It is. And that isn’t a bad thing.
Because as a lot of (trans exclusionary) radical feminists don’t understand, social constructs are not nonexistent. They aren’t inherently nonfunctional or inherently unreal. They aren’t nonconcrete and they aren’t divorced from having an effect on lived experiences and lived realities. Nor are they illusions. To think so is to fundamentally not understand what a social construct is.
For more examples, radical feminism is a social construct. The patriarchy is a social construct. Money is a social construct. Barter systems are a social construct. The internet is a social construct. Art is a social construct. Language is a social construct. All of these are social constructs.
So being a social construct really only tells you that something arose from society creating it. Plenty of concrete, high effect, extremely relevant and non illusionary things were created by society and arose from that. Science and the empirical method are social constructs, something terfs depend on quite a bit to hurt trans people (women the most of all).
So sex is a social construct and that doesn’t detract from it. So what does?
Well it’s a really bad social construct.
You see some socially constructed things are made really poorly. Perhaps they’re influenced by truly evil power dynamics and reify damaging power structures. Perhaps they’re arbitrary and aren’t based on very sound logic or reasoning. Perhaps they’re simply harmful in general or push inaccurate comprehensions of phenomena.
Dimorphic sex theory (which is what sex is used for as a shorthand) was created by biology (another social construct, a branch of the philosophical construct known as empirical science dedicated to describing the complex, self perpetuating, homostasis maintaining chemical systems we have labeled as life, ourselves included) to try to describe certain kinds of variation among living things that engage in reproduction that shares genes together and allows for a better survival rate (and faster evolution) by diversifying gene profiles.
It’s considered the primary alternative to asexual reproduction, most notable examples being binary fission, the method wherein bacteria create essentially clones of each other.
Although even this is a flawed understanding as many bacteria actually have methods of sharing genetic material and diversifying their profiles without being polymorphic (plasmid sharing) or with the barest minimum polymorphic aspects, for instance the + and - strains in certain algae species being the only differentiation present (and not markable as male or female based on current sex theory)
Now I know a lot of cis people haven’t gotten past the basics of biology, oversimplifications abounding, so I’ve already gone over a lot of people’s heads with this. But as you get into the heavier stuff, you find that things really don’t fit the basic oversimplifications you see in high school.
And in fact, a lot of the theoretical stuff doesn’t jibe well with sexual dimorphism at all.
In humans there are four zones of sexual “dimorphism”:
- Physical trait based
- Hormonal based
- Chromosomal based
- Gametes based
Physical trait based is the most absolutely flawed and arbitrary of the set and also happens to be the main one that terfs, conservative non feminists and general all around ignorant cis people depend on for their claims.
Physical traits vary so severely among humans that anyone who clinches onto breast development, body shape, hair presence or lack as a sign of female or male really shouldn’t even bother talking. So we’ll settle on talking about genitalia and reproductive systems, since those are the least absurd of the set of flawed bases for sexual dimorphism.
Reproductive systems also are prone to a lot of variation (enlarged clitorises, micropenises, internalized testicles, vaginal agensis, partial formation of a vulva, even full on mixture of aspects) and generally the cis people who cling to this type of sex dimorphic theory end up shitting all over intersex people and boosting the oppression they face (nonconsensual surgery, mistreatment, body policing, forced assignment based on arbitrary bullshit analysis of physical traits) by referring to these variations as “defects” and “deviations” from a “norm” (it’s actually not super normal to fully fit all the arbitrary markers of being purely male or female, variation in the reproductive system is pretty common, it’s just glossed over if no surgery is required to try to fit you into the boxes)
But there’s more flaws. Reproductive systems get modified. Human surgical knowledge has led to a lot of things being taken out of a reproductive system, often for things like cancers or injuries or functionality problem.
Does someone stop being female if you take out their uterus? Ovaries? If an injury permanently damages the function of either one & causes their removal to become necessary? If someone’s just sick of periods and isn’t interested in giving birth and has a hysterectomy? Not female anymore? Technically yes. By the physical traits system, they would stop being female.
Similar situation with the loss of testicles through injury or surgery. Orchiectomies are had by cis people, does that person stop being male? Absolutely, based on the arbitrary sex dimorphic system that TERFs and conservatives favor. A scientist would say, “technically yes” but since you’re depending on technicalities in the first place, who are you to dismiss that yes?
It’s quite simply transphobia.
And as you can see not a very good description of bodies in general. It leads to a lot of medical problems based on assumptions of what male and female means and especially causes medical problems for trans people, whose bodies often get substantially modified.
Hormonal is based on hormone functuations and levels and is almost never used by the transphobes so I won’t even address it.
Gamete based is set by the size of gametes, if you don’t have gametes, you aren’t male or female and the transphobes have the sense to avoid that one too. So we’ll be moving on from there.
Up next. Chromosomes.
Chromosomes are generally the fallback for TERFs and conservatives when the physical traits system of sex fails. Got your uterus out? Well you have XX so still female.
Except it doesn’t work like that. XX and XY are triggers for developmental paths. Not to mention the fact that there’s a lot of other chromosomal setups beyond the two, the fact is, all they are is triggers and storage for various genes and may or may not express.
Hormonal exposure and a host of other environmental factors can change what genes trigger what paths (there’s actually a switch further down the genetic line that can override your XX or XY presence for your path as well, it does so flawlessly and often isn’t easily detected). We’ve already discussed how the paths don’t often fit perfectly the idea of what XX and XY start off anyways but you can get the complete opposite. cisgender XX males and cisgender XY females do exist and constructing them as defects merely adds to their persecution without meaningfully dealing with the descriptive flaws in sex dimorphism theory.
Then of course, you have people (like TERFs) attempting to treat chromosomes as being sociologically relevant even though the mass majority of people don’t actually know what their chromosomes are.
That’s right, karyotyping is expensive and isn’t a standard operating procedure at birth. If you don’t even know for sure what your X’s and Y’s are doing, how can that be relevant to physicality, how can that affect how you’re treated in a sociological sense and how can you possibly depend on that as a fallback for determining sex?
The crux of the wrongness of sex dimorphic theory is, however, its origins. It was created along the same lines as much of early biology’s theories were created as they connected to humans. To oppress. To crush out difference and to crush down classes that needed to be dominated.
Sex dimorphic theory arose from anti intersex bigotry, misogyny and a latent form of cissexism based more around destroying gender variation (and highly related to a latent form of homophobia as gender variation and sexual partner variation were very closely linked in a lot of places).
It is used to encourage and empower all of those bigotries and currently used to harm not just trans people but dyadic cis women, queer folks, intersex folks and quite a large number of other folks.
So sex is a bad social construct and it should be done away with and replaced. If you even come close to calling yourself a feminist, you should already know this.