After pushing for the penalisation of misgendering and criticising medical professionals for assigning gender at birth now the progressive left wants anthropologists to stop “assigning gender post-mortem”.
“You might know the argument that the archaeologists who find your bones one day will assign you the same gender as you had at birth, so regardless of whether you transition, you can’t escape your assigned sex,” tweeted Ms Emma Palladino, a Canadian pursuing a master’s degree in archaeology earlier this month.
Then, Ms Palladino called assigning gender to an ancient human “bull****”. According to her, there is no way for archaeologists and anthropologists to determine with which gender a long-dead individual identified.
“Labelling remains ‘male’ or ‘female’ is rarely the end goal of any excavation, anyway,” wrote Palladino. “The ‘bioarchaeology of the individual’ is what we aim for, factoring in absolutely everything we discover about a person into a nuanced and open-ended biography of their life.”
Sex, gender, and forensics
Anthropologists, whether including forensic anthropologists are, in fact, able to tell us, with a reasonable level of accuracy, about the dead person’s height, age, diet, the place they grew up, predominant racial ancestry, and sex.
This is not guesswork either. The dimension of long bones (such as tibia) can be used to accurately calculate the height, and chemical elements trapped in tooth enamel can tell us where the person spent most of their life based on what particles are found in local water (even for individuals that died centuries ago), and much like skin colour and facial characteristics, people in origins in different parts of the world also display subtle differences in the skeletal structure. Sex is a fairly easy thing to determine, on account of differences in skull shape, as well as the dimension of men’s and women’s pelvises.
Determining these facts can be important to archaeologists, but in the field of forensics, it may be a crucial way to identify victims of crimes if, for example, DNA evidence has deteriorated. Attempts to scientifically determine a dead person’s sex are not an attempt to oppress trans people or ethnic groups, and that should be clear for anyone who has any common sense.
But woke gender activists care little for common sense. They do not even appear to realise that for anthropologists who aim determine the sex of an individual, that person’s notion of gender, which is a matter of identity, goes neither here nor there.
Gender activists that formed the Trans Doe Task Force called for forensic experts to “explore ways in which current standards in forensic human identification do a disservice to people who do not clearly fit the gender binary.”
“We propose a gender-expansive approach to human identification by combing missing and unidentified databases looking for contextual clues such as decedents wearing clothing culturally coded to a gender other than their assigned sex,” the group’s mission statement reads. “We maintain our own database of missing and unidentified people who we have determined may be Transgender or gender-variant, as most current database systems do not permit comparison of missing to unidentified across different binary sex categories.”
That is all very well, and in fact works of such groups can be critical in helping law enforcement identify crime victims who do not fit the binary model of how the division into two sexes works. Except the vast majority of people do fall pretty neatly into these categories, so it is hard to expect the entire field of anthropology to abandon useful tools to identify the sex of individuals just because it puts a fraction of deceased individuals at the risk of being misgendered. The purpose of groups such as Trans Doe Task Force should be to help identify victims who fall outside the binary model, not ensure that no body can be identified.
Jennifer Raff, Associate Professor at the University of Kansas, published “Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas” in February, where she argued that there are “no neat divisions between physically or genetically ‘male’ or ‘female’ individuals.” According to her, scientists cannot know the gender of a 9,000-year-old biologically female Peruvian hunter because they do not know whether the hunter identified as male or female.
Again: the purpose of anthropologists is not to determine a person’s gender. It is to identify their biological sex.
She also claims that the “duality” concept of humans being divided into male and female individuals is something that was “imposed by Christian colonisers.”
It is true that in some cultures, i.e. India and some areas that were for a long period of time under the sway of Indian culture and Hindu religion, there is a category which can be crudely called “a third gender”, but assuming that in no other place on Earth than in Christian Europe had people noticed that boys and girls are different, is a bit of a stretch.
Not everybody believes it is necessary to bring down the tower of science to appease woke gender activists. San Jose State archaeology Professor Elizabeth Weiss called eliminating classifications based on sex amounts to “ideologically-motivated fudging.” Weiss said there is a move among academics “toward getting all of the academy’s favoured shibboleths to accord with one another.”
Weiss said the recent spike in the number of people identifying as transgender suggests that the trend is “social and not biological” and that “retroactively de-sexing [of long-dead individuals] obscures this obvious fact.”
Ms Weiss also pointed to the importance of being able to identify the biological sex of a skeleton can often help dispel myths detrimental to women.
“Some early anthropologists sometimes mistook some robust female skeletons as male skeletons, particularly in the Aleut and Inuit collections; this reinforced false stereotypes that females were not as hard-working as males,” she said. “Over time, biological anthropologists and archaeologists worked hard to determine which traits are determined by sex, regardless of time and culture. This new policy of erasing this progress is a step back for science and women.”
This is clearly also the case with the Peruvian hunter the aforementioned Ms Raff wrote about: a woman living in Peru nine millennia ago could be both a woman and a hunter. Just because in many cultures, including many European cultures, hunting was mostly done by men, does not necessarily imply this was always the case for everyone everywhere, and it definitely does not imply that a woman who hunted identified as a man. She naturally may have. But that can hardly be considered a serious scientific problem to investigate.
Another scholar, Jennifer Chisolm of the University of Cambridge, argues that analyses that suggest transgender individuals played a large part in Indigenous populations are often ahistorical, and can even distract “from the contemporary discrimination [trasgender individuals] face within their own communities.”
In short, the obsession of woke activists to apply their vision of what the world around them is and what they believe it should look like instead to past cultures and civilisations is detrimental to science and knowledge about those ancient civilisations, and, perhaps even more importantly, it is also damaging to the very people these activists claim to represent and fight for.