Raised by a feminist woman of the 60’s, my mother always taught me that, under the law, men and women should be equal. However, she also indicated that inequalities still exist within our society, because of differences biologically between the sexes. The most significant inequality, she told me, exists in the form of economic servitude-that is, women who do not exercise their ability to earn an income and remain economically dependent upon their husbands. This dependency began, she explained, because of the extended length of time, it takes to raise a child. Feminism acknowledges differences between the sexes and makes special considerations for them. As a result, our society has taken steps to remedy the social inequalities created by the fact that women give birth and remain the primary caretakers for our society’s children. Examples include insurance that covers childbirth, maternity leave and working hours that allow women to retrieve their children from school. Stay at home positions have also been created, allowing for further flexibility required for childcare. Feminism also acknowledges that, biologically, women have less physical strength than men. Women are more likely to be raped or taken a prisoner of war. Furthermore, a rape occurring during wartime can lead to women giving birth while captive, creating a plethora of additional problems. As a result, placing women on the front-line during a war arguably creates an uneven playing field, thus constituting an unwise situation. Obviously, women have vulnerabilities during wartime that men do not, because of biological differences between the sexes.
The biological sex of men and women is a different concept than the gender roles adopted by them. Gender roles are defined as “a social role encompassing a range of behaviors and attitudes that are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for people based on their actual or perceived sex.” (1) Challenges arise when individuals perceive their gender roles as different than their biological sex. Some of the American states have requirements that transgendered individuals use their biological sex on legal and formal documents. The problems caused by this have resulted in some parents choosing to identify their children at birth as “non-binary,” or having no declared gender. That way, later in life, the child can select the gender role with which they most identify.
As a woman, I understand the plight of socially disenfranchised individuals-our struggles are similar and the discrimination real. Transgendered individuals are especially vulnerable. I also understand the perceived need not to identify a child’s biological sex on their birth certificate. However, not identifying a child’s biological sex does not negate that their biological sex exists, nor does it negate the special social considerations their biological sex demands. In essence, feminism acknowledges, accepts and embraces these biological differences, allowing for the meaningful consideration they require from our society as a whole so that the female sex can participate as fully functioning members.
The possibility exists that failing to acknowledge one’s biological sex can create an illusion of gender progressivism, while actually contributing to the further economic disenfranchisement of the female sex. For example, couples might simultaneously identify with the gender role opposite to their biology but still fall back into the traditional gender roles concurrent with their biology. In one arguably extreme scenario, the female sex, identifying publicly with the male gender role, gives birth and stays home with the baby, while the male sex, identifying publicly with the female gender role, economically provides for the female sex, and works outside the home. It seems progressive, with a person at home identifying with the male gender role, while the person at work identifies with the female gender role. In reality, however, the fact remains that the female sex is still economically powerless, and indentured to the male sex. Nothing has actually changed, save for the couple’s perceptions of themselves. While the perception of change exists, no meaningful social change has actually occurred. More dramatically, the lack of social change is actually hidden behind a social mirage of progressivism.
Regardless of sex or chosen gender role, one can argue that the elimination of acknowledging and/or providing special treatment for biological differences between the sexes creates further economic disenfranchisement for individuals on the margins. Identifying a child at birth as non-binary does not allow for the recognition and subsequent protections that are required for true social equality. In reality, our sexes are binary even if our perceived gender roles, or lack thereof, are not.
In conclusion, while some elements in our society wish to eliminate formal recognition of societal gender roles, doing so arguably negates the recognition of special societal considerations for which the feminist movement has wholeheartedly fought. Regardless of how individuals may or may not perceive themselves, the biological differences between the sexes remain very real. As a result, one can subsequently assert that any movement failing to acknowledge these differences and to make special provisions toward them is harmful to feminism and the female sex. Any ideology that wishes to eliminate such recognition of biological differences between the sexes will merely delay social change and result in false mirages of it.