One of the obligatory inanities that every undergraduate learns in college is that gender is a social construct. What the undergraduate is not taught–because it would greatly diminish the revelatory power of this truism–is that denotation in general is a social construct. No denotation exists that is not a convention. But denotative conventions are not arbitrary constructions that can be amended at will. They transmit eons of collective experience that one ignores at one’s peril.
Sure, you are free to stick your hand in a pot of boiling water to test what “hot” really means. But that would fall under the category of learning things the hard way.
Same with gender. If you’re a man and want to pass yourself as a woman (or vice-versa), it is feasible, but will demand an extraordinary degree of dedication, in addition to a talent for 24/7 fakery, and even then is likely to yield an unconvincing result. In which case you will have to mount a social campaign to bully everyone around you into validating your gender choice. If you have better things to do than spend your life performing a gender at odds with your sex, you’ll settle for the “cis” default.
But let’s face it: this is all beside the point. The notion of gender as social construct is the mantra of the inadequate. It was invented by feminists. It is compensation for self-loathing.
The real question is why Western societies have succumbed to this nonsense. I would suggest, with Marx, that the destruction of common meaning is an effect of the power of money. Money, as Marx observed, confuses things. It turns the world upside down. It is “the confounding and confusing of all natural and human qualities.” It is “the fraternisation of impossibilities. It makes contradictions embrace.” Money makes the ugly attractive, the cowardly brave, the stupid clever by putting at their disposal those who are attractive, brave, and clever. If you’re poor, whatever beauty you possess is a gift. The rich do not depend on gifts. They depend on the power of money to compel adulation.
Feminism expresses the power of wealthy women to compel validation of their vanity. The dismissal of gender and the qualities that define it as “social constructs” transforms ugly, nasty, shrews into figures of admirable empowerment, at once “stunning and brave.” Feminism thus brings to the surface in the most striking way possible the monstrous perversity of money’s dominion and the extent of its power to corrupt.