MILLER: The Genderless New Deal

Fans of the sitcom “Cheers” will remember Lilith as the grim-faced psychiatrist who spouts psychobabble to great comic effect.  In one such scene Lilith hires beer-swilling Norm to paint her baby’s nursery—on condition that he’ll avoid all gender-binding shades of pink and blue.  Norm accepts the condition, then adds: “Don’t worry…when I’m done, that kid won’t know what it is!”

Norm’s quip gets a big laugh because, needing work, he plays along with Lilith’s notion that gender-specific colors are part of a grand scheme to hamstring girls and let boys be boys—but the audience, of course, is in on the joke.

Fast forward three decades, and Norm’s ploy wouldn’t be one bit funny to members of the American Psychological Association whose new guidelines contend that “masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms,” that “binary notions of gender identity as tied to biology” are passé, and that “traditional masculinity…is, on the whole, harmful.”

Nor would Norm amuse the inmates of women’s studies programs whose national leader is on record saying that those who question the decoding of “gender” are bound by a “right-wing ideology that is attempting to return to a heteronormative, patriarchal society.”  Today’s sitcom writers could have a field day recasting Norm as “contextual Norm” or “hetero-Norm,” but the laughs would stop when Twitter lit up with charges of “toxic masculinity”—and with calls for sponsors to withdraw their ads.

The question then becomes: how—despite its sometime link to tomfoolery—can a fringe notion escape left field and become the standard by which we all are judged when we write or speak?  The short answer is that our universities have spawned a breed of scholars who build whole careers around victimhood, then cultivate victims to maintain their livelihood.

I focus here upon scholars who have revived the art of melodrama because their playbook casts men as villains, women as victims—and critics as the relics of a patriarchal past.  Dorothy Parker once dubbed the type “Serious Thinkers,” who “talk about Humanity / As if they had just invented it,” but the Thinkers I cite aim to reinvent humanity as a post-gender race.  They represent a powerful subset in our universities, and the tactics they use to sway young women offer a master class in chicanery.

Before women can adopt a post-gender system, they must first get good and mad at the current system, which they learn empowers men and imposes “psychological foot-binding” on women.  They take classes in “Gender Justice,” read books like Bitch Doctrine or Rage Becomes Her, and read articles that urge scholars to silence “white male, cisnormative, heterosexual voices” because those voices abet “white supremacist, patriarchal, and heteronormative paradigms.”

That gem appeared in the journal Gender, Place & Culture, which made news last fall for publishing—with a straight face—an article titled “Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks in Portland Oregon,” never suspecting that the article was a hoax.  Editors have since retracted that article but not their mission to have ideology pose as a science, that is, to teach young women that gender is a “social construct,” perpetrated by men to subjugate women.

To that end some professors have students use “gender neutral” pronouns such as “ze” for “he” and “she” because traditional pronouns are “derogatory,” oppressive,” and “exclusionary.”  Four years after those professors became a national joke, a couple of notables still believe in the cause.

On January 21, California state senator Hannah Beth Jackson announced that henceforth the pronoun “they” would replace “he” and “she” when her Judiciary Committee meets.  Two days later, actress Kate Hudson announced that she and her baby daddy would practice “genderless parenting” on their baby girl because they “don’t know what she’ll identify as.”  Hudson has since recanted, saying she means only to avoid the “female stereotype” because “Not all girls want to be a princess.  Some want to be king!”

Fair enough, because the very traits the APA deems “harmful” in men — “competitiveness, dominance, and aggression” — are prized in the woman who would be king.  No doubt the APA cheered on January 15, when Gillette premiered an ad that would induce men to shed those very traits, that is, to remove a whole lot more than facial hair.  Gillette would have us know that all grades and shades of men are afflicted with “toxic masculinity”—but can be cured by watching their new 148-second ad.  In the meantime, expect a send-up ad featuring women sealed up tight in hazmat suits.

A razorblade company makes an unlikely ally for scholars who have redefined “gender” as the “construct” they aim to reform.  If they had read the Roman poet Horace, they would know that “Force without wisdom falls of its own weight” and that “You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, but she still will hurry back.”

None too soon.

Nan Miller, Professor Emerita, Meredith College where she taught English and directed the Writing Center