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Who or What Is to Blame for Gender Ideology?
Why the broad cultural acceptance of gender ideology cannot be blamed on any one group.
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History is riddled with examples of the human tendency to lump blame on entire groups for our societal ills. The Nazis are perhaps the most infamous instance of this tragic phenomenon, with their brutal scapegoating of the Jewish people resulting in one of the worst atrocities in human history. Other examples include the Salem Witch Trials, the Armenian Genocide, and the Red Scare. The list is regretfully long and painful, highlighting the enduring and dangerous nature of this collective impulse.
Similarly, as society grapples with the complexities of “gender identity,” many are eager to find a group to blame for what they see as a confusing and destabilizing ideology. In the search for culprits, fingers are pointed in many directions. Some blame the “pesky” feminists who, in their insistence on equality between the sexes, have supposedly blurred the lines between male and female to the point of near interchangeability. Others look to the gay rights movement, questioning whether the legal recognition of same-sex marriage has somehow opened the floodgates to a new era of social permissiveness. And still, others point to transexuals and gender dysphorics, who they feel are forcing us to play along in a game of make-believe. In this charged atmosphere, blame is being cast far and wide.
We can’t deny that our present circumstances are inexorably linked to the past. We also cannot dismiss the ongoing dialogue regarding the objectives and actions of various groups, both historical and contemporary, that have contributed to the proliferation of gender identity ideology in our society. However, I do not believe that any one of them is solely to blame, nor can they be blamed jointly.
I do not believe that women gaining greater rights and playing a larger role in public life had to lead here. I do not believe that gay acceptance and same-sex marriage had to lead here. And I do not believe that a small minority’s desire to appear like the opposite sex had to lead here.
By “here” I mean the broad cultural acceptance of the notion that humans can change sex, that sex is not binary, that sex isn’t particularly significant, and that “gender identity,” often defined as a deeply held inner “feeling” or “knowing,” is what really matters. This moment is so bizarre that it seems naive to assume it must have come about as a direct result of women, same-sex attracted people, and trans-identified people clamoring for more rights, no matter your personal opinions of these movements.
It is, however, exactly what you might expect to see in a society that has accumulated a critical mass of adherents to postmodern ideologies. Or, at least, you’d hardly be surprised. The unfortunate reality is that many people aren’t even aware they have bought into postmodernism—they simply take it for granted as the proper orientation to the world.
What is postmodernism? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a handy starting definition of this corrosive discursive approach:
It can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.
Put more simply, postmodernism denies objectivity and prefers a subjective and self-referential perspective. As a movement, it favors moral relativism and destabilizes language and meaning through deconstruction, yet paradoxically elevates language to a god-like status in the creation of reality. This is evident in the phrase “trans women are women,” which requires both the deconstruction of the word “woman” and a belief that words hold the power to create reality.
René Magritte’s 1929 painting, The Treachery of Images, served as a harbinger of postmodernism. Underneath an image of a pipe, Magritte wrote, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe [This is not a pipe],” highlighting the fact that words do not necessarily reflect their referents and that language is not interchangeable with reality.
Although postmodernism started as a form of literary criticism, which explains its preoccupation with language, it has since permeated every aspect of our lives, infecting the arts, humanities, social sciences, and even the hard sciences. The ideas that many people now attribute to feminism and gay and trans rights activists are the products of this pervasive postmodernist mindset.
While it is true that feminists, gay rights activists, and trans rights activists are culpable for gender ideology to the extent that they champion postmodern views, which many of them indeed do, they are not the sole culprits. Rather, they are a product of a society that has embraced this philosophy, allowing gender ideology to proliferate and thrive.
Of course, it is understandable that people are frustrated with the harms that gender ideology has inflicted upon women and other marginalized groups. As someone who has written extensively on this subject, I share this frustration and anger towards the many women who support this regressive ideology and call themselves feminists. But to suggest that feminists are solely to blame for this phenomenon is both incorrect and counterproductive.
After all, if we are to assign blame for the rise of gender ideology, then we must also consider the broader social and historical context that has led us to this point. If we are so eager to place the blame at the feet of feminists, then why stop there—why not go back even further? Why not blame the entire liberal project that enfranchised and liberated the average man? How far back do we have to go before we get to just the right assortment of societal attitudes and circumstances that we can confidently say did not lead to our current predicament?
Perhaps one can pursue this line of thought, but I have no interest in trying to figure out how high up the slope we have to get before it stops being slippery. And it’s not really a slope, but a cliff. You will remain safely on the cliff’s edge as long as you recognize the reality that the cliff exists and that jumping off it would be a very bad idea—but postmodernism has deconstructed the cliff to the point where some people have been convinced to jump.
However, within the realm of advocacy for women’s rights lies a potential for a grounded perspective that acknowledges the intricacies of biology, psychology, and human history. Similarly, an individual can experience gender dysphoria while still recognizing the immutable reality that humans cannot change their biological sex. The notion of moral relativism and subjectivity in postmodern thought is ultimately responsible for the increasingly permissive attitudes towards societal norms, not the advent of same-sex marriage.
Gender ideology is not solely driven by one factor. Rather, a myriad of inputs fuel its momentum: from the widespread prevalence of sexual fetishes and pornography, to the financial incentives of the medical-industrial complex promoting “gender-affirming care,” and even the insidious desire to “correct” effeminate boys and butch girls fueled by homophobia. Such complex origins make it a particularly challenging beast to battle, for many possess a vested interest in sustaining it.
Yet, at the core of this ideology lies an outright denial of sex, rendering it a dangerously flawed philosophy. This schism of beliefs boils down to a simple dichotomy: those who acknowledge objective reality, and those who do not, irrespective of any other differences.
I place the blame for gender ideology at the feet of those who embrace the reality rejection fueled by postmodernism, its subjective lens, and its destabilizing word games. It has unmoored us from objectivity and convinced too many that there is no such thing as objective truth. It is drowning us in obscurantism and nihilism and causing people to throw up their hands in defeat.
But we don’t have to do that. Word games and solipsism are nothing in the face of brute reality. We are blessed (or evolved, take your pick) with eyes and brains that recognize the existence of men and women and the differences between us, as well as with the ability to convey these distinctions to one another through simple, straightforward, and precise language.
Let’s not pretend we can’t see, hear, speak, and know basic, self-evident facts simply to cultivate an air of intellectual sophistication. Gender ideology would have us claim we don’t actually know what we know, and postmodernism has convinced far too many that this is the proper philosophical orientation to the world. It isn’t, and we know this because of its rotten fruits: men dominating women’s sports, women locked in prisons with violent male rapists, children set on a pathway to sterilization. Moral relativism be damned—these things are objectively bad. Not every viewpoint is valid. Not anything goes.
In contemplating the complexities of our modern world, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the weight of history and the endless movements that have shaped our present. Yet, we need not jettison the past or atone for it in order to move forward. Rather, what we must reject is the postmodernist worldview that has infiltrated so much of our discourse.
It is true that each of us has a unique perspective, shaped by our experiences and identities. But in rejecting the postmodernist mindset, we open ourselves to the possibility of recognizing that these perspectives all reflect a shared reality. It is only through this recognition that we can hope to resist the insidious influence of gender identity ideology.
Let us not be swayed by the seductive allure of postmodernism, which would have us believe that truth is a mere construct of our own making. Instead, let us embrace the desire for truth, recognizing that it is only through this pursuit that we can truly hope to create a more just world for all.