Thursday, December 22, 2016

2017 EDGE QUESTION : WHAT SCIENTIFIC TERM OR CONCEPT OUGHT TO BE MORE WIDELY KNOWN? SEX

By Helena Cronin
London School of Economics

The poet Philip Larkin famously proclaimed that sex began in 1963. He was inaccurate by 800 million years. Moreover, what began in the 1960s was instead a campaign to oust sex—in particular sex differences—in favor of gender.
Why? Because biological differences were thought to spell genetic determinism, immutability, anti-feminism and, most egregiously, women's oppression. Gender, however, was the realm of societal forces; "male" and "female" were social constructs, the stuff of political struggle; so gender was safe sex.
The campaign triumphed. Sex now struggles to be heard over a clamor of misconceptions, fabrications and denunciations. And gender is ubiquitous, dominating thinking far beyond popular culture and spreading even to science—such that a respected neuroscience journal recently felt the need to devote an entire issue to urging that sex should be treated as a biological variable.
And, most profoundly, gender has distorted social policy. This is because the campaign has undergone baleful mission-creep. Its aim has morphed from ending discrimination against women into a deeply misguided quest for sameness of outcome for males and females in all fields—above all, 50:50 across the entire workplace. This stems from a fundamental error: the conflation of equality and sameness. And it's an error all too easily made if your starting point is that the sexes are "really" the same and that apparent differences are mere artifacts of sexist socialization.