Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jan (James) Morris, Writing, and Biology as Destiny

Those who man the barricades against efforts to reduce gender discrimination often revert to Biology is destiny. I think I used to be one of them, at least until I married and watched how my wife struggled against some of sexist tendencies in her field of science.

Yesterday there was an interesting piece in the New York Times, on a new book titled Delusions of Gender. In the article, the reviewer mentions the writer Jan Morris.
But Dr. Fine persuasively argues that it is, in fact, all in the mind. Jan Morris, the historian, travel writer and male-to-female transsexual, saw this implicit stereotyping firsthand: “The more I was treated as a woman, the more woman I became. ”
I recently reviewed a book by Morris for the Internet Review of Books, one in which the writer offers character sketches, observations, and vignettes gleaned from her career. The book is Contact! A Book of Encounters, about which I observed in regard to the author's change of gender ...
So we have a book—Contact!—dozens of contacts, people met and remembered through the journeys of a writing life—from the pen of Jan Morris who was once James, and it is thoroughly and pervasively seamless, leaving the author’s gender transition a curiosity, leaving us to marvel at the complexities that make us human, but ultimately irrelevant to what arrives so shiningly upon the page. 
It's a complex subject, obviously, especially since females seemingly will remain central to the western idea of family. But will it be the humanist, democratic western culture that will drive the world's social evolution in the future? That has been so, at least in the realm of science and industrial progress, since the Enlightenment, but there's no guarantee that will continue as economic power shifts to Asia.

All I know, at least from casual observation, is that women have more opportunity than ever in the west, and yet women still face gender prejudices that keep them from collectively influencing our culture to the same degree as males.
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