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The Problem with Thinking Things are Either/Or.

I read an article today that briefly explored the idea that men and women are different. It was as if the writer, Claire Thurstans, had just had an epiphany [Sydney Morning Herald, 10/02/2018]. That the very idea that men and women may have some inherent differences is such a remarkable notion that she felt it was important that she alert us to that fact.

She provided scientific evidence in the form of a study of one month old infants, that had found that there are biological differences in the brains of boys and girls: That ‘sexual dimorphism is present at birth”. Then, having googled further she found that there are many studies from all over the world that demonstrate biological difference between the sexes, and despite the probability that the reader of her article might find this idea ‘primitive and outdated’, she quite rightly advised us to embrace this difference.

My first reaction was that she must be very young. Since the very concept of Gender, a social construct, that has dictated the lives of humans since Neolithic times [at least], is based on the biological differences between the sexes, how could she think that this is news to anyone? This led me to thinking about the background to this sort of disconnection from reality. Yes, there was a momentary, and quickly disputed push to believe that the only reason men and women experienced their lives differently was because of they were socialised differently. The concept of androgyny that briefly held sway in the 1980’s, and was responsible for those awful shoulder pads in shapeless jackets that were fashionable for a couple of years. But I find it hard to believe that this idea had enough influence to find a place in this young journalists thinking.

Then I realised what the problem may be. She mentioned the Nature / Nurture dyad, only she couched it as an opposition. This is where she has made her most fundamental intellectual mistake. She has been interpreting the idea of difference as being either something that is inherent or something that is taught. She has only just started to understand that its both. It’s an and/also process.

This is were the same Patriarchal ‘either /or’ dualistic approach to biological sex differences has constructed an oppositional concept of gender, that has then been aligned with a dualist value of good /bad. That this still has such a powerful influence on our thinking is one of the reasons so many of us struggle to find a way through all of the competing demands of our lives. We are still so inculcated with oppositional constructs, that are all value laden, we find ourselves unable to step back from them and find that middle road that leads to and/also.

By using Philosophical ideas about what makes life worthwhile we can unpack these automatic assumptions, allowing us to re-evaluate our lives and our values and understand what is important to us as individuals.