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.
R. Young (1987). Racist society, racist science. In D. Gill & L. Levidow (Eds.) Anti-racist science teaching (pp. 16-42). London: Free Association Books.
Remember that time when they made up a disease for black ppl when we didnt wanna be stuck as slaves?
Remember when they operated on black women with no anesthesia to get modern gynecological surgical procedures?
Remember when they sterilized poor woc without consent to keep us from ‘creating more undesirables’?
Remember when the government allowed Black men to go untreated with Syphilis even after a cure was discovered?
Remember when minority heavy areas in cities were sprayed with radioactive material to ‘test’ how America could handle a nuclear fallout?
Oh, you dont? Because I do…
Go look it up. Every single one was done by a white supremacist nation called America.
We all blink. A lot. The average person blinks some 15-20 times per minute—so frequently that our eyes are closed for roughly 10% of our waking hours overall.
Although some of this blinking has a clear purpose—mostly to lubricate the eyeballs, and occasionally protect them from dust or other debris—scientists say that we blink far more often than necessary for these functions alone. Thus, blinking is physiological riddle. Why do we do it so darn often? In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of scientists from Japan offers up a surprising new answer—that briefly closing our eyes might actually help us to gather our thoughts and focus attention on the world around us.
The researchers came to the hypothesis after noting an interesting fact revealed by previous research on blinking: that the exact moments when we blink aren’t actually random. Although seemingly spontaneous, studies have revealed that people tend to blink at predictable moments. For someone reading, blinking often occurs after each sentence is finished, while for a person listening to a speech, it frequently comes when the speaker pauses between statements. A group of people all watching the same video tend to blink around the same time, too, when action briefly lags.
As a result, the researchers guessed that we might subconsciously use blinks as a sort of mental resting point, to briefly shut off visual stimuli and allow us to focus our attention. To test the idea, they put 10 different volunteers in an fMRI machine and had them watch the TV show “Mr. Bean” (they had used the same show in their previous work on blinking, showing that it came at implicit break points in the video). They then monitored which areas of the brain showed increased or decreased activity when the study participants blinked.
Their analysis showed that when the Bean-watchers blinked, mental activity briefly spiked in areas related to the default network, areas of the brain that operate when the mind is in a state of wakeful rest, rather than focusing on the outside world. Momentary activation of this alternate network, they theorize, could serve as a mental break, allowing for increased attention capacity when the eyes are opened again.
To test whether this mental break was simply a result of the participants’ visual inputs being blocked, rather than a subconscious effort to clear their minds, the researchers also manually inserted “blackouts” into the video at random intervals that lasted roughly as long as a blink. In the fMRI data, though, the brain areas related to the default network weren’t similarly activated. Blinking is something more than temporarily not seeing anything.
It’s far from conclusive, but the research demonstrates that we do enter some sort of altered mental state when we blink—we’re not just doing it to lubricate our eyes. A blink could provide a momentary island of introspective calm in the ocean of visual stimuli that defines our lives.
[TW: suicidal references, depression, anxiety, stigma surrounding mental illness]
"You don’t have a chemical imbalance, you have a brain"
by Mark Freeman
The chemical imbalance myth is astoundingly persistent, stigmatizing, and just plain unscientific. We now know that recovery from mental illness is much more complicated than simply pumping up levels of a neurotransmitter, and the scientific community has moved on from looking at low serotonin as the root cause of mental illness. In an editorial published in 2011, Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, described it as “antiquated” (Mental Illness Defined as Disruption in Neural Circuits). In a NPR interview conducted earlier this year, Joseph Coyle, a professor of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, described the chemical imbalance view of mental illness as: “sort of last-century thinking” (When It Comes To Depression, Serotonin Isn’t The Whole Story). Even pharmaceutical companies are getting out of the low serotonin game. GlaxoSmithKline stopped pursuing new anti-depressants two years ago because, as their head of research, Moncef Slaoui, said in a recent Reuters interview, depression meds might only be effective 55% of the time, while placebos will work 50% of the time (Antidepressants give drugmakers the blues).
This is not to say that medication doesn’t have a role in recovery from mental illness. A study published in Nature earlier this year demonstrated that people taking SSRIs and doing behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders, were slightly more likely to recover than people only doing behavioral therapy, and much more likely to recover than people only taking SSRIs, because SSRIs increase neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change and grow, and changing your brain is what you do when you do behavioral therapy (Psychiatric disorders: Why two is better than one). This effect has also been replicated in studies that show stroke patients recover more quickly when given anti-depressants because they boost the brain’s ability to build new connections around the parts of the brain damaged by the stroke (Prozac shows promise in recovery from stroke).
The reason I bring this up is because I meet a lot of people who’ve got not-so-with-it healthcare professionals that get them on anti-depressants and tell them they have a chemical imbalance and that they’re stuck with their illnesses. That’s just not true.
We’re stuck with mental health, that’s for sure, but for many mental illnesses, you’re not stuck with them. Lots of people recover from mental illnesses everyday, some with the help of meds for a bit of time, and some without. I recovered from OCD without meds, and was lucky to have a fantastic psychologist to help me through really tough behavioral therapy. There’s no need to chase some magical chemical balance. Your brain isn’t lacking things that other “normal” people have in their brains. You are not deficient. Your brain can do incredible things. Your brain is capable of changing, just the same as everybody else’s brain, for better or worse.
I read this post a while ago and found it in-your-face problematic but I haven’t really felt confident explaining why. Fast forward a few weeks and I found some excellent commentary, which I have separated out for easier reading:
“Unfortunately, the real story is complicated and, in a way, not all that reassuring. Researchers don’t really know what causes depression. They’re making progress, but they don’t know. That’s the real story.”
That is from the NPR article linked above. I have mixed feelings about this. I think telling people with mental illnesses they don’t have chemical imbalances, or genuine biological deficiencies is dangerous. This guy, Mark, says he recovered from OCD - which is fantastic. However, I was diagnosed with Major/Minor Depression, Generalized Anxiety, and OCD when I was 9 and have been in and out of doctors since then. I’ve been on at least 5 different anti-anxiety/anti-depression medications, worked with 4 or 5 different therapists that I can remember and nothing has helped.
Currently I am on medication and it is the only thing keeping me from collapsing into a crying ball of uselessness. I have lived with mental illness and the one thing that hurts more than anything is when people say “you don’t have to be that way! Be happy! Just don’t worry!” I’d like to tell you, it is not that easy. I have tried every possible way I know how to overcome depression/anxiety and while the medication makes the effects more manageable I am still depressed, anxious, and have obsessive thoughts. I do believe there is something chemically wrong with me - and no amount of “good vibes” and “trying hard” will change that. I need medication to be able to get out of bed long enough to be able to work and pursue goals.
I think it’s better to tell people that yes, they can change their lives, and yes, a lot of the time changes in behavior and environment can help improve moods and mental disorders. But, there are the rest of us that are genuinely sick, and it is hurtful when people say we can “get over it.”
If you have ever been told you don’t need medication by friends or family or that you can “get better” by will power — feel free to talk to me. I worry for you. It’s been extremely difficult for me my entire life to try and convince myself I am not just being whiny and being dramatic. I’m sure it’s hard for others too.
Just because the chemical imbalance theory isn’t fact doesn’t mean there is no variable that a person with mental illnesses has/doesn’t have that contributes to the illness. Disputing the validity of the theory isn’t implying that anyone shouldn’t take medications or should able to overcome their illness or manage their symptoms without medication. For some people its quite possible, others not so much and theres nothing wrong with that.
Yes, but I am willing to bet that most of those with mental illnesses are already stigmatized on years of beliefs that depression/anxiety/OCD aren’t “real” disorders. That these illnesses are just weakness in that people.
I think having a theory that gives people hope that they aren’t somehow weaker than others. Also, I think challenging the theory is good, please we need more scientific research into the brain. However, I am more concerned with this Mark’s comments rather than the NPR article.
Yes, but his opposite view is also true. The theory does provide a crutch, but if its simply not true, its kinda hard to really pinpoint whether it is beneficial or detrimental. Everyone reacts differently to the information.
As if I didn’t already feel useless and pathetic enough today, I get another kick in the guts. Not only am I weak for being depressed, I’m not even ‘sick’ and I may as well be eating my own weight in M&Ms again instead of being on antidepressant medication, since according to the article placebos would be as effective as my medication.
It seems that everyone who ever told me that mental illness doesn’t exist and that I just need to ‘think happy’ and ‘snap out of it’ and ‘get over it’ is right, and that there really IS nothing wrong with me or my brain. Oh silly me. For some reason I had thought there was a problem there that with a little outside help I could actually fix. Nope it turns out I’m just a loser who just can’t think happy enough or isn’t actually sick enough to need outside help.
Guess I had better stop wasting the earth’s resources and leave them for people who aren’t completely fucking pathetic.
Both of these arguments have merit and fortunately I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.
Yes, it is dangerous to send the message that there is no hope for improvement, that mental illness is incurable or wholly genetically dictated. But it’s equally dangerous to send the message that mental illness can be fixed just by getting more sleep and doing some exercise (*insert whatever the latest strategy is*).
Obviously these messages conflict with each other but they can complement each other in a small way. For instance, someone with debilitating depression might see improvements if they make lifestyle changes. But they equally might not. The vital thing is: neither of those outcomes change the validity or otherwise of the depression.
The problem arises when the two messages become more antagonistic. That is they get condensed by society and morph into the easily-understandable “you will never improve and there’s no point trying” versus “you’re a failure for not being able to think yourself better”. Society likes things that are easily understandable and simple. Unfortunately mental illness is neither of those things which is largely why so much stigma exists.
Having said all of this, one of these two messages is overtly more harmful than the other. Telling people they should be able to solve their own mental illness is considerably more dangerous because it perpetuates and exacerbates the existing stigma surrounding mental illness. It allows people to blame the sufferer; it allows people to write-off the issue by saying “well they evidently don’t want to get better”; it allows people to judge you for being on medication; it allows people not to employ you because you’re just a “drama-magnet”; it allows people to make horribly uninformed judgements. By contrast, telling people that their illness has genetic underpinnings does none of those things. In fact, it’s entirely accurate (despite what the fucking stupid article above says*). Depression, OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar, and so on - these are all strongly genetically determined. Does that mean you have no hope of “getting better”**? NO! It means you have to learn how to manage your condition. Just like someone with any physical illness learns how to manage theirs. And that “management” might include medication, it might include exercise or lifestyle changes, it might include therapy. It might include none of those things. It doesn’t fucking matter what it includes.
Urgh. I dunno where I’m going with this exactly…I just wanted to add some thoughts and have a bit of a rant. I should probably also comment on one issue I have with catchmyfall's otherwise-excellent response:
I think it’s better to tell people that yes, they can change their lives, and yes, a lot of the time changes in behavior and environment can help improve moods and mental disorders. But, there are the rest of us that are genuinely sick, and it is hurtful when people say we can “get over it.”
I understand what you’re saying here but I don’t think it’s wise to maintain the myth that there are genuine and non-genuine cases of mental illness. If your depression gets significantly better from lifestyle changes it doesn’t mean you aren’t as legitimate as someone who never gets better. Any more than someone with cancer that responds to chemotherapy is any more or less genuine than someone whose cancer doesn’t respond. It just means that mental illness is complex and some people get lucky with treatment.
Anyway, I think that’s all I really wanted to say…I suppose I should have some succinct and astute summing up statement but I don’t, so sorry. Although I do want to say that the major mistake Mark Freeman makes is assuming that plasticity of the brain somehow negates the role of serotonin. It fucking doesn’t. And on a side note, if you’re interested in brain plasticity I can recommend “The Brain That Changes Itself" which makes no such assumptions and actually integrates the two ideas.
[*I genuinely don’t have the spoons right now to go through and pull the original post apart. I’m operating from the assumption than 90% of what Mark Freeman wrote is just bullshit and that doesn’t need to be proved. And if you disagree then you can fuck right off and read some other blog.]
[**Getting better is a problematic term that doesn’t specify better for whom. I have previously commented: "The main purpose of treating mental illness should be making life easier for the individual experiencing it. That’s very different from what is too often the case: making life easier for those around them." Anyway, just to clarify, I’m using the term with that in mind.]
Protest sign that reads:
What do we want?
When do we want it?
After peer review.
The unique multi-hued bark is the most distinctive feature of the tree. Patches of outer bark are shed annually at different times, showing a bright green inner bark. This then darkens and matures to give blue, purple, orange and then maroon tones.
|—||Jeremy Knowles, discussing the complete lack of recognition afforded to Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin|
There was a MASSIVE thread recently about fat-shaming, obesity and related issues and despite my unwillingness to jump into the Roman arena that is facebook, I did go back steal all the awesome links that people posted while making their arguments.
I thought that I should save them all so that on that mythical day when I have nothing to do and don’t feel like reading an entire webcomic or something, I can come back to them. Then I thought what better place to put them than here where everyone can learn from them.
I did not find ANY of these, they were all nicked from FB and found by extremely smart people.
The health implications of the diet industry: (3)
The ‘faux-health concern’ phenomenon: (4)
An article about the dehumanisation of fat people by society: (8)
The ‘vague future health threat’: (10)
Issues with making bodies public domain: (11)
The ‘I did it, so can you’ phenomenon: (12)
The fantasy of being thin: (13)
A collection of the ‘things fat people are told’ hashtag [MAJOR TW: fat-shaming/hatred on this one]: (14)
And, unbelievably, a Cracked article about weight-loss which doesn’t make me want to curl up and die (DON’T READ THE COMMENTS) and has lots more links: (24)
Thank you so much for compiling this. Hope you don’t mind that I just condensed the links a bit. I’d also like to add in a few more resources I have bookmarked but didn’t get a chance to bring up during that argument:
On the negative messages fat people receive: (1)
On having an “athletic” body: (5)
More thoughts on the Vague Future Health Threat: (6)
'Fat Is A Beautiful Organ': (7)
Regarding the futility of dieting: (8)
On the obligation to be healthy: (9)
Fat is Officially Incurable According to Science
Let’s get this straight: The number of people who go from fat to thin, and stay there, statistically rounds down to zero.
Every study says so. No study says otherwise. None.
Oh, you can lose a ton of weight. You’ll gain it back. Here’s one study running the numbers. Here’s a much larger analysis of every long-term weight loss study they could find. They all find the exact same thing: You can lose and keep off some minor amount, 10 or 15 pounds, for the rest of your life — it’s hard, but it can be done. Rarer cases may keep off a little more. But no one goes from actually fat to actually thin and stays thin permanently.
Except the person in this Google banner ad, who lost weight and then became white.
And when I say “no one,” I mean those cases are so obscenely rare that they don’t even appear on the chart. They can’t even find enough such people to include in the studies. It’s like trying to study people who have survived falling out of planes. Being fat is effectively incurable, every study shows it, and no one will admit it.
So the guy or girl you see in the “Before” and “After” photos in weight loss commercials, who completely changed body type with diet and exercise? You know, like Jared from Subway, who lost 230 pounds? Either they’re about to be fat again in a couple of years, or they’re a medical freak occurrence, like the sick guy who was told he had six months to live but miraculously survives 20 years. That guy exists, we all know famous examples. But it’s a rare, freak situation, living in defiance of all of the physical processes at work.
Hey, this guy lost 410 pounds on the infamous “Herbalife” diet. Amazing!
How rare? Well, this person did the math, and as far as they could tell, two out of 1,000 Weight Watchers customers actually maintain large weight losses permanently. Two out of a thousand. That means if you are fat, you are 25 times more likely to survive getting shot in the head than to stop being fat.
Meanwhile, here’s an article where scientists marvel at the amazing success of Weight Watchers, because a study of their most successful customers showed they permanently lost 5 percent of their weight. Wow! You come in at 300 pounds, you stay at 285! Next stop, thong store!
So please remember this the next time the subject comes up at the office or on some message board and you get bombarded by thin 20-year-olds insisting the obese need to just “cut out the junk food” or “take care of themselves” or “do some exercise.” The body physically won’t allow that for a formerly fat person.
Except for this guy, who lost 100 pounds and got totally ripped in four weeks. If we could only see his face, we’d see it’s totally the same person!
“Well, just stop eating so much!” Sure, kid. To feel what it’s like, try this: Go, say, just 72 hours without eating anything. See how long it is until the starvation mechanism kicks in and the brain starts hammering you with food urges with such machine gun frequency that it is basically impossible to resist. That’s what life is like for a formerly fat person all the time. Their starvation switch is permanently on. And they’re not going 72 hours, they’re trying to go the rest of their lives. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a breakdown of the science, in plain English. It’s like being an addict where the withdrawal symptoms last for decades.
As that article explains, the person who is at 175 pounds after a huge weight loss now has a completely different physical makeup from the person who is naturally 175 — exercise benefits them less, calories are more readily stored as fat, the impulse to eat occurs far, far more often. The formerly fat person can exercise ten times the willpower of the never-fat guy, and still wind up fat again. The impulses are simply more frequent, and stronger, and the physical consequences of giving in are more severe. The people who successfully do it are the ones who become psychologically obsessive about it, like that weird guy who built an Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks.
Statistically, the only option with any success rate is a horrible, horrible surgical procedure. I can find no data whatsoever that says otherwise. Keep all of this in mind the next time you see a Jenny Craig or Bowflex commercial.
Did we mention that Jared got fat again?
This is part of the reason I absolutely despise the “I knew a person who lost weight so anyone who doesn’t is just lazy or gross” rhetoric that pervades most media coverage of fatness or weight loss. Urgh.