CBC is having a lively discussion about gendered robots. Of course all they are really talking about is the representation of gender in films or perhaps in some prototype robotic devices. Real robots don’t worry about gender. But people do. Much of the last half century has been about the representation of gender in public life. Gender matters.

One of the first things I wrote was a play called “The Prisoner of Zelda,” in which Zelda was a foul-mouthed, beer swilling, hockey watching woman and the prisoner (who had been caught burglarizing the apartment) was a sensitive, artistic, tidy man with great kitchen skills but low self-esteem. It was a comedy. And it was wildly successful — the most watched play that year at Lunchbox Theatre in Calgary.

But it was still about surface things. About image. We all know what a real man looks like. Tall, broad shouldered — essentially with a triangular body shape — with lots of facial hair. Real hair optional. Women are curvaceous with a 2:3 waist/hip ratio. Of course not many people actually look like that. Ironically one way that men use to achieve that form — steroids — actually reduces their masculinity.

Gender has a genetic component with men generally having a XY chromosome and women with XX. But plenty of variations exist even here with XXX, XXY or XYY and several others all appearing in small percentages of the population. These genetic differences do result in small variations of appearance though in many cases they aren’t particularly marked and many people do not even know they have this slightly different gender make-up.

A big part of gender determination has to do with hormones both the mother’s hormones during pregnancy (which can vary considerably because of internal and external environmental factors), as well as by the hormonal balances in individual bodies. The body is a messy machine and hormonal shifts can occur for a lot of reasons. More importantly, hormonal variations can be considerable without causing any difficulty for survival or success — in other words they are perfectly normal.

And of course a huge part of gender is cultural — what is allowed or disallowed or encouraged or discouraged. Not surprisingly the way in which gender is displayed varies from culture to culture — such as the use of makeup at the trivial end to the way friendships are expressed and what they consist of at the more significant end.

Culture also impacts how openly people can express their gender characteristics. Repressive cultures force certain gender characteristics behind closed doors (though they never succeed in eliminating them) which may include both homosexuality but also masculine women and feminine men. As society becomes more open, individuals have greater latitude to express their true gender feelings.

Gender diversity is therefore a direct expression of increasing freedom in society. Individuals — including libertarians and conservatives — who believe in freedom should therefore embrace gender diversity both in sexual orientation but also in the breakdown of gender stereotypes. In a truly free world there is no such thing as a man’s place or a woman’s place. Every place can be occupied by those who are comfortable being there.

And that’s ten minutes.


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