Progressive Potato Procreation
It can be easy to dismiss such silly objections to a private toy company looking to go genderless with a toy potato. (Just typing it out seems ridiculous.) What exactly happened? Well, in February, Hasbro announced that it would drop the “Mr.” from the brand’s name in order to be more inclusive. To be fair to the toy company, it later announced that it would be selling the unit without the designations as to allow children to create their own versions of families. The primary announcement simply said the potato would go genderless, and that sparked a lot of ire.
The reaction in itself has been interesting, ranging from appreciation to annoyance. And there has been the regular gaslighting of people who object to the change, as they see it as a constant attack on the idea that gender or sex matter. But it’s important to understand why they are reacting in this way, even if they themselves are not able to articulate it. Mr. Potato serves as a proxy, in this case, for a larger discussion about gender roles and if gender and sex are simply arbitrary concepts constructed socially for the purpose of maintaining patriarchal power. But pretending gender and/or sex is arbitrary and unnecessary as a model for our humanity undermines the fundamental framework for how humanity views the world and has the potential to turn us all into liars.
If it was just one incident, then fine. Whatever. But it’s not just one incident. There is a constant buildup of efforts to make our sex and gender differences seem arbitrary from those who are supposed to be the experts that is now affecting our children’s education(here, here, and here). Unfortunately, this unscientific view of our nature has often been adopted by the very intellectuals we look to when seeking knowledge about humanity (here). Many do so with the best of intentions, and understandably so. For a long time women were kept out of places for no good reason and they may believe that the answer to keeping different people out is to tell everyone that there is no difference.
The answer for fixing the problem of exclusion is to open the doors, remove artificial barriers, and have more people sitting at the proverbial table and not pretending that the differences are arbitrary or completely socially constructed. What’s different about those who can now contribute to the process is essential to the value of adding them in the first place. If they were no different, it wouldn’t make a difference.
Viewing the objective world not as it is, or trying to force it not to be as it is, will not solve any problems. Reality always kicks us back in our faces with a force directly proportional to how hard we pretend we can sidestep it.
Two major issues come of trying to manipulate such a fundamental reality.
For one, disrupting the manner in which humans view the world based on millions of years of evolution threatens our ability to navigate reality.
Humanity in all cultures knows itself based on an underlying structure that is largely based on the reality of procreation. No human being on the planet, nor any human being that has ever existed, is not a product of a sperm and an ovum. That essence of our sexual reproduction has been fundamental for millions of years of evolution and is older than the existence of trees. Within the two categories of people that produce those types of cells is a lot of room for the variety of secondary sexual characteristics and personality types. But that’s not the same as saying the categories themselves do not exist.
The categories are not arbitrary.
Those two pieces that combine to create humans have their own innate characteristics that shape us as individuals and as a human collective. The science on that is vast (here, and here). Even prior to our contact with the social environment, physiological changes in utero fundamentally differentiate us and have permanent effects on how we function (here). The differences are neither arbitrary nor solely social. We are more alike than we are different, but the differences end up making a difference. And those differences are reflected in our descriptions of the human experience.
As social creatures, we see the world based on a human framework and project our nature onto the world in order for us to understand complicated and often contradictory concepts. This is why we assign masculine or feminine traits to natural objects that do not procreate. Nobody is confused when we say “Mother Earth” because it intuitively makes sense as the source of all life. Feminine gods of the past were more prevalent in cultures that were dependent on life cycles associated with agriculture. That’s why many ancient calendars were circular, as in cyclical, as opposed to a straight line as is ours today. Masculine gods are often more harsh and judgmental, like the Judeo-Christian god and Zeus, because that type of personality association makes sense to us. Not all ladybugs are female, but that goes without saying and we still call them all ladybugs.
This is why we have heroes that are people as opposed to just having lists of behaviors to follow. We naturally seek out other humans, or ideas shaped as humans (mythical or religious heroes), to guide us through life. Heroic narratives motivate imitation through admiration, and those heroes have masculine and feminine traits embedded in them.
Constantly chipping away at that fundamental structure and means of understanding the world as if it has no basis in reality separates us from that foundation, making our views of the world less and less coherent. It’s easy to shrug off the multiple ways that our culture is dismissing the realities of our differences. But if those differences are fundamental to how we relate to the objective world, it can cause real world problems for people by damaging our narratives.
Narratives are general ideas about the functioning of the world. They provide us with a map of what to expect and can be incredibly simple or largely encompassing. For example, many people generally think:
- “If I study hard and follow the directions, I will end up with a reward for that effort.”
- “Human beings are by nature good, and if you treat them as you want to be treated, they will reciprocate.”
- “The human life cycle involves the union of a man with a woman that produces offspring and is central to the manner in which all cultures relate to each other.”
For the most part, and in most situations, these make sense.
Anyone can find times that a narrative does not work out as planned, but a good narrative is correct most of the time. It’s a pretty good map and people who are more sophisticated, usually with education and age, understand that it’s good to know the basics but to always understand how and when the basics don’t fit. Not only is difference okay, but it’s expected and beneficial. But if your mental map of the world does not match the majority of situations and outcomes, you end up being increasingly nihilistic because nothing you do seems to matter.
You always end up in an unexpected place when your map is faulty.
Secondly, the lie you have to tell in order to pretend that categories of sexual reproduction don’t matter turns into more lies to cover up the initial lie. Or, they become the logical consequences of the initial lie.
If I assume 2+2=5, then everything more complicated that’s built on that faulty assumption falls apart. For example, we find that in places where gender equity is the most advanced, the biological differences in interests and personality between genders are the most extreme (here, here, and here). That’s only surprising if you assume our differences are arbitrary and solely socially constructed, which means your map needs adjusting.
That spiral of covering up the initial lie never stops, especially with something so fundamental, which then leads to an ability to believe larger lies. You end up with distorted cognitive pathways and are less and less able to reason correctly when your whole world view is contaminated with a fundamental misunderstanding of your very own nature (here).
It’s not about the potato. Undermining basic framework for how we understand and explain the world that is based on millions of years of evolution is nothing to take lightly. And just because not everyone understands or articulates exactly why they are bothered by these pop culture dustups, it does not mean they aren’t right for feeling that something is wrong. We are (for the most part) pretty smart creatures. We can acknowledge, celebrate, and use our innate differences without punishing those who are different. Especially celebrate!
Being nice to people who don’t fit the expected norm is easily done without denying objective reality.