the external sex characteristics we associate with female
bodies, but lack a uterus and have undescended testes (ofen in a location similar to
that of the ovaries in most females.) Tis type of body is a classic example of the kinds
of bodies we ofen call “intersex.” But someone who has all the external physical characteristics we associate with being female will be treated as a woman and experience all
the social norms and expectations we apply to people with female bodies. And many
Elizabeth Barnes: The Metaphysics of Gender!!!583
people with AIS identify strongly as women, regardless of the biological complexity
of their sex. Contra the proponents of various exclusionary “bathroom laws,” who
ofen say that you’re a woman only if you have XX chromosomes, you can clearly be a
woman in the ways that matter to us socially even if you’re not classifable as female.
But perhaps more important, there’s a lot that we pack in to our idea of what it is to be
a woman—of what it is to be a real woman—or of what it is to be a man, a genderqueer
person, and so forth, that goes beyond basic anatomy. Tere are lots of ways that your
body can be. You can have brown eyes or green eyes, you can be 5′5″ or 6′, you can have
straight hair or curly hair, and so on. But some ways your body can be are more socially
signifcant than others. If people perceive you as a person with brown eyes, they don’t
typically make immediate assumptions about your personality, your interests, or your
skills. We don’t think brown-eyed people are all the same or that brown-eyed people
share deeply meaningful traits that green-eyed people lack. But if you’re perceived as
someone who is female, people will ofen make signifcant assumptions about what you’re
like based on this perception. And even more important, they’ll ofen make signifcant
assumptions about what you should be like. Maybe people will think that you’re likely to
be nurturing, or likely to talk a lot, or likely to be emotional, or likely to be particularly
good at organizing but not that great at abstract reasoning and innovation, and so forth.
Te particular assumptions can vary a lot from place to place and time to time. Te
main point is just that people’s perceptions of your sex characteristics are deeply socially
signifcant, in a way that people’s perceptions of your eye color or shoe size aren’t. If
you’re perceived as someone with breasts and a vagina, people will tend to think this is
something that matters a very great deal to what kind of person you are. Tey’ll think
you probably have some signifcant things in common with other people perceived to
have breasts and vaginas, and they’ll perhaps think there are some things you should do
and some ways you should behave because you’re perceived as being female.
Tis kind of deep social signifcance doesn’t look like it can be explained just by
the biological diferences between males and females. Our cultural stereotypes tell us
things like “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”—they tell us that men and
women are radically diferent, perhaps so diferent that they can never understand
each other. Our current scientifc evidence, though, seems to suggest that while there
are biological diferences between sexes that might infuence personality and behavior, these diferences typically aren’t very dramatic, and there’s a lot of commonality
as well. Height is a good example of this—on average, males are taller than females,
but the diferences ofen aren’t very substantial (it’s not like the height diference between adults and children), and plenty of individual females are taller than individual
males. Similar things hold true for a lot of the biological sex characteristics that might
infuence some of our behavior or personality—yes, there are diferences that might
infuence behavior to some degree, but probably not the kind of vast diferences that
could explain “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” understanding of gender.
We ofen do try to give biological explanations for our gender stereotypes, though,
so it’s important to realize that what’s considered stereotypical or normal for men and
women can change fairly drastically from place to place and time to time. So many
of the things we currently consider feminine—shopping, the color pink, makeup,
fashion—have in other times and places been considered masculine. Consider the
584!!!CHAPTER 1 2 : W HAT IS R ACE ? W HAT IS G E N D E R ?
diference between our current gender stereotypes and those prevalent in eighteenth
and early nineteenth-century England. At that time and place, the greatest heights of
emotionality were thought to be the preserve of men—women, it was thought, weren’t
capable of the same depths of feeling as men, to the extent that the declaration that
“women feel just as much as men feel” in the novel Jane Eyre was considered genuinely
shocking. Jobs we now think of as characteristically feminine, such as secretary, were
typically thought of as men’s work. Much factory work, in contrast, was thought of as
work primarily for women and children. What a culture associates as stereotypically
masculine or feminine can and does vary greatly, even though diferences between
anatomical sex characteristics remain fairly stable.
Tere’s a specifc way in which gender and sexed anatomy can come apart that has
recently come under the political spotlight: trans gender. Te term “trans” refers to
people who identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth (and
typically other than the one people assume they ought to identify as based on their
anatomy). Some people, like Ama, identify strongly as genderqueer, or nonbinary;
that is, they think of themselves as neither a man nor a woman, regardless of their sex
anatomy. Likewise, some people who are assigned a particular gender at birth based on
their sex characteristics—woman, for example, if they have a vulva and vagina—might
later decide that this gender assignment isn’t right for them and that a diferent gender
category is correct. A trans man like Ben, for example, is a man who was assigned a
diferent gender category (typically woman) when he was young.
Some people argue that trans and nonbinary people are not really the gender
they identify as. When people say this, it typically implies a strong connection between gender and sex—so you are not really a man unless you have the right kind of
anatomical characteristics, and if you have those anatomical characteristics you are
really a man even if you say you’re some other gender. But as we’ve seen, it isn’t true
that you have to have a specifc set of biological characteristics (such as the correct
chromosomes) to be a particular gender. People also sometimes seem to mean that
that you can’t really be a man unless you were raised with the “right” kind of social
experiences and social expectations—but as we’ve seen, the social expectations and
experiences we associate with men can vary pretty drastically from place to place and
time to time. So when people say that trans men like Ben aren’t really men, the claim
is confusing and possibly inconsistent with other things they think. It’s not even clear
what it means to really be a man (or a woman, or a genderqueer person), especially
if being a man doesn’t neatly correlate to being male, and if the social signifcance of
being a man isn’t fully explained by male sex characteristics.
2. Social Construction
So if gender isn’t biology, what it is it? As it turns out, that’s a really tough question. It’s
tempting to say that gender is just a matter of our current social norms. We currently
have norms for lots of things—what’s cool, what’s fashionable, what’s polite, and so forth.
Elizabeth Barnes: The Metaphysics of Gender!!!585
And you can make conscious choices about how to interact with those norms—you
can be nice or rude, stylish or intentionally counterculture, and so on. Maybe gender is
just another set of norms—whatever we currently think of as masculine and feminine.
You can then express your own gender by making conscious choices about how gender
conforming or nonconforming you want to be, and in what way.
Te trouble with this picture of gender, though, is that it has difculty accounting
for the ways in which gendered social systems—and gender oppression—have been
systematic across strikingly diferent cultures and times. Although specifc norms
about gender can vary a lot, it appears to be a very stable feature of human society
that we divide people into genders. Indeed, the way in which societies sort people into
gender categories is strikingly more stable than the way in which societies sort people
into other social categories. While plenty of cultures haven’t had social categories that
play the role of racial categories, and plenty haven’t had social categories that play the
role of sexual orientation categories, our current knowledge suggests that nearly all
(possibly all) cultures divide people into categories that play the role of gender; that
is, which assign signifcant social meaning to (real or perceived) anatomical sex characteristics. And while not all cultures have understood gender as an exhaustive man/
woman binary, nearly all ways of understanding gender have included categories that
roughly correspond to our understanding of the binary categories man and woman.
What norms and behaviors we associate as masculine or feminine varies dramatically.
But it is virtually universal that we associate some signifcant norms and behaviors as
being the kinds of things that apply to those with bodies we perceive as female, and
some signifcant norms and behaviors as being the kinds of things that apply to those
with bodies we perceive as male. Moreover, very ofen our social justifcation for why
these norms and behaviors are appropriate is rooted in our understanding of difering
roles in reproduction (and especially, the characteristic female role in reproduction).
And very ofen, this type of systematic gender categorization leads to the systematic
oppression of women.
Given how systematic gender is across so many diferent cultural contexts, it makes
sense to think that gender is something more than just how we think and speak and
behave in particular contexts. Gender appears to be a very real part of the social
world—something that isn’t just explained by the particular beliefs that particular
people have, but which explains why sometimes those beliefs are so entrenched and
hard to change (in a way that beliefs about what is cool or what is fashionable are not.)
But if we think that gender is a real part of the world—not just a projection of our
collective beliefs—we’re faced with the question of what in the world gender could
be. Here we can divide philosophers into two main camps: those who say that your
gender is determined primarily by how other people react to you, and those who say
that your gender is determined primarily by your own internal sense of yourself. Let’s
call the former externalists (since they think you gender is primarily determined by
things external to you) about gender and the latter internalists about gender (since
they think your gender is determined primarily by things internal to you).
Gender externalists want to understand gender—and what the members of a particular gender have in common with each other—in terms of commonalities of social
586!!!CHAPTER 1 2 : W HAT IS R ACE ? W HAT IS G E N D E R ?
experience. Most especially, gender externalists have ofen argued that what women
have in common with each other is their social experience of sex-based oppression.
What unifes all the individual women into a social kind is the disadvantage they
experience because of the expectations and norms we have about how people with
female bodies should behave and what they should do.
Gender realists have to tread carefully here, though, because in attempting to talk
about what social experiences women have in common with each other, it is very easy
to overlook the dramatic diferences between diferent women’s social experience of
gender. Intersectionality, very simply, is the idea that no one ever has a social feature
like gender in isolation from other social features: diferent social categories intersect
with each other, and that afects what it’s like to experience each of them. You’re
never just a woman—you’re a woman with a particular race, class, sexual orientation,
disability status, nationality, and so on. Your experience of gender will be diferent if,
for example, you’re an upper-middle-class Latina woman than it would be if you were
a working-class Asian woman. Gender externalists thus tend to focus more on the
structural features that our treatment of diferent genders have in common.
Sally Haslanger’s theory of gender is a paradigm example of this kind of view.
According to Haslanger, a person, S, is a woman if:
(i) S is regularly and for the most part observed or imagined to have certain bodily
features presumed to be evidence of a female’s biological role in reproduction;
(ii) Tat S has these features marks S within the dominant ideology of S’s society as
someone who ought to occupy certain kinds of social position that are in fact
subordinate (and so motivates and justifes S’s occupying such a position); and
(iii) Te fact that S satisfes (i) and (ii) plays a role in S’s systematic subordination;
i.e., along some dimension, S’s social position is oppressive, and S’s satisfying (i)
and (ii) plays a role in that dimension of subordination.1
Let’s unpack this a little. On this view, whether you are a woman is a matter of both
how other people perceive your sexed anatomy and of the social position you are expected to occupy based on that perception. In almost every culture, there are strong
norms about women’s work, women’s behavior, women’s roles—the kinds of things
it is appropriate for you to do or which you ought to do because of your (perceived)
sex characteristics. What we think of as women’s work or women’s roles or women’s
behavior can and does vary dramatically. What stays strikingly constant across so
many diferent cultures and times, however, is that whatever we in fact consider to
be women’s work or women’s roles or women’s behavior is something we then think
of as less valuable. When men were thought of as more emotional than women, that
was taken to be a mark of their superiority—a sign that they were capable of more
depth and more insight than women. When women are thought of as more emotional
1. See pages 565–66 of this anthology.
Elizabeth Barnes: The Metaphysics of Gender!!!587
than men, it is ofen taken as a subtle mark of their inferiority—a sign that they are
somewhat less rational or less reliable or less sensible than men.
What all the women have in common with each other, in Haslanger’s view, is that
they are expected to occupy social roles that are, within the context they are expected
to occupy them, considered less valuable than the roles that men are expected to occupy. And the justifcation for why they are expected to occupy these roles is rooted
in beliefs about their sex characteristics. Of course, it doesn’t follow that all women
are disadvantaged relative to all men. Middle-class women are typically economically
disadvantaged compared to middle-class men, for example, but they aren’t economically disadvantaged compared to working-class men. We still have to keep our eye on
intersectionality. But Haslanger’s idea is that all women will experience disadvantage
along some dimension based on the roles they are expected to occupy because of
their perceived sex characteristics. And for Haslanger, gender is just this system (or
“social structure”) that disadvantages people based on perceptions of female sex and
a female’s role in reproduction.
A worry for Haslanger’s theory of gender, though, is that it doesn’t give an adequate account of what it is to be a woman because it misclassifes some women as
men (and some not-women as women). For example, a woman like Chi-ah wouldn’t
reliably meet condition (i) of Haslanger’s defnition—she isn’t regularly and for the
most part perceived as having the anatomical features associated with a female’s role
in reproduction. But it seems wrong to say that Chi-ah is not a woman just because
people are confused by masculine-appearing women. If we explain what it is to be
a woman simply in terms of how people respond to you, then we risk saying that if
people are confused enough by your gender, that’s enough to make you not really a
woman. And that seems wrong.
Te view also has some interesting hypothetical consequences. We typically
think of myths about Amazons as myths about a race of powerful women.2
Haslanger’s view has the curious result that these stories aren’t really stories about
women, since in the stories Amazons are not oppressed and do not occupy disadvantaged social roles.
Gender internalists ofen use these kinds of worries to argue for their favored view
of gender. An internalist view of gender will be more adequate and inclusive, the
thought goes, because it will respect people’s gender self-identifcation, and thus avoid
misgendering. If we say that gender is determined (at least in part) by gender identity,
then we can say that you are a woman if you identify as a woman, you are a man if
you identify as a man, you are genderqueer if you identify as genderqueer, and so on.
But what is gender identity, in this sense? Importantly, it’s not quite the same thing
that psychologists mean when they talk about gender identity. Tat sense of gender
identity typically develops in very early childhood, whereas if you’re genderqueer
you might not think of yourself in those terms until you’re older. For the most part,
when philosophers talk about gender identity, they mean your internally felt sense
of your relationship to the gender norms and categories that are common within our
2. In Greek mythology, the Amazons were a race of female warriors.
588!!!CHAPTER 1 2 : W HAT IS R ACE ? W HAT IS G E N D E R ?
society. So if you identify as a woman, this typically means that the norms we have
about women are appropriately applied to you. Importantly, this does not mean that
you think those norms are themselves correct or appropriate. You may think that most
of our norms and stereotypes about what women are like are wrong—you just think
that people aren’t making a categorical mistake when they classify you with other
women and apply those norms to you as a result. If you identify as a woman, you can
think it’s completely obnoxious that people expect you to behave in stereotypically
feminine ways because you’re a woman. You can agree that you’re a woman but reject
the assumptions that people make about you because you’re a woman. But that’s a very
diferent thing from thinking that people are making a mistake when they label you
as a woman, which is how many genderqueer people who are ofen misgendered as
women describe their experience.
But things get tricky once we delve into to the details of what, exactly, this sense
of gender identity is, and how it determines gender categories. For example, there are
many—increasingly many—terms used to describe gender identities. Is there a unique
gender identity—a unique internally felt sense of one’s relationship to dominant gender
norms—that corresponds to each gender term? If gender identities are the substantial
social facts that determine gender, we’re lef with the perplexing question of what, if
anything, the diference is between identifying as genderqueer, nonbinary, gender
fuid, pan-gender, agender, androgyne, and so on.3
And these questions bring up a larger skeptical worry for internalist accounts.
What gender you are, on such views, is inherently private—it is a matter of how you
feel about yourself and how you relate to society’s sex-based norms and expectations.
It’s also crucially separable from any public behavior. You can identify as a man even
if this is something you keep secret and even if you present publicly in ways we think
of as stereotypically feminine. (Tat is, you can identify as a man but socially “pass”
as a woman.) So whether you are really a woman (or a man, or genderqueer, etc.)
on such views is a matter of whether you have a particular internally felt response
to being classifed as a woman (or man, etc.). But here’s the problem: How do you
know whether what you experience in response to gender norms is the same or
similar to what other people experience? If Chi-ah says “I identify as a woman” and
Deena says “I identify as a woman,” do we have reason to think that this internally
felt experience is the same or similar, given how diferent their gender expression
and social experience of gender seem to be? Maybe what Chi-ah means by this is
something very, very diferent from what Deena means by it. And this would be
hard to fnd out, given that any of the ways we might explain what gender identity
means to us are invariably personal and will probably be diferent for diferent people. Even if we both identify as women, I might explain my internally felt sense of
gender by talking about how I feel about my relationship to other women, but you
3. “Genderqueer,” “nonbinary”: having a gender identity other than the usual two “binary” ones (although
there are subtle diferences between the two terms); “gender fuid”: not identifying with a single gender;
“pan-gender”: identifying with many genders; “agender”: not identifying with any gender; “androgyne”:
identifying, in varying degrees, with both binary genders.
Elizabeth Barnes: The Metaphysics of Gender!!!589
might explain it by talking about how you feel about yourself. So it’s not clear how
we’d tell if we have some internal state in common. Again, intersectionality is very
important to think about—your internally felt sense of gender might be very diferent
from mine, or something you explain very diferently if your social position is very
diferent from mine. Te worry is that we don’t really know whether internally felt
sense of gender can unify or explain what it is to be a woman, or what women have
in common with each other.
Perhaps more signifcant, though, internalist accounts also face problems with
misgendering—they just face diferent problems. For example, many cognitively
disabled women plausibly don’t experience anything like an internally felt sense of
their relationship to sex-based social norms. So whatever it is to identify as a woman,
these women probably aren’t in that internal state. And yet it seems utterly wrong to
say that cognitively disabled women are not women. Cognitively disabled women are
ofen treated in specifc ways and experience specifc forms of oppression because
of social perception and norms about their sexed bodies. We need to be able to talk
about their gender to talk about this oppression. And think about what it would
mean to say that cognitively disabled women are not women because they lack the
right kind of self-identifcation: we would, in efect, be saying that because of their
disabilities cognitively disabled women are not really women, they are merely female.
Tis is similar to the way we say that non-human animals cannot be women, they
can merely be female.
3. Conclusion
Let’s take stock. In trying to understand what gender is, we need to distinguish between gender and anatomical sex characteristics. We also, plausibly, need an account
of gender that allows us to say that gender isn’t determined or fully explained by sex
characteristics. Tat leads us to views which say that gender is “socially constructed.”
But granting that gender is something social, it’s still extraordinarily difcult to say
what kind of social thing it is. If we say it’s just norms and beliefs in a particular context,
it’s hard to make sense of the systematicity of gender and gender oppression. If we
say that gender is social role, it’s hard to adequately explain the experience of people
whose gender seems to come apart from their public social role. If we say that gender
is gender identity, it’s both hard to specify what we mean by gender identity and hard
to adequately explain how people who experience self-identity diferently than most
people do can still have genders. What we’re lef with is a lot of confusion. It’s both
philosophically and politically important that we understand what gender is. But the
project of understanding gender is very hard—we’re pulled in many diferent directions, and there are many diferent, sometimes conficting, aims for our theories. As
it stands, it doesn’t seem like there’s any one theory of gender that explains everything
we want a theory of gender to explain.

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