General status of gender relations vs. Quibbles

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Sat Nov 27 09:39:05 PST 1999

That it is possible to construct a society in which women have total control over their own bodies, especially their temporary reproductive capacity ( i.e. women can get pregnant and men cannot), is suggested by the evidence that in societies before classes there was equality in sexual difference, social equivalence between women and men. Engels claims that the fall from this Garden of Eden was tied up with origin of private property, in that the original male class exploitors forced monogamy on women to guarantee that their "private property" was passed on to "their" offspring. In other words , the original social construction of men's oppression and exploitation of women is linked to the inheritance principle of private property.

Private property and male supremacy arise together, let them go out together. Women and workers , unite ! (although , most workers are women).


>>> Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at> 11/25/99 10:01AM >>>
Dennis C.:
>>Gender is an effect of oppression, just as race is. No oppression, no
>gender. No oppression, no race.
>ok, I agree. but flat-footed statements like this can't go it alone. if
>Butler and the other postmodernists you lump together help some people
>refine their thinking, where's the harm?

First of all, because it is not the "social/discursive construction" of X in itself that makes X oppressive & a problem for feminists, Marxists, and other leftists. For instance, some languages have more words to name different kinds & degrees of rain & snow than others (for instance, compare Japanese with English), and to describe this kind of difference, "social/discursive construction" is adequate, in that having more finely differentiated names for rain & snow doesn't make the Japanese language better or more powerful than English, and vice versa, so oppression didn't & doesn't play a role in the particular "social/discursive construction" in question here. On the other hand, all aspects of gender have been shaped & colored by oppression, not just "discursively/socially constructed." This distinction is important. In other words, there are "social/discursive consturctions" (that involve oppression), and there are "social/discursive constructions" (that do not involve it), and it is the former that becomes a political question. Therefore, I'd rather emphasize how oppression (and to a lesser extent, resistance to it) created and has continued to reshape gender.

Also, to say gender is a "social/discursive construction" often misleadingly implies a degree of voluntarism & autonomy from the biological & the historical that doesn't exist in fact. Most importantly, there is no denying that the history of class & gender oppressions has been in part the history of the exploitation of the temporary reproductive capacity of one half of humanity, no? One can't simply relegate the biological capacity for reproduction to the realm of the symbolic alone, however indispensable symbolic struggles may be. Feminists & Marxists must struggle for and achieve _women's total control over our own bodies_, especially our temporary reproductive capacity, in _politics_, not just in _theory_; failing that, no amount of seemingly "refined" scholarly writings on the "discursive/social construction" of sex/gender will prevent these signs from becoming the tools of oppression.


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