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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > May 2016 > Gender—good for nothing

Gender—good for nothing

Our preoccupation with gender identity is a cultural step backwards. For me, the self transcends sex

From childhood, I experienced being female as an imposition. Growing up between two brothers, I was the one who had to wear stupid dresses, and worry about (the horror, in my day) letting my panties show on the swings. My brothers got to take offtheir shirts during sultry North Carolinian summers, while I wasn’t allowed to, even during the years my chest looked just like theirs.

Yet the impositions were just beginning. Periods were hideous. Did my brothers get puffy once a month, suffer terrible back aches and go back to wearing smelly de facto diapers? I was the one, too, who had the fear of God put in her about getting pregnant. In comparison to their sons, my parents clearly had reduced expectations for my career prospects. Ruefully, at 87, my father finally conceded last year: “You know, we may have underestimated you.” He still hasn’t quite brought himself to admit why: I was the girl.

But I was historically fortunate. By the time I entered university in 1974, a revolution was well under way. As I understood it, “women’s liberation” meant that the frilly cookie-cutter template of femininity had been chucked out. Being female was no longer defined in terms of skirts, high heels, and homemaking. Men and women were equal. Both sexes were just people. We had entered the post-gender world.

Fast-forward to 2016: I was wrong.

We have entered instead an oppressively gendered world, in which identity is more bound up in one’s sex than ever before. (Note: dictionary definitions regard gender and sex as interchangeable, and I will, too.) As Jemima Lewis wrote in the Daily Telegraph in March: “You can be agender, bi-gender, cisgender, demigender, graygender, intergender, genderless, genderqueer or third gender—but by God, you will accept a label.” The gay and lesbian world having gone so mainstream as to become a big bore, western media has moved on to an enthrallment with trans-genderism bizarrely out of proportion to the statistical rarity of true gender dysphoria—though children and people generally being so suggestible, the condition will doubtless grow more common. Facebook has extended its gender options beyond the 71 it reached a year ago (thrillingly, two options in this dizzying smorgasbord of self-definition are “Man” and “Woman”). Users are now allowed to infinitely customise their profiles. As the Facebook Diversity Team published, “Now, if you do not identify with the pre-populated list of gender identities, you are able to add your own. As before, you can add up to 10 gender terms…”

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In Prospect’s May issue: Simon Taylor and Bronwen Maddox on why Hinkley Point C is an expensive gamble that might not pay off. Philip Collins examines Iain Duncan Smith’s tenure as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Lionel Shriver reveals why she stopped fighting being female. Alan Rusbridger responds to last month’s piece on the Guardian by Stephen Glover. Also in this issue: Nicholas Soames says there’s no such thing as "Project Fear” and Howard Davies reviews Melvyn King’s new book and suggests that we are vulnerable to another financial crisis. Plus Ruth Dudley Edwards examines the fading myths of the Easter Rising and Owen Hatherley suggests it’s time to look for a Plan B to solve London’s housing issues.
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