A new documentary from VICE showcases Sweden’s introduction of government-funded gender-neutral kindergartens and a set of parents who are raising their children “without gender.”
A new VICE documentary, which was published on Tuesday follows the story of intersex parent Del LaGrace Volcano, an American photographer, who is raising children outside of the confines of gender stereotypes.
In Sweden, state-funded gender-neutral kindergartens are on the rise. According to the documentary, a gender-neutral personal identifier, “hen,” is commonly used throughout Swedish society. Del’s child, Mika, who was born a biological male, wears dresses and has long hair, which is often styled with braids that are dyed pink.
During a portion of the documentary in which Del takes Mika and Nico out shopping, they run into a family they know with a young child who is also being raised without a gender. A biological male, Cory wears dresses and ties his hair back in a pony tail. “Now he has started to see that he’s a girl. The other day he’s a boy and sometimes he’s a cat,” Cory’s mother says. “It’s good for him. It’s a part of his childhood.” She goes on to say something quite significant: “He can be whoever he wants or dress however he wants for that short time because society will have its toll on him anyway.” There is an implicit suggestion that social conditioning almost exclusively defines gender. Later, Cory tells the VICE reporter that his favorite piece of clothing is his Spiderman costume.
In the absence of a complete hormonal transition, the most radical form of gender expression possible is gender dissidence, meaning a comprehensive personal rejection of the aspects of gender that are truly social. These aspects may include fashion and hair style, personal pronouns, hobbies and interests, etc.
But research that was recently published in Stanford University’s Magazine on Medicine reminds us that nature limits our ability to act creatively with our gender expression. In an article on the difference in the male and female brain, author Bruce Goldman highlights the innate biological differences that lead to the development of recognizable behavior patterns in males and females.
Goldman points to research on rhesus monkeys, which revealed that to a significant degree that there are real differences in the wiring of male and female brains. In the study, male monkeys strongly preferred toys with wheels, while female monkeys gravitated towards soft, plush, toys. Goldman argues that because these monkeys weren’t molded by their parents or simian society to enjoy specific toys, their interests were shaped, in part, by the gendered nature of their brains.
Then, Goldman details the ideological transition that Diane Halpern, the former President of the American Psychological Association, underwent after initially believing that male and female brains were relatively similar. After “reviewing a pile of journal articles that stood several feet high and numerous books and book chapters that dwarfed the stack of journal articles” she changed her mind. Halpern was largely swayed by the research on the rhesus monkeys and another study on boys and girls, which conclusively revealed them to have “differences in their preference for stereotypically male versus stereotypically female toys” at the infant stages of 9 to 17 months of age, when they had obviously yet to achieve a socialized understanding of gender.
On Tuesday, Breitbart News reported on a new program at Princeton University that seeks to curb unhealthy expressions of masculinity. Although it is possible that some negative aspects of masculinity arise from social conditioning, there are simple biological explanations for issues such as male aggression and violence.
While men can produce up to eight mg of testosterone naturally each day, women only produce 0.5 mg. Research studies such as one in the International Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism reveal that “testosterone plays a significant role in the arousal of these behavioral manifestations in the brain centers involved in aggression and on the development of the muscular system that enables their realization.” In addition, a 1997 study from the Center for the Advancement of Health revealed that, amongst women in prison, those with higher levels of testosterone were much more likely to commit violent acts.
Clearly, gender expression is shaped in part by biology. The most important question that even the most respected gender studies theorists often refuse to ask is put best by Ph.D. and author James Lindsay: “What proportion of gender arises from biological sex?”
The documentary, which is a little under 30 minutes in length, is available to watch for free on VICE’s YouTube channel.
Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about economics and higher education for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org