Gender Merely An Illusion? I Don't Think So

Is how you think of yourself merely an illusion?  Is it merely dependent upon what sort of category you put yourself into? 

A new article from NPR News highlights particular studies that show that this may be the case.

Think of yourself as a secret agent, responsible for the lives of many people and taking on tasks with intelligence and debonair.  Chances are you will begin to think of yourself in this way, so much so that it results in measurable changes in behavior.

This is what the studies by psychologist Adam Galinsky suggest.  That how you categorize yourself leads to how you think of yourself and how you behave.


The article, written by Alva Noë, suggests that the result of these studies is fuel to see that gender is on its way out.  It showcases the studies through the new book by Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender.

Through the book...
She offers a fair and detailed review of research on the psychological and neurobiological foundations of gender difference. Her finding is clear and persuasive: Whatever cognitive or personality differences there are between men and women cannot be attributed, except in a few isolated cases, to intrinsic biological or psychological differences between men and women, at least not in the current state of knowledge.
An astounding conclusion.  It would not seem that men are from mars and women are from venus, but that men think they are from mars and women think they are from venus!

The resulting behavior changes end up looping in on themselves, a phenomena described by philosopher Ian Hacking.  The perspective change causes a change in behavior which feeds the perspective and strengthens it, causing stronger behaviors in that direction.  Over time you have a person who becomes the category that they put themself into.

This sort of thinking as gender being on its way out the window is also reflected in another article on NPR titled "The End of Gender?"  It describes a growing trend of anti-gender actions taken by people around the U.S.


While this "trend" remains relatively closed off to a few instances, I still believe it is important to investigate the issue.


Why would gender issues matter so much?

Well, it is most likely because people have an amazing ability to judge a person just by what category or role they play.  If I tell you that I asked my friend who is a math professor to come help me move you might think, "Buddy, couldn't you have gotten somebody a little more capable?"


Just the title Math Professor connected with an image in your head of some scrawny nerd unable to lift a damn thing.  The last thing you thought was that an ex-weightlifter should show.

But that could very well happen!  If living life has taught us anything, its that our expectations can easily fail us. Even though categorizing is very useful, it can often lead us astray if we carry it too far.

Is that what is happening with gender?  Are we taking our labels too far?  Expecting too much out of them?

Well, at least in the case against women in seems so.  One of the studies performed by Galinsky asked men and women to think of themselves as either Man/Woman or a Student at a private college.  The man had a better self-image when thinking of themselves as Man and women had a better self-image when thinking of themselves as a private college student.

This shows that the category of woman was lower on the spectrum than the private college student.

It was not the same with the men, however.  In fact, men seem to get a boost of confidence from thinking themselves so.  How in the world could this be considered a bad thing?  Aren't we interested in thinking of ourselves in positive ways?  I do not see how this could be a destructive thing, unless of course it was taken too far again.

It would be destructive if we took the idea of what a man was and made it into some sort of silly persona.  All of those who didn't fit into this persona would be considered unmanly.  It would result in some being cast out of the social circle for being different.

Do we rid ourselves of these problems though by killing off gender specific terms?

I do not believe so.  Believe it or not, there are times when labels are useful!  If I'm going to make a movie about Martin Luther King Jr. I would no doubt look for a black man to do the job!  If I'm going to go on a date, I definitely want to know that there is a girl involved!

The key is not holding on to these labels so much so that they end up defining an entire person.  This is the heart of the underlying problem, that different labels can be destructive if taken further than what they are able to give us.

If we expect our co-workers, our wives, our husbands, or our children to fit directly into a certain "mold," then we are only setting up a destructive environment, one in which they will not flourish.  They will most likely go the complete opposite direction in defiance of what they are expected.

What about our perception of ourselves?


According to the study, the people thinking of themselves in a certain way changed their behavior in accordance with the category.

What does this tell us, if anything about how we think?  There are always roles which we must play in our lives.  Different actions should coincide with that particular role, especially if we are to flourish in that endeavor.  If I don't do things that a good brother or son would do, then most likely I would not have a good relationship with my family.

Once again though, our perspective can trap us into certain roles.  Like Hacking's view of looping, our roles trigger certain behaviors which cause us to think of ourselves in that role even more so, until we honestly believe that is who we are as a person.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but roles that we take on can also have bad consequences.  If we think of ourselves as social delinquents, then we may take on behavior to reflect that thought.  Soon enough, we may find ourselves lapsing into an infinite loop, or downward spiral towards destruction.

What can you do then?


Be careful about your perceptions, about how you judge other's primarily on their title or where they fit in.  In doing so, you are forced to actually get to know the person, instead of relying on easy routes.  It's very important to be able to see beyond the label or category.

But, is it really the death of gender?  I doubt it, just an attempt to try to be more honest with what gender truly entails, not what we think it does.

And in doing this, we find the true value of what it means to be a man and a woman.  This will no doubt set us on the right path towards a flourishing life and wholesome relationships.

How you think of yourself is not an illusion.  It is a real thing, which has an effect on how you think, how you act, and how others see you.

To be able to find good things to categorize yourself as would no doubt help you in life.

Mitchell Sahlfeld

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