The National Association of Scholars opposes the increasingly widespread doctrine in colleges and universities that differences between the human sexes are to be seen primarily or exclusively as differences of socially constructed “gender.” For simplicity’s sake, we will call this doctrine “gender ideology.” Policy manifestations of gender ideology include:
- Requiring that students, faculty, and staff address each student by his chosen pronoun
- Requiring single-sex sports teams to accept opposite-sex participants
- Insisting that faculty members be recruited by means of “gender preferences” to achieve “equity” in all fields, regardless of individual inclination, aptitude, or capacity
- Requiring that self-proclaimed “transgender” students be accommodated in their choice of restrooms, locker rooms, and other formerly sex-specific venues
- Replacing the word “sex” with the word “gender” on official forms asking students, faculty, and staff for self-identification
- Forcing teachers to endorse and articulate to students the doctrine that “gender identification” is a matter of personal choice (“gender expression”)
- Forcing teachers to affirm that pathological conditions such as “gender dysphoria” are normal
- Pathologizing opposition to transgender ideology as “transphobia”
- Supporting the surgical mutilation and psychological maiming of children in the name of honoring their “gender identifications”
- Canceling works of literature, art, philosophy, and science which represent human sexual difference as naturally binary
- Treating homosexuality as a group identity as opposed to a behavior, and insisting on an ever-growing list of distinct gender and sexual identity groups (e.g., LGBTQ2+)
- Denouncing individuals and colleges that adhere to faiths that regard the differences between men and women as God-given and sanctioned by divine authority
- Prohibiting and punishing opposition to gender ideology
The basis for gender ideology is confused and contradictory. The doctrine that underlies these and similar developments on campus is an elaboration of the idea of extreme human plasticity. It is, however, not a single dogma but a confluence of several. Sometimes it emphasizes that each individual has the capacity from an age in early childhood to “decide” his gender; sometimes instead of “deciding,” the individual is said to “discover” his gender as something latent in his psyche; and sometimes the emphasis is placed not on the individual at all but on “society” as either inhibiting decisions and discoveries by imposing a rigid two-sex template on manifold human diversity, or by privileging one or another path of gender development.
These are speculative ideas that have emerged over the last several decades from both radical feminist theory and radical “queer” theory. (Although many radical feminists also resist the transgender variant of the theory of extreme human plasticity, and for their pains have been vilified as trans-exclusionary radical feminists—TERFs.) That they have become suddenly popular among students, faculty, and college administrators is worth remark, but it is not NAS’s chief concern. The remark we would make is that the theories call for a revolt against common human understanding across all history and culture. One might think that an insight as profound as “gender plasticity” would have registered in human consciousness in a more extensive way before the current generation if it were as compelling as it is now treated. But whether valid or not, its novelty strengthens the case against institutionalizing this idea merely because its advocates are committed to it.
The NAS doubts that the academic examination of the concept of gender plasticity or its myriad variants (transgenderism, gender fluidity, gender queer, etc.) deserves the enormous emphasis it currently receives, but the academy should remain open to investigation of such ideas provided that they are held to the same standards of intellectual scrutiny that apply to all provisional concepts. The trouble is that the concept of gender plasticity is no longer treated as a hypothesis advanced in opposition to many well-established facts, but as a settled doctrine. Disagreement with that doctrine is now commonly met not with arguments about its utility but with censure and, in some cases, career-ending punishment.
The NAS strongly rejects the practice by colleges, universities, and professional societies of treating these novel concepts as established facts and turning them into policies that are imposed on whole academic communities. Treating these concepts as self-evidently true or as sufficiently plausible to warrant their being enforced as official policy is educational malpractice.
We are aware that our support for intellectual freedom in expressing the ideas associated with the concept of gender plasticity is liable to be abused by some faculty members who will persist in treating the concept as indubitably true. But universities can take strong steps to prevent such abuses from becoming normative. Such steps include rejecting the insistence of gender ideologists that those who dissent should be punished and holding the gender ideologists themselves to proper standards of argument, evidence, and intellectual openness.
Cases in which faculty members have been disciplined or dismissed for refusing to use a student’s pronoun-of-choice are, for example, not only outright violations of academic and intellectual freedom but also a form of campus authoritarianism. Forcing female students to accept male students in women’s restrooms and locker rooms poses both physical danger and indignity on at least some female students. The doctrine of gender fluidity carried out as official policy is morally offensive to many, if not most, and is insensitive to the normal maturation of most young people.
“Gender plasticity” is a dramatic distortion of both human nature and reality. We are biologically a sexually binary species. There is no ambiguity about this. It is true at every biological level that can be distinguished: as one contributor to Academic Questions put it, whether the criteria are anatomical, gonadal, hormonal, chromosomal, genetic, genomic, brain, or neural, humans are distinguishable into two and only two sexes.1 The existence of birth defects and rare genetic abnormalities leading to “intersex” conditions does not change these facts, nor does the existence of same-sex attractions. “Human plasticity” is real, but it is constrained by nature and does not give warrant to the thesis of extreme human plasticity, i.e., that “gender” negates biological reality.
To restate these facts which are known or should be known to anyone acquainted with basic science is, these days, to risk severe censure on college campuses. An elaborate vocabulary of opprobrium has been developed to denounce those who pronounce such facts as conveyors of bigotry, hatred, or fear. The use of such invective is further evidence of the damage that gender dogma has inflicted on the academy. Instead of arguments for “gender ideology” or arguments against its critics, the movement unleashes emotional outrage at anyone who dares challenge its premises.
NAS does not seek the role of moral arbiter over all higher education, but we are willing to recognize the existence of moral issues that are all too often swept under the rug so that harmful ideologies can advance under cover of “progress.” We are moved by the need to enunciate our concern for the harm done to students in the name of gender identity. And we are moved by the need to stand up for the pursuit of truth, which is imperiled by a regime founded on falsehood. Extreme human plasticity is an illusion that has no valid basis in biology, anthropology, or psychology.
In that light we state our principled opposition to gender ideology in American higher education.
1 Georgi K. Marinov. “In Humans, Sex is Binary and Immutable.” Academic Questions. Vol. 33, No, 2 Summer 2020. P. 282.
(Updated March 8, 2022, at 10:00 am).