This place matters

This place matters

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Boys don't cry

DThis Idea Must Die is a compilation of essays by great scientists and science communicators about scientific ideas that they believe are blocking scientific progress. Seems string theory is on its way out, which is good, because I never understood it to begin with. Another idea that scientists would like to eliminate: essentialism.  
Essentialism, as neuroscientist Lisa Barrett puts it, "is the belief that familiar categories - dogs and cats, space and time, emotions and thought - each have an underlying essence that makes the what they are."
Essentialism leads us to believe that there's some fundamental difference between races when science tells us that we're all a complicated mix of races descended from a couple hundred thousand folks in Africa 70,000 years back - not enough time to evolve differences that are any more than skin deep. 
I think essentialism is at the heart of why people try to force all these crazy and arbitrary rules about gender down the throats of children. People dress baby girls up in a dizzying array of pink and purple and sparkles, paint their boys' rooms with blue and sportsballs. We have this notion that pink is essentially feminine, yet a hundred years ago it was the opposite - pink was a "strong" color suitable for boys, and blue was dainty and delicate like girls.
We flip out over a dude wearing panties, but in Victorian times, any kind of bifurcated undergarment was scandalously masculine. In centuries past, it was men who wore the panties, makeup, lace, high heels. Now a man in high heels is an abomination, putting an infant boy in lace will confuse him for life. Though it didn't seem to harm the pretty princess pictured below - on account of the fact that she grew up to be FDR - back in the day, this was a perfectly acceptable outfit for a boy.

I think it's essentialism that drives trans teens to suicide. Essentialism makes us pay more attention when black people riot than when white people do - it is black people, essentialism informs us, who are more violent, despite all evidence to the contrary. 


jenny_o said...

Yes, we are quite short-sighted as a group, are we not?

Is "This Idea Must Die" a book or something else?

Sarah said...

Right on. For most of my life, I've dressed "like a boy" and endured the ridicule that goes along with it. In about the second grade, I insisted on choosing school clothes from the boys' section at Sears, and bless my parents, they went along. I've always maintained that in my jeans and button down shirts, I'm actually dressed "like a girl" because I identify as one.