April 20, 2022

What modern art can tell us about gender identity and biological sex

Woman painting abstract painting.
But is it real?

The history of the use of linear perspective in art has a lot to teach us about the way be approach the "reality"  of biological sex and gender.

I had an interesting discussion with a friend about the reality of reality  the other day  and we came over the following example:

Two-dimensional perspective images


At some point in time someone came up with the idea of two-dimensional linear perspective drawing (first in Antiquity and then again in the Renaissance). From the 15th century onwards this gradually became the norm for how "the real world" should be depicted. 

Photography became so popular because the photos produced lived up to the ideal of two-dimensional perspective.

By two-dimensional perspective I mean using various tricks to give the illusion of depth in an image on a flat surface, as paper or canvas. One such trick is to present parallel lines as converging in order to give the illusion of depth and distance.

Leon Battista Alberti, Della Pictura drawing showing a horizon line and vanishing point, 1435. Via Classical Art.


Two-dimensional perspective art (and later photos)  became the default standard for "real". "I like paintings that look like reality," people would say and point to pictures like this one:

April 8, 2022

What does the word "gender" really mean?

The main problem with the term gender is that it is not referring to one phenomenon only, but many. It is this ambiguity of language that makes discussions so confusing. But it also this complexity that makes the topic so interesting. 

The reason for this ambiguity is that the language most people use today has been developed within a culture that requires you think of male and female as "natural" and mutually exclusive. Moreover, these concepts of male and female are supposed to determine everything you are or can do.

However, reality does not care. Nature does not care. And everyone violates these rules on a daily basis. Everyone!

Here are the most important phenomena referred to as "gender":

Biological sex


Biological sex refers to what is called "gametes", as in sperm and egg. Gametes are real, so biological sex is real. 

Still, the two sexes are not mutually exclusive. Nature throws a lot of dice that comes up intersex, with different chromosomes (as in XY women and XX men) and a wide variety of ambiguous genitalia and sex characteristics.

Many species reproduced by way of gametes, as in human sperm an eggs. Other species have other ways of continuing the species.


By the way: Not even post-modernist gender philosophers deny the existence of gametes.  They are simply pointing out that our understanding of what the existence of biological sex means for our daily lives is colored by culture, and that the scientists themselves are also influenced by culture when they develop and present their theories. 

They are right about this, and scientists may also change their views based on new concepts and new ideals developed elsewhere. Homosexuality and gender dysphoria are, for instance, no longer seen as mental illnesses.  
Note also the way transphobes try to present  the statement "gender is the same as biological sex" as science. That statement represents, at best, 19th century science. I know of no serious scientists today – whether they come from the natural sciences or from the social ones – that argue that the complexity of cultural gender can be reduced to gametes, genitalia or chromosomes. 


Cultural gender


Throughout the ages various cultures have created an insane number of social rules as to how men and women should dress and behave. A Roman man would not be caught dead in trousers. Most cis/het American men today will not be seen in a toga ("Eeeeek! A dress!!!)

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