I'm reading Iain M. Banks again. I'll probably have some comments about the book in general at some point (but I suspect this one will be almost as hard to comment on without spoilers as Use of Weapons was; I'm three-quarters through it and the back-cover blurb still contains information that hasn't come up yet), but for now I just wanted to throw open a question:
If at some point in the future we become capable of easily and cheaply changing physical sex in both directions, will we continue to have gender roles?
Yeah, yeah, gender is socially constructed. I've noted at some point (journal? email? SWAPA? too sleepy to go look it up) that that shouldn't be used to dismiss its importance; the phrase can easily become one of those conversation-ending phrases rather than a conversation-opening phrase. (CEP vs COP?) Its basis in social construction doesn't change the fact that it tends to be immensely important in our society/ies.
But if individuals stop being tied to one physical sex or another, what happens to that social construction? Does it wither away, like a vestigial Communist state, or does it continue with new and interesting variations?
(I'm approaching the primary-process (I know I'm stretching the meaning of that phrase) portion of the evening; my brain is trying to transmute the phrase "wither away" into the question "whither away?", but I'm not letting it.)
Of course, part of the answer to that depends on whether gender is in fact innate; if you're born with a hardwired gender, then that probably continues to be true in an easy-sex-change society. But I have a hard time believing that's all there is to it.