Biological Determinism

You know what really bothers me?

So many people believe that the differences between women and men are easily explained by biology. I’ve heard people explain the most mundane of perceived differences between men and women in terms of biology. Everyone has a pet theory that explains how it’s all in the hormones, or genes, or prenatal development, or brain structure, or genitals, or evolution, or whatever.

I’ve heard people justify sexist social patterns though a simple, handy application of biological determinism. The excuses basically boil down to, “That’s just the way women and men are. That’s the way we’re made.”

People wave away the possibility of positive change through a simple declaration of the impossibility of defying biology. They justify oppression, they excuse violent behavior, they ignore oafish behavior—all in the name of an implacable wall of genetic concrete. Insurmountable. Impervious. Inevitable.

Fuck that.

I am more than the sum of my biology. Call me irrational, but I believe that change is possible if people have faith.

However, if you weigh yourself down with doubt, with the denial of possibility, why bother living? Why not give up altogether? Change is not possible. Men will always be domineering, aggressive assholes. Women will always be on the receiving end of men’s fucked up biology. Why bother to live in that world?

If you are a man, do you really believe that you are destined to behave like a Neanderthal? Do you accept that you have no control over your sexual urges? Do you accept that you have an innate drive to behave like a disagreeable jerk? Do you really believe that you are an emotionally clueless twit who is incapable of perceiving the emotional complexity of life in the detailed way that women supposedly can?

If you are a woman, do you really accept that the lives we live can never improve? That we will always be treated as lesser people by men? That we will always live in fear of male violence? That our intellectual creativity will never shine with the brilliance that men’s supposedly does? That we are too weak and emotional to effectively challenge a fucked up social structure that leaves us poor, raped, exploited, beaten, disrespected, depressed, and ignored?

Why bother living in a world like that? The end is only one pill away… One sip of water… One fate-filled swallow.

I choose optimism. I choose change. I choose to have faith in women and men. I choose to believe that men and women can treat each other with respect and care. I choose to believe that we can live as full fledged beings rather than fulfilling a biological caricature of gendered human folly.


~ by timberwraith on June 4, 2008.

5 Responses to “Biological Determinism”

  1. If we’re limited by biology, no one should have to say we’re limited. We’d just be limited.

    I wrote a blog post on this, too: Let nature do its own work

  2. Ubuntucat, I especially loved this part of your post on biological determinism:

    So if you have a room full of 100 men and 100 women, and three of those men seem less-than-manly to you, and three of those women seem less-than-womanly to you; instead of telling those six people they need to be like the other 194 people, just let them be. If they face limitations in life from nature, it’s not your place to remind them of nature; nature itself will decide.

    Or perhaps the fact that you feel the need to keep chanting “nature” and “hard-wired” shows a secret fear that nature isn’t really on your side. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The biological determinists doth protest too much, methinks.

    If you read the “about” link on my blog, then you might realize that these words apply to me. I’m a trans woman. I was born with a male body and became female years ago.

    When ever I hear people harping upon biological determinism, I often say, “If such an intense divide exists between the innate characteristics of women and men, then someone like me couldn’t exist.”

    I’ve lived on both sides of the gender divide. I have experienced the physical and social shifts that take place when one transitions from male to female. Honestly, the changes in the social forces that I have experienced far outweigh the effects of any changes in my biology. Men and women are treated quite differently in this world. That difference goes a long way in shaping people’s attitudes about themselves and what potential they have in life.

    By the way, thanks for being my first commenter.

  3. That’s interesting that you mention “faith.” As a mostly agnostic, I think about that a lot, a la “Serenity” ( “I don’t care what you believe. Just believe in it.” ) I mean–the word has connotations, and I don’t know what your own standpoint is there, but interested.

  4. augh, did NOT mean a winkie there, I hate that…

  5. I fixed the winkie, belledame. 😉

    I mean–the word has connotations, and I don’t know what your own standpoint is there, but interested.

    I think that a person can have faith in something regardless of whether they believe in a god/dess. (For the record, I’m an atheist.)

    When I used the word faith in this context, I meant “a belief that some event or set of conditions can be achieved regardless of the likelihood of such an occurrence.”

    I’ve done a little reading here and there about the huge amount of social change that shifted through the US during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. One thing that strikes me about the era is that there seemed to be a shared belief that people could bring about real, lasting change. There was an optimism there, a kind of faith that led people to engage in the work of pushing through social change.

    People won’t invest the time and effort in an activity that they suspect will be a fruitless endeavor. So, if people are collectively pessimistic about the possibility of change, you aren’t going to see people band together in a collective effort to challenge the system. Why invest one’s effort in something you suspect is doomed to fail?

    Faith is a key element to the equation because it has the potential to generate optimism in spite of the odds. Optimism fuels action. Hence, faith is a useful emotional tool for achieving a means to an end.

    Faith is often described as being irrational, and in many respects, it is. The irony here, is that given the way human emotions work, it’s quite rational to recognize the usefulness of faith. So, it’s rational to employ faith as a means to achieve a goal.

    In the specific context of my post, if people truly believe that we are all stuck in a biological rut and can never rise above sexist oppression, then we are doomed to repeat the awful patterns that have survived in the human race for millennia. Women and men will continue to stare at each other, across the gender divide, and say, “you suck” and do nothing about it.

    You know, as I write this, I am reminded of the kind of tone that I have found on a lot of radfem blogs. They seem to be negative to the point of being dysfunctional. Sometimes they seem to be stuck in a kind of loop the can be summarized as, “Men are awful. Lets talk about how truly awful men are. Lets explore the ways in which society leads men into being utterly and completely awful. OK, now that we’ve done that, lets talk about how women’s lives are just awful and why the awfulness continues. Oh, and while we’re at it, lets talk about all the women sell-outs who revel in the awfulness.”

    Well, OK, that’s useful to a point. Naming a problem and exploring why the problem exists is a great idea. However, if you become mired in the process, your mood can turn incredibly pessimistic. There’s no energy left for change. You just get stuck in a loop of discussing how awful things are.

    In the long run, it’s just not productive.

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