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94th Joint Session of the Mind Association and Aristotelian Society

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SWIP: Normativity and Gender Identity – Richard Rowland

Comments

  • Katharine Jenkins (SWIP moderator)

    10th July 2020 at 5:01 pm

    Welcome, everyone! Thanks to Richard for a brilliant talk, thanks to Rachel Paine who organized this panel on behalf of SWIP, and thanks to the Joint Session organizing team for hosting it.

    Over the weekend, please post your comments for Richard below and let’s get a good discussion going. Of course it goes without saying that we aim for a friendly and collaborative atmosphere. In addition, with the online format, it’s worth being as clear as possible whether you are posing a question or just offering a comment, and how many of each, so the speakers can respond to all your points (since unlike in our in-person panels, we’re not limited to one-question-per-question).

    Looking forward to the discussion!

    1. Richard Rowland

      11th July 2020 at 1:37 pm

      Thanks so much Katherine and Rachel for the organising this, for all the help so far, and for giving me the opportunity to talk about this paper. I’m looking forward to learning a lot from the discussion over the weekend.

  • Rachel

    11th July 2020 at 2:04 pm

    Hi Richard,

    Many thanks for such an interesting presentation! You argue here for an account of respect due a person’s assertion of their gender identity that focuses on their normative experience rather than relying on the social experience. Is it right to think of this as a distinction between respecting the internal motivations rather than judging another according to social expectations? So my question is: what if one’s normative experience is of identifying as G while not adhering to some specified social conditions of dress etc. One may then have good reason to be G in whatever way that makes sense to oneself. Is the testimony of the person, the preferences for pronouns and such sufficient for that respect? I’m thinking on my feet here, apologies if it is unclear. Looking forward to more discussion!

    1. Rachel Paine

      11th July 2020 at 2:53 pm

      I should have said, this is Rachel Paine (SWIP moderator)!

    2. Richard Rowland

      11th July 2020 at 3:25 pm

      Hi Rachel, Thanks for the question. Yes this is an important issue. I think that the view that I’m proposing will entail that one’s if you see the norm of using a particular gendered pronoun as relevant to you (in the normative sense at least), then that experience (the seeming) merits respect. Because this norm relevancy experience consists in your seeing strong non-instrumental normative reason to live up to that norm/use that pronoun, and experiences like that merit respect because a. such seemings of strong normative reasons merit respect and b. this seeming will normally be truth-tracking. I *think* that all will be true on the account I propose even if you don’t see non-instrumental reasons to live up to the norms that in your social context normally go hand in hand with using those pronouns e.g. if you see non-instrumental reason to use female pronouns but reject all feminine norms of appearance.

      There’s another issue here, which you raise, about whether you have the gender identity G if you see one norm associated with G as relevant to you but don’t see any of the norms norms associated with G as relevant to you. I *think* this is an issue that doesn’t arise specifically for my way of spelling out norm relevancy but for the norm-relevancy account in general – and Katharine does have things to say about this in her papers. I think along the lines of: if you see one norm associated with G as relevant to you, then your gender identity can count as G so long was there is no other gender G* that is such that you see more norms associated with that as relevant to you. I think that this is a tough issue that I need to think about more though.

      1. Rachel

        11th July 2020 at 3:49 pm

        Thanks so much for your explanation, Richard, that’s very helpful!

      2. Inga Bones

        11th July 2020 at 6:28 pm

        Dear Richard,

        Thanks a lot for your engaging and interesting talk!

        I have a question that follows up on your answer to Rachel’s: Suppose A was assigned the gender “female” at birth, and A still identifies as a woman (or girl). However, the number of norms associated with the male gender that A experiences as relevant to them is much higher than the number of norms associated with the gender “woman”. (Say, A has stereotypically male hobbies, dresses and presents in ways typically considered male, tries to live up to certain ideals typically associated with males such as assertiveness etc.) Would the norm-relevancy account prevent A from identifying as female, then? (Sorry if I misunderstood the account or your answer to the previous question — and no worries, of course, if you don’t have an answer to my further question ready yet.)

        1. Simon Kirchin

          11th July 2020 at 8:13 pm

          Hi Richard (and all), really enjoyed the talk. Very sorry, also, we won’t get chance to meet again properly in Kent. Quick idea/ question that follows up on this thread and line if thought. It strikes me that people are creative and that they play around with all sorts of norms about who they are: how they think of themselves and how they present to different people (and how they present to different groups). That’s true ‘on paper’ and in real life. Also, it is important to remember that some norms that people respect and conform to will be more important than others. (More important to society, more important to groups in society, more important to the individual.) There’s more to say in this vein, but I hope the picture I’m sketching resonates. So, from that, we can be quite liberal and open in thinking that any individual may fail to live up to many existing norms (or may actively snub many norms) that society or some in society associate with a particular gender, and yet still identify with that gender (and be seen as doing so by many others). In fact, some others may think of this individual as being one of a few who helps us to see the new creative possibilities of being someone in that gender. Thoughts? [Hope that is helpful and on the right track. If not, apologies.]

          1. Richard Rowland

            11th July 2020 at 10:24 pm

            Hi Simon, glad you enjoyed the talk. It’s a shame that we didn’t get chance to catch up in Kent, but hopefully things will be different by this time next year!

            I’m completely on board with your line of thought here. But I’m not entirely sure how to both embrace all of what you say – which I also want to say – whilst giving an informative account of gender identity in terms of norm-relevancy.

            One thought that strikes me is to hold that accounts of gender identity shouldn’t be in the business of trying to give precise accounts of what distinguishes an identity as one gender from another. But that’s consistent with holding that our gender identities are fully explained by our experiences of norm-relevancy in the way that I suggest in the talk. This is similar to the line that Elizabeth Barnes pursues in her ‘Gender and Gender Terms’ where – if my reading is correct – she argues that we should not want metaphysical accounts of what gender is to give accounts of what distinguishes different genders. Similarly, we should not want or expect metaphysical accounts of what gender identities are to give accounts of what particular gender identities consist in, but only what explains or grounds gender identities. (Perhaps think of it as analogous to how we don’t want views in metaethics about what kind of things ground moral properties – natural properties, non-natural properties etc. – to tell us what distinguishes the property of being right from the property of being wrong). These are just sketchy thoughts. But let me know what you think, and thanks for the comment, which has given me a lot to think about.

        2. Richard Rowland

          11th July 2020 at 10:11 pm

          Hi Inga, thanks for the follow-up. And thanks so much for your talk, which was was awesome! Anyway, back to your question…
          So Jenkins says the following:
          ‘As I intend the norm-relevancy account, for a person to have (say) a female gender identity, she simply needs to take some significant subset of the norms associated with women to be relevant to her, and not to take a greater subset of the norms associated with another gender
          role to be relevant to her’ (‘Towards and Account of Gender Identity, p. 731).
          If we understand the view this way, then it seems like prima facie it will entail the consequence you have in mind: that A doesn’t have the gender identity, woman.
          I was thinking that this would be a general challenge that the account would have to face rather than a challenge that my version in particular would face. So, I’d be interested to know whether you think there is a particular problem for my account here or just for the norm-relevancy account in general. I need to think about this more, so this would be super helpful. I guess you might think that in the case you have in mind the internal map version of the norm-relevancy account can hold that the assertiveness and hobbies norms aren’t within the relevant set of norms because they don’t feature on a normative map. But I’d have thought that if this is a plausible way to go, then the normative experience version of what experiences of norm-relevancy are can just restrict the set of norms in a similar way.

          One way that the version of the norm-relevancy account I propose might be particularly well suited to avoid implying that the woman you have in mind does not have the gender identity woman would be via the pluralism that I briefly discussed at the end of the talk. With this pluralistic account in hand we might say that she has the gender identity woman because she thinks of the norms associated with women in her social context as relevant to her in the non-normative sense (e.g. they are norms that others in her society take to be relevant to her). But she doesn’t think they are relevant to her in the normative sense. This needs greater working out – I have a bit more to say about this. But, anyway, let me know what you think of these sketchy thoughts! Thanks so much for pushing me on this.

          1. Fiona Woollard

            11th July 2020 at 10:53 pm

            I was very interested in the non-normative sense of relevance that you mentioned. I’d have loved to see this fleshed out more. I think it perhaps links to the normative sense in the following way. The nurse that you describe doesn’t just randomly see a collection of nurse-related norms as relevant to them. They see these norms as applying to them *because they are a nurse*. It might be that the nurse norms overlap with a lot with the norms of some other profession, maybe paramedic. But this doesn’t mean that the nurse has the practical identity of a paramedic. Similarly, it seems like the relevance of norms associated with gender can only contribute to my gender identity if I see them applying to me *because I am a woman*. The woman who has lots of ‘masculine’ hobbies and sees these masculine norms as applying to her does not thereby have a masculine gender identity because she does not seem them as applying to her *because she is a man*. She sees them as applying to her as e.g. a lumberjack or an explorer etc. So it seems like any norm-based account needs to include that the norms as seen as relevant (in either the normative or descriptive sense) because they match the person’s gender identity. I’m still trying to decide if this is viciously circular or if the right understanding of what it is to have a practical identity can make this not viciously circular but merely reflective or something.

          2. Inga Bones

            12th July 2020 at 6:49 am

            Hi Richard,

            Thanks a lot for your thoughts on this! I agree that the case I sketched might be a problem for norm-relevancy accounts in general. And I think I now see how the pluralist account you present towards the end of your presentation might deal with cases like these.
            I would have had another follow-up question, which you already anticipated in your answer to Esa’s question — how to “adjudicate” when I experience norms G as relevant in the non-normative sense, and norms G* as relevant in the normative sense. Again, thanks a lot for your presentation and the discussion!

          3. Richard Rowland

            12th July 2020 at 11:22 am

            Hi Fiona, thanks so much for this very helpful suggestion. I’m tempted to think that going this way isn’t circular – which is great.
            Suppose we don’t understand genders entirely in terms of gender identity. For instance, suppose we say that to be gender G is either to have the gender identity G or to be G in some other way such as to have the social property of being G (e.g. to be G according to the Haslangerian account of gender properties).
            Then we might spell out the non-normative sense of norm relevancy in the following way:
            Non-Normative Sense of Norm-Relevancy: A sees the norms associated with G as relevant to them because they have the social property of being G.
            This won’t be circular because the social property won’t be understood in terms of gender identity.

            I’m not sure that we can make the same move with an account of the normative sense of norm-relevancy. (Although I will give this a go as it might well be possible). But I’m not sure that I need to make this move with the normative sense.
            Though your nurse and paramedic case makes me a little worried. I guess that this might point to a way in which a nurse’s identity as a nurse can be somewhat different from someone’s gender identity when that consists in a normative experience of norm-relevancy. The nurse may well see non-instrumental reasons to live up to certain norms (at least partially) because they have the social property of being a nurse. But we can see non-instrumental reasons to live up to gendered norms even if we do not have the social property associated with those norms.
            I’ll go and think about and read some more literature on practical identity which might make this all clearer. Thanks again.

  • Esa Diaz Leon

    11th July 2020 at 9:52 pm

    Hi Richard,
    Thanks for a super interesting talk! I have a question that is connected with some of issues raised by the other questions, but I will try again. If I understood your Normative Experience account, the norms that are relevant to one are those that one has non-instrumental reasons to conform to, or to live up to. But I was wondering to what extent this can capture our notion of gender identity. The reason is that for many people (both cis and trans), there are many gender norms that we experience as relevant to us, but we do not want to conform to (and it could be argued we have good non-instrumental reasons to not follow them, namely, to fight against patriarchy). For instance, I think Jenkins discusses the example of women who feel subject to the norm that women should not have hairy legs, but decide that they are not going to remove their bodily hair from their legs. They still feel this norm as relevant to them, because they can feel uncomfortable when people frown upon them at the pool, or at least not following this norm comes with a high cost. According to Jenkins’ account (if I got it right), a gender norm can feel as relevant to one, even if we believe it is oppressive and very much want to eliminate that norm. But it is relevant to us in the sense that it conforms our social identity. How would your normative experience account deal with these kinds of cases? Apologies if I missed something crucial! Cheers.

    1. Richard Rowland

      11th July 2020 at 10:47 pm

      Hi Esa, thanks so much for for pushing me more on this.

      Yes so in order to accomodate that case I need to say that there are two senses of norm-relevancy. A normative sense and a non-normative sense and women who feel subject to the hair removal norm but see no non-instrumental reason to conform with that norm see that norm as relevant to them in the non-normative sense but not in the normative sense. Where the non-normative sense of norm-relevancy is something like that which you have in your example. This is what I say unfortunately all too briefly at the end of the talk. I then want to say that our gender identity can consist in either normative or non-normative experiences of norm-relevancy. (Or both. In fact, one thing I want to say now is that we need this view to make sense of certain claims about gender identity such as people who say that they have an identity of being a non-binary woman – Robin Dembroff gives examples of some of these assertions in ‘Beyond Binary Genderqueer as Critical Gender Kind’ p. 9)
      – You might wonder: say my normative experience of norm-relevancy aligns with gender G1 and and my non-normative experience aligns with gender G2, which gender identity do I have? I’m not sure that there’s a problem with just saying, whichever you want (or both) or whichever it seems to you.

      I also don’t think that we shouldn’t let our sense of norm-relevancy be fully exhausted by such experiences of relevancy as one in which we experience a norm to be relevant to us because others subject us to that norm in a social context. Partially for the reason discussed in the talk, that if we go this way, then I think, we will either have to hold that trans people in many social contexts have non-veridical experiences of norm-relevancy or we will have to endorse an uninformative account of what experiences of norm-relevancy are.

      I hope that helps a little. But let me know what you think, and if/where this line of thought is going wrong. As this is one of the biggest problems for the account that I’m trying to develop here.

  • Katharine Jenkins

    12th July 2020 at 10:59 am

    Hi Richard,
    Thanks so much for such an interesting paper, and for your generous engagement with my work. It’s worth saying, I think, that I too have been troubled by the gap in my account that you identify, and have been pressed on this quite a lot in talks. I think it’s clear I need to say more – I even think you’re a bit too generous to the ‘internal map’ account of norm-relevancy, as it’s not so much an account of what it is for a norm to be experienced as relevant, as a sketch of what I’d like such an account to deliver!

    I need to think more about your normative experience account. In particular, I share some of Esa’s worries about the results we’ll then get for people with a very critical stance towards society’s gender norms who nevertheless think they have a gender identity.

    In the meantime, though, I’m wondering whether the normative experience account can help with a related worry that has been raised to me, which is that since gender norms are relational, i.e. it’s thought that women shouldn’t do x because x is a manly thing. So then it starts to seem like all gender norms are relevant to everyone because we are supposed to navigate away from the norms for other genders. This got me wondering whether something like valence or orientation (norms having both positive and negative pulls on us) might need to be introduced. Do you think the normative experience account could handle factoring in something like this? Many thanks!

    1. Richard Rowland

      12th July 2020 at 11:57 am

      Hi Katherine,

      Thanks so much for engaging with my talks , for your coments- and, obviously, for your amazing work that motivated my brief paper!


      The Main Problem
      The problem that you and Esa raise worries me too. I think that it might be useful to distinguishes two types of problem cases.
      1. Someone who has gender identity G but sees no non-instrumental reason at all to live up to any of the norms associated with G (I have colleagues who fit into this category)
      2. Someone who has gender identity G, sees non-instrumental reason to live up to some of the norms associated with G, but sees more non-instrumental reason to live up to the norms associated with G* (this is like Inga’s case above)

      Esa’s case could either be 1 or 2. But I *think* the thing to say about these cases are different. I think that 1 should be dealt with by the non-normative sense of norm-relevancy but 2 probably shouldn’t.

      One idea that occurs to me now but that I haven’t really thought about is to hold that there is a hybrid sense of norm relevancy. To get this in mind I’ll need to give more of an account of the non-normative sense of norm-relevancy. So, let’s take as an example, what I said to Fiona above, so:
Suppose we say that to be gender G is either to have the gender identity G or to be G in some other way such as to have the social property of being G (e.g. to be G according to the Haslangerian account of gender properties).
      Then we might spell out the non-normative sense of norm relevancy in the following way:
      Non-Normative Sense of Norm-Relevancy: A sees the norms associated with G as relevant to them because they have the social property of being G.

      Now suppose that I have the social property of being G and so I see the norms associated with G as relevant to me in the non-normative sense. But I also see some non-instrumental normative reason to live up to some of the norms associated with G (because I have the social property of being G). Then there’s a way in which I see the norms associated with G as relevant to me in a hybrid normative/non-normative sense.

      An alternative way to go might be to think about norm clusters. We might think that we can view norm clusters as relevant to us in the normative sense: we see non-instrumental reason to live up to the cluster even though we end up disapproving of most of the members of the cluster. And we have the gender identity G (due to our normative experience of norm relevancy) because we see reasons to live up to the cluster associated with G (even though we do not see reason to live up to the majority of the individual norms associated with G).

      Relationality
      I’m not sure if the problem with the relationality of genders norms arises if we accept the normative experience account. If women shouldn’t do X because is a manly thing, and we take that norm to be normatively relevant to us, then we see non-instrumental reasons not to do X; if we don’t take the norm to be relevant to us, then we don’t see non-instrumental reasons not to do X. So, yes I think that you might be right that the normative experience helps with this issue. But I don’t fully understand the issue quite well enough to be sure.

      Given that Iii the end want to spell out some or a lot of gender identities in terms of norm-relevancy in the non-normative sense, this issue with relationality might be a reason to spell out the non-normative sense in terms of reasons too. There are ways to do that. People in metanormativity now often distinguish between robustly or genuinely normative reasons (e.g. epistemic, moral, prudential) and merely formally normative reasons (e.g. reasons of etiquette). We might spell out the non-normative sense in terms of an experience of merely formally normative reasons. So, then we say that we can have a gender identity G just because we take there to be merely formally normative reasons for us to live up to norms associated with G—and not to those associated G*—but such merely formally normative reasons are just conventional reasons.
      [Then we’d need to adjudicate in cases of conflict – when one’s society codes one in a way that is at odds with one’s normative experience of norm-relevancy – but I think there’s no problem with just saying that one’s gender identity corresponds to whichever sense of norm-relevancy one feels like it does, or both, if one has both senses]