The following is an excerpt from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s new series Vision and Destiny. You can watch the special on DailyWire+.
Podcast time: 00:25
Gender. Is a gender identity real? Well, first of all, it depends on what you mean by real. It is not real the way the gender identity ideologues insist because they are very bad psychometricians. They have no idea in their idiot disciplines how to measure the phenomena that they claim exist. Having said that, obviously there are important functional differences between men and women — the most important of which, you might say, is the fact that if you take the typical man and the typical woman and they engage in sexual activity, there is some reasonable probability that a child will emerge. That is a fundamental reality of life, and it takes that binary process to produce the manifestation of that new life. That is where the rubber really hits the road. Now, there are markers for that. Of course, men and women have different chromosomal structures and all sorts of different biological attributes, although there is a fair bit of overlap in the human form, and you can tell that because that is how you know we are human.
There is biological sex as it is embodied, but then on top of that, there is the flexibility that comes with the fact that human beings are flexible actors, perceptually and conceptually — and that we are also creatures that undergo a very lengthy period of education, of socialization. Much of our brain is not programmed with deterministic instinct at birth. It has to mature in a social context, and the direction in which that maturation takes place is dependent to some degree on the social surrounding, but it is also to some degree dependent on other biological factors that are somewhat loosely linked to sex, but that vary more.
We know that personality, for example, has something approximating a five-dimensional structure. Now, you can differentiate that into 10 aspects. You get a little bit higher resolution that way and a little bit more descriptive accuracy. There is some debate about whether it should be five or six, and that depends to some degree on how you lay out the statistics. But no one disagrees that there is something approximating five basic dimensions of temperament. Temperament might be regarded as characteristic ways of perceiving and acting in the world, so:
Extroversion, that is propensity for positive emotion
Neuroticism, that is propensity for negative emotion
Agreeableness is something like the maternal dimension (It is politeness and compassion. It is the proclivity to sacrifice yourself for others. That might be a good way of thinking about it.)
Conscientiousness, it is dutifulness, orderliness, industriousness
And openness, which is the creativity domain and the domain of interest and ideas
Five dimensions of variability, and that is on top of the binary biological platform.
There is a link because men and women tend to have their own sex-typed temperaments. Women are, on average, higher in negative emotion and higher in agreeableness. And then there are minor distinctions with the rest of the traits, which I will not go into now because they are much smaller. But on average, women are more agreeable. They are more self-sacrificing in relationship to others, which goes along with their propensity to care for infants — because you have to do that when you care for infants — and they are more threat and negative emotion sensitive. You could argue that the world is actually objectively more dangerous for women — because they are vulnerable on the sexual front and because they are smaller physically — but also that the world needs to be reacted to by some degree as if it is a more threatening place because women are charged with the primary care of infants, and infants are very vulnerable. So, you could say, you have binary sex for all functional purposes — obviously for all functional purposes because you need a man and a woman or their biological equivalence to produce a new baby, which as I said, is where the rubber hits the road — and then on top of that, you have variation in temperament in five dimensions that is somewhat sex-typed.
Now, it gets complicated because men and women, on average, have different personalities. They also, by the way, on average, have difference in interest, so women are reliably more interested in people and men are reliably more interested in things. That is cross-culturally valid, and that is the biggest difference we know of between men and women. That is another dimension of variability, although it is associated with temperamental differences — so agreeable people tend to be more interested in people. In any case, there is enough variability within that five-dimensional space, so there is no shortage of more masculine women and more feminine men. That does not mean that they are not binary in their fundamental biological function or their cellular identity or a multitude of markers at the physiological level, which we could detail but I would believe are painfully obvious to everyone.
If gender is something like temperamental variability, then it exists. If it is not temperamental variability, I do not know what the hell it is. The gender theorists, who are fuzzy thinkers beyond compare, do not ever try to nail down their concepts to something approximating multi-trait, multi-method measurement, which, if you are talking about gender, “What do you mean?” Well, “What do you mean, what do you mean?” I mean, “How do you know it exists? What are the techniques of assessment detection that you utilize technically to specify the target of your claim? What is gender?” Well, “It is what people feel they are.” That is your theory? That is a stupid theory. It is not going anywhere, that theory, and so that is just a theory that enables you to claim something like the primacy of your narcissistic whim. It has nothing to do with the careful delineation of what actually constitutes identity.
It is complex because there is variability in masculinity and femininity — on top of the binary biological substructure. That also means that you have to have a certain amount of tolerance for roll variability, and you should because there are masculine women and there are feminine men, and it is harder for them, in some real sense, to adopt the rule that would be easily commensurate with their biological identity because they share many temperamental features that are characteristic of the opposite sex. But that does not mean that they are born in the wrong body. One question there would be: “What exactly is it that is born in the wrong body? Is it some sort of soul?” People who make these claims are generally not on the side of the people who claim the existence of the soul, so, “What the hell is it exactly that is born in the wrong body?” “The person’s core identity. The person’s true self.” That is all hand-waving. I have no idea what you mean by that unless it is part of a context-dependent story where we more or less agree on the terms, but to abstract them out and say, “Well, that is not the person’s real core self,” sorry, man. You have wandered into uncharted territory there. First of all, you think you know what constitutes people’s core self? You really know that? Do you? I do not think so.
You could even take another radical claim and say there is an infinite number of gender identities. Yes, if you want to play it that way, that is true because the amount of variability at a five-dimensional space is unbelievably large. You could say with no reason to be contradicted that every single person on the planet, in some sense, has a unique gender identity if you associate gender with temperament because every person is unique in their particular constellation of personality. So, if you want to conflate those two things, then you can. It starts to become very problematic when you additionally conflate them with sex. “Sex and gender and temperament, they are all the same thing.” Well, actually they are not. And the reason they are not is because, to say it again, you need a man and a woman to produce a child.
You might ask, “What is a man and what is a woman?” And one thing you can say is, “A man is half of what it takes to produce a child, and the woman is the other half.” There is nothing about that that is merely subjectively defined, and it really is where the conceptual structure (whatever that is), the temperamental structure, and then the way we view that temperamental structure, the rubber still has to hit the road in the reproductive sphere. And you might say, “Well, we do not need any of that messy reproduction because there are too many people on the bloody planet anyway” — or something like that. But first of all, that just unmoors you, and I would not recommend that because you might think that having an indetermined identity frees you, but all it does is produce so much chaos in your life that you are not going to be able to tolerate it. No one else is going to know what to do with you.
This is one of the things that made me object to compelled speech on the pronoun front when the laws first started to emerge in Canada. The trans activists would come up to me and say, “Well, you know, you are really hurting me if you do not accept my indeterminacy of identity.” And I thought, “Well, that is what you think.” But as a trained clinician, I think that I am going to do you a lot more damage in the medium to long run by going along with your claim that you can just be anything you want moment to moment. You think that is freeing because you regard all social constraints as inhibitions on the wonderful manifestation of your true self. But I know that in order to be healthy in the long run, you have to be integrated at multiple levels of social community, and when you introduce indeterminacy as to your status at the sex level, no one has any idea what to do with you. So how are they going to play with you? They do not know what you are, in some sense, that even enables the ballgame to get off the ground.
That is no recipe for long-term wellbeing — because that is always bandied about, that notion of wellbeing and harm. No, you have to negotiate an identity regardless of your temperamental variability.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.