Obsessing Over Gender Essentiality

Kaimi has a new post on women at T&S.  Like many of Kaimi’s posts, this one harps on issues of women bloggers being somehow more inclined towards topical group blogs.  Kaimi is a smart guy, and so his post sounds somewhat reasoned and interesting.

*sigh*

Why are people so interested in issues of essential differences between genders?  Why do some church members constantly test the nature of gender?

Let me posit a few theories, and you tell me whether any of them are plausible:

  1. Gender essentialists are messed up.  They are obsessed with the topic because of some childhood difficulties, and just can’t let go of the issues.  Their posts should be viewed as social aberrations.  It just so happens that some of them are mormon bloggers.
  2. Gender essentialists have their pulse on the nation.  We are still experiencing the sexual revolution, and it’s only natural (in a society as concerned with the rights of women as ours) to explore how gender affects our lives, and whether it does so in a consistent way.
  3. Gender essentialists are superior mormons.  Our religion seeks to show God’s plan for men and women, and since gender is divinely instituted (see the Proclamation to the Family), it behooves us to search out the meaning of gender.  Put otherwise, one could say: mormons are obsessed with gender; we need to figure out some kind of essential roles for women in order to justify a patriarchal priesthood.
  4. Gender essentialists have hidden agendas.  A variation on #1, people who posit that men and women have fundamental differences are putting forth their positions in order to justify some sort of behavior or to further some sort of goal.  A skeptic could suggest that men who insist on gender differences (such as, "women are naturally more nuturing") do so in order to reinforce subjugation of women.  Alternatively, a man could insist on gender differences in order to try and isolate more effective pedagogical methods, or to help form public policy towards working families, etc.

Am I a gender essentialist?  I dunno.  Sometimes I think I’ve noticed ways that women are different from men, but then a woman comes along that breaks the pattern.  I believe that it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify or quantify the differences between men and women, and that it is accordingly dangerous stuff.  This may explain why so many of Kaimi’s posts get deleted.  In any event, when we are drawn to discuss gender differences we could do ourselves a favor and examine the rhetorical motivation for the discussion.  When we unveil our motivations and try to understand our own minds on these issues, I think we can begin to see eye to eye.

Comments

  1. Miranda PJ says:

    Steve, you’re assuming that gender essentialism is a conservative viewpoint. This is a common mistake. Feminism is sometimes defined in terms of the rejection of gender essentialism, but as a feminist, I can vouch for the fact that this is false. Important feminist voices like Carol Gilligan have emphasized some forms of gender essentialism. Even MacKinnon approaches essentialism by attempting to tie together women by focussing on the common elements of women’s experience. Moreover, lesbians and gays often define themselves using essential categories. I differ with my fellow feminists who rail against gender essentialism as such. The question is not, “Who supports and who opposes essentialism?” The question is, “To what end and according to what strategy is essentialism being used?” The focus on gender as a primary factor in oppression or subjugation often conceals other factors that may also serve the end of subjugation. This can have much the same effect as traditional essentialism when used by those in a dominant position to efface the differences among those they dominate. That’s the negative side. On the positive side, essentialism can be an invaluable tool in legitimizing sexual roles or activities, as we have seen among gays and lesbians.

  2. SeptimusH says:

    I believe men and women are essentially different. I’ve seen members of both genders naked and really there’s no comparison.

  3. I’ve never heard of those words”gender essentialism.” Pretty clueless.

    Loved your comment, Septimus.

    I am sort of contrary, I like being a woman, my husband changes the tires, he opens the doors, he makes the living. On the other hand, I do not take orders from any man. So I guess that’s wanting to have my cake and eat it, too.

    Not sure if that’s liberal or conservative. I think it’s smart.

  4. HL Rogers says:

    Hey this is a family blog. Keep it clean, will ya!! (In fact, I like to think of it as the Disney Land of blogs)

  5. D. Fletcher says:

    BCC seems to have a feminine personality as a group blog, as opposed to the more masculine T&S.

  6. D., now you’re just egging me on.

  7. There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. The folks that say there are not are off their rockers. The question then becomes is there any *spiritual* difference between men and women. I don’t believe so.

    Free will is emergent. To be truly free, we must transcend our physiology and our socialization. I consequently tend to look at Adam and Eve as equal free agents (i.e., lacking biological and social impairments to their free will) and consequently “essentially” the same. The rest of us are somewhere on the emergent free will vector.

    To the extent that people give themselves up to their physiology and socialization, yeah, there are extraordinary essential differences.

  8. J., you seem pretty comfortable separating spirit from body. I am not sure that we can do so as easily as you suggest (you Gnostic!).

  9. You are correct, Steve, it cannot be done easily. The only one I think to have done so was Christ. However, to admit inherent spiritual difference is to deny free will. While I don’t particularly buy into Libertarian Free Will, I do believe in a pretty robust version of the ideal.

    Personally, I’m not nearly as free as I would like to be (constrained both my biology and socialization).

  10. I absolutely hate it when people make comments about my kids behavior being dictated by their gender. I hear this constantly. Every time one of my daughters gets upset, someone feels the need to tell me that girls are sooo emotional. It seems that every time my (very mild-tempered, sweet) toddler boy bites me, it’s because he’s a boy, and boys are rough, and I shouldn’t expect him to act like my girls, who never bit (although they shoved and kicked at that age, and were generally more aggressive and independent than my son). And the reason I have polite, articulate, pleasant, artistic older kids is because they are female, and just wait until little Will gets older! It’ll be so different!! It’s like they take some sort of vindictive pleasure in imagining my life with a five-year-old boy.

    My take on gender essentialism: there is a wide, wide range of behavior among men and women. I think there are probably some personality traits that many women display more often than many men, but because individuals vary so much, I think any generalizations you can make on the subject are pretty much useless.

  11. what Allison said

  12. When my best friend Danny scratched me in first-grade, I felt compelled to bite him in return to let him know I would not take such behavior. I still liked him even in that moment. However, I evidently was a believer in justice. Although, a more rationale mind would realize a bite trumps a scratch any day. —-I also add my dido to the bulk of Allison’s comments.

  13. Allison: I think any generalizations you can make on the subject are pretty much useless.

    Nice generalization on the subject. I wonder what value it should be accorded.

    Miranda PJ, it’s interesting that you’ve brought gays and lesbians into the discussion (I’m particularly fond of discussing lesbians), but you’re approach to gender essentialism strikes me as either dishonest or so relativistic that it’s incoherent. You seem to be saying that the only thing that matters about gender essentialism is how effectively it can be used as a political tool to accomplish the ends of some group that you agree with (as opposed to whether there is any truth to it).

  14. Christina says:

    I’m not taking sides on essentialism because I will contradict myself. Nonetheless, let’s address the more focused question implied in Steve’s post: are women bloggers different from male bloggers? As a recently declared alum of this blog, I will say my experience as a woman is that I just don’t want to write about the same things in the same way as the men on this blog do. And I haven’t done a survey, but it has always been my impression that the women bloggers post less frequently than the male bloggers (although I don’t think this applies at all to commenting). What can we surmise from this? I’ll tell you that I believe women are more apt to sit around and talk about the same or similar topics as the men blog about, but not as likely to blog themselves. It’s certainly the case for me.

  15. A.T.: “Nice generalization on the subject. I wonder what value it should be accorded.”

    Yeah, I noticed. You can feel free to give it whatever value seems right to you (I’m not going to tell you what you can do with it, no matter how tempted I may be). ;)

    Christina: “it has always been my impression that the women bloggers post less frequently than the male bloggers”

    I’ve noticed this, too. Maybe more of the blogging men around here have desk jobs and are in front of a computer most of the day? I think I’d blog more often if it were the case with me. Or if I could blog from my car.

  16. I’d just like to add (and I’ll do so here since I’m banned on T&S and can’t do so there) that I think that it’s fair to say that Kaimi’s latest post on women on T&S didn’t seem nearly as true to Kaimi’s character as the (short lived) “Babes in Blogland” post on T&S or the “I Hate Women” post that he did here as a guest blogger in early April.

  17. Arturo,

    The early draft had lots of discussion about babeness. And also about how I hate women. But my mean co-bloggers — “chicks,” as I like to refer to them — made me take those parts out. All that was left was the gender essentialism stuff.

    Alas, such are the travails of a group blogger.

  18. Oh, Steve, and by the way —

    POACHER!!

  19. Steve,

    I think a big part of the problem in these discussions is that the terms we use are so broadly defined as to be meaningless, so we talk past each other, or just assume the worst.

    Words such as patriarchy, feminism, or gender essentialism cover a lot of ground. A man who self-identifies as a “patriarch of the home” might be a tyrant, or he might be a guy who loves his kids and is glad he is a dad, in the sense of a benevolent paterfamilias. People who self-identify as a feminists can fall anywhere on a spectrum between those who oppose using females as human chattel and those who think all sex is rape and who want women to set fire to their Maidenforms.

    For these reasons, most discussions about gender tend to be unenlightening and frustrating.

  20. I just want someone to find the gene that makes my three year old son shout “cannonball!” every time he jumps off the diving board. His sisters never did that…

    (Hey, it’s like 110 degrees here in Arizona right now…)

  21. Geoff, your three year old jumps off the diving board?!

  22. Kaimi: But my… co-bloggers—“chicks,” as I like to refer to them…

    Wow. You too, huh?

  23. pdmallamo says:

    From The Brooklyn Rail:

    An Anarchist in the Hudson Valley
    In Conversation: Peter Lamborn Wilson
    with Jennifer Bleyer
    July 2004

    Moises Saman, “Dust Storm During War, Baghdad, March 2003″ (2004). Lamda print.
    From Saman’s latest book of photos, This is War, now available from D.A.P. Moises Saman © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

    It’s been nearly ten years since Peter Lamborn Wilson—née Hakim Bey—looked at the pitiably state-bound, rule-bound world around him and asked: “Are we who live in the present doomed never to experience autonomy, never to stand for one moment on a bit of land ruled only by freedom?” In a slim, rattling volume called Temporary Autonomous Zone, Wilson intoned that, in fact, freedom is already here. Autonomy exists in time, he said, rather than space. It’s in times of wildness, revelry, abandon and revolution that for even just one brief jail-breaking moment, as sweet as honey to the tongue, one is freed of all political and social control.

  24. Christina,

    You say you’ve left your post here, but you are not mentioned as being an emeritus member of the staff. Why have they slighted you so? (this post will probably serve as a reminder to Steve to put your name on the list.)

  25. Allison: Geoff, your three year old jumps off the diving board?!

    Yeah, Quinn is a jumper. And we have a fairly high diving board too. My girls would jump in the pool but they never compulsively shouted some slogan. With Q-doggie it is either “Cannonball!” or his recent addition to the repetoire: “Look out La-Bo!”. (We know what he meant…)

  26. Nate Oman says:

    “I think any generalizations you can make on the subject are pretty much useless.”

    This seems to be a ratherly transparently false statement. A huge amount of commercial and political marketing, for example, is premised on the assumption that men and women, as a group, have identifiable differences in attitude, taste, and behavior that can be identified and successfully manipulated. The evidence suggests that this assumption is pretty much true. For example, professional political consultants are quite good at creating ads designed to move the poll numbers for female voters. Guess what, the ads work! That is why people will pay lots of money for them.

    This does not, of course, mean that any particular man or woman will conform to whatever generalizations that we make. The same, however, is true of preferred stock, cats, stars, and English novels, and one would not draw from this the conclusion that preferred stock, cats, stars, and English novels do not exist or that they are useless concepts about which to generalized. Nor does the fact that one can make more or less accurate generalizations about gender in the aggregate mean that those generalizations are “essential” or that all generalizations are accurate. The idea, however, that gender generalizations are always useless is absurd.

  27. Nate, I don’t think the assertion was that gender-based generalization are always useless — I interpreted it to mean that generalizations made by laypersons in the ordinary course are useless. That’s an assertion I take to be true.

  28. Frank McIntyre says:

    Actually, in economics a study that tried to treat men and women as identical would almost always be treated with suspicion. It is routine to allow for gender fdifferences, and to find statistically significant ones, in many types of behavior. In studying work and education, the differences are so large that it is not really acceptable even to aggregate across the two groups. One studies each independently.

    These differences, and any other observed differences, can either be environmental, essential, genetic, or some combination of the three. Apparently it is popular in some circles to insist that all differences must be solely environmental and that the other two (which are often collapsed into one) do not matter at all. But such statements are usually more revealing of the speaker’s preferences than of any empirically verified claims.

  29. Brian G says:

    In the context of her comment it was crystal clear to me that what Allison meant with her allegedly absurd statement was exactly what you express in the first sentence of your second paragraph, Nate.

    That idea is neither transparently false or absurd. The validity of it is almost entirely ignored by most people and it’s the detrimental effects which result that attract many people to anti-essentialist positions in the first place.

  30. Nate Oman says:

    Steve: Even the claim that any generalizations made by lay persons are useless seems highly unlikely. A generalization as applied to an individual is by definition a statement of probability. The problem with the line of argument offered to refute the usefulness of generalizations is that it assumes that a non-conforming instance falsifies the generalization. This is a logical non-starter, however. A generalization could only be falsified by showing that the probability given some group was different than the probability suggested by the generalization.

    Let me offer a really simple example: “Boys on average are more violent than girls.”

    “But, wait!” responds the outraged mother, “Johnny is very calm and sweet, while Jenny is a real helion.”

    Outraged mother’s response is utterly beside the point. First, the generalization is a claim about differential rates of violence rather than absolute rates of violence (if only 2% of boys are violent and 1.9% of girls are violent then the statement is true). Second, the generalization is a statement about aggregates not particulars, so strictly speaking claims about the Johnny and Jenny’s violence are beside the point.

    One might go on to argue that because the generalization cannot predict Johnny’s or Jenny’s individual behavior, it is useless. There are two response to this. First, it is not useless if I am not the mother and hence know nothing about Johnny or Jenny other than their gender. I could draw weak inferences about the relative propensity to violence on the basis of their gender. Second, the generalization may prove very useful when thinking not about individuals but about aggregates. For example, the incidence of fighting among an all-boy class may be higher than among and all-girl class.

  31. Nate Oman says:

    Brian G.: It seems to me, however, that we are capable of making quite a few rough and ready generalization about behavior on the basis of gender that are — as generalizations — basically accurate. Perhaps it is true that these generalizations by either their brute existence or by their sloppy misuse have all sorts of bad effects. Does this mean that we are justified in denying their truth in order to avoid the bad effects? Maybe, but it seems to me that at this point we are essentially engaged in lying for either ideological or consquentialist reasons. Perhaps this is a good strategy in the short run, but I suspect that in the long run people will find out.

  32. Nate, you sexist. Stop hiding behind your jargon!

  33. On Nate’s comment about Allison: Latching on to statements and taking them out of context to make gratuitously obvious points is one of the things that Nate does best. No matter what we do, Nate will continue to try to extract the most counter-intuitive meanings out of the simplest statements just to demonstrate how good he is at it. (Perhaps this is why they keep him around at T&S). The only way to argue effectively with Nate is to cut him off right out of the shoot, like so:

    Nate, the question of gender essentialism is not whether there are differences between men and women, but whether these are socially constructed or metaphysically real/essential. For example, there is a very strong positive correlation between a tendency to wear skirts and being a woman. But most people would readily concede that there is nothing inherently feminine about skirts as such (after all, it’s just fabric). Thus, we have generalizations about the real or essential differences between men and women, and generalizations about the accidental differences between men and women. It is pretty clear to me given the context that Allison is talking about generalizations concerning real or essential characteristics. But your argument focusses entirely on what feminists would consider accidental characteristics; many marketing campaigns targeted at American women would fail to transfer well to (say) Zambian women. You seemed to have confused these two types of generalizations, making you guilty of equivocation.

  34. Nate Oman says:

    My apologies for jargon and misunderstanding. It just seems to me that sometimes the anti-essentialist love fest gets a bit carried away.

  35. No worries, Nate. You’re in a privileged position to do this sort of thing, after all. When I do things as disruptive as your contribution to this thread, people say I’m a troll and call for me to get banned.

  36. Nate, I suspect you’re right that we can get carried away. But I think overall we can be a little more smart about the ways we approach essentialism, particularly when we try to apply it to new fields (i.e., blogging). It seems to me that we need to work harder at showing the utility of such applications before we go ahead and apply our spurious analyses.

  37. Nate Oman says:

    AT: My response would be that for most practical purposes the question of essential versus non-essential characteristics doesn’t matter. First, if we are interested in making predictions on the basis of gender, all that we care about are emperical regularities. I think that differential rates of violence among men and women is a great example of this. As far as I know, in all societies men are more likely to be violent than women. However, the level of violence among men varies from society to society and as far as I know that differential rates between men and women also vary. One can draw differing metaphysical conclusions, arguing that that the commonalities suggest an “inherent” difference while the differences suggest a “socially constructed” one. My point is that sorting out this question doesn’t tell us nearly as much simply getting more accurate observations.

  38. Nate Oman says:

    Steve: For crying out loud! We are talking about Kaimi’s throw-away post on a slow afternoon of document review, not some momentous question of public policy or the moral shape of the universe. It doesn’t matter all that much.

  39. Frank McIntyre says:

    AT, it is a seperately interesting question to consider whether or not individual variation among men and women swamps gender variation to such an extent that any generalizations become uninformative. That question does not revolve on whether the differences are accidental or essential. It’s answer can vary by behavior.

    After having that discussion, one can go on to discuss which differences are essential and which are accidental. But that is not something which is a priori known. Are all the voting differences between men and women accidental or essential? I don’t know. Neither, presumably, do you.

    Since your comment was not entirely correct, I hereby call for you to be banned from wherever this is.

  40. Oh Nate, little do you realize that whatsoever ye blog on earth shall be blogged in heaven. I take this blogging responsibility VERY seriously.

  41. Frank McIntyre: AT, it is a seperately interesting question to consider whether or not individual variation among men and women swamps gender variation to such an extent that any generalizations become uninformative.

    I’d pose the question more like this: Does the variation between women in (say) Zambia and women in (say) Dayton swamps the variation between men & women in Zambia and men & women in Dayton? You’re right that this is a separate issue, and an empirical one at that, but the answer might be taken to support some view on essentialism.

    Nate Oman: My response would be that for most practical purposes the question of essential versus non-essential characteristics doesn’t matter.

    I’m surprised to hear you say this. In practical terms, it puts you much closer to anti-essentialist position than the essentialist position. According to this response, you seem committed to dismissing attempts to elevate some gender role above others based on the notion that it reflects some uniquely feminine or masculine quality. I’m sympathetic with this point of view. Since I am a verificationist, I go further. I’d contend that the degree to which it is impossible to tell whether characteristics are essential or accidental is the degree to which the distinction itself is meaningless.

    Frank McIntyre: Since your comment was not entirely correct, I hereby call for you to be banned from wherever this is.

    I stand by my comment, but I’d welcome greater specificity about where you think I’m mistaken. Even so, I appreciate your effort to make this environment seem more familiar to me.

  42. Nate Oman says:

    AT: How do I go about verifying the truth of verficationism?

  43. I’ve already gone over this ad nauseum with Blake Ostler on the never ending thread on positivism at Clark Goble’s blog. You can read it if you’re really interested: It’s right here on page 6 of that thread. Ostler asked me how I could think that “positivism has a breath of validity” (he asked this on the page before the one I linked to). And when I explained this, his answer was that he still didn’t agree with positivism. This was irrelevant (as I pointed out), since the question “why should Ostler be a positivist” is an entirely different question from the one I was trying to answer; specifically, whether positivism has “a breath of validity.” Ostler responded by becoming quite condescending and eventually angry with me for answering the question that he’d originally asked, rather than the one that the decided that he would have preferred to ask when his original question proved so easily surmountable.

    But in a nutshell, here’s my answer on the verification of verification:

    To start with, we must define the principle of verification. The early strict formulations (starting with “the meaning of a statement is its method of verification” and “a sentence is meaningful if and only if it verifiable”) were abandoned by the Vienna positivists in the early 1930s. Generally, they adapted a more liberal position requiring meaning to entail some degree of confirmation or disconfirmation. For my part, I formulate the principle as follows: “A statement is meaningful if and only if evidence can be adduced for or against it.” (This is akin to Reichenbach’s probability principle, though it is stripped, of course, of his frequency interpretation of probability.) For now, I will leave aside the question of what it means to adduce evidence for or against something, since I do not believe this exercise will involve claims that leave the matter of evidence in doubt.

    First, let me say that (in spite of my good natured barb addressed at Allison and her generalization), I see no very compelling reason why rules must be self satisfying. On the contrary, Tarski demonstrated decisively that no consistent language can contain its own rules. If we treat the verification principle as unverifiable, then it is pointless to complain that this renders it inconsistent with the language over which it operates as a rule. This prompts one to ask exactly why we should consider the principle of verification to be a rule. My answer is that statements such as “the degree to which it is impossible to tell whether characteristics are essential or accidental is the degree to which the distinction itself is meaningless” strike me as quite similar to (say) “a = b; b = c; thus a = c”. If this does not strike you as reasonable, then we’ll just have to agree to disagree. At any rate, we’ve dispatched with the necessity of verifying verification.

    Second, if (in the face of reason and Tarski) you still insist that we must verify the principle of verification, we can quite easily adduce evidence for or against the proposition that, “A statement is meaningful if and only if evidence can be adduced for or against it.” Specifically, we will have four different types of evidence relevant to the principle:

    1. meaningless statements for and against which we can adduce evidence
    2. meaningful statements for and against which we can adduce evidence
    3. meaningless statements for and against which we cannot adduce evidence
    4. meaningful statements for and against which we cannot adduce evidence

    The absence of statements of types #1 and #4 would count as evidence for the verification principle, as would the presence of statements of types #2 and #3. Moreover, the presence of statements of types #1 and #4 would count as evidence against the verification principle, as would the absence of statements of types #2 and #3. Thus, we can adduce evidence both for and against the verification principle, so it is a meaningful statement by its own criterion. Moreover, the principle may be shown to be true by the absence of types #1 and #4 and the presence of types #2 and #3. I welcome you to try to demonstrate the falseness of the verification principle by providing statements of types #1 and #4.

    In any case, I’ve demonstrated quite easily that the verification principle, true or false, passes its own criteria for meaning.

    Given that the verification of the verification principle is so easily shown to be both doable and unnecessary, there is no excuse for the fact that “the verification of verification” is still considered to be a serious argument against positivism.

  44. I don’t have a lot of time, but I hate to see this discussion forced off the road into the statistical weeds by a bunch of men.

    I fervently disagree with Nate. The question of gender essentialism is for me incredibly salient and practical and personal–and not just a way to make predictions about what people will choose to do. I am a woman. I am a mother. I want to work when I finish writing my dissertation. If there is something essential about women’s role to nurture–in general–then that makes a huge difference in how I approach my life post dissertation. I feel like I am on the far side of the nurturing distribution–my husband has much more the essence to nurture our children than I do. But, yet, my decisions about what to do with my life do hang in some sense by questions about gender essentialism. I’ll always need something non-child related, but if I buy into the idea that men and women are fundamentally different then I may be more willing to shelf my career aspirations to devote more time to my chidren. On the other hand, if I feel like my husband and I are equally capable of caring for and nurturing our children, then I am more likely to push for more shared parenting and shared careers. This implies a huge difference in the everyday practical aspects of our lives.

  45. Christina says:

    So, Mimi, do you think there is something essentially different about your nature such that you, as a woman, ought to spend more time caring for your children than your husband?

  46. For us, I think that we are equally able to parent and nuture our children. The thing that gets me is the Proclamation and the general statement that mothers nurture. Maybe I’m supposed to be the primary nurturer because I’m female (even if I don’t know if I want to do that and don’t think I would do any better than my husband if we were to switch roles).

  47. Nate Oman says:

    “In any case, I’ve demonstrated quite easily that the verification principle, true or false, passes its own criteria for meaning.”

    The simple problem with this claim, it seems to me, is that the process by which you seek to verify verficactionism’s claims about the nature of meaning necessarily invoke the concept of meaning itself. (See your statements 1-4 above) Hence, it seems to me that you cannot avoid a viscious circularity because you will have to assume some theory of meaning in order to carry out your procedure of verification even though the nature of meaning is precisely what you purport to be settling.

    Your claim that verficationism as a rule of language need not itself be consistent with the rules of language is more promising. The problem that it seems to run into, in my view, is that regardless of whether or not the rule itself is deterimined by its meaning, the sentence in which you state the rule seems itself to be meaningful, and hence — by verficationism lights — must be succeptible to verfication. The glib, “How would you verify verificationism” is thus not a jab at the rule per se, but rather at the performative contradiction involved in defending a theory of meaning that cannot account for the meaninfulness of the very sentences in which it is stated.

  48. D. Fletcher says:

    Hey, Christina, nice to see…, er, read you!

    I think too much is made out of gender generalizations. Generalizations are generally true, and one must concede that there’s always (generally) going to be exceptions to the rule, perhaps 10% of the group in question.

    My own sister is quite modern when it comes to roles, and her children’s choices. Nonetheless, one Christmas when her children were small, the 5 year old boy threw the clothes on the ground and played for hours with his favorite present, a truck. The 4 year old girl grabbed her new dress and ran to put it on. It was just… natural to them, without any coaxing from the parents. And these children were really too young to be influenced by peers.

    P.S. The Proclamation of the Family was clearly intended by the Church leaders as a public position on the encroaching SSM issue (in Hawaii) — nothing more. It isn’t scripture, and it certainly shouldn’t alter people’s views of gender roles.

  49. Nate Oman says:

    Mimi: The quandry that you describe seems to me to be a normative one rather than a behavioral or metaphysical one. You do not seem to be confused about where your husband’s or your particular talents lie. Rather, you seem to be confused about what particular duties you have. It is not obvious to me why your duties, where ever it is that they lie, are contingent upon the metaphysics of gender. There are any number of things that have enormous normative significance that are essentially social constructions but this doesn’t seem to bother us a great deal (think about something like private property or voting procedures). At the same time, there are certain apparently metaphysically determined properties — say the atomic weight of lithium — that we don’t take to have any normative significance one way or another.

    Hence, I don’t see that — for all of the heat that it generates — the debate between essentialism and social construction is a particularlly useful proxy for debates about the moral and practical significance of gender.

  50. Nate Oman: …it seems to me that you cannot avoid a vicious circularity because you will have to assume some theory of meaning in order to carry out your procedure of verification even though the nature of meaning is precisely what you purport to be settling.

    It is true of theories of meaning in general that defining them within their target language leads to circularity. There is nothing peculiar about verification in this respect. This is what makes Tarski’s theory of metalanguage relevant in the first place. And it remains applicable whether we attempt to verify the verification principle or to sidestep its verification. Or perhaps your gripe is not with verification but with theories of meaning in the first place (which was, to some extant, Wittgenstein’s gripe as well).

    Nate Oman: The glib, “How would you verify verificationism” is thus not a jab at the rule per se, but rather at the performative contradiction involved in defending a theory of meaning that cannot account for the meaningfulness of the very sentences in which it is stated.

    What you’re identifying is basically the grammatical incarnation of the liars paradox. Again, Tarski spoke to this in some detail; as I point out above, he decisively demonstrated that no consistent language at all is able to contain it’s own meaning rules. In light of this, it strikes me as odd that you find this identification of a “performative contradiction” to be in some way insightful.

  51. Christina says:

    Mimi,
    I guess I care less about the Proclamation, for reasons such as, but not limited to, the one D. cites (nice to read you too, D.!) and therefore am less concerned with what I ought to do under its rubric. If you consider you and your spouse’s respective talents and desires and consider what God wants you to do, then you just make your own decisions. The people who wrote the Proclamation don’t have better information about who you are and what you should do than you and God do. At least, that’s my approach. There are too many people in the church who will tell you what you should do based on your gender or age or race who have no place doing so, the men at the top among them.

  52. Frank McIntyre says:

    Christina,

    I suppose yours is a common response to prophetic counsel. But it is not likely to be a useful one if one wishes to benefit from the watchmen on the tower.

  53. Nate Oman says:

    AT: It may well be true that all theories of meaning will end up invoking the concept of meaning in their definition. The problem with verificationism in particular is that it purports to offer us an independent method by which one can determine whether or not a statement is meaningful. On this front, I think, it fails. Perhaps other theories of meaning fail as well. On this point I remain agnostic, and I don’t really care, the philosophy of language not being my particular interest.

  54. Nate Oman says:

    “The Proclamation of the Family was clearly intended by the Church leaders as a public position on the encroaching SSM issue (in Hawaii) — nothing more. It isn’t scripture, and it certainly shouldn’t alter people’s views of gender roles.”

    D.: This seems awfully dismissive to me. The Proclamation certainly hasn’t been treated as a mere public policy statement. For example, it has been repeatedly cited and discussed in conference, Elder Eyring wrote a lengthy commentary on it published in the Ensign, and the like. It strikes me that it is more akin to a document such as the “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition” that while not formally canonized was viewed at the time — and has been viewed since — as being both non-cannonical and at the same time authoritative.

  55. Nate Oman: The problem with verificationism in particular is that it purports to offer us an independent method by which one can determine whether or not a statement is meaningful.

    This is not peculiar to the theory of verification—that’s one of my main points. Any theory of meaning that bases the meaningfulness of a statement on something more then the specification of a well formed formula (and definitions for well formed formulae are generally recursive) offers an independent method by which one can determine whether or not a statement is meaningful.

    Nate Oman: On this front, I think, it fails. Perhaps other theories of meaning fail as well. On this point I remain agnostic, and I don’t really care, the philosophy of language not being my particular interest.

    Nor is this a problem confined to philosophy of language. The theory of verification defines a landscape for epistemology and metaphysics that classifies many popular branches and schools of philosophy as nonsense. And the need for a distinction between object language and metalanguage directly impacts theories in logic (as with Russell’s theory of types or Frege’s theory of abstraction) as well as epistemology proper (as with Russell’s theory of reference). Basically, once you offer a systematic explanation of why otherwise well formed formulae like “This rock is thinking of Vienna” (to barrow from Carnap) or “Quadruplicity drinks procrastination” (to barrow from Russell) are nonsense, you must lean on Tarski’s theory of metalanguage to escape circularity.

    Wittgenstein recognized this issue relating to theories of meaning, and it led him to proclaim that theories of meaning were nonsense, but important nonsense nonetheless. This is a rather ham fisted approach, which is why nobody really adopted it. Tarski’s approach makes much more sense.

    That said, you seem fixated on this as a point of “failure.” The entire point of introducing the distinction between an object language and metalanguage was to explain why this is not a point of failure. To briefly summarize Tarski’s basic theory, the object language L is some language. The rules that dictate how L is to be used cannot be stated in L without causing several well known paradoxes relating to self reference. Thus, we stipulate that rules concerning the use of language L must be stated in a language we will call “M,” which has a different domain of reference than language L; basically, language L refers to the world (loosely speaking; it needn’t matter for Tarski’s sake how we constitute L’s meaning), but language M refers to language L. To avoid infinite regress, we must naturalize some set of rules at some point, just as we do in geometry, but this is merely a practical point (I’m writing this from memory and with more than 12 years between me and my study of Tarski, so I’d appreciate corrections from anyone with a reference handy.) You may not like this, but there’s no real way around it unless you are happy living with several of the self referential paradoxes. I.e., it’s not a bug; it’s a feature. If it will clarify anything for you, I can draw up a formal version of evidences #1 through #4 that explicitly distinguishes between the object language and the metalanguage.

  56. There are those who hang a copy of the Proclamation on the wall, and worship it like some kind of icon. Then there are those (and there is some overlap here) who use it to justify a personal position that is relatively extreme. For instance, I had an elders’ quorum president who told me, when I was 29, single, and unemployed, that it was a good thing YSA met at my parents’ house. Maybe I could “find a wife”. (Never mind that I desperately needed at the time to “find a job”.)

    For those of us who don’t practice either of these behaviors, I think the Proclamation has been distorted in our minds. I see it as a general statement of what we believe as a Church regarding the family. I do not consider it appropriate to use as a weapon to bash those who we might see as “not following it.” And to some people, that can include not having it on the wall.

    Will it be included in the Doctrine and Covenants? Maybe eventually. But not while it’s being worshipped as much as it is.

  57. Rick LaPointe says:

    At gay family home evening last Monday—yes there is such a thing—we heard an amazing presentation by a gay PhD in family sciences from BYU that included a lot of discussion on gender.

    His basic problem with the Proclamation—not scripture, by the way, and for good political reasons—is the pointed assignment of gender roles. In his family, mother was the provider and father the caregiver—and a good LDS West Valley family they were.

    While the concepts stressing complementarity in couples the Proclamation points out are true, it leaves out those who don’t always conform to stereotypical gender roles. A better wording of the Proclamation would replace man and woman with first partner and second partner. The document then would become inclusive of even the most nontraditional families and their gender identities.

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