Reality is a Social Construct

I agree that gender is a social construct. So is sex. (So is the other kind of sex.) So is species. So is “fish”. So is blue. So is reality.

People say “X is a social construct” as though this were some deep, profound statement about this thing being actually some form of mass delusion.

All “socially constructed” really means is that the definition of a word–or concept–is agreed upon via some form of common consensus. Thus, the meaning of words can be changed if everyone decides to do so.

“Gay” was once socially constructed to mean “happy.” Now, by popular consensus, “gay” means something else. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, homosexuality and pedophilia were conceptually linked–we would say, homosexuality was socially constructed to include pedophilia. Today, the two terms are not seen as synonymous–the social construction has changed.

You ever notice that “red onions” are purple? Our socially constructed categories of “red” and “purple” have changed.

We all filter the raw material data of reality through the ideas, concepts, patterns, and categories already in our heads–our assumptions about the world can lead two different people to have radically different experiences of the exact same physical reality.

This is a natural effect of language being language, rather than, say, rocks. It is not a profound statement. It is a caution that we may be led astray at times by conceptual categories, our categories/definitions may need occasional updating in light of new data, or that edge cases may not always fit neatly into broad categories.

Most people understand this intuitively, as part of how interfacing between our fallible little selves and reality works. That reality does not always conform exactly to our notions about it is confirmed every time we stub a toe.

When people start making a big deal out of social constructivism, it is natural to think this must be some big, profound, important insight, otherwise they wouldn’t be going on for so long.

But people only pull out this argument when they want to deny the existence of actual reality, not when trying to argue that your notion of “ornamental shrub” is socially constructed and you should plant a blueberry bush.

Reality exists, no matter how we care to conceptualize it and organize the data we’re getting about it. Most categories that weren’t invented for the sake of a novel (“elves” probably are totally made up,) exist because they serve some sort of functional purpose. Being able to call someone “male” or “female,” “black” or “white” or “Bantu” or “Japanese” allows me to convey a bundle of information to the listener–a feature of language obvious to virtually everyone who has ever engaged in conversation, except to folks trying to eliminate such words from the language on the grounds that they are made up and so carry no information.

8 thoughts on “Reality is a Social Construct

  1. “Reality exists, no matter how we care to conceptualize it…” Yes. By contrast, social constructs are conceptualizations. Therefore, reality couldn’t have been constructed socially. It pre-existed all social constructs. Likewise, racial variations were biologically real before social labels were ever attached to them.

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    • I don’t dispute the existence of reality (in a philosophical moment, I do assert that we can only perceive it through whatever concepts we happen to be using, hence our perception of reality–the only reality we know–is constructed.) I only dispute the idea that “x is a social construct” is a meaningful statement at all.

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      • We’ve already had a word for it, it’s called labeling. While i’d agree that concepts are labeled based on current observation, the subject itself simply exists on its own. the term “social construct” is to me offensive because the concept of that means society made it first. So yea, if you said “The definition has changed for sex.” that makes more sense because that’s essentially what it is.

        However, it seems that your definition of “social construct” seems to have different definitions in the eyes of feminism and other SJW types. “Social construct” to them is the enforcement of ideas rather than a mere label.

        So when you hear “gender is a social construct” from someone like “Laci Green” it means “gender roles” more than anything.

        While I agree the definitions of sex have changed, there is an undeniable truth that it isn’t transphobic when you say “biologically male” or “biologically female” because XY women with AIS count as women Their bodies express female traits and not male ones. But on the other hand with transsexuals, their bodies originally expressed the karyotype and genotype. While their identities are valid. They’re the gender they identify with, but biologically, their sex can’t be denied. Personally, as a person who fluctuates between cis and trans, i really do believe that our current sex change system is a ripoff to trans individuals, and would want to provide a better alternative surgery that truly fits with the gender they identify with.

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  2. Race is a continuum and that is why the idea that it is a social construct has carried so much weight. On the other hand, in reality world people actually think of race as a discrete category.

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