This photo was taken in Russia and evidently not posed.
This reflection on #metoo is based on two different versions of what sex “is”, both of them through the lens of ministry. I was a UU minister for ten years, which does not mean I’m Christian, but does mean that I experienced first hand some of the dynamics we wrestle with. I am abandoning traditional religious moralities in favor of what is good for the most people in a new world scientifically viewed. We're in the throes of a paradigm shift that goes deep.
The two different versions are those known by biology, which tells us that humans need two sexes — male and female — in order to reproduce, because the double helix is DOUBLE, get it? There are other creatures besides humans who can switch sexes or maybe have multiple sexes. Even humans can be somewhere in the middle on a spectrum between male and female. If you think of the two sexes as male (the one with at least one Y chromosome) and female (the one with two X chromosomes), then XY (standard) or XYY or XXY (oops) are possible. Y is a very short string of genes so X has a lot more info on it. But XX can get into reconciliation struggles over which side's X genes get to prevail. (S/M goes deep.)
Methylation can turn off and on genes anywhere and genes can mutate, go missing, double or quintuple, or otherwise fail to neatly complete the unzipping, transfer, and zipping up that is DNA conception of a new being. This means that while we’re all wrestling with the binary of male/female, the reality of bodies can be sorta-this and sorta-that or maybe unique, though if “too unique” nature snuffs it. Usually. (For instance, incompletely separated twins, or infants who are somehow mysteriously both sexes or show one kind of genitalia while their genome says another.)
On top of the basic sex identity are other variables, like the degree of desire, what triggers desire, the mixing of desire with pain/fear (because both are arousals), the effect of learning and training, speed and nature of maturation, and so on. All of these are used by artists and storytellers, but generally ignored by pretentious politics, who deal in groups with well-defined edges.
These variables add up to “gender roles” which are entirely cultural constructs of what people OUGHT to be according to their time and place, their socioeconomic niche in the physical ecology. Gender roles can be so pressing over time that they make men (hunters) big and aggressive while their females (gatherers who carry and tend babies) are smaller and more inclined to cooperate. This dimorphia is a biological response that we see in birds, mammals, insects and so on, whenever the roles of the two sexes are different, either in delivery systems for their half of the DNA or in protection of the progeny after they are hatched, born, or finishing their maturation outside the womb. But a person can be culturally dimorphic, esp. if they have access to surgery and pharma that will move them from one sex to the other.
There’s lots of National Geographic stuff here, but let’s leave that and go to the central motive behind #metoo, which I see as an effort to reconcile actual biological sex with culturally enforced gender roles in today’s mostly urban context where jobs and other patterns can be intersex or strictly chosen by individuals. Even the delivery system of sperm can be messed with in petri dishes and there has been some effort to remove the nucleus of an ovum, split it, and reinsert it in another ovum as a conception. We can already make a gene for a primitive animal.
Back to the cultural dimension. I had been the first female animal control officer in Portland, OR. which startled and upset people who confronted me in uniform and badge, which usually overcame confusion. If it didn't, a ticketed summons to court did the trick. (Pun, yup.) This was possible because I had skills considered male, because I had been in Montana on a rez where Western women often do “men’s work” because of circumstances. I could shoot, I’d handled many kinds of animals, I was used to aggressive people, etc. And I was reckless.
I was an early female entrant into the UU ministry because of admiration for the way certain males handled the role and because of their intellectual world (as much literary and philosophical as the kind of theology that is nearly mathematical reasoning). Once, at a workshop for ministers, the leader had us take a gender-characteristics test (aggression, nurturing) and then line up according to our scores, most “gender-assigned” female at one end and male at the other end. My scores and the scores of the ministers I most admired put us side-by-side in the middle. Five years later at least half of the ministers in my district were female and I was conscious that I was now far more close to the male end. We'd been "mommied."
Many of these women were single, and — forgive me — not particularly alluring. They were comforting in a maternal way, but they were also greatly empowered by being in a pulpit, esp. wearing a robe. This was like sprinkling mistletoe on them. Suddenly men were interested, not the alpha men, but the others a little less competitive.
One explained to me, “Pastors are meant to fill my needs, and I need sex.” I explained back, “I charge a lot more to be the Temple Whore.” He wanted to know how much. To him I was a prostitute. I was thinking more along the lines of a nun, excused by celibacy from such demands but I had tried to take him on his own ground, which was the intention to be privileged, to have access to what he thought was power.
In the American West (and other contexts) women are seen as part of the system of productivity, often as owned as a cow. A childless woman is meant to pull a plow. A woman who is not affiliated with some man is seen as free for use by anyone. Being “owned” is a gender-based construct. An “owned” man is feminized. Owning is a male privilege. Women cannot own or be owned. This is one of the gender-role basics that females are addressing in their protests.
Being employed by someone is not the same as being owned by them, but there is confusion. After I was divorced by Bob, I looked for a school job again and got one because the principal frankly framed it as “owning” me because Bob couldn’t “keep me.” He didn’t value me — he just wanted to stick his finger in a powerful man’s eye. (I was not “cute” enough for him to come on to me physically, but he was sued for harassment by a more cute female.)
The S/M dynamic is strong in gender roles, but if they are balanced or fluid, then things can go along pretty well. Gender roles in contemporary movies are wonderfully revealing sources of examples and the consequences of “coloring outside the lines” drawn by the culture. (Screenwriters are the moral thinkers of our times.)
The thing is, culture itself is fluid, always changing to fit the new circumstances, and that can confuse the sexual behavior. It may be that the kind of person one desires is not the same as a person could accommodate in a domestic setting, or that one intensely desires a person who doesn’t “desire” back. Often this can be related to the cultural practises in raising a child, which produce a certain kind of person, some suited for monogamy and others not. These situations are fertile contexts for paraphilias, which slide the desire sideways to something not personal and possibly more purchasable.
This is my first “cut” at this subject, but it seems promising and I’ll return. I haven’t mentioned hormones or molecules in general. And maturation deserves much more attention.