Is gender socially constructed?

Some people (including many university professors) claim that gender is socially constructed. I think what they mean by that phrase is that differences in behavior between men and women are not innate or natural; they are imposed by society. Therefore, if society created different expectations, then the behavior of men and women could be easily changed. Differences between the two sexes could be eliminated. According to this view sex and gender are separate. Boys and girls are completely identical at birth except for genitalia. Gender comes from the way society treats them.

Another way of framing gender issues is to ask whether differences in behavior between sexes are observer-independent facts or observer-dependent facts. I explain the differences between these 2 categories here. Those who believe that gender is socially constructed believe that behavior differences between men and women are wholly observer-dependent. This view of gender assumes that there is no observer-independent human nature. The theory assumes that humans are born as a "Blank Slate" with no natural tendencies or inclinations.

Now, in order to find evidence for or against the theory that gender is socially constructed, we first have to confirm that the theory is testable. One important principle of a good theory is that the theory can be falsified. The theory of evolution is an example of this principle. Darwin said himself, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." The theory of evolution and natural selection can be falsified. Bad theories survive regardless of whether its predictions are right or wrong. If you believe in a bad theory, then you are insulated from feedback. No matter what the evidence is you will still believe the theory.

Before we can test the theory, I first want to clarify the opposite theory. The opposing theory to the idea that gender is socially constructed is that gender is innate. In other words, boys and girls are born with wholly different behavioral inclinations and society's expectations of boys and girls simply reflect how they act naturally. Differences between men and women are observer-independent facts. I will refer to the theory that gender is socially constructed as (X) as in the chromosome. I will refer to the opposite theory that gender is innate as (Y).

So what would falsify or validate the theory that gender is socially constructed? I can think of at least 5 tests based on science and reason.

  1. Imagine that we took a baby boy and gave him a sex-change operation and then treated like a girl. If he had the mind of a girl then (Y) would be false. But if he still had the mind of boy , then (X) would be false.
  2. There are many different societies in the world. Most of them had little or no contact with each other until a few hundred years ago. If gender roles were arbitrarily assigned then the roles in each society should be different. Therefore if the expectations are different, then (Y) is false. If expectations are all the same, then that would count as evidence against (X).
  3. If parents treated boys and girls differently, then that would count as evidence against (Y). If parents treated girls and boys the same, then that would count as evidence against (X).
  4. If animals that were genetically close to humans like mammals and especially primates randomly assigned gender roles then that would be evidence against (Y). If the gender roles within the animal kingdom were similar to humans, then that would count as evidence against (X).
  5. Behavior is affected by the brain. This has been shown in many psychological and neurological studies. If boys and girls had exactly the same brain characteristics, then (Y) would be false. If they had significantly different brain characteristics then (X) would be false.

In the next few posts, I will argue that every test validates theory (Y)—the theory that boys and girls are born different. In other words, scientific evidence shows that gender is innate.  Behavior is not caused by the expectations of society, but natural behaviors cause the expectations.

Anyone that believes that gender is socially constructed has 2 choices. They can (1) accept the evidence and change their views (unlikely), or (2) they can try to discredit reason and science altogether. I will discuss the implications of these points in a later post as well.