Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Essentialism and Constructivism

In the early days of second-wave feminism, otherwise known as the women's lib era of the '60s and '70s, the feminists were keen to inform us that there were no basic differences between men and women. They were very serious about this. While they grudgingly admitted that male and female anatomy were different, they wanted us to understand that the difference stopped right there. Men and women were only physically different, and that was the end of it.

Their thesis was, to put it simply, that differences in male and female behavior were due to cultural training and nothing more. Such differences, you would say, were merely constructed. Therefore, we call this school of feminist thinking "constructivism". It is the "nurture" side of the nature-nurture debate.

In opposition was the theory we call essentialism, which said that men and women were different in their essence. That is, that they were psychologically different for reasons that cultural training could not fully explain.

The feminists had their reasons for insisting on constructivism. Overtly, they wanted to open up domains of life opportunity to the female population -- the job market and the career jungle, for example. To this end, it was important to knock down any rationale for discrimination against women -- and for starters, that meant any biological rationale.

But the feminists had more covert reasons for insisting that the sexes were non-physically indistinguishable. These reasons were rooted in feminist patriarchy theory. The feminist narrative is that women are "oppressed", and that this state of affairs has persisted for a very long time -- thousands of years, by some estimations. According to the feminists, women were forced, by men, to play certain roles in society -- wife, mother, homemaker, and so on.

That is why the feminists had to adopt constructivism as their working hypothesis. For if men and women were naturally different in their psychology, they would naturally gravitate toward different functions within the body-politic. You wouldn't need to "oppress" anybody into doing this.

So essentialism was anathema to the feminists because it would introduce so many doubts and questions into patriarchy theory as to effectively dismantle it.

Finally, the feminists had entirely covert reasons for insisting on constructivism as a working hypothesis. They wished to instill this idea because they wanted to force-integrate men and women not only in work and institutional settings, but in every social space you can imagine. Yet with one exception: if women didn't want men around, they were free to be man-free. Men, however, were not to be permitted male-only space of any significance. Feminism is rife with such double-standards, but we digress.

Thus far the story is simple, but now it gets complicated. However, I will do my best to give you the short version. At a certain stage, the feminists and their leftist cohorts introduced a thing called "gender theory". They shanghaied the grammatical term "gender" and pressed it into the service of constructivist thinking by making it mean the constructed male or female roles in society.
Meanwhile, the word "sex" continued to mean biological maleness or femaleness. But with both terms in use, a state of muddled thinking arose in the average person's mind. Gradually, "gender" came to be used indifferently in cases where "sex" was meant. The fact that "sex" is also an abbreviated way of saying "sexual intercourse" gave a boost to this tendency. And to this day, even non-feminist men and women who ought to know better will say "gender" when they mean "sex". They have been duped into internalizing the categories of gender theory and thinking like feminists.

When men and women were forced together into the same social spaces, conflicts based on their difference naturally arose. This is what you might predict when dissimilar behavior idioms run athwart of each other. But rather than acknowledge natural difference, the feminists shifted blame for the conflict onto men, and emphasized the need to culturally reprogram men in order to make them more like women. This led to a predictable escalation of tensions, and whenever men acted ornery about the situation, the feminists would cite their attitude as male intransigence.

The weight of evidence -- folkloric, historic, sociological, anthropological, neurological and so on -- does not favor constructivism as an explanation of sexual behavior differences. Indeed, if I were gambling at the racetrack, I would not hesitate to put my money on the horse called "essentialism". Mind you, I am not disputing that men and women are trained into different cultural roles. However, I cannot buy the idea that such training is the sole point of origin for the apparent differences. I believe the differences are inborn, and that cultural training merely "improves upon nature".

Certain old-school feminists, grasping at straws to save constructivism, will acknowledge what I have just described. They will concede that "nature" indeed might play a role in sexual identity, but quickly brush this aside by insisting that training, too, enters into the mix. Then they will build the subsequent conversation around that point alone -- as if it had any real significance. For if the "constructed" part of sexual identity is merely an add-on to what nature has originally set in place, then it is pointless and fatuous to insist that sexual identity is culturally constructed. Indeed, we must enquire why humans would have ordained sex roles at all if nature had not provided a foundation for it.

In fact, if sexual behavior differences arise from nature to any degree, then constructivism -- at least for feminist political purposes -- is done for. You might scrape away the overlay of cultural training, but the natural foundation directly below would always confront you, as if in mockery -- and what would you do about this? And patriarchy theory, which depends upon constructivism, is next up on the chopping block.

As a writer, I will declare my own position. That is, that I don't personally care which of the two theories, essentialism or constructivism, eventually proves correct -- just so I know what is true. The truth is what matters to me. Right now, as earlier stated, I am betting on essentialism because I think the evidence weighs heavily in its favor.

But however this finally turns out, I will insist that everybody live according to the pattern of consistencies which the outcome logically generates. I will demand that such consistencies be assimilated into the culture with no shred of hypocrisy or double-standard. Chiefly, I will not allow any form of "code-switching" from constructivism to essentialism or the reverse. If paradigm A is reality, I expect we as a society shall hew to it through all viscissitudes. I do not expect that we shall capriciously adopt paradigm B whenever it is useful for women or seems to put them in a better light -- although that is clearly what feminism wants for women.

For example, if you enjoy snarking on the theme of "men can't multi-task", then you had better make up your mind to live in the essentialist camp, because essentialism is what you are supporting.

Or if you avow that women are inherently "more verbal" than men, then you should put your money where your mouth is and verbally vote for essentialism.

Or again, if your name is Barbara Jordan, and you declare that women have a capacity for sensitive feeling which men are just not capable of, then you had best declare yourself an essentialist or else retract that statement.

Or again, if you are a great booster of the transgendered cause, then you are co-signing with the idea that there is an independent male or female essence which sometimes gets packed into the wrong kind of body. In other words, you are an essentialist and you ought to maintain that position consistently. This could go on and on.

All right. We know that constructivism gained traction early and logged a lot of miles. Partly, that is because it sounded like a cool idea. It sounded groovy and democratic -- just what the utopian zeitgeist called for! So plenty of people signed on and sopped it up.

Yet there is more to constructivism's staying power than all of that, and nature itself provides this "more". Granted the "essential" difference between male and female is difficult to dispute. However, this difference occurs as a statistical average, or if you will, a norm, from which individual men and women sometimes vary. And so we often encounter women who seem, all in all, rather "mannish", and men who seem somewhat "womanish".

Note that the essential polarity of masculine and feminine remains uncompromised. Yet the presence of such natural deviation clouds the issue and furnishes a rationale for constructivist thinking. The deviation makes it seem that constructivism might be true. There is just enough creative ambiguity or wiggle room for constructivism to shoehorn its way in, with the help of bias-confirmation from people who want it to be true anyway.

Now, we know the feminists love to rattle on about luckless folk who feel oppressed by certain behavior norms. Aye, heaven pity the sensitive chap who wants to wear pink shirts. And spare a thought for the girl who wants to take welding classes with the boys. Well so far as the present writer is concerned, they are both welcome to it. They have my blessing. But apart from that, I'll not march down the street carrying placards on their behalf. They are on their own. And if they seek anything special from me, anything "above and beyond", then they had best make a social contract with me, by proving that they are worth something to me.

The take-away point from all this, is that patriarchy theory sits on a rickety foundation. In order to be true, it needs constructivism. Without constructivism, patriarchy theory is shot to hell. And if patriarchy theory is shot to hell, then the all-important female victim card becomes worthless plastic.

That brings me to the final subject of my talk, which is: the future.
The feminist regime has profited greatly by constructivism, because that theory makes it possible to suck a lot of blood out of men in a lot of ways.

With the passage of years, advantages for women have piled up and up. Yet the feminists are still hymning that old refrain about the oppression of women, and they are doing this despite nagging questions about the veracity of it. Well, those nagging questions are set to grow. Long story short: women are now virtually the royal sex in the western world and beyond, and this fact, if it is not yet acidly self-evident to all, is on the way to becoming so. I know a lot of people are blocking that realization, but they can hold out only just so long.

The situation is objectively bad for men. Barring dramatic political action, it will not get better. Nor will it stay the same. Life for men will get steadily worse because the course of feminist innovation (barring dramatic political action) is bound to continue unchecked. Truly, it can do none other. Feminism is not static; its very being is identical with its being-in-motion, and if motion stops, feminism stops. Full stop.

Therefore, feminism will remain in motion. It will grow and develop as always, on a trajectory that can be roughly predicted. Collateral damage from the war on men will spread into the social ecology, and true to form, the feminists will nail the guilt for their own crime upon the collective back of men. They always do that. But we digress.

At some future date, it will be obvious to everybody that men are getting a raw deal compared to women. The rhetoric of oppression, equality, redistribution and so on, simply will not work any more. And when that day arrives, feminism will need to tack to a very different wind if it wants to stay in business. It will never go out of business if there is any help for that, for if it did, the natural configuration of power between men and women would quickly reassert itself -- men would be men again, and women would be women again, and that would be that.

The development of feminism has always involved turning the screws tighter and tighter on men, and for feminism to keep existing as feminism, it would need to keep busy at this. But there must be a rationale for doing so, otherwise a growing clamor for social reform will stop feminism dead in its tracks -- and I do mean dead.

So constructivism will be shucked like an old skin, and a new essentialist snake will emerge! The only excuse to keep oppressing men would be an essentialist excuse, and so the idea will come into vogue that men and women are essentially different -- and that women are essentially better than men. Some combination of propaganda and bunk science will drill this into the culture, paving the way for anti-male "Nuremburg laws" in one form or another. The alleged inferiority of the male sex will become state doctrine, the necessary traitors will be found to enforce the system, and the third-class citizenship of men will become a legalized and normativized fact of life.

We know that a good many feminists are essentialists already, either in thought or in effect. Indeed, the most radical of the radicals are militantly essentialist -- often Y-chromosome theorists -- and talk seriously about culling the male population. Other radical feminists may still be constructivist but they are not the wave of the feminist future. That future can only be essentialist and, at the extreme, genocidalist.

But will that future ever materialize? Certainly, the logic of feminist evolution dictates such a future and will accomodate none other. However, if you want my honest opinion, I think that a social upheaval will collapse the trajectory. That is my prediction, although I can't predict the details any more than I can predict every ripple on a surging wall of floodwater. Yet I can sense that violence is on the way, and that it requires no help from us. Truly, we can sit beneath a tree and play our balalaikas and, willy-nilly, violence will happen. Knowing this, we are left with one consequential power, and that is the power to make our plans by the light of our knowledge.

The only question is, what plans?

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