"IS GENDER A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT OR A BIOLOGICAL IMPERATIVE
"IS GENDER A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT OR A BIOLOGICAL IMPERATIVE?"
Paper by Babette Francis
Presented at the SEVENTH AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF FAMILY STUDIES CONFERENCE
������������ Family Futures: Issues in Research and Policy: Sydney 24 - 26 July
�������� The nature vs. nurture debate on whether it is biology or environment that
������� causes human beings to choose certain roles and lifestyles is a perennial
������� controversy in sociobiology, but since the seventies the debate has been
������� extended to whether nurture, i.e. culture, can override biology and be a
������� determinant of sex itself. This paper critiques the "gender agenda" of
������� contemporary feminism and the politicization of the word "gender" as a
������� substitute for the sex of a person.
������� This issue reached high drama at the June 2000 Beijing + 5 United Nations
������� Women's Conference in New York when the development agencies of the
������� Scandinavian countries and Germany threatened to withhold development
������� money from Nicaragua unless the Nicaraguan Government sacked the head of
������� their delegation from his Cabinet post as Minister for the Family. His offence,
������� on-going from the 1999 Cairo + 5 Conference on Population and
������� Development, was to refuse to accept the European Union definition of
������� "gender" as an arbitrary social construct which could include several
������� "genders"; he insisted that "gender" be defined in its common meaning of two
������� sexes, male and female. The hapless Max Padilla was duly recalled -
������� Nicaragua is a poor country vulnerable to economic coercion. (1) The only
������� consolation for those of us who harbour lingering doubts that economic
������� blackmail provides insights into issues of gender and destiny was that his
������� replacement also held the old-fashioned belief that humans come in two kinds,
������� male and female.
������� Liberal feminists of the 60s or what Christina Hoff Sommers author of "Who
������� Stole Feminism" (2) refers to as "equity feminists", believed that women
������� should have as much freedom and opportunity as men and that discriminatory
������� laws should be eliminated. However, within a decade, liberal feminism was
������� overtaken by the far more radical "gender feminism", which, building on
������� Marxist ideology, requires the elimination not only of economic classes but of
������� sex classes, i.e. the division of humans into male and female.
������� Hence the substitution of the word "gender" for sex . "Gender" is primarily a
������� grammatical term, which may be determined by a distinguishing characteristic,
������� i.e. sex, but gender can also be arbitrary like the gender of some nouns in
������� Spanish and French - table in...