Wednesday May 2, 2012

In 2010, Sweden was voted "most gender-equal society" by the World Economic Forum. A group of Swedish activists nonetheless concluded that this was not good enough. Instead, they aim to erase gender differences, altogether, and bring about "gender neutrality." A new genderless pronoun, "hen," has recently entered the Swedish language. A new children’s book employs this pronoun. Some clothing and toy stores have done away with separate girl and boy sections. "Social critic" Ingemar Gens has stated, publicly, that natural free play among children is wrong, because it is where "gender stereotypes are born and cemented," while the Swedish Green Party has suggested placing gender pedagogues in preschools to act as gender behaviour watchdogs. Who could possibly think that this would be anything but horrible?

Here’s a counter-idea to consider: What if gender roles, themselves, are virtuous? What if they represent ideals to aspire to? Consider these words: ambitious, self-reliant, tough – and some others: loving, unselfish, kind. The former are masculine virtues, traditionally and statistically; the latter, feminine. In the world of ideological theorizing, these qualities exist as arbitrarily imposed cultural prejudices. In the natural world, shaped by billions of years of evolution, gender differences are real and deep.

What if it’s too much to ask each child to be a good girl and a good boy at the same time? What if such virtues cannot be initially developed, without specialization? After all, real expertise at something requires 10,000 hours of practice.

Consider this, too: What if truly satisfying sex requires a certain male boldness and female acceptance? Is it really culture that drives the common romance fantasy of the dominant, aggressive male (billionaire, doctor, pirate, vampire), who can only be tamed by the love of the right woman? What if the interaction between well-integrated men and women in long-term, monogamous relationships allows male and female virtues to flourish, equally, while limiting their exaggeration (so men don’t become pushy, aggressive and arrogant, and women don’t become indecisive, dependent and resentful)? What if this promotes the broadening of already established gender identity – not early, but later in life, when it is appropriate?

Finally, and most ominously: What if the hypothetically well-meaning rejection of sexual differences produces a kickback, the reactionary overdevelopment of masculine and feminine features, instead of mere uniformity? We already know that boys in a fatherless family tend to develop hyper-masculine traits, that girls in fatherless families hit puberty earlier, and that preteen girls are dressing in an increasingly provocative fashion. Here’s another idea: No Clint Eastwood, more Freddy Krueger. No Marilyn Monroe, more Abercrombie & Fitch "Feeling Lucky" thong underpants for 10-year-olds.

Only fools think that planned radical social changes necessarily produce the desired result. Who would have ever imagined an explosion of teenage pregnancies 30 years after the birth control pill? As Tom Waits says, you can drive out nature with a pitchfork, but it always comes roaring back again.

For The Agenda with Steve Paikin, I’m Jordan Peterson.