Is Gender Socially Constructed? Part 2

This is part 2 in a series of posts about gender. There are 2 opposing theories of differences between sexes. One theory claims that boys and girls are born identical except for genitalia. Expectations of society cause the differences in behavior between men and women. I will refer to this as "theory (X)". The other theory claims that boys and girls are born with psychological differences. Those differences are natural and they cause the expectations of society. I will refer to this as "theory (Y)".

In my last post I proposed certain scientific and reason-based tests to validate or falsify each respective theory. I will cover the first 2 tests in this post. Here is the first test:

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.

In his book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has conveniently collected much of the evidence that I will use for the tests. According to the Pinker:

Remarkably, the experiment has been done in real life - not out of scientific curiosity, of course, but as a result of disease and accidents. One study looked at twenty-five boys who were born without a penis (a birth defect known as cloacal exstrophy) and who were then castrated and raised as girls. All of them showed male patterns of rough-and-tumble play and had typically male attitudes and interests. More than half of them spontaneously declared they were boys, one when he was just five years old.

In a famous case study, an eight-month-old boy lost his penis in a botched circumcision (not by a mohel, I was relieved to learn, but by a bungling doctor). His parents consulted the famous sex researcher John Money, who had maintained that “Nature is a political strategy of those committed to maintaining the status quo of sex differences.” He advised them to let the doctors castrate the baby and build him an artificial vagina, and they raised him as a girl without telling him what had happened.51 I learned about the case as an undergraduate in the 1970s, when it was offered as proof that babies are born neuter and acquire a gender from the way they are raised. A New York Times article from the era reported that Brenda (nee Bruce) “has been sailing contentedly through childhood as a genuine girl.”52 The facts were suppressed until 1997, when it was revealed that from a young age Brenda felt she was a boy trapped in a girl's body and gender role.53 She ripped off frilly dresses, rejected dolls in favor of guns, preferred to play with boys, and even insisted on urinating standing up. At fourteen she was so miserable that she decided either to live her life as a male or to end it, and her father finally told her the truth. She underwent a new set of operations, assumed a male identity, and today is happily married to a woman.

 

The second test that I mentioned dealt with societal expectations:

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).

Again from the The Blank Slate:

Sex differences are not an arbitrary feature of Western culture, like the decision to drive on the left or on the right. In all human cultures, men and women are seen as having different natures. All cultures divide their labor by sex, with more responsibility for childrearing by women and more control of the public and political realms by men. (The division of labor emerged even in a culture where everyone had been committed to stamping it out, the Israeli kibbutz.) In all cultures men are more aggressive, more prone to stealing, more prone to lethal violence (including war), and more likely to woo, seduce, and trade favors for sex. And in all cultures one finds rape, as well as proscriptions against rape...

If it were true [that boys are girls are identical except for genitalia], it would be an amazing coincidence that in every society the coin flip that assigns each sex to one set of roles would land the same way (or that one fateful flip at the dawn of the species should have been maintained without interruption across all the upheavals of the past hundred thousand years). It would be just as amazing that, time and again, society's arbitrary assignments matched the predictions that a Martian biologist would make for our species based on our anatomy and the distribution of our genes.