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Normally, I would refrain from piggybacking on other people's questions, but I am not sure when I will again find occasion to ask the kinds of questions I have in mind. Very recently, a woman asked a question about transsexuals and how they could feel that they were of a certain gender (Question #4282). I have some related questions, although it does not exclusively concern the transsexual and transgender identities. I will focus for now on the transgender identity in asking my questions, but I hope it is clear that my question applies just as much to the cisgender identity. It seems to me that many people whom I encounter confidently hold both of these beliefs: (A): Gender, as distinct from sex, is a social construction. (B): People can be transgender. I have struggled to reconcile what has struck me as a glaring contradiction between these two beliefs. For people to be able to be transgender, it must be possible for them to have genders; this cannot be possible lest, in some fundamental sense,...

Since I answered the original question, I will try also to answer this one. We need to reconsider the phrase "social construction and nothing more", or at least to what you take to be the implications of such a description, that somehow what is socially constructed isn't real. One would need a lot of argument to establish that conclusion. Prima facie, socially constituted facts are no less real than biological or anatomical facts; they are just different. Consider, e.g., facts about political and legal authority. Surely these are socially constituted, but I would not suggest you tell a military tribunal that you can't be guilty of disobeying an order from a superior because social facts are unreal. That should answer question (1), I hope. Similarly, socially constituted facts matter to people every bit as much (and in some cases more) than biological facts. As I pointed out in response to the previous question, the mere fact that gender is a social (not merely anatomical) matter does not imply...

Although I don't doubt the pain of transsexual people who feel that their bodies do not match their gender, I find myself skeptical of their claims. I am female, I don't doubt that I am female, yet I do not have any idea what it means to "feel like a woman." It also happens that I have no interest in hairdos, high heels, or the notion of "femininity." Although I am undoubtedly a woman, I would guess that a person who feels like a man trapped in a woman's body does not feel like I do, or aspire to being a woman such as me. When a MTF transsexual person insists that they are genuinely women and must change their male bodies to match their internal state, how can their conviction be based on anything but imagination, speculation and stereotypes? How can they possibly know what it feels like to be a woman if I, a woman, do not know that feeling? (Please note that I do not mean any disrespect to transsexuals; I'm genuinely trying to understand.)

While I agree with Oliver's judgements, I also think many people are genuinely puzzled about how someone could feel as if they had the wrong sort of body, so let me try to say a few things that might help to clarify it. I should say, however, that I am no expert on these issues, and so I'm sure to get some of the established terminology wrong. Let's start with a different sort of example. I am of Irish descent. But I do not think of myself as Irish-American. From my point of view, the fact that many of my ancestors lived in Ireland is just that: a fact about my family's past. For other people, however, being of Irish descent is very important to their sense of who they are. They value Irish traditions and customs, participate in Irish celebrations, and so forth. It is, as we say, part of their identity to be Irish-American. And so, if someone tells a rude joke about "the Irish", I wouldn't really take it personally; I'd just dismiss that person as a jerk. Someone who identifies as Irish-American would,...

Suppose a very well to do doctor was married to a very bright man who happened to be a house husband. They had no children but he worked very hard maintaining their household. One day however the wife loses her job unexpectedly and asks her husband to help pitch in and get a job. He says, "well I don't want to do that." and in reply she says, "well then maybe we should get a divorce. And he says "Well, yes you can divorce me but I am entitled to half of your earnings for during the time we were married." I don't know this for sure but my gut tells me that most women would find something very wrong with that situation. It would seem wrong because it would seem like the man is responsible for his own livelihood after the relationship terminates. In most situations however the man is the bread winner and the women is the housewife and I think most people don't have a problem with a man paying half his earned income to his divorced wife. Am I wrong in my assumption that women (and men) would balk at the idea...

Certainly nowadays the law would require the woman to pay alimony in this situation, and I am sure there have been many such cases. I find it hard to see how anyone who wasn't just flatly sexist might think it should be otherwise. Perhaps vestiges of sexist thinking with which we have all been saddled by our society would make our gut reaction a little different, but fortunately we have brains and do not have to be ruled by our guts.

Why does it seem that everything that I read in philosophy always uses "she" or "her" instead of "his" or "he"?

This is the effect of a successful political movement, one that sought to replace the use of "he" and "his", as "gender-neutral" pronouns, with the use of something else. The reason was that people thought that the use of "he" and "his", at least in certain contexts, made readers liable to assume that the pronoun referred to a person of the male persuasion, when it need not. One option is to use something that is truly gender-neutral, such as "he or she", but that is rather verbose. Some people therefore use "s/he", but that is ugly. I've taken to using "s'he", but I'm lonely. And there is a case to be made for "she" and "her", unaltered, as well, namely that it makes one conscious of something of which one might not otherwise have been conscious.

The more we learn about genetic determinants to human behaviour, the more, I suspect, we will learn that men and women are intrinsically different in their tendencies and capacities. Could discoveries of this sort ever justify any sort of sexism, or differential treatment of men and women, or is it incumbent upon us to treat men and women equally in a strict sense in any case?

Whether your empirical speculation is correct, it is of course not for philosophers to say. So let's focus on the question. Let's suppose it turns out that women are intrinsically more intelligent than men. Should women then be accorded special treatment as regards education? To suppose it would be just to accord women special treatment in this situation, one must suppose that it would be just to treat me a certain way simply on the ground that I was a member of a group that, as a whole, had certain characteristics I may or may not myself share. For note that it is consistent with the supposition that women, as a group, are intrinsically more intelligent that men, as a group, that I am the most brilliant person in the world. Why I should suffer some educational disadvantage in this case is very unclear. In short: Unless the differences between the groups are so large as to be essentially exclusive, then differential treatment is unjust, because it results in differential treatment of ...

Would you agree with this statement? Being gay is a choice.

There is very good evidence now that "sexual orientation" has alarge genetic component. Whether it is genetically determined (orbetter, to what extent) is not clear, but most "gay" people reporthaving known of their "orientation" at a fairly young age. So even ifthere are also strong environmental components, that certainly does notimply that one's "sexual orientation" is chosen nor, for that matter,that it could be changed. There is also very good evidence that "sexualorientation" lies on a continuum, and that "gay" and "straight" arejust the two ends of that continuum, with most people falling somewherealong it. I therefore doubt very much that people who lie at the "gay"end choose their "orientation" any more than do the people at the"straight" end. And honestly: Do those of us who are "straight" haveany sense at all that we chose so to be? If not, why should "gay" folkbe any different? As you'll gather from the scare-quotes, I have a problem with the terminology I've been using. Let me explain...