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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

Identity and Overtourism

When I started this site, I thought this topic would be the one cultural argument I’d never wade into, but here we are. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concepts of gender and sexual identity as an entry point into the concept of identity in general. Over the past thirty years, identity has come to pervade every facet of our lives, but here’s the kicker: not personal identity! Not who we are as individuals. Rather, group identity - whether and in what percentage we “belong” to a particular group. 

There’s an inherent tradeoff in identity: the number of people who share your identity is inversely correlated with the probability of them accepting you. Say, for example, you identify as a heterosexual woman. There are a hell of a lot of those out there, so you have a big pool, but your chance of acceptance is relatively low because other heterosexual women might differ from your beliefs in existential ways. 

Now, say you’re part of an extreme body modification crowd. You’ve made the decision to narrow your pool drastically, but in return, you get a far higher likelihood of an individual in the pool accepting you - 85% instead of 8%, for example. 

Gender activists say, “Gender is a social construct,” and while at the dog park the other day, I asked myself to what extent that’s true. I identify as a woman, but when I pared down the reasons for why I identify as a woman, I could only come up with two. 

1) My biology supports me having children (which is sex, not gender), and 2) a vast category of social components. Among other things, these social components include: I enjoy feminine clothing, I feel fierce solidarity with women across the globe fighting for their freedoms, and I have feminine-coded traits such as compassion, nurturing, and emotion-centered logic. 

Let’s dissect these examples. The first one, feminine clothing, is entirely a social construct - plenty of people, including supposedly “hypermasculine” rock stars, enjoy feminine clothing. 

Fierce global solidarity with women is a universal thing, not a female thing. In a healthy society, we’d all feel fierce solidarity with these women because they fight for universal rights and freedoms everyone should have. 

Finally, we have feminine-coded traits. Compassion and nurturing are currently feminine traits, but the tide has started to turn. The occurrence of stay-at-home dads has skyrocketed in recent years and would probably be even higher if not for the social pressures against it. 

My partner has an extremely high level of nurturing, for example. Does that make him feminine? Not in the least. It just makes him nurturing. 

Suppose we equalize society and abolish these constructs and expectations. In that case, we’re just left with sex, and we can easily uncouple gender from sex to distinguish between innate and social differences and their respective solutions. 

Take education as an example. At first, I assumed we’d need gender-specific education programs to correct the effects of patriarchy. But gender differentials in education are what got us patriarchy in the first place! The real solution for patriarchy is for everyone to learn the same things to the same standards! 

The gender identity debate is fascinating because the movement proclaims that “gender is a social construct” while at the same time doing everything in its power to legitimize the concept of gender by putting it under a microscope. If you really thought gender was a social construct, you’d focus on tearing it down instead of fragmenting it. 

Instead of having ten genders, we could just have one - they. Not even “he” or “she.” We have a sex, of course, because it’s biology, but we could have a universal gender. 

Just as the right-wing mania over gender ideology is fascism, so too is a regime where people agonize over exactly which minute classification describes their internal state. I was recently introduced to the term “micro-fascism,” and it applies here. 

We could replace gender, which is a group identity, with both collective and individual identities. We are people - part of an enormous, universal collective, and we are individuals. 

Instead of compassion being a feminine-coded trait, compassion simply becomes a character trait, and an individual can choose to cultivate it or not. Either way, they get to be unique instead of adhering to their assigned (or chosen!) gender. 

It would require a vast reworking of society, from education to parenting to leisure activities and professional choices, but we already have the terminology for it: they is and they are. Easy as pie. People have names. We can already be both specific and general. 

Both extremes of this debate are correct in a way: gender is a social construct, and gender ideology is a fracturing mindset. 

Imagine you were to become a parent in this new, universally-gendered world. Your baby would have a sex based on their biology, but they’d be assigned the same neutral gender as everyone else. You take them home, and instead of decorating the room blue for a boy or pink for a girl, you could decorate the room blue because you enjoy blue. Or yellow. Or rainbow, because it’s pretty. 

Alternatively, you could paint the room blue because your baby is of the male sex, and you could raise them within current gender constructs. Still, in school, their teachers would have been trained not to punish them for higher energy levels, not to encourage them in math and science more than any other route, and not to allow them to bully their other classmates for attention. 

They wouldn’t be preferred for leadership positions just because of how you raised them. Social scaffolding would no longer support your parenting choices - your parenting methods would instead become just a choice, like any other parent. One without social benefits. 

Our children deserve blank slates. They deserve to be able to choose the clothes they enjoy and the activities they individually prefer, and they deserve to be able to change their choice whenever they want! 

Once they have a partner, if they choose to have one, they and their partner should be able to choose which parent, if either, assumes primary child-rearing responsibilities. Or maybe they decide to switch off. Either way, it should be a decision based on two individual choices and their relationship dynamics. 

If, eventually, the child (or adult) decides they want to specify their gender, that’s their choice. It would be a similar choice to any of the other unique identities people pursue, but it would be an individual path instead of a social one. I’m not advocating for blanket observance; I’m advocating for us to create a new, universal baseline.

Perhaps this is what the gender identity activists were going for when they started down this path, but I might be giving them too much credit. Just as with so many other parts of our culture, they went the opposite way instead, fracturing the human mind into ever smaller and more specific labels and designations. 

Sexual identity is an older version of this phenomenon. I have a male partner, but am I straight? Am I bisexual? Am I something else entirely? Does it even matter?

At the end of the day, what matters is that I chose my partner. He happens to be male. Who knows what would have happened if I had never met him? What does any of this have to do with who I am

My choice of partners isn’t me; it’s a choice. If we remove the social pressure cooker, we realize these are actions and decisions, not qualities. Not identities. 

If we were to get a blank slate for society, one of our first priorities would need to be increasing our tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, because individuality results from ambiguity and uncertainty. 

I say this as someone who is currently being thrashed around by life lessons on how to embrace the beauty of uncertainty. I’d need to be okay with my choice of partner saying nothing more than that he’s awesome. It doesn’t tell me anything about myself or introduce any order in my life, and it can’t predict what would’ve happened if I hadn’t met him. 

The drastic uptick in identity concerns comes from our increasingly desperate need to control our inner lives as our society grows ever more chaotic. We apply microfascisms to our psychology, hoping they will dampen the utter chaos of our world. 

Decoupling gender from sex and adopting a neutral gender baseline would create a riot of chaos because it’d allow for an explosion of individuality. People could throw norms out the window and do what they want without worrying about applying the correct label or fitting into a trope. 

Another reason why we adopt these specific identities is as a reaction to oppression. It’s a politics of opposition; society doesn’t want me to be anything other than a gender-conforming woman, so I have to fight for it. I have to stake my claim. 

If society relaxed - if it didn’t matter how gender-conforming or non-conforming you were because everyone starts from the same position with the same expectations, it’d relieve the pressure from the rope. You’d no longer have a game of tug-of-war. You’d just have a pile of rope piled on top of each other, all squiggly and different. 

Overtourism is a wildly different application of the same kind of identity tension. Overtourism is a huge problem, and we should absolutely limit tourism to economically and ecologically sustainable levels. 

I’m talking about overtourism because one of the primary complaints some cities have with tourists is that tourists don’t conform to their social norms. 

Tourism exposes tourists to other cultures, but it also exposes locals to other cultures. Returning to the concept of shared morality, we know which norms are universal. Don’t leave your cigarette butts in a temple. Don’t scratch your initials on a historical monument. Don’t expect locals to cater to your dietary preferences. Learn a couple of words in the local language. 

However, it is unrealistic and unfair to expect tourists to conform to unwritten, specific cultural norms. I’ve tried, but it causes quite a lot of anxiety to expect yourself to behave not just politely, but normatively, in a foreign country! 

When tourism is done correctly and limited to an appropriate level, it is a two-way pact: the tourists, by engaging in the act of tourism, should try to go out of their way to be respectful and considerate, and the locals should try to be gracious when people commit hyper-specific cultural faux pas. 

The town of Fujikawaguchiko in Japan neighbors Mt. Fuji, and they finally had to install a giant mesh screen outside of a convenience store to deter tourists from stopping in hordes to photograph Mt. Fuji. Not okay. 

Japan also considers it rude to chat animatedly with your friends on the subway. Some people would take this as a reason to hire a tour guide and do extensive research to ensure you copy Japanese behavior while in Japan, but I take it as an example of how we need to relax our expectations of others. Some people come from loud cultures, and while Japanese subways may not appreciate their volume, parties certainly do! 

Allowing us to have our cultural and individual differences while sharing a common baseline is part of the value of sharing this world with so many unique people. I dream of a world where we share those things instead of creating smaller and smaller boxes for people to fit into. 



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