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I had a dream last night. My wife and I were in England, taking the GRE. After we were finished taking the test, I made an observation to the proctor.

The question on the registration form asking one's gender had been replaced. The new wording of the question was so technical that at first I didn't comprehend it, but came to understand that it amounted to, "Are your reproductive organs on the inside or the outside of your body, or some kind of mixture?"

At once a question sprang into my mind. But when I reached the proctor, and saw how serious and grim she looked, I refrained from asking the question I wanted to ask. Instead, I pointed out the question on the form and meekly said something like, "Sometimes political correctness makes things unintelligible, huh?" She just looked at me with the characteristic sternness of some people who give themselves the label of "liberal."

Later, I found myself in a shopping mall. My wife and friends were with me, and my family, and--without explanation or surprise on anyone's part--Leonard Nimoy. At least I could put my philosophical question to him, I thought.

I wanted to ask him whether the he thought the change in the question on the form from one of gender--with its implications of possessing a fixed essence, of a distinction in kind between male and female, between masculinity and femininity, and of their complimentary nature--to one of mere sex--a sterile observation about the particular orientation of certain organs to the body--constituted an ideological shift, and (as I thought) an unfortunate one.

I started to ask him this, but he put his hand on my shoulder, smiled benignly, and said, "You attend to silence,* son,"--he might have said "reflection"--"and that is good. But sometimes it is not reason but feeling that is called for."

In other words, "I'm too old and too tired to think about whatever philosophical question you're about to ask me." I was hoping he would have been a little more like Spock, who was always ready to consider what he referred to (sometimes erroneously) as "logic."

My friends smiled too. It didn't matter. I was used to being patronized and my intellectual curiosity being met with condescension, as if inquiry were the special hobby of the young and capricious. But I was still too intrigued by the question to care.

At that point I woke up and thought that I might at least put the question to the LJ CSL Society. So I ask you, dear friends, what would be the meaning of such a change from a question of gender to one of mere sex?


_______
* By silence he meant abstract thought, which one can only indulge in if one manages to momentarily put aside all the immediate concerns, difficulties, and pursuits of the present. That is true as far as it goes, but unfortunately philosophy has come to be considered a kind of leisure activity, like a useless hobby that is of no interest to others, rather than the infinitely practical practice of living.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
stephantom
Oct. 17th, 2009 12:30 am (UTC)
I think that separating the two does indeed have the implications which you described. I happen to think that that is a good thing. I have never thought of gender as fixed or essential, even when I believed in essences and (most of) Christianity. To think that men and women are fundamentally different, and complimentary, has all sorts of strange implications and makes defending a misogynistic, oppressive and repressive worldview all too easy (as seen in passages in the Bible about what the ideal woman should be, or offering a hierarchical system wherein God is to the Church as a man is to a woman).
ebric
Jan. 14th, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC)
"To think that men and women are fundamentally different, and complimentary, has all sorts of strange implications and makes defending a misogynistic, oppressive and repressive worldview all too easy..."

That's not an argument against the essential nature of gender but against cruelty and tyranny. It may very well be that the essence of gender is a fixed thing. To reject the thing itself on the grounds that it can be perverted is as irrational as rejecting knives on the grounds that they might be used to kill. A knife in a criminal's hands may kill, but one in a surgeon's hands will save. We must find some other grounds on which to reject the reality of gender, or ask oneself why one wishes to do so in the first place.

"as seen in passages in the Bible about what the ideal woman should be,"

Could you reference some of these passages? Many men and women I know think the biblical images of the ideal man and woman are quite compelling. This ideal may be very difficult to live up to, but I for one wouldn't trust it if it weren't.

"or offering a hierarchical system wherein God is to the Church as a man is to a woman)."

That indeed is the biblical model, but perhaps you don't quite understand the implications of it. Far from evoking tyranny and a domineering attitude in a man who truly lives by this model, it must produce humility, deference, and the sacrifice of all that he has (indeed, his very life) for the sake of his wife. That, after all, is what Christ did for the church. And the corresponding humility and submission that the church (and the wife) offers is by no means subservience. It is the very humility by which anyone (regardless of gender) is able to repent and receive forgiveness from the Savior.

The fact of the matter is that heaven is hierarchical and hell is egalitarian. We must all submit to someone--if not to our proper superiors than to ourselves, with all our deceitful desires and self-deceits. Hell is the eternal turning inward of the soul that refuses to turn to God.

It is not Christians who believe that a difference of position (in the hierarchy) is a difference of value. Feminists and others have come to think Christianity oppressive precisely because the former maintain that very thing--that difference of position equals difference of value--and project their perspective on Christians. If they could see the divine order within the hierarchy that God has created in nature, they would understand that positional equality is both absurd and defeating to its own ends. If there is to be no divine hierarchy, then there must necessarily be a hierarchy of power--a thing which, once realized, will be a crueler master than the one from which we hoped to escape.
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