General status of gender relations vs. Quibbles

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Wed Nov 24 22:40:25 PST 1999

James Baird wrote:

> >
> There are
> physical differences between the sexes, and those differences go deeper than
> skin color.

A couple things. One, read Thomas Laqueur, *Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud* (Harvard, 1990) -- or look up Stephen Jay Gould's review of it in the NLRB, which has its own interest. You will find that even in strictly physical terms distinctions of sex are not clear cut. It is equally possible to argue (on biological grounds) that there is one sex or two -- and the predominant view in the west for 2000 years was that there was only one sex, differing only quantitatively, not qualitatively. Sex (Butler disagrees) is physical, but the interpretation of that physicality is politically determined.

*Next*, leaving aside difficulties with establishing sex, sex *certainly* does not determine gender, which is purely a social relation. (Doug believes, or seems to believe, that this is the same as saying it is socially constructed. I think he is very wrong, but that is a long long and complicated debate.)

In terms of biological data, and depending on political decisions as to the definition of sex, there can be one sex, two sexes, or several sexes. There is no reason that gender could not simply disappear under different social conditions.

Butler, as I understand her in *Bodies That Matter*, wishes to argue that sex as well as gender is socially constructed. This ignores history, but that is another long argument. There is a short cut to bring biology back in and make Butler's arguments on sex immaterial and trivial.

Rob's babble about genes and wombs is mere silliness. BUT -- it is *absolutely* determined by our genes that we get our oxygen through lungs rather than gills. It is absolutely determined by genes that we eat shrimp and peas and wheat rather than oak twigs and destroying angel mushrooms. It is absolutely determined by our genes that our rectum is separated from our urinary tract rather than the same as in birds. And so on and so forth. There is absolutely no way one can understand human history and human social relations without granting the absolute importance of the genetic difference between us and chimpanzees (slight) and bacteria (great). Given this absolutely determining (in the sense of setting parameters) force of biology Butler's fussing around with attempting to collapse the distinction between sex and gender (and therefore get rid of both history and biology in one fell swoop) is trivial playground nonsense.


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