Ruth Hubbard on Power & the Meaning of Differences

kelley oudies at
Sat Nov 27 13:09:38 PST 1999

>Let's see: I have somehow chosen that for many species reproduction is
>sexual, not asexual.

how about social rakesh. did you miss my several arguments to suggest that especially for human beings in order to reproduce we have to not only fertilize eggs with sperm we have to incubate them, give birth to infatns and then raise them and teach them to survive in whatever historical circumstances they happen to be born into? now why oh why is reproduction ONLY then either about feritlization between sexually dimophic species or about asexual monomorphic species. that evolutionary theory calls it asexual v. sexual is an aboslute hoot for embedded in the binary of the two are some incredible assumptions.

in that sense, choosing to focus on the shape of sexual organs as roger calls it is choosing to focus on merely *one* aspect of reproduction. so when yoshie offered several different ways of locating the political choices to choose from re sex, you chose the one that had to do with reproduction but only on a very limited definition of what reproduction is.

could this possibly have to do with the fact that, for so much of human history but esp during the time in which this research is done, mainly male scientists lived in a world in which they imagined that their contribution to reproduction was limited to planiting their seed or working at their job if they imagined that's what it had to do with any part of the "social" [which is oddly cut of from the "sexual" here?

there is nothing about research that is pursued because it's somehow apolitically interesting. you can't be honest and say that. even the nerdiest apolitical geek in a white coat in a lab or in a pith helmut out in the field among the hopi is doing research because of an incredibly complex set of social relations that is entirely political --funding, how s/he came to decide something was worth pursuing, if s/he did so in relation to some established body of theory, etc. all of those thinga are political and make our decisions as to what to research and how to operationale the phenom. what we're asking about

and this is why the overwhelming tendency to ignore the social and when it's not ignored it's on the basis of naturalized political choices about what counts as sexual biology. and if you missed it the couple of times i said it, this is verymuch related to a similar debate in marxism: how to determine surplus value and the cost of reproducing labor power. if you operationalize that you leave out a whole host of things, namely the unpaid labor done in the home of cooking, cleaning, wiping noses, and so forth. you can argue in response that i've just made *everything* part of the cost of reproducing labor. so? recognizing that and taking feminist critiques of marxist economics into accoutn would only mean that you have to make your choices known, explain why some set of pheom instead of another and, possibly, reflect your gender/race oppressive reasons for doing so.

that's what social constructionist accounts of knowledge can do for us. they demand that we account for what we silence, erase, render invisible.


a snippet from something i already forwarded will be illuminating here. remember, again, we're not talking only about evolutionary research which you have an interest in. but all kinds of research--psych, soc, political, economic, etc please consider the argument made in the following, i'm really interested in what you and others have to say. it's really quite illuminating and, again, why all scientists need to take into account how their language shapes in political ways their research and can influence what they end up finding. again, this is not an argument for the notion that reality isn't important at all. indeed, i think you will find that it supports some of your argument recently with yoshie about the BRC:

On what basis, for example, are we justified in calling a social status or identity a third gender? Answering this question requires that we define gender first, something that is not often done in the literature. Here I realized, with help from feminist and deconstructionist theory, that part of the problem is the sex/gender binary itself—an analytical tool that has, until now, served us quite well. But as I analyzed the deployment of this binary in a variety of texts it became apparent to me that as long as we continue to anchor gender in physical sex, gender becomes merely another version of sex. It collapses back into the transcendental signified of a precultural state of nature. The apparent symmetry of the binary, as Derrida would show in a much more complicated way, masks a hierarchical relationship between the terms.


Identities can be constructed without recourse to crude essentialism, they can be compared as well as contrasted, and they can be powerful rallying points for progressive as well as conservative causes. If the risk of identity is that a group places itself within certain discursive regimes, what is the alternative? To talk about homosexuality in the absence of bodies that actually touch? But if we formulate the question in existential terms, knowing that construction is a part of the human condition so that there is no question of some other way of being, then the issue becomes how we live as ethical beings in these constructions; not identity vs. something else, but which identity, and what sort of contents will it have? [...]

Here, again, I think third gender is useful. The danger of assimilation or co-optation of such a direct challenge to heterosexist binarism seems to me much less than the potential for assimilation of an identity based on a difference that exists only in the fleeting moments of the bedroom. With or without the heuristic of third gender, I am convince that the discussion of our differences must be re-opened without foreclosing any lines of exploration for fear they might not conform to pre-existing ideological commitments or personal comfort levels. Much greater is the danger of saying nothing, of allowing phantasmagoric images of homosexuals to continue to stalk the landscape, of remaining anomalies in history and culture, unable to relate ourselves to the greater strivings of humanity except by the self-effacing gesture of denying our difference in order to rejoin its ranks at the lowest common denominator. In my work, I’ve tried to take another approach—uncovering and exploring our queer differences as distinct and integral elements of the story of how humanity has come to reach the state of affairs that is the present.


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