General status of gender relations vs. Quibbles

David Jennings [MSAI] djenning at
Wed Nov 24 12:23:19 PST 1999

On Wed, 24 Nov 1999, Seth Ackerman wrote:

>Doug wrote:
>> This will no doubt exasperate the Judy-haters, following Butler's in
>> Bodies That Matter, it's interesting to watch how & when "biological"
>> arguments are invoked - as a last ditch effort to limit the
>> social/discursive analysis of social/discursive phenomena and ground
>> them instead in some unalterable Real. That's just what Rob is doing
>> here - resisting arguments based on gender (and class) relations and
>> shifting attention to the realm of the gene. Last time I looked,
>> genes couldn't talk, though lots of people profess to talk for them.
> So, Doug. Are you saying gender phenomena are *always*
>social/discursive phenomena, and never grounded in some unalterable Real?

I smell a fallacy here, or perhaps a few.

First off, it may be possible that social/discursive phenomena in fact are real.

More fundamentally, it seems that much of the recent gender talk has been based on a category error. The question seems to be whether such-and-such gender phenomena is really social/discursive or really based on nature (genes, etc). Specifically, is gender difference in regard to sexual preferences based on nature, or is it socialized. Its not clear to me that this is an appropriate (exclusive) disjunction. It may be analogous to asking whether something is white or warm-blooded (versus e.g. white or black). The 'nature basedness' of a phenomenon does not necessarily preclude it being social, and a fortiori does not make a sociological analysis of the phenomena inappropriate. There may very well be _something_ natural about May/December couplings, but evoking a story of a selfish gene (or whatever) doesn't mean that the social analysis of such couplings is irrelevant. Actually, I'd say that the selfish gene story is probably the least interesting thing to point out about gender phenomena.

Then there's the fallacy of hidden assumption. Often, the foundation of a phenomena in nature (whatever that means) is taken to be a recommendation to a certain behavior. Child rearing is natural, thus it is moral to be a parent. Homosexuality is unnatural, thus it is immoral to be gay. Clearly we're dealing with a couple of syllogisms here in the implicit assumption that natural = good. Without this assumption, nature -- which since the 18th century has played into so many of our best and worst moral fables -- may have no prescriptive power at all. (I hasten to add that no one on this list has committed themselves to such a blatant position. Such a fallacy is, however, nearly ubiquitous in talk about gender and sexuality.)


----------------------------------------------------------------------- David Jennings SSS II | Agri-Services Labs CAES, UGA | (706) 542-5350 ----------------------------------------------------------------------- "It was like masters and children. You didn't want to cross the man who provided your bread and butter." - a Kannapolis NC textile worker

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