Science Fiction Double Feature: Trans Liberation on Twin Earth
Rachael Briggs (Stanford University), B George (Carnegie Mellon University)

April 20, 2017, 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

9th floor lounge
32 Vassar Street
United States


A variety of philosophical and political projects presuppose concepts of Woman and Man: characterizing the subordination of women; identifying when a policy has disparate impacts on women and men; explaining what it is to identify as or (insofar as this is distinct) to be a woman or a man; identifying what kinds of life events might constitute a gender transition. We argue that attempts to develop a conceptual analysis of the concepts Woman and Man face a tension between (on the one hand) capturing the idea that what makes gender gender is its connection with sex and (on the other hand) allowing gender to serve its intended theoretical and practical purposes as a social category distinct from sex, and allowing meaningful debates about how societies should adjudicate membership in the genders.

Taking Sally Haslanger's accounts of Woman and Man as a representative example, we note that a major family of analytic feminist definitions of these classes share two important features: they are material (i.e., they say that an individual's gender is determined solely by material circumstances of biology, behavior, and power relations) and ahistorical (i.e., they say that an individual's gender at a time is determined solely by the material facts at that time). We draw on thought-experiment strategies from the semantics and metaphysics of kinds to argue that material, ahistorical theories are fundamentally ill-equipped to resolve the tension between feminist aims in a way that does justice to the full range of political projects mentioned above. We propose a new account of genders that improves on this situation, and builds on Haslanger's insights, by emphasizing the importance of historical continuity of these classes.


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