First, you have to consider the source. But I’ve seen this kind of attitude toward gender from hyper-liberal feminists before. They abhor the thought that boys are boys and girls are girls. Somehow, this notion that we can tell if someone is a boy or girl simply by looking, is offensive.
(Slate) — Imagine you are in recovery from labor, lying in bed, holding your infant. In your arms you cradle a stunningly beautiful, perfect little being. Completely innocent and totally vulnerable, your baby is entirely dependent on you to make all the choices that will define their life for many years to come. They are wholly unaware (at least, for now) that you would do anything and everything in your power to protect them from harm and keep them safe. You are calm, at peace.
Suddenly, the doctor comes in. He looks at you sternly, gloved hands reaching for your baby insistently. “It’s time for your child’s treatment,” he explains from beneath a white breathing mask, shattering your calm. Clutching your baby protectively, you eye the doctor with suspicion.
You ask him what it’s for.
“Oh, just standard practice. It will help him or her be recognized and get along more easily with others who’ve already received the same treatment. The chance of side effects is extremely small.” This raises the hairs on the back of your neck, and your protective instinct kicks your alarm response up a notch.
The doctor waves his hand dismissively. “Oh, in 1 or 2 percent of cases, we see long-term negative reactions to this,” he says with a hint of distaste. “It leads to depression, social ostracism, difficulty finding or keeping a job. Those with negative reactions often become subject to intense discrimination in society. Suicide is not uncommon.” At your look of alarm, he smiles again, reassuringly. “But as I said, this happens in very few cases. The overwhelming likelihood,” he says as he cracks his knuckles, “is that this will make life simpler and more comfortable for your child to interact with others.” He tries to assuage your concerns, but cold equations, percentage points, and population counts dance in your mind.
“Is it really necessary? If we don’t take the treatment, will my baby get sick?”
The doctor flashes a paternalistic smile. “No, no … but your child would lose the social advantage this treatment offers. If you choose not to take it, others who have may not accept your child as easily. Virtually every child receives it, so it would be very unusual not to,” he says matter-of-factly. “This is a standard practice. People just wouldn’t understand why you didn’t go along with it,” he says, casting a judgmental glance.
Would you consent to this treatment for your child? A good chance for improved social privilege, with a comparatively tiny risk of negative (albeit potentially catastrophic) consequences? Or would the stakes be too high: Russian roulette with your baby’s life?
It’s a strange hypothetical scenario to imagine. Pressure to accept a medical treatment, no tangible proof of its necessity, its only benefits conferred by the fact that everyone else already has it, and coming at a terrible expense to those 1 or 2 percent who have a bad reaction. It seems unlikely that doctors, hospitals, parents, or society in general would tolerate a standard practice like this.
Except they already do. The imaginary treatment I described above is real. Obstetricians, doctors, and midwives commit this procedure on infants every single day, in every single country. In reality, this treatment is performed almost universally without even asking for the parents’ consent, making this practice all the more insidious. It’s called infant gender assignment: When the doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: It’s a boy or a girl, based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring’s genitals.
The anti-gender movement gains its self-justification from the fewer than 1% of the population who is confused on the issue. Those who have perfectly functioning bodies yet believe they were born in the wrong one is enough evidence to them that we should let people just choose.
This is the same warped sense of reasoning that leads to legislation allowing people to choose restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms based on which gender they believe they identify with. Of course no other consideration other than the individual’s say so is relevant in these situations.
With an ordinarily properly functioning body, why do proponents of these kinds of social ideas presume the body is wrong and the mind is correct? If the only way to feel “right” is to surgically mutilate your body, shouldn’t that strike you as the proof that your mind is in need of correction?
But back to the Slate article, is there something wrong with “conditioning” boys and girls to be masculine and feminine? Does societal conditioning really have as big an effect as anti-gender activists claim? Is this at all harmful?