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Gender And Social Construction Philosophy Essay

In her article, Sally Haslanger attempts to assert that several defining groups -- such as race, gender, and nationality -- are something she calls social constructions. Basically, she states that these defining groups are not natural -- they are things defined by our human minds to psychologically describe a person. In her article, Haslanger focuses mainly on the social construction of gender. She describes what a social construction is, and how it might apply to the topic of gender. A social construction, in the broadest sense, is something that is an intended or unintended product of a social practice. A few examples of a social construction are chess games, languages, and scientific inquiry. Each of these depends on a complex social context for their existence, and that is what makes them social constructions. Haslanger states that it is important to distinguish between the construction of ideas and concepts and the constructions of objects. The construction of ideas and concepts centers around our thoughts and interpretations of our experiences with the world around us. Once we have understood our interpretations, we can analyze our individual framework for how we conceptualize things, and therefore help us to organize phenomena. Our everyday framework for thinking human beings is that there are two -- and only two -- sexes, being male and female. The construction of objects, on the other hand, focuses on objects (an object being anything that is not an idea). In considering constructions of objects, we can recognize that these classifications may do more than adhere to our groups already in existence. They may, in fact, cause us to create new classifications and cause our definitions to fit into these new categories. Now, having defined these, Haslanger defines gender as both an idea-construction and an object-construction.

Haslanger begins her argument of gender as a social construction by explaining what exactly a social construction is -- it is anything dependent on a complex social construct for its existence, and if it is an intended or unintended product of a social practice. She asserts that gender is, in fact, a social construction. She supports her argument by stating that there are several types of constructions, and gender fits into all of them in some way. The first, construction of ideas and concepts, states that an idea or concept is only possible within and due to a social context. The way that this describes the social construction of gender is that in our everyday conceptual framework, we tend to think of humans in two different groups as far as sex goes, those groups being male and female. However, this framework excludes a major group of humans, which are those with anatomical features of both a male and a female. This does not make our framework invalid, however. This is important to note; a conceptual framework can be inadequate and not be completely false. A claim can be true and yet still be incomplete because it is misinformed or unjustified. People may only think of humans as only either male or female for a few reasons -- they are unaware of these humans with dual anatomy either because they were never informed of such humans or they were taught -- usually by their parents, teachers, etc. -- that humans are only male and female. This results in a misinformed framework. Because of this, saying that an idea or concept is a social construction may have little or no point. This causes a social constructionist to suggest that a topic is “merely” a social construction. This means that what we perceive as real is merely fiction and does not capture reality. Haslanger uses the example of battered women being diagnosed with mental “disorders”, as described by Amanda Westland in the following excerpt:

“[b]attered women’s “abnormalities” have been described and redescribed within the psychiatric literature of the twentieth century, characterized as everything from hysteria to masochistic or self-defeating personality disorders (SDPD) to co-dependency. Moreover, such pathologies measure, classify, and define battered women’s deviance not just from “normal” female behaviors but also from universalized male norms of independence and self-interest. (Westlund, 1999)”

Therefore, these diagnoses can be categorized as “merely” social constructions because they are ideas used to interpret social phenomena but they do not describe anything that is not fictional. A construction of objects, on the other hand, deals with anything that is not an idea of concept. Therefore, it deals with the physical attributes of gender. First, Haslanger says, we must note that destructions of objects point out that our means by which we classify people in social contexts may be more extensive than simply dictating how we classify people. In fact, our descriptions may in fact have the effect of forming new classification groups. This particular type of construction does several things; first, it describes types of intentions. Second, our classifications can serve to justify certain behaviors. This is called “discursive” construction, as explained here by Haslanger:

“Discursive construction: something is discursively constructed just in case it is (to a significant extent) the way it is because of what is attributed to it or how it is classified. (Haslanger, 1995)”

This is to say something is defined by how it is classified. However, we are cautioned that to say that something is discursively constructed does not automatically bring an object into existence. Something in existence develops a set of features that helps us classify it as a part of a certain group.

Now, on the subject of gender, it would seem that gender is, in fact, a combination of the two social constructions. It is an idea construction due to the classification of men and women is the consequence of social forces over years of historical events. It is an object construction in that all concrete individuals are socially constructed as gendered kinds of people. Another sense in which something could be a social construction is by analyzing the difference between social and physical kinds of constructions. This is to say that classification of males and females is not based merely on biological or anatomical differences, but rather focuses on social distinguishing factors that make one individual different from another. Gender, Haslanger says, is not about the anatomical features such as ovaries and testicles, but rather the ranks of the groups classified within the context of social relations. To illustrate her point, Haslanger uses the landlord-mole analogy. Suppose every landlord had a mole behind their left ear. While this can describe a landlord, this physical feature is not what defines a landlord. She states that there can be a distinction made between sex and gender. Sex is an anatomical distinction, which is based solely on biological differences, such as reproductive organs. Gender, on the other hand, is a distinction between the social positions held by those individuals of different sexes. The individuals in these groups are affected by the social processes that help constitute the groups. Being the humans respond to and rely on social contexts, we are shaped by our interactions with others; we take on certain traits based on our interactions with other people.

ENTRY 2

Domestic Violence Against Women and Autonomy, by Marilyn Friedman

In her article, Marilyn Friedman asserts that abuse to a woman by an intimate partner tampers with her sense of autonomy. In recent times, legal groups have made more of an attempt to respond to the cries of help from these abused women -- largely because of the numbers of lawsuits filed against them for failing to do so in earlier years. While the response is better now, it is still not perfect. There are still several challenges in helping these abused women, mostly due to the behaviors of the abused women themselves which make it nearly impossible to convict the abusers sometimes. These abused and battered women often refuse to press charges against their abusers, or they sometimes return to live with the abusive partner for one reason or another. So how is the law to respond when these women act this way? Are they to turn a blind eye to the abuse and pretend not to notice, or are they to act against the wishes of the abused women? Also, Friedman points out, there is a difference between how the law and professional caregivers should approach the situation of dealing with abused women. Her view is that the law should tend to try to prevent domestic violence from occurring while professional caregivers should support the victim despite the problems this might give the law in prevention of her abuser being allowed to abuse her again. Also, it is important to address three other issues. First, it is important to investigate exactly how domestic violence strips a woman of her autonomy. Second, we should ask why a woman would stay in an abusive relationship when she could easily leave. Lastly, what is wrong with asking why an abused woman would stay in an abusive relationship?

Friedman begins her argument by giving a clear cut difference in how the law and professional caregivers should treat the situation of a woman who has been abused by her intimate partner. She asserts that the legal system should tend to lean more toward penalizing abusers -- when the abuse cannot be prevented, that is -- even when the woman may wish otherwise. Professional caregivers, on the other hand, should be solely responsible for supporting the victimized women, without concern for becoming an obstacle for the law, even if it interferes with the law’s ability to control the abusers. The law should be mainly concerned with prevention of further abuse or stopping the exacerbation of the current abusive situation, with or without the consent or cooperation of the abused. The abuse must not be allowed to continue because, as Friedman states, it interferes to a great extent with the woman’s autonomy.

When two people are in an intimate relationship, they are far more open with each other than two people that are not in such an up-close-and-personal relationship. This being said, we as humans are more vulnerable to being hurt in such a situation, when we have our souls, hopes, and emotions bared for one person so openly. So when a woman’s intimate partner abuses her, it hurts her much more deeply than if the abuse had come from another source. She is expecting to be loved deeply by this person, not have her emotions exploited in such a demeaning way. This abuse can be manifested in several different formats. The first, and most obvious form, is physical battering -- this can range from pushing and shoving to hitting and menacing or injuring with a lethal weapon. Another form is that of emotional and psychological abuse. This is most usually manifested in embarrassing or humiliating the abused, isolation, or killing of pets. The third common form is financial control -- that is, withholding or stealing money from the abused. The last form is that of sexual abuse, meaning rape or other forced sexual acts.

All of these tamper with the victim’s autonomy. Autonomy is the capacity to persist in the face of a view opposing our own -- to be able to act in accordance with our own deep-seated beliefs and concerns. A person must be able to act without any undue manipulation or coercion. There are at least three ways that abuse from an intimate partner violates autonomy. First, when a woman is victimized by intimate partner abuse, she is being coerced. The abuse threatens her safety, well-being, and survival. The abused woman is denied the basic right to live her life as she sees fit. Instead of living to fulfill her own morals, values, and goals, the abused must be forced to bend to the will of her abuser, and therefore must operate on sheer survival instincts. Based on the thoughts of some philosophers, autonomy is being able to live life with numerous options, not to be confined by merely fulfilling basic survival needs. Autonomy is not, however, completely obliterated by domestic violence. A woman is still free to choose how to live her life, regardless of her abuser’s wishes; although, it is much more difficult to achieve autonomy under these particular restrictions.

Secondly, intimate partner abuse threatens autonomy in exactly how it threatens a woman’s survival. When a woman is being abused, she has a much greater sense of what her abuser’s wants and wishes are -- and is much more particular to act in accordance with them, to keep him from having a violent reaction. She will go to great lengths to accommodate these wishes, even at the cost of her own best interest. When so much attention is thrown in one direction, this distracts from the time the woman could be using to figure out her own life, being governed by her own concerns, rather than those of her abuser.

Third, abusers attempt to exert full control over those they abuse, often getting violent when those they are abusing are insubordinate to the control. One of the defining features of autonomy is that one person not be continuously subjected to the will of another person. Therefore, this makes intimate partner abuse a glaring offense as far as autonomy is concerned. According to Angela Browne, there are several early warning signs of an abusive personality, including possessiveness, excessive jealousy, a “short fuse”, needing to know the woman’s whereabouts at all times, and discouraging the woman from spending any amount of time around other people.

Next, Friedman moves to the topic of asking why abused women stay in these abusive relationships. Some theorists argue that this is not the appropriate question to ask, but should ask instead why men abuse women. While this is a worthwhile question to investigate, there is still, however, value in asking why these women stay -- if the question is asked in the correct way. If asked indelicately, this question can seem as if it is placing the blame on the abused woman for being abused -- this is obviously a mistaken stance to take. When asked the right way, however, this question can be quite enlightening. It could be asked as a legitimate attempt to understand the motive behind the woman staying in the relationship. It is a completely understandable reaction to be confused when a woman willingly subjects herself to abuse that could easily be avoided if she only left the abusive situation. Another reason to ask the question is that there is seemingly something fundamentally wrong with the decision to stay in such a relationship. So, at most, staying in such a relationship is only a prudential mistake and should not be treated as more, as it often is.

Now, Friedman has us concentrate on the specific reasons for why these women stay around their abusers. First, though, she points out that we should not think of abused women as victims, but rather as survivors -- they, such as survivors of other taxing and harrowing times, have lived through life situations that could have made some crack under the pressure. In surviving these situations, they had to make some very difficult situations that she was forced into making just to stay alive, or perhaps for the sake of the life of someone close to her. Often, leaving an abusive relationship would be more taxing than staying in the relationship, whether it be for financial reasons, to protect her children, or fear of repercussions for leaving -- often called “separation assault”. Also, women may not understand that they are being abused. She may blame herself or other outside influences for the abuse. Whatever, the reason for staying in the relationship, professional caregivers need to respect the woman’s autonomy, whatever her decision, and support her through it. The law can often make prevention and punishment of abuse a very humiliating and embarrassing experience, forcing the abused woman to relive the whole experience over and over again, and having several parts of her personal life probed and prodded. Also, the woman will often be punished if she refuses to participate in court and legal proceedings, further exacerbating her distress after being abused. This may seem to violate the woman’s autonomy, but truthfully, if the law acted in any other way, they would not be nearly as effective in the prevention and cessation of abuse. It is the professional caregiver’s job to maintain the autonomy of the abused woman, while at the same time supporting her amidst her emotional turmoil.

ENTRY 3

An Almost Absolute Value in History by John Noonan, Jr.

In his article, Noonan, Jr. attempts to show why abortion is wrong and corrupt. He supports the conservative view of abortion, stating that the fetus becomes a living being at the time of conception. To back up his view, he states his answer to what he considers to be one of the most fundamental questions regarding abortion in history: how do you determine the humanity of a being? In order to support his view, he shows how he can refute several of the pro-choice views and perspectives on abortion. First, the view that the fetus being completely dependent on its mother denies it humanity can be easily refuted; even an older fetus and a young child are dependent on some form of nurturing to live. Second, there is a view that the fetus is not human because it has not been shaped by experiences that others who are suffering through life have gained. This view is misled; the fetus is responsive to touch after only eight weeks. This is a form of experiencing sensation. A third view is that the grief felt over a fetus dying is not the same type or quantity of grief felt over the death of a “living” person. This cannot be a viable argument, as human emotion and feeling is notoriously ever-changing; it cannot and should not be a solid foundation to base something as substantial as humanity of a being on. There are a few other views as well that Noonan, Jr. effectively squashes, such as that a fetus is not a person because it cannot be visually perceived, and that a fetus is not a person because it cannot communicate with society.

Noonan, Jr. begins his argument by first stating that once conceived, a being is recognized as a man because he has a man’s potential. He believes that if you are conceived by human parents, you are human. His argument is strengthened by refuting several pro-abortion views. The first he discusses is that pro-abortionists believe that because the life of the fetus is completely dependent on the life of the mother, this makes it less of a human. Because its life is contingent upon that of its mother, it is inhuman. There are several problems with this view. First, the fetus could be removed from the mother’s womb at any time and have its incubation continued via artificial incubation. By this method, the fetus could become viable at any time. Also, dependence does not stop once the fetus is born as a child. An older fetus, younger child, and even older child are all still dependent on a mother’s nurturing to survive. This does not make the children any less human, in fact it is part of what makes them human. Therefore, we cannot use this method to define personhood. Another argument the pro-abortionists advocate is that beings who have lived through life experiences, suffered through painful circumstances, and possess memories are more human than a being that cannot claim to have lived through pain, and does not possess memories. A fetus is, in a sense, “unformed” by life experiences that shape us into the people we are, because it cannot partake in the sensation of experience. However, it is blatantly obvious that this view is highly uneducated. Even the minimal amount of research shows that a fetus responds to touch just eight weeks after it is conceived. This is a form of experiencing, as the sensation of touch is one of the human senses. Moreover, this view excludes older fetuses and young children from humanhood. They have not yet experienced the challenging and sometimes harsh circumstances to shape them into their own unique person. And yet, obviously, we cannot argue that they are not human. Therefore, this is not a valid argument to prove humanity. It could be argued, possibly, that such experiences as loving and learning are necessary attributes to make a being human. However, this is also invalid, because it rules out any being that is incapable of -- or has failed to -- love or learn out of humanity. Obviously, this is not accurate -- mentally challenged people who are incapable of learning are no less human than one with full mental capacity. Therefore, this argument cannot be used to define humanity.

Another viewpoint is that when a fetus dies, the grief felt by the parents is not the same kind of grief that they would feel if their “living” child died. The fetus is not a “reality” to the parents -- it remains a nameless, faceless entity while unborn, and therefore cannot elicit the same kind of grief or feelings that an already “living” child can. Therefore, the fetus cannot be human. However, this argument leaves out a major factor -- humans are fickle. Our feelings and emotions are constantly changing; this makes it a very unstable guide to deciding the humanity of a being. Something so unreliable cannot determine the humanity of a being.

The next view is that because the fetus cannot be seen or touched, it cannot be granted humanity. Basically, the idea behind this is “out of sight, out of mind”. This view, however, is even more unstable than that of the feelings and grief. Not only that, but simply judging based on visual perception is a dangerous route to take. It is because of visual perception that racial discrimination and color segregation came about. Just because someone appears different than us does not make them any less human, and just because we cannot physically see a fetus does not make it any less human. Besides, the fetus can be seen -- because of advances in technology, the baby can now be viewed before being born via ultrasound. The view that they are less human because we cannot see them is a holdover from the Old English idea of “quickening”, which was actually a mistranslation that was accepted as common canon. Touch and sight as an accepted defining factor of humanity seems to be dependent on the Aristotelian idea of ensoulment. Once this idea of ensoulment ceased to be used, the definition did as well.

Next, Noonan, Jr. focuses on the view that the pro-abortionists have adopted that states because the fetus cannot communicate with others, it is not socially perceived as human; therefore it is not a member of society. According to this view, a being that is excluded from society of men is also excluded from the humanity of men. However, this view cannot be correct. If this view were the general practice of defining humanity, then several individuals or even entire groups of beings could be denied humanity simply by being shunned by society. This brings to mind a “high-school mentality”: because a person is not accepted by the right group in society, they cease to exist. This is simply not an intelligent way to define someone as human or not. While not being recognized by society in general can be destructive to a person, humanity is not defined by social recognition. Therefore, this view is invalid.

It should be restated: any being conceived by a human man and human woman is, therefore, human. A human carries the DNA of a human, nothing else. A fetus is no exception. All of the views written about that the pro-abortionists hold are easily refuted, either because of a lack of education, lack of research, or both.

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