An interesting panel debate hosted by ABC Life Matter’s presenter Natasha Mitchell with Dr Cordelia Fine, author Emily Maguire, UQ Psychology professor Christina Lee, and cultural lecturer Amanda Third. It was a good discussion, exploring gender as a biological/social construct – and looking at the brain as being neither male or female – but instead as ‘ungendered’.
As per usual when I attend talks or forums on gender, I wonder when the speakers will stop viewing gender as ‘female’ or ‘male’ and instead move beyond the binary and discuss the gender spectrum and gender fluidity. I am constantly surprised that gender is viewed even in boundary-pushing academic talks as a set thing – that the talking is about redefining and expanding societal beliefs on what being female or male can encompass, rather than blowing it all out of the water and seeing gender as a spectrum through which we have a personal and individual experience of identity.
Using feminism and gender debates to simply challenge or affirm gender roles feels old to me. A new consciousness is needed. One which allows us to step outside such an outdated ‘dual genders’ paradigm and embrace a new way of thinking. I propose, the revolutionary idea of viewing people as individuals. Of not playing into a story of compartmentalization and the judgement of viewing someone as a woman, or as a man. We have different biological forms, certainly. And some of us have estrogen, and we all have differing degrees of testosterone flowing through us and interacting with our physical forms. But gender I say, is personal. Gender is not one or the other, gender is intrinsic to our sense of self, gender is something we sense, something we grow into. It is not linked to our bodies, although it can be shaped and influenced by these physical extensions. I say gender goes deeper than the flesh, that it is more related to the way we think, and our brain chemistry.
One of the interesting topics raised in this talk, which I don’t think was extrapolated on enough, was the scientific research emerging which understands the brain to be neither gender. This makes sense to me, No other organ in the body is attributed a gender, we do not say a liver, or a spleen or even a heart has a gender. So if human brains begin with the same structure and capabilities, the question is, how much does physical sex identification with our bodies, and social conditioning shape and imprint on the way we think?
If we accept the brain as neutral, then the definition of gender becomes ever more elusive. Is it simply hormones that cause us to think and feel differently? Or over-identification with the physical body? Take these two things away and what is left is an experience of a sense of self. This sense of self I argue, is not gendered, but simply individual. Equality springs from knowing all people as individuals, and understanding that there are similarities and differences between all people, and knowing that categorising humans into an either/or view is neither useful nor accurate.