We are delighted to publish the following response to our first discussion prompt, what future do we want for gender?
Sex, Gender and a Future of Freedom
I look forward to a future when sex at birth is not attached to any norms for behaviour or differences in status and when family life (understood in the widest sense) is not routinely based on inequality. Likewise I yearn for a day when ethnicity is no longer linked with pressure – sometimes from within as well as outside one’s ‘own’ group – to occupy certain rungs in society’s ladder. More broadly, I aspire to a world in which people are not valued mainly on the basis of their potential economic and political ‘usefulness’ (for instance as busy workers, bold soldiers or those who give birth to and nurture either, which may tie in with gender stereotyping) but rather because of their intrinsic worth.
Yet this is so different from the world we inhabit that I do not know just what that might mean. And to work towards that ideal (which will not be achieved in my lifetime), it may be necessary for some of us to locate ourselves somewhere. I, for one, surrounded by multiple inequalities since early childhood, cannot imagine being ‘genderless’ or ‘raceless’. This is not simply a matter of biology (relevant though this is): social expectations and personal sense of identity also contribute to a complex reality.
It is important to be able to examine, and challenge, sex-based oppression, from infancy through to pregnancy and childbirth and later years, while recognising the varied forms this may take. Gender-based injustice overlaps heavily but not completely, for instance if people with names like Anne and Meena are, for that reason, not shortlisted for a managerial or engineering job: if those in charge of recruitment have never met them, their physical characteristics may well be irrelevant. Factors such as class, disability and ethnicity (as well as chance) may also play a part. Examples include high maternal mortality among black women and stereotypical images, e.g. of Asian women as especially submissive.
Yet sex and gender may also be a source of happiness, for instance pleasure in one’s own bodily sensations or pride in women’s struggles through the ages. I can also see why transgender people may experience relief when they get rid of a label which they feel does not fit them and are affirmed for who they are. Ultimately I believe that rigid gender roles trap everyone but that, under conditions of freedom from oppressive exploitative structures, individuals will almost certainly vary widely in tastes and interests, which may alter over the lifecourse. I do not know what terms will be attached to these differences.
To extract a vehicle stuck in mud, people may stand in different places and push and pull from different angles. It is hard to know in which direction gender might go if no longer mired in a world of multiple deeply-rooted inequality, indeed whether it might be eventually abandoned by the roadside. Meanwhile if those seeking to tackle imbalances in power and status, even if not in full agreement, can find out more about others’ experiences and show some generosity to one another, progress may perhaps be made.
Anonymous, May 2021