Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Eurovision, Conchita, and What if...

Firstly, I find Eurovision to be a boring waste of time. I signal this by not watching it. Lot's of people watch it and do enjoy it, which is in no way surprising (or offensive) to me. It's one of the many signs that we're not all one homogeneous mass of consumers. Apparently though it became more interesting this year because the winner prefers to be referred to as a woman. 

Strangely this particular event didn't really grab my attention at first. It isn't the first time that somebody who has crossed the gender divide has won, and I have no idea if the tune that won it was any good (which is what matters). In fact the whole thing would probably have passed me by were it not for a tweet I saw this morning and the link that I followed as a result.

The link lead me to an Australian man seemingly venting about the horror of being asked to refer to someone who has a penis and a beard as a woman. His diatribe about objective reality, and the heinousness of pandering to the individual as he saw it, was probably more a reflection upon him than anything else, but it did make me think. In fact it made me wonder "what if...".

When I look at another human being my brain assigns them to a multitude of categories. Most of those categories relate to what evolutionary scientists call phenotype, namely the observable outcomes of our unique genetic structures. These include things like, hair colour, eye colour, skin colour, and possession of specific genitalia (I wasn't staring, honest).

The article I read this morning was making an interesting argument therefore, though not perhaps the one the writer intended to make. His analogy about "feeling black" was perhaps the most pertinent to this argument. The argument he inadvertently advanced for me is that it is time for us to completely disconnect our many identities from our phenotype.

The article in question, which can be found here, is actually worth a read if you approach it with the mindset above. It manages to completely conflate the possession of male genitalia with being a man, or not being a woman for that matter. It shows some understanding of the social construction of gender, but then manages to completely fail to understand its extent.

Back to the "what if...". In a world where we completely separate identity from phenotype some interesting things could occur. There might be a lot more black people, for example (I'm stereotyping). Assuming that the shared identity of black people is that of the fight to overcome enforced servitude to rich Caucasians, most of the population of the world is black.

In terms of gender, we could go down a variety of routes. The language helps here through a triumvirate of terms. Being a female might denote the phenotype of possessing a vagina and breasts, being a lady might denote a preference for dresses, the colour pink and specific mannerisms, and being a woman might denote being part of the struggle to overcome patriarchy.

I think it's probably patently obvious that my definitions are incredibly imprecise, perhaps to the point of being insulting, but I hope the underlying point is clear. The point being that in a world where we break the link between phenotype and identities, we can also break the link between phenotype and circumstances, in the form of life chances and our treatment by others.

In a world where the identity that is womanhood is entirely separated from having a vagina, for example, it is that much easier to break the link between desiring intercourse (including dominance fantasies) involving a vagina and seeing a woman as an object of purely sexual means. It's a damn sight harder to see all women as sex objects if a percentage of women have penises.

In a world where being "camp" or being a "lady" become defined as similar identities, it's completely nonsensical to conflate these with the sexual drive for a male to have sex with another male. It also makes no sense to conflate our sexual drives with our relationship desires, but that's probably something that is obvious when we deconstruct gender and sexual organs anyway.

I think, for me, this is the crux of where we should be going. I think it offers us a more sophisticated understanding of inequality, as well as forcing us to move beyond easy and simplistic judgements that often cause a great deal of pain. Having said that though, my offensively imprecise definitions show that it is something we must put a lot of real thought into.  

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