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Biological Essentialism-What Is It? August 27, 2009

Posted by FCM in feminisms, gender roles, health, pop culture, race.
Tags: , ,

very likely to be my one and only “feminism 101” type post. savor it, and post kindergarten-level feminism questions and comments below. i promise not to laugh too hard at your ignorance.

essentialism, biological essentialism, or biological determinism is the belief that we are “how we are” because of our genetic makeup, including race and sex. the next step is the assumption that behaviors and preferences are biologically pre-determined, rather than choices we make, or as a result of the environments we are exposed to. sounds harmless, right? uh, no.

people tend to like to read an essentialist perspective into feminist works, even where it does not exist. because they can call feminists man-haters, and assume that feminists are saying that “men are bad” and “women are good” just because they are women or men. but feminists don’t say that, not that it really matters what women and feminists say.  so much is assumed and read into their positions for one thing. 

for another, biological-essentialism isnt exactly the “problem” that anti-feminists and others make it out to be: anti-feminists subscribe to essentialism themselves when they favor traditional gender roles and gender stereotypes. for example the notion that women are “naturally” caregivers, or that men are “natural” leaders. they just use essentialist beliefs when it benefits themselves, even going to the extreme of saying that men are naturally prone to rape or criminal behaviors….the implication being that it can’t be changed, so why try?

racists are also biological-essentialists, as they believe that blacks have low intelligence and high propensities for criminality for example, without examining other factors that might be contributing to the higher per-capita representation of black men in prison as compared to whites, or the relatively high numbers of whites in positions of power as compared to blacks, or of men compared to women. obviously, this is a problem. a big one.

are you an essentialist?