“It’s Natural”: My thought on an all too common phrase in the gender debate

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No, I was neither home-schooled nor educated in some catholic school. Of course, I attended my fair share of biology classes – and yet: I do not like the statement “it’s  natural”. I don’t disagree with naturalists per se, but I do not like in what contexts and to what ends the phrase “it’s natural” is being used today.

Is it “natural” to live in a house, to write on a computer, to drive a car or travel by  irplane?

It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that the answer to these and similar  questions is, obviously, no. In our everyday lives, this doesn’t pose a problem whatsoever since we are perfectly aware that the term, has, in fact, nothing to do with “nature”. It is rather being used synonymously to “normal” and “habitual”. But this linguistic wareness seems to decline the more delicate the issues at hand become. So people insist on using the phrase on gender and sexuality.

On a daily basis, we are confronted with phrases along the lines of “it’s natural that men are stronger than women”, implying that differences in physical strength or endurance are a direct result of “biological” ones. Even though there are women who are stronger than men. So, one is usually presented with the follow-up-correction “well, men are stronger than women on average”.

From a statistical point of view, this claim is undoubtedly true and many a discussion ends right then and there. As a consequence, most conversations never tackle the crucial question as to what notion of “truth” is at play in these kinds of assertions.

The problem is who are the “men” and “women” being studied? There are, for example, people born with no unambiguous genitals: “women” without ovaries or “men” without testicles. We encounter this blurring of lines right down to the level of chromosomes; there are “XY”-people feeling, “looking like”, and living as “women”. In short, what is supposed to “be natural” does not actually have a “natural” basis.

So the phrase “It’s natural” has no business being part of the discussion regarding gender: Because there is nothing “natural” about what is inherently cultural. “It’s natural” doesn’t elevate discussions; it rather, stifles them and helps to perpetuate and cement stereotypes, and asymmetries of political power. Pretending to be rooted in science, the phrase is much more akin to a religious mantra: science is right and thou shalt not disapprove.

So – let nature be where it belongs: outside society.