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By Shayne O’Loughlin

“There are only two genders,” proclaims another picket sign in front of yet another school board in some suburban town. This image conjures up the apparent last resistance of the right-wing en masse to ‘protect our children’ from the ‘pervasive practice’ of gender ideology. It’s not uncommon to hear a boomer reminisce on the halcyon days when “you were either a boy or a girl” while watching yet another Fox News piece on yet another trans pride parade. The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh produced one of the most controversial documentaries of the decade with “What Is a Woman?”, a question so salient that it drew in 170 million viewers on Twitter during its weeklong stay on the platform. Suffice it to say, talk of “gender” resounds across college campuses and retirement homes alike across the country, with some calling the end of Western civilization as we know it.

The truth is that the right has been duped, hoodwinked right under their collective noses for decades, and they don’t have the awareness to recognize it. The scholars—the intelligentsia—have succeeded in transforming society by using parallel warfare. When the concept of gender was first introduced by psychologists and sociologists in the 1950s and 60s, its prominence was particularized and minimal. Before that, in the West and everywhere else, the biological human dichotomy was easily identified in a binary between male and female, called ‘sex’. What sociologists recognized is that trends in culture seemed to align with said sexes, but not wholly and not perfectly. If one culture held a certain value for men, another might not. What is considered “manly” in culture A may not be in culture B. This conception was important for sociocultural analysis.

In various cultures, there also exist alternatives to man and woman, a so-called “third” or sometimes even “fourth” or “fifth” section of society. In some Polynesian societies, certain males carried effeminate roles as healers, called mahu or fa’afafine, who lacked political power and were subject to sexual advances by other men. In the Indian subcontinent, hijra are emasculated young, and function basically as women within society. In the Balkans, sworn virgins are females who take on the freedoms and responsibilities of men in exchange for a vow to forgo all sexual or reproductive activity. How do we define these? It would not be fair to use the concept of sex interchangeably with these distinctions, argued the sociologists, and so it was necessary to create a new term and a new lens for studying this aspect of culture. This was “gender.”

Gender, as a concept, became popular among academia during the mid-to-late 20th century, eventually germinating outside of it as well. The second-wave feminist movement embraced the term. As early as 1949, in her book “The Second Sex”, Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “one is not born a woman, one becomes one.” The point of this exercise was to differentiate between the biological fact and the learned traits provided by the culture at large. For instance, a woman’s role in domestic life, feminists argued, was created and enforced by a patriarchal society, and could be subverted for the betterment of women as a whole. These feminists argued that said roles were reinforced by laws and codes that subjugated women as second-class citizens to their male counterparts.

Sexologist John Money was made infamous for his experiment on how ‘gender roles’ (a term he coined) could be taught to children and impact their development and identity. In it, he urged the parents of a newborn with a botched circumcision to give the child a sex reassignment surgery and raise their son, David Reimer, as a daughter. Along the child’s development, Money would force Reimer and his brother to strip naked and play with each other, imitating thrusting and other copulative activity to affirm the gender differences between the two, while he recorded and took pictures for his ‘research’. At the age of 14, David learned the truth from his parents and chose to detransition and live the rest of his life as a man, although both he and his brother would commit suicide in their thirties. While it cannot be concluded that Money’s abuse of the boys at a young age led to their depression, it’s likely a leading cause. The whole fiasco became the most popular criticism of the ‘gender’ movement in its wake.

While the Money story is certainly disgusting, it would be fallacious to dispose of all gender theory on these grounds. One key example of a coercive situation conducted on children does not eliminate the conceivability of someone presenting as a gender that does not align with their sex. Part of the reason this distinction is pointless is because the methodology of gender theory is itself too arbitrary, but we’ll touch on this critique later.

Continuing the timeline, many scientists who allied themselves with the feminist movement (see also: the movement to replace the referent ‘he’ with ‘she’ in academia, now overtaken by the referent ‘they’) saw the term ‘gender’ as preferable to ‘sex’, and from there the number of references to ‘gender’ skyrocketed, particularly in the social sciences. Others, including the FDA in 1993, adopted ‘gender’ to remove any connotation the term ‘sex’ had with sexual intercourse. They would later reverse their decision in 2011 to adopt the correct usage of the term when compared to its biological counterpart. What this trend shows is a gradual top-down dissemination of a term into the culture at large in just a few short decades.

Much has been said about the role academia plays in influencing culture. Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci believed that social change could only come when ‘natural intellectuals’ could ascend to positions of education. Similarly, the founder of Objectivism, Ayn Rand, believed that change in philosophy could only effectively come from infiltrating the academic world. One might say that the permeance of gender theory into the mainstream is convincing evidence towards this strategy’s efficacy for wider social change.

Few conservatives seem to understand the history of ‘gender’, but does that really matter now? They have been using the terms ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ with wanton disregard for decades now, as ‘gender’ has seeped into the zeitgeist and replaced ‘sex’ on all but the most vital personal documentation. It’s under their breath and in their minds, and their use of the word has all but enshrined it now as a victory by the left.

Can gender theory be criticized on its own terms? Certainly. Gender theory embraces a top-down model of cultural analysis, that is, the responsibilities inherent to men and women in any given society are the way they are without much explanation—they exist in a sort of normative void. The American culture is seen as a grand edifice composed of various subcultures and explained by “turtles all the way down” reasoning. From this, how can we define what is masculine (man) versus what is feminine (woman) in any given culture?

The point is that we can not. Here are some concerns for top-down culture: if every culture has its own definitions, its own goalposts, for what is masculine or feminine, then what of people in every other culture? If culture lies on a gradient between masculine and feminine, how can anyone ever be fully masculine or feminine? Is every man with long hair or painted nails in the United States trans without their knowing, or are the arbitrary lines of gender different for them? If gender is so completely relative, then what is the point of defining it in the first place?

The ultimate conclusion of the gender theory line-of-thought is that “gender” is a feeling relative to each person, which is interpreted through lived experiences. This means that gender comes down to whatever you, alone, feel like. If I feel like a girl one day, I can be a girl, or non-binary then non-binary, or as something else, then something else entirely. But then we must acknowledge that if this is the case, then analyzing gender through norms or general movements is absolutely pointless. In fact, if gender is dependent on personal experiences, then isn’t all gender a floating abstraction?

We derived a similar conclusion in an earlier article I wrote in Binghamton Review (“The Case For Linguistic Universalism”) that relativism necessarily fails. Conservatives have long failed to combat gender theory, but as it turns out, the only way to combat it is to accept its ultimate conclusion—the one that I support—that gender must be abolished. Instead, I believe that if the right is to adopt a winning strategy against what they perceive as the self-destruction of society, that they must become conscious of their language and return the focus to biological sex.

There are a number of reasons why conservatives won’t go through with this, however. The first is that they fall prey to the exact same problem in their own methodology. They necessarily accept the conceit that culture is an entity which one must abide by, and therefore face the same hurdle. Specifically, conservatives support the idea of gender so long as they can keep the traditional “gender roles” in place. They have a need to embrace “top-down” culture as a mark of collective pride, in order to justify things like social cohesion and national identity. If they didn’t, what would they be trying to conserve in the first place? It seems, then, that the culture war as a whole and its constituent theaters (e.g. the gender war) are fought on relativist quicksand.

How can we resolve this ultimately fruitless effort? Stay tuned for my next article, where I discuss emergent cultures and the individualist alternative.

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