Ruth Hubbard on Power & the Meaning of Differences

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Mon Nov 29 11:29:04 PST 1999

Rakesh wrote:
>And note that her argument does not mean that people do not have a
>biological sex or that sex is a constructed category. It means that the
>differences that develop between women and men cannot be ascribed to
>biological sex differences alone and that any attempt to do so in a
>patriarchal society can only be dishonest. She argues that women's biology
>and psychology are socially constructed, not biological sex per se. From
>the Hubbard passage you post (and from my memory of her argument) I
>remember (to repeat myself) Hubbard's main point being that we cannot
>figure out how much biological sexual difference itself accounts for
>specifiable, clearly quantifiable differences between the sexes. She may be
>bending the stick too far in the other direction, but it seems to me a
>point a well worth heeding.

In your interpretation, Hubbard's framework is a liberal feminist one (important as it is), similar to J.S. Mill's. I'm not sure if your interpretation is a valid one, but I agree that Hubbard's point of view is not the same as Thomas Laqueur's. Liberal feminists, by and large, accept reproduction as the biological determinant of sex and leave it at that, but even they have an objection to the double standard inherent in having one half of humanity classed as "the sex" (as they used to say) while the other half is left as the paradigmatic "person" in the "social contract": "No one has suggested that men are just walking testicles, but again and again women have been looked on as though they were walking ovaries and wombs" (Ruth Hubbard). The limit of Hubbard's criticism is the limit of liberal political theory, which may be best characterized by Rousseau's remark on sex: "The male is only a male now and again, the female is always a female...; everything reminds her of her sex" (_Emile_). We Marxists are interested in going beyond a dialectical couple of liberalism and its discontents, no? For this purpose, sex, too, must be understood as a political interpretation of biological facts.


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