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POLITICAL UTOPIAS – March 2018

Phillip Morris POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Thankful for Trump

Written by Phillip Morris, Editor in Chief

I am thankful for the election of the 45th President of the United States((Trump’s name is also his brand, so it’s better to not use it if you don’t want to inadvertently support him.)). He is forcing everyone to evaluate what they stand for, and this has led to some honest conversations with people who no longer feel comfortable with their political party. It would be great if everyone across the board took the time to re-examine their core beliefs. I know I only registered as a Democrat to vote for Bernie, and if I had to be categorized I’d be in the Bernie or Bust camp.

A bust is definitely what the US is going through at the moment, but I think that’s better than going along with the status quo. I suspect that had Hillary gotten elected voters would have blindly trusted her and allowed voter turnout to return to being shamefully low. Hillary’s political career shows, for better or worse, that she has been willing to follow the will of the masses. She’s gone from describing black men as “super-predators” to working for the first “black” president. She has transitioned from ardently describing marriage as being between one man and one woman to being a favorite of the LGBT community.

My issue with her and most other politicians is that when the public isn’t up in arms about a particular topic they’ll support the policies that favor their donors, even to the detriment of their constituents and what’s right.

I am not a fan of democracy, but I accept that it’s the best method we have for balancing an efficiently functioning government with a relatively high level of freedom for the average person. That being said, the democratic system has consistently failed to protect significant portions of the population since its inception. Genocide, slavery, concentrations camps, racism, sexism, and pretty much everything else democratic politicians point to as issues in other countries have legally taken place in democratic systems. It’s a constant fight to keep anyone one of those injustices from coming back full force. Nothing 45 has done is really new, because nothing he does is his own idea. Hating immigrants, minorities, the LGBT, or anyone different is standard fare for conservatives. What is new, is having someone so dumb in charge that he doesn’t see the point of subtlety. A traditional politician, like Hillary, would know to hide their, true agenda behind policies that at least seem legitimate at first glance. But a traditional politician is not what we got, so everyone that would like to keep this from happening again should give up their ideological shields and start having honest conversations with each other on what they want for society and how best to achieve it.

My issue with the extreme ideologies I’ve seen develop is that most of the population will never be able to buy into their core beliefs, yet the true believers take their political vision as the absolute truth; making everything else not worth entertaining, even in a no-stakes debate. This is not an approach that can stand against the pressures of having to live in a pluralist society. If freedom of speech and freedom of thought are fundamental rights then you must be willing to at least hear out the opposition. This is not to say that every view is equally valid. Falsehoods, propaganda, and over exaggerations only cloud legitimate streams of information, but if working from the same vetted information someone comes to a different conclusion the proper response should be to figure out why that’s the case.

The reasons why 45 is in office include: racism, classism, sexism, frustration with politicians, Russia, and plain ignorance. Still, these are not really an answer in themselves, no one is born hateful and bigoted, so again we should ask why. I’ve found that 45 made things simple in a world many found was getting too complicated, too fast. For every problem he was able to give an answer any primary schooler could follow, that usually involved pointing the finger. Simplicity and laying the blame at someone else’s feet is very attractive to people too tired for critical thinking, which is inevitable when they’re working 60-hour weeks, between two jobs, and still can’t get ahead. They know it can’t be their fault because they’re working as hard as they can, and it can’t be the system’s fault because that would mean all their efforts up to this point have been wasted. The easier answer to accept is that someone isn’t playing fair, be it Mexico, China, or everyone on welfare besides them.

Despite the results of recent elections, I don’t think the world is going backward. I think people just needed a rude awakening to how things actually work. The biggest revelation being that straight up lying is a totally legal way to run a political campaign; that Cambridge Analytica will still exist after all is said and done will be a testament to this fact. We have gone through this relatively brief period where the truth didn’t matter and I hope we will be better for it. The world hasn’t ended yet, so every election still represents a chance to get things right. What is “right” will always be a subject of debate, but at the very least we should insist that every argument put forward by our potential politicians be based on reasonably objective facts. In such a world traditional conservatives would need to give so much they might as well stay out of the conversation, but the liberals will need to give up some points too.

Society is a construct that we can and should always debate on how to make better, but facts shouldn’t have to compete with pleasant sounding lies. At the end of the day, I don’t care what someone believes as long as they’ve actually thought things through, and have a factual basis. When faced with an undeniable truth the isms and phobias that drive extreme ideologies will fade away, as long as the conversation takes place without patronization. A hero worth looking up to in this regard is the black preacher and activist Wade Watts, who was so steadfast in facing the KKK with humor and love, that the grand duke had to give up his hateful beliefs.

The equivalent of 45 is present in every society, shaming their potential voters won’t keep them from getting elected, honest conversations might.

Contributing Writers POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

PLANNING EVOLUTION? Why we cannot blueprint our progression

Written by Brennan Reichmann

On April 12th, 1961, a human being broke through the atmosphere of planet Earth. That same year a few months prior, following an aviation accident, two nuclear bombs fell on North Carolina, only two loose wires spared the accidental target from utter destruction.

If one takes the time to fully examine and weigh human history, one may notice a correlating trend between human scientific progress, and the exponential growth of potential human devastation. The progress and evolution in medicine, engineering, and the natural sciences has gone hand-in-hand with advancements in weapons technology. We live in a constant state of development. Yet, this also entails the exponential research and expansion of nuclear power as means of harnessed and weaponized energy. Albert Einstein realized the dangers of these developments, “As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable. That is not an attempt to say when it will come, but only that it is sure to come. That was true before the atomic bomb was made. What has changed is the destructiveness of war.”

Humans have been capable of devastation long before we were capable of much else. This was once instinctual and reactive, until we saw the development of the human frontal lobe, from whereupon language and society began to mold. From here, we witnessed violence evolve into a new state, a state of intent. Harm was now more than survival. When we created hammers, we simultaneously and inadvertently created a weapon more ergonomic and capable of damage than simply having a large rock in your hand. We stimulated progress in either direction at once, and this has remained the case for most human advancement up to now. Not necessarily always so acutely or directly, but that factor of coinciding progress remains.

At our core, we are all individually striving for forward progression. That definition is, of course, subjective, but it can be agreed that no human acts with regressive intent, even if the action is consciously calculated to be, say, two steps back. Humanity has never produced results of any kind, without there being a forward driving intention. Progress is hardwired into our fundamental human instincts. Our survival instinct fuels our need to creatively progress. This need for progression is responsible for our evolved state of violence, but also for our evolved state of learning. Human minds are evolving every day, striving to adapt to new and ever-present circumstances. Hence, derived from the very same source, our capabilities grow in both directions – towards progression and destruction.

Photo by Mickey O’Neil

Humanity is racing against itself. As we push ourselves deeper into the space frontier, the technological transcendence of the human body and mind is within our near future, out of the sheer necessity to continue our progression in the solar system. We integrate ourselves into technology more and more every day, propelling human evolution down a twisted, capitalistic, classist, and yet scientifically progressive path of technological advancement. As we dive deeper into virtual reality and artificial intelligence, we get closer to humanity’s full emancipation from biological restraints. A research and development team from Japan recently formulated the algorithm necessary to eventually transfer human consciousness onto a hard drive. This should allow for our consciousness to be ‘turned on and off’ as easily as a computer. The only component they are still lacking is the means of implementing the algorithm. Once completed though, humans would no longer require a biological body. Worries about diseases, famine, and death would become irrelevant, while things like deep space exploration would come within reach. This example illustrates human progress towards not only the preservation of our species, but its advancement and direct evolution.

Simultaneous to this rapid technological development is the development of treacherous weaponry designed for mass destruction. Within the past century, we have gone from harnessing automatic fire via gunpowder, to mass-destruction through radioactive and cyber warfare. There is enough active and armed weaponry on this planet lying in wait to entirely obliterate all human matter in the solar system. Our ability and knowledge on nuclear fission teeter on the same balance as our ability to further our knowledge on how to install consciousness onto a hard drive. Therefore, it is impossible to further expand our knowledge of one, while restraining progress for the other. Our future lies in the hands of progress, both in terms of creation and destruction.

Humanity will see its next stage of life in the near future. Every day, we strive towards certain aspirations and certain dreadful possibilities, and this self-prescribed balance will exact our salvation or downfall. As humanity sees itself progress deeper into a  state of earthly chaos, marked by disease, resource shortage, and overpopulation, we will see a coinciding trend of rapid scientific development. Alongside, we will experience growing tensions due to increased possibilities and means for complete destruction. Where and how we progress is entirely up to us. Living in a universe of unlimited potentials and uncertainties, this applied balance seems almost instinctual for humans – to create order and structure, to carve a beaten road through the universe of unknowns.  

Photo by Tim Mossholder

This attempt to control, to consciously decide on human evolution, is what has placed us in this teetering balance between progress and destruction.  This attempt, though, is a primitive and redundant effort, stemming from our natural instincts to preserve and survive. Outdated and useless, a call to direct action implies, that there is need for decision in order for natural progress to occur. If humanity were to remove the restrictions on progress, we might see our progress freed what we deem necessary for the survival of our species. This is mere speculation, but it can be recognized that our greatest feats of innovation and progress have occurred by ‘accident’. Flight, telecommunication, propulsion – all of these achieved by humans, pursuing goals outside the boundaries of what was deemed necessary for our survival. It is a fallacy to assume that we can decide on that which we don’t know, simply because we have the ability to decide. Rather, it is left to our ability to pursue uncertainty that in turn fuels our progress. In layman’s terms: you cannot know what you don’t know, but you can know that you don’t know. Acknowledging this is the first step towards progress.

To take a decisive position on the path of the unfolding universe would be to limit yourself. There is no way to solidify a response to the unknown natural process that will determine our future, in which we will either evolve or vanish. Any attempt to do so would suggest that one thinks themself wise enough to direct this process. We are not here to make it happen. We are here to see what happens. That alone will guide us down a path of creative and destructive progress.

POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018 Sarah Osei-Bonsu

We Are Humans; Let’s Act Like It

Written by Sarah Osei-Bonsu, Staff Writer

The Jungle is no place for humans. We know this of course, we are the civilized world. Imagine humans living in a jungle of makeshift tents, crossing streets of mud to crude churches and mosques because God might be the only one who’ll listen. Imagine waiting six hours for the chance to shower, and waiting even longer to eat. Voicing your frustration and being beaten down by police. This sounds like an unpleasant fiction – humans have more dignity than that, especially in the European Union.

“We are humans, not animals,” said Karzan, a refugee who lived in the Jungle, right here in the EU, in stark contrast to the human rights Europe preaches.

In October 2016, the Jungle was demolished after being deemed illegal. 7,000 people were forcefully resettled. Now we speak of the Jungle in past tense. A brief lapse in our beloved union which so prides itself on social welfare. Reporting on the Jungle is not popular anymore, the hashtags are no longer trending. The world watched this shameful spectacle unfold and now the world can forget again.

Humans not animals… Europe needed that reminder.

The refugee camp in Calais, France, known as the Jungle, was the horrific climax of Europe’s ‘migrant crisis’, where conditions for refugees were deplorably inhuman. Informal camps have been continuously appearing in the area around Calais since 1999.  The town’s connection to the Channel tunnel, as well as its position as Europe’s informal border with Britain, has made it a popular transit-location for migrants looking to enter the UK. When Europe’s migrant crisis recently came to a head, the Calais camp festered and expanded like never before, becoming ‘the Jungle’. The Jungle received increasing scrutiny due to its lamentable conditions. Unparalleled by any other encampment it became the horrific symbol of the migrant crisis. By May 2016, an estimated 7,000 migrants were living in the Jungle, in brutal conditions, in improvised shelters lacking proper sanitary facilities. As an informal camp, the Jungle enjoyed none of the proper amenities or state assistance mandated for refugee settlements within the EU. Aid was supplied only by NGOs and other private donors and was, therefore, nowhere near enough.

Unable to meet basic human needs, with its crowded conditions and limited medical care, the Jungle took many lives, while those who survived did so in the most hopeless conditions. For the living, the Jungle was a hell. Despite these dismal conditions, the population continued to grow, with migrants increasingly foregoing EU asylum procedures and seeking out the ‘border-town’ with hopes of entering the UK rather than claiming asylum elsewhere in the EU. Numerous attempts were made daily to cross the UK border, often ending fatally. Hoping against hope, the people of the Jungle persisted. Aside from the occasional visits of masked policemen and police dogs the EU did not intervene.

There were outcries across Europe, voices that condemned the Jungle’s existence and the fact that nothing was being done. A dog that barks but doesn’t bite. Alas, nothing was done, for two reasons; because legally nothing had to be done and because the people of Europe refused to forge a way where the law would not.

The EU has one of the world’s most sophisticated human rights systems. It adheres to a collection of human rights charters and conventions, forming a complex legal framework to protect asylum seekers. Wherever they find themselves in the asylum process, their human dignity is to be safeguarded. This guarantee is not extended to the ‘illegals’. Those who forgo the asylum process, who want to exercise their own agency instead of being relegated to asylum centres (which resemble prisons more than refuge), who insist on reuniting with their families instead of being detained by their country of ‘first entry’ (the only country legally required to take responsibility for them).

Precedents exist outside the asylum procedure to unequivocally safeguard all humans  – they are fundamental human rights and should be inviolable in any state. They clearly stipulate that no human should be exposed to degrading treatment. Was France somehow incapable of meeting its duties? French nationals continued to enjoy their rights while the people in the Jungle suffered, meaning that protection was applied hypocritically, and so, as a governing body, the EU should have intervened.

Photo by Anthony Delanoix

In the debate over the Jungle, the popular consensus was that the EU had failed to act, and Europe was duly appalled. Yes, it is important to acknowledge that the law is faulty if it is unable to protect the rights of the vulnerable, and that the EU’s failure to uphold its own laws is one of the main reasons for the tragedy of the Jungle. But instead of being satisfied with criticising the application of the law, it is better to change it. The EU has a democratic system sophisticated enough to correct its own shortcomings. The absence of legally-mandated action does not have to mean the absence of change. If we cannot rely on the law as it stands then something else must be done. We need to go beyond the mere displeasure of knowing injustices exist and demand change collectively.  

I want to propose a break in the trend of political and social idleness. We live in a great time of accessibility, transparency, and freedom of information. Yet, for a lot of us it is a one-way road from informed to disinterested. The Jungle is one unfortunate case of this. In the midst of our interest and shock in the story we forgot, or didn’t realize, that we had the power to impact a change.

Despite its shortcomings, the EU is a democratic body. A willing public can propose and urge legislative changes. The EU recognizes, and values, protests, and petitions. The European Citizens’ Initiative, for instance, stipulates that Europeans can propose new legislation with at least 1 million signatures (only 0.2 percent of the EU population). This is more than just logistics, it means we can exercise direct democracy on an EU level. What it requires, is a driven, well-informed public sphere. We need to insist on knowing what is happening in the world around us, especially in our own political space. I believe, a lot of us are already informed and mentally engaged enough to care.

In the Calais case, it was not enough to know the atrocities going on, but to recognize our own power to change them. To avoid another Jungle we should insist that asylum is expanded to all refugees within EU territory who live in degrading, inhuman situations, even when they forego asylum procedures. We must remove clauses in the asylum regulations which delay refugees receiving the aid they need, leaving them in limbo. Let’s get rid of the ‘first entry principle’ and instead demand that all states claim legal responsibility for refugees within their borders regardless of their ‘legality’. A state that fails to protect the lives of refugees and fails to accommodate their basic needs,  should not be able to excuse its failure on the basis of law. That defeats the purpose of the law – to protect us. Let us not be satisfied with criticising the asylum system that allowed the Jungle to happen, when we have the power to amend the law to better suit our beliefs. By creating and contributing to discourses we care about we become connected and can be active in the change we want. We have the numbers. Now what we need is the action to make change happen.

Unfortunately, we were too late to prevent the Jungle. Europe built a fortress, reluctant to let anyone in. A jungle on the peripheries was a nuisance, nothing more. Instead of addressing the institutional problems it represented, the EU’s solution was to burn it down. Out of sight, out of mind.

The Jungle was an ecosystem breeding hope and despair. Where predators wore uniforms and wielded batons. Where humans were treated like animals as we watched on. The Jungle is not an anomaly. It tested Europe’s human rights system and, unfortunately, Europe failed. We failed too. The Jungle and other examples like it will continue to fall through the legal web if we, the people, don’t take up our role in weaving it. The Jungles will not stop until we demand the EU recognize in practice, without prejudice, that all humans are equal and deserve dignity irrespective of their circumstances and origin. The Jungle deserves redemption. Let us not forget. Let us not fall silent. We must fight for what we believe, for we are humans.

Jurek Wotzel POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Towards an Ever Closer Union

Written by Jurek Wötzel, Head Writer

Europe needs to get ready for the future. The nation-state has lost all its benefits of scale and needs to be abolished. If we finally took the principle of subsidiarity seriously, we would shift power to Brussels – and the regions.

Why The Nation-State Is Useless

“We want to be an independent, self-governing, normal nation”, lead Brexiteer Nigel Farage said in his speech to the European Parliament after the United Kingdom had voted to leave the Union. He was trapped in an illusion. It seems to me that it is a rather problematic image of independence and self-governance that Mr. Farage had in mind when he arrogantly mocked his fellow MEPs in a rush of revenge. He would have done well to include a concrete outlook on how any European nation-state could truly be independent in the age of a globalized economy.

National leaders around the world find themselves torn between poles. On the one hand, they face the imperatives of global power politics and economic interdependence, on the other hand they are accountable to the needs of their citizens.

The narrative of the race-to-the-bottom is well-known: as countries compete for business investments, governments cut corporate and top-rate taxes. Italy, wanting to attract the wealthy to stimulate investment and consumption, just granted tax breaks on foreign income in exchange for a 100,000 euro flat tax. The Dutch, who together with Ireland and Luxembourg make sure that big corporations practically pay no EU taxes, want to further reduce corporate income taxes and to abolish dividend taxes this year. The worldwide prisoner’s dilemma of tax cooperation spares no one.

When an overwhelming majority voted OXI (NO) in the 2015 Greek referendum on the bailout deal, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras should already have known what was lying ahead. In spite of the immense popular resistance against the conditions of the bailout package displayed in the vote, the government was eventually forced to cut pensions, unemployment benefits and increase the VAT yet again. Minister of Finance Varoufakis was smarter and resigned, foreseeing the inevitable surrender to EU political forces.

One can only speculate why Farage decided to resign just after the Brexit vote. Perhaps in a short moment of epiphany, he grew aware of the massive economic and political struggles that Britain would go through in the years to come.

Brexit has resulted and will result in a range of economic and political hardships for the UK. The pound plummeted directly after the vote and is still far from reaching pre-referendum levels. The Bank of England issued a statement warning that bank resettlements will cost the British about 75,000 jobs, loss of the all-so-important finance sector is hanging over Britain. For a little irony of fate, the 490-million-pound deal for producing the post-EU British passports went to a French-Dutch firm.

This scenario was of no interest to Farage, though. “What the little people did, what the ordinary people did – what the people who’d been oppressed over the last few years who’d seen their living standards go down did – was they rejected the multinationals”, he had announced on that fatal 28th of June. ”They rejected the merchant banks, they rejected big politics and they said actually, we want our country back, we want our fishing waters back, we want our borders back.”

Naturally, these words hit a sensible spot. Upset with their politicians’ inability to make binding decisions even in domestic affairs, citizens across Europe are seeking shelter under the umbrellas of nationalist demagogues. These reactionaries are summoning the demon that is largely the root of the current political stalemate in the first place – the nation-state. However, there is a crucial conclusion to be made from this movement: politicians have been unable to sustain proximity to the electorate. This development has led citizens to realize that the principal-agent relationship of national representative democracy has ceased to work.

Yet, just as the underlying trigger of this is not the EU, neither is the solution a strengthening of the nation-state. European countries aren’t turtles that can simply retreat into their shells and wait till the evil outside goes away. Britain with its less-than-one percent share of the global population is a dwarf on the global political landscape. So are Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands. The dynamics of the global economy cannot be altered by the decision of a single nation.

The Farages, Le Pens and Gaulands of our time provide easy answers to complex questions. It’s time for some complex answers. For a start, let’s acknowledge that the nation is absolutely useless as a counter-balance to the power of global corporations. It has failed in its core business: sustaining a healthy connection between representatives and the electorate. The nation-state is a relict mobilizing its remaining resources in a last awakening.

Photo by Christian Battaglia

The Superstate of Regions

Without claiming that a United States of Europe would be strong enough to enter the ring against big business, it would at least be strong enough to exert serious pressure. In total, the EU has 508 Million inhabitants, and its GDP amounts to 17.1 Trillion Dollars, making it the second-biggest economic power next to the United States.  To put this into perspective, it is useful to look at the actions of the superpower across the Atlantic. While European countries were hesitant, the US imposed a 4.3 Billion Euro fine on Volkswagen in the aftermath of the emission scandal. While European countries were hesitant, the US imposed a 7.2 Billion Dollar fine on Deutsche Bank and a 5.28 Billion Dollar fine on Credit Suisse for their part in the economic crisis.

Admittedly, large states come with great perils, too. One obstacle to popular support for European integration is undoubtedly the undemocratic structure of EU institutions. Moreover, Brussels is in the eyes of many synonymous with lobbyism, technocracy, and general political degeneration. But please, EU-critics, I ask you: do you secede from your country when your representatives in the capital don’t listen to you? The issues of EU institutions exist in national institutions, too, only there we tend to particularise the problem and address it. If there are institutional problems, we tackle the problems, not the institution.

The answer must be reform, not resignation. Give the European Parliament the power of a parliament, let the people elect a European government, make Europe a democracy!

Of course, establishing a United States of Europe must be done right. The complexity and the sheer scale of political decision-making created a feeling of powerlessness that has catalyzed the populist turn. A larger state will have more power, but a reduction in the power of an individual voter may just amplify the angst among the population. Centralisation must, therefore, go hand in hand with regionalization.

Europe needs to be divided into regions, smaller entities than the current Member States. This way, there can be a re-politicisation of regional or even local policy. It would give us a more proximate instance where the effect of our voting behavior can be seen, where we can understand accountability structures, where we can observe where tax money goes. Only some policy areas should be Europeanised: fiscal & monetary policy, foreign policy & defense and aspects of social welfare.

Regionalisation will also make Europe a lot more resilient. In his book “Antifragility – Things that Gain from Disorder” Nassim Nicholas Taleb classified many kinds of structures as fragile, robust, or antifragile. Based on considerations of probability, large structures are inherently bound to be fragile, at risk of complete breakdown in case of disorder. However, dividing Europe into many smaller entities could make it antifragile. It would allow a range of policies to be tried out. If a policy fails, then the whole system would gain from knowing how not to go about tackling a problem. If there is vast disorder, the likelihood that one region will find a successful policy and set an example for the others is higher. Most importantly, the likelihood of fatal mistakes is drastically decreased.

“What happened last Thursday [Brexit Referendum] was a remarkable result – it was a seismic result. Not just for British politics, for European politics, but perhaps even for global politics too”.

Those were Farage’s words. To be honest, I even hope he was right. What he and I disagree on, however, is what Europe should make of this seismic result.

The past two years were both promising and frustrating for the hopeful European. Yet, those who firmly believe in the project of a European unity that ensures peace, freedom, and prosperity ought to take matters into their hands. The current halfhearted muddling-through approach won’t suffice to put up with global and domestic challenges. Let’s get real and move Europe into the future!

Contributing Writers POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Sex Isn’t Gender and Gender Isn’t Set

Written by Niklas Illenseer

I grew up in the pallid, yet peaceful, German countryside. Like other boys, I joined the soccer team and spent my days playing in the dirt and chasing farm animals. Growing into my enlightening teenage years, I realized that I didn’t fit in as much as I’d thought I did. I loved cooking and baking, asked my grandmas for sewing advice, and had mostly girl friends, but no girlfriends. I joined the soccer team, but also the orchestra. I listened to rock, but also to Shakira. And I was obsessed with horses.

My difference eventually peaked with a relative slandering my parents for raising a ‘faggot’, because they let me paint and play with dolls.

Obviously, there was something intrinsically confusing about my behavior that set people off or made them wonder about me. A few years have passed, and the political landscape has progressed socially in many ways, while has also becoming even more divisive, even more divided. Various campaigns rally to rethink outdated gender structures and inequalities, while a pussy-grabbing misogynist reigns across the sea. Welcome to the gender debate.

Although this topic is ever-so divisive, opinions are strangely uninformed. There seems to be continuing confusion about simple terminology. For many, it’s the very definition of gender that causes bewilderment. I’ve learned that when thinking about biological sex we ask about our bodies; whereas when considering gender, we ask, ‘What defines a man/woman?’ and ‘How does one fit in with such characteristics?’. In highly simplified terms, sex is about what’s between your thighs; gender is about what’s between your ears. While one can potentially measure organs and hormones, one can’t do such a thing with gender. In most societies, your gender is assigned, often falsely, according to sex. If you are born with a vagina, you are a girl, and are told what it means to be one and how to behave like it. You are predestined to be caring and tidy, kind and cute. This false correlation between gender and sex is incredibly influential in our daily lives. We live with these stereotypes and keep educating categories we are not born into but are put into. Put ourselves into.

Photo by Harlie Raethel

The social construct

Two words, overheard and overused. Gender is a cognitive category, a box that helps sort things into different branches to help us understand, but the attributes are no more than commonly held assumptions we try to align with our fallacious binary understanding of sex. Yet however much we talk about social constructs, in the end, men do on average produce more testosterone and have biologically more muscle strength. Taking this as a whole explanatory argument, however, is flawed. Instead, we should treat it as the starting point.

At first glance, biological sex seems objective; gender and society does not play a role. This misleads us to believe that masculine aggression, for example, is a result of inherently higher levels of hormones such as testosterone. What is often neglected in this seemingly simple correlation is the role of our socialized behavior. Only recently has research begun to consider societal and social influences. Whereas hormones do influence our behavior, our behavior also influences our hormones. Challenging, competitive situations activate testosterone; this testosterone, in turn, amplifies such aggressive behavior, generating more testosterone, generating more such behavior – an upward spiral. Interestingly, research further suggests that testosterone alone actually does not induce aggressive behavior, but only “underlying motivations and reaction to environmental conditions. A trigger is needed to activate the aggression. Moreover, testosterone falls when men become fathers or practice extensive childcare. From this, we can see that it is our behavior and particularly gender infused stereotypes that mobilize such hormone mechanisms.

This misleading concept of a gender-sex connection is at the core of why various attributes are almost exclusively assigned to either men or women. We keep perpetuating the belief that each of these characteristics belongs strictly to one gender. While we allow women to show weakness, it counts publicly as improper for men, and while men are naturally dominant leading figures, seeing this trait in women is less easily accepted. In many ways, society is hyper-masculine; we reward aggressive, competitive, and risky behavior more than traditionally feminine tendencies. To endure in society, one must show such characteristics eventually, and this becomes apparent looking at the market. We have to be competitive; we have to behave aggressively (to a certain degree) to succeed. While jobs in child or elderly care, typically held by women, have disproportionately lower salaries. Rewarding ‘masculine’ traits leads us to adjust our behavior accordingly. Men and women alike are pressured to behave correspondingly and perform the respective gender stereotype. Again, yes, men are born with naturally more testosterone, but gender socialization contributes to genetic differences. Although heritable hormone differences are important, they are only part of the explanation. Socialization along lines of gender is often wrongly overlooked, causing a very one-sided account. Our behavior influences our biology, and biology is no destiny.

The important point is: we are not born with either masculinity or femininity, and neither of them can be found in our genetics. This becomes painfully obvious when we look at the varying and dynamic scope of gender-appropriate behavior or characteristics across cultures. As a concept, gender and its norms continuously change with society. For instance, prior to the Second World War, and Eleanor Roosevelt rocking her tender rose dress, pink was the color for men, viewed as both strong and blunt, daring and confident. Blue, by contrast, was the suitable color for girls and women, displaying fragility and softness. If the colors that are associated with personality traits can change, then the attributes that hide behind them can as well. Just as neither blue or pink are intrinsically masculine or feminine, neither are traits such as kindness and aggression, or strength and vulnerability. Once we realize that gender is something we produce and perform, we come to understand that nothing about it is fixed. Gender as a concept is not rooted in genitalia, bodily physiques, or chromosomes. It is human-made and exists primarily in our minds. Taking this thought still further, we realize that we can and should do without such division.

Photo by Anna Sastre

The gender burden

Why should we care – what’s so wrong with it? Clear categories make our life easier, and as people we can’t help putting things in boxes to make sense of them. However, getting rid of this categorical thinking does not take away from anyone, it only gives. To everyone. Often overlooked, particularly by men, is the fact that the eroding of gender norms benefits women and men alike, even when most men have not realized that they suffer from these norms in the first place. Consider that once we loosen our mental grip on gender norms, employers will likely see the benefits of extended parental leave for both women and men. Giving both parents a free decision between family or career, and relaxing the pressure on them to work or stay home. Naturally, as long as we connect women with the ‘softer’ traits that remain unrewarded in our society, women will earn less, and will ultimately be the ones staying at home. It’s a vicious circle. Revoking gender norms lifts that wrong correlation and will be a step towards truly equal pay and equity.

The notion of supposed gender neutrality stems yet another obscured suggestion: gender-neutral means that all our features vanish into a grey blob of indefinability. That is, of course, erroneous. Such a way of thinking of gender and considering the possibility of gender neutrality does not aim to eradicate any identity affiliation one could have with one’s gender. On the contrary, it takes the hurdle and enables us to see ourselves for our qualities more than for how much we fit into a social governance. If we start thinking of us as strong instead of as masculine and consequently strong, and as kind instead of as feminine and consequently kind, we, if anything, simply take yet another impediment away from how we see and value ourselves and others. After all, norms are relational; we see something as masculine only because we know that there is a counterpart. Without femininity, there would be no masculinity. Without such dichotomous thinking, that is so fallaciously connected to the sex division, there would be no separation to begin with.

As demonstrated earlier, almost always it is our predispositions that influence our decisions. A world, that dissolves such gender-related pressures and attributes marks an incredible leap in all forms. This, by no means, is advocating to ignore and blindsight anything attributed to gender and call it gender-neutrality. Instead, we reach this by being aware of what we do, what we say, how we act and react, what we expect and give. This is not only about kids playing with dolls, it is about teenagers subconsciously choosing ‘appropriate’ classes and hobbies in school, about adults choosing ‘appropriate’ jobs, and the way politicians decide legislation. It is incremental to become aware of the fact that this gender debate is not about artificially adding gender to something; it has been there all along, only unquestioned. Much more, it is about reflecting on how we have made gender work until now.

Everyone thinks in categories, even those who retort it. Everyone thinks in defaults. I believe this is not something we can fully eradicate, most definitely not in the short-run. However, acknowledging that we might never reach the goal of default-free thinking should not keep us from trying. Accustoming ourselves to categories, taking them for granted and leaving them unquestioned is not doing us any good. A utopia would be a future that lightens the burden of gender condemnation from the shoulders of women and men alike. In the beginning, I pointed out that there was something intrinsically confusing about my behavior. I was lucky enough to grow up in a supportive home, and with a confidence to counter more than frequent comments. Not everyone has this luxury. Getting rid of the tight-knitted gender web would save everyone from experiencing scrutinization, inequality, and shame for unintentionally swimming against outdated currents.