Ruth Hubbard on Power & the Meaning of Differences

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Mon Nov 29 15:45:32 PST 1999

In _The German Ideology_, Engels and Marx describe eating , sleeping, shelter and "many other things", i.e. physiological need fulfillment, as the premises of history. Thus, they root their historical materlist perspective, the determination of all history by class struggle, in these premises, although not vulgarly so. Fulfillment of the physiological needs of individuals is a necessary , but not sufficient condition of human history. Physiological needs can be fulfilled with a classless foraging/gardening mode of production , as it was for most of human society ; or it can be fulfilled based on a division of labor between exploiting and exploited classes. It should be clear that this explanation combines biology and politics.

Similarly, reproduction is a necessary premise of all history ( Engels and Marx actually say this, but end up not putting as much emphasis on it until Engels' _The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State_ when Engels says the modes of production and reproduction are codeterminants of history and society). It is a biological premise for multiple generations. Who ever heard of a one generation species ? A group could be totally successful at production , but if it does not reproduce, its history ends.

Seems to me all Yoshie is saying is that with respect to sex/gender, there is a similar dialectic between biology and politics. For most of human history, women had to be the ones getting pregnant, because there was no possibility of the technologies by which men might as today. So, that aspect of the role of women was necessary, just as getting food and distributing it was necessary for production. But there were other dimensions to women's roles, especially once the male supremacist family arose along with classes, that were politically, not biologically, determined because of the establishment of patriarchy. Just as the division of labor based on exploiting and exploited classes was politically ,not biologiically determined. Both classes and genders are political ( or cultural, historical, social) overlays on biologically determined producers and sexes. There is a further complexity to this in that the developments of human technology more and more free humans from their!

original physiological or biological limitations and necessary premises. Although , there is a constant need to make a decision whether one has fallen into idealist/religious philosophical error and overstated the extent to which we are free of biological necessity. In fact, Marxism rose in part as such a correction which demonstrated that much philosophy had lost its sense of the true connection of society to biology, that is as a materalist correction of idealism and religion. On the other side, Marxism corrected bourgeois notions that capitalism is an eternally and only natural order.


>>> Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at> 11/29/99 02:29PM >>>
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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