"Arrogant, vain, unethical; and politically illegitimate".
What's the problem?
We cannot speak for other people because we are *not* other people.
When privilege speaks for less privileged it often has the opposite effect.
The problem? *interpretation*. Our subjective experience of others is never going to transform into objective representation of others - never
Context is key
If we provide enough *context* before we begin then we might be relatively effective. But how much context is enough context? That is a political
question - where do the speakers stand in relation to those for whom they speak AND where is the speaker "coming from" in relation to the matter
Better to button-up?
If we said nothing at all then it would hint that we have no social context whatsoever in relation to other people . Whether or not we decide to
speak for others has a lot to do with *motivation*. Then, the speaker must be prepared to be personally accountable for everything they say or omit
on the behalf of others. But the problem with words is that it is almost always too late to take them back!
Choose words carefully.
Arises out of Marxist theory of socially constructed class relations and it models gender difference on those socially constructed relations.
For example, the manager and the worker are not just "different", they are separate categories of persons who are situated within a socially
constructed system that unequally distributes money, power and status. Likewise, women and men are not just "different" either, they too are
separate categories of persons in a complex set of class, race and sex relations with one another.
Problems with the Patriarchy Theory
What is patriarchy? An ideological and psychological structure independent of specific social, economic and historical relations. The problem
being the absence of the "specific". Why is that a problem in materialistic feminist thought?
Here are some reasons:
It universalizes women's oppression as a general phenomenon
Capitalism exploits women in gender-specific ways
Women cannot find "common consciousness" with one another under a theory that automatically places men at the centre of the relationship,
which makes "patriarchy" sound like some kind of monolithic trans historical universal phenomenon that is outside the control both of women and the
society as a whole
It says nothing of the relations of men and women as socially constructed.
A Better Theory
The notion of women in the "private sphere" and men in the "public sphere" is peculiar given Marx's assertion that Capital does everything within
its power to infiltrate the private sphere and the "private work of consumption". Capital also rationalizes relations between men and women as it
suits its own ends.
Therefore, it would be better to organize a more specific theory around capitalist production as a patriarchal system involving gender-specific
forms of structuring and exploitation. And then move towards "a practical unity of the struggle against capitalism and for women's liberation"
- Young. In other words, looking closely at how Capital exploits women in particular for its own purpose and then reaching out beyond women to a
broader critique of Capitalism from a feminist perspective. And for that it would be necessary to let go, at least until the analysis is complete,
of the too general phenomenon of patriarchy.
A graphic fusion of the erotization of dominance and submission with the social construction of male and female, and thereby institutionalizes the
sexuality of male supremacy.
A *Particular* Framework for Sex Education
Gender is sexual. Pornography frames the meaning of that sexuality - what women are as beings and what women can be in relation to sexually
It is implicated in the commitment of violent crimes against women.
It disseminates the lie that women are a proper subject of sexual domination.
It reinforces the oppression and exploitation of women.
It subordinates and silences women.
Problems of scope - "Endorsing Degradation?"
Erotica or pornography
Immoral vs Criminal i.e. which cases should be heard in a civil court and which ones in a criminal court?
Might worthwhile literature and art come under this broad definition
What about non-pornographic images that hint at the sexual inferiority of women
Should criminal law be more focused on Actions rather than Images?
What about laws in relation to male exploitation in pornography?
Why are women not *allowed* to consent to participate in porn?
How can a society be organized that enables its individual members to flourish AND is at the same time being compatible with justice for all?
Social Contract Theory
Social contract theory is based on which principles we could all reasonably agree to when setting up a society together.
The best way to come up with a mutually advantageous arrangement is to be Impartial - John Rawls - Theory of Justice (1971).
But how do we approach the task with the necessary impartiality? Well, "ignorance" of a certain kind would be one way, for example, when dividing
a pizza, we would tend to divide it equally if we do not know which slice we are going to get. Rawl terms this form of useful ignorance the
"Original Position". In other words, we would make equal laws for all religions, sexes, ethnicities if we did not know which one of these
categories we, ourselves, would fit into. But of course, much of our decision-making, like it or not, is based on our own past experience.
Distribution of Primary Goods
Primary goods include access to basic healthcare, money, liberty and opportunity, and we would need to distribute them based on two principles:
The Liberty Principle: Ensuring the most extensive possible liberty for individuals compatible with similar liberty for everyone else. The structures we set up would need to minimize the impact of one person (mis)guiding the many and vice-versa.
The Difference Principle: Social inequalities are permissible only to the extent that they advantage the least well-off, which would hint at a floor beneath which no one can fall.
Martha Nussbaum noticed that social contract theory was designed by able-bodied white men.
But regardless of that obvious tendency, a just society, Nussbaum argues, cannot be organized around the principle that we all want what is best
for everyone. We organize ourselves in a society for love and relatedness, not abstract notions of the common good.
So, where do we go from here?
From a Human life to a Good Human Life
Public policy would need to be designed so that the Primary Goods necessary for a Human Life would be distributed in such a way that enables all
of us to achieve a Good Human Life. The Good Human Life element we would decide as individuals, groups and collectives. However, Nussbaum argues that
10 Primary Goods are necessary before we can develop our basic Human Life towards our Good Human Life, and they are:
Development of relations with animals
Development of senses, imagination and nature thought
Development of emotional capabilities
Development of ability to play
Development of practical reasoning
Control over property
Control over affiliations and friendships i.e. free association
Control over our workplace and labor
First, difference vs sameness
Difference path: value/compensate women for what they are or have become under existing conditions. If women are going to put up with being
treated as second-class citizens in this sphere or that, then it necessitates "a deal" of sorts involving compensation.
Likewise, if fulfilling a certain role benefits society at the expense of women’s own self-development; isn't that a form of self-sacrifice
deserving of reward?
Sameness path: same as men. Anything you can do, we can do.
There are problems with each approach, both in and of themselves, AND also in a socially constructed hierarchy that applies to all sexes.
The Sameness path becomes problematic as women live out their lives, with women's chances in a sex discriminatory society. And any pointing out
of sex discrimination in such a society would be sex discrimination! Also, the Sameness approach fails to recognise that both men and women are
different to one another in equal ways - mckinnon. In other words, Mckinnon asserts that women are different from men in the same way that men
are different from women.
The difference path comes with its own problems in the sense that the more unequal the society is in general, the harder it is to change, mainly
because we are dealing with one layer of difference - social hierarchy, on top of another layer of difference, gender. And that causes a
blurring of appearance and reality of difference, which is much harder to decipher.
Chicken and egg?
Are socially constructed hierarchies caused by women's sexual subordination to men or is women’s sexual subordination to men caused by social
hierarchy? Or is all that beside the point? "Gender might not even code as a difference... where it not for its consequences for social power."
- Mckinnon. If women gain parity with men in terms of social power, would that change the socially constructed hierarchy we have in the first
place? We would probably need to look beyond capitalist structures to answer that question.
Two definitions of women's oppression:
Humanist Feminism: the inhibition and distortion of women's potential by a society that allows the self-development of men.
Gynocentric Feminism: the devaluation and repression of women's experience by a masculinist culture that celebrates violence and individualism.
From Humanist Feminism...
According to Young, Humanist Feminism seeks to:
Remove legal and institutional barriers to women
Promote justice in terms of fairness
Bring sexual standards under a common measure
Highlight difference as accidental to humanity
Emphasise our common virtues as human virtues.
Note that some liberal feminists reject (5.) Young argues that Beauvoir's approach to humanist feminism includes an inherent paradox - that
humanist feminism, when approaching the injustices of the society, casts women as victims, and sets women up on the back-foot by reducing and
devaluing women as less than they are.
...to Gynocentric Feminism
Gynocentric feminism approaches society's problems from outside the sphere of male domination and wonders, perhaps, why humanist feminists
would want to participate as equals in male-dominated activities that threaten the survival of the planet, and our species as a whole.
According to Gynocentrists, femininity is not the problem but the answer to our problems. Why?
Because female eroticism is more loving. Women are better at social cooperation and nurturing. Women's reproductive processes keep us more linked
In favour of the 'progression'
Anti-feminists, black feminism, and women's history and anthropology. So, do women want to be like men, or *not* like men?
According to Young, we need to rethink the subject and look for a better mixture of the ingredients of both while refraining from attempting a
perfect combination of the two. Gynocentrism, in Young's view, goes beyond this case of injustice or that while criticising the society as a whole,
whether or not women, specifically, are the topic of consideration. Young: "We need a conception of difference that is less like the icing
bordering the layers of a cake, however, and more like a marble cake in which all the flavours remain recognizably different but thoroughly
insinuated in one another." Feminism, in that regard, must be a force for institutional change, not just a moral critique.
Dorothy Roberts: "Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality and the Right to Privacy"
The state's interest in the protection of the child set against the mother's autonomy over her reproductive life.
The state can help women have healthy pregnancies OR punish women for their prenatal conduct.
Prosecuting drug addicted mothers "deters them from using available health and counselling services, thereby making the services unusable and
therefore inadequate, and blinds the public to non-punitive solutions."
Some of the main findings
...State-monitoring of the poor - poor black women in particular.
Heightened state-scrutiny of poor black women
Suspecting drug abuse correlates with poverty
It is socially acceptable to scapegoat and punish poor black women for society's shortcomings
There is a background devaluation of black motherhood
There is a legacy of the exploitation of black women during slavery
There is a disproportional removal of black children through the welfare system
Sterilization of women of colour
Crack-cocaine, the poor-man's drug, is more likely to trigger bigger punishments
Roberts - "it is the choice of carrying the pregnancy to term that is being punished."
One answer for poor black women
Fet an abortion! Because "the history of overwhelming state neglect of black children casts further doubt on its professed concern for the
welfare of the foetus". To be black, drug-addicted and pregnant is to be "unworthy of procreating".
If we implicitly do not allow black women to procreate it perpetuates a racial hierarchy that essentially disregards black humanity.
"Semiotics": the study of signs and symbols and their use in communicative action. Looks at individual choice in the broader context of cultural
Challenges for Feminists
Two main ones:
Awareness of the hold the symbol or sign has on the imagination.
The invisibility of how a symbol or sign can be misused to construct the "other".
In other words, feminists, in discussing the Muslim veil, are entering a discussion that is already mapped in advance. Obvious signal that the
discursive field is "loaded"? Well, the simple dichotomies of "Oppressive vs Free" and "Western vs Islamic" ought to tell something of it.
Is it really about women?
...or is it just a foil for "positively" rejecting the other, without having to consider Western constructions of identity and gender?
Westernhood is "free" of such oppression and so the assumption goes that it is up to Western feminists to speak for these "voiceless victims".
The state has its own answer: matters of equality and freedom from oppression override matters of conscience e.g. religion. So, to prohibit the
veil, the state must make the case for veiling as a form of gender oppression. But while the veil is a "conspicuous" sign of oppression, what
about a crucifix worn conspicuously as a necklace or as earrings? Allia Al-Saji (2010) in her book "The Racialization of Muslim Veils: A
Philosophical Analysis", suggests that Western states are less secular than they claim to be. Her view is that veiling has become the main focus
of religious oppression of women because of its hypervisibility as a symbol or a sign.
Women and their "availability"
Al-Saji, relying on the work of Beauvoir and Fanon, makes a case that the discussion of veiling in France is a process of racialization.
Just like in the way that "white" used to mean pure, innocent, nice and so on... while "black" meant impure, soiled, bad etc.
The logic of a racist society is one that sees such socially constructed "norms" in absolute terms; the rest just follows on from that.
The representation of the veil as an obstacle or a limit indicates in whose interests the logic is working.
An obstacle or limit to what? Well, from a French colonial vision of Western women being available to Western men. The women 'behind the veil',
Al-Saji argues, do not feature in the debate except as invisible subjects to the colonial male, and for the broader purpose of "othering"
Muslim men, family life and culture. As the debate raged, Western notions of gender role and so forth blurred into the background, and Al-Saji
argues that Western feminism was complicit in keeping it in the background. What is actually at stake, she asserts, is how Western oppression
of woman hid 'in front of the veil' from its own shortcomings, and Western feminists did not mind organizing around the topic as an overtly
feminist issue, while the racism remained hidden.
Def.: "wrongs done against a person specifically as a knower" - Miranda Fricker (2012)
Epistemic: relating to knowledge or to the degree of its validation.
Distributive: "the unfair distribution of epistemic goods such as education and information".
Discriminatory: two kinds:
Testimonial injustice: reduction in the credibility of the speaker due to prejudice of the hearer.
Hermeneutical injustice: hermeneutical - relating to how we interpret principles. reduction in the intelligibility of the speaker to both other people AND themselves due to lack of hermeneutical resources.
We can identify epistemic injustice only insofar as we can understand it.
Examples: Sexual harassment: "but what was she wearing?" Domestic violence: "but why didn't she leave?"; stop and search of black person in a
predominately white neighbourhood.
Necessity for Secured Non-interference
Question: is it possible to be free in a society that is run by a dictator but where dictatorship is not necessarily enforced? Can men expect
"virtue" from women? If so, on whose terms? And in whose opinion of "virtue". Mary Wollstonecraft - "as long as women are dependent on their
husbands, can men feel justified in requesting anything of women except craftiness, meanness and selfishness?"
Answer: de-facto non-interference is not enough, secured non-interference is essential.
According to Phillip Pettit, there are three means for eliminating or at least minimizing epistemic injustice:
A debate-based forum as opposed to a "bargaining structure".
Suitable representation, implying a diversity of representatives.
Freedom from intimidation and media intrusion
Fricker adds a fourth, in the name of testimonial justice - due weight to the words of the contester, and hermeneutical justice - a forum in which
things can be both said AND understood.
What does it mean to say that something is "socially constructed"?
Are any of the following statements true?
America is a social construct. Families are social constructs. Femininity is socially constructed. Race is socially constructed.
"Giftedness" is socially constructed. Sex is socially constructed. "Fitness" is socially constructed.
How it works
Human beings are capable of responding to the way we are classified. In other words, as we classify people, especially in social contexts,
those we classify become increasingly similar to one another in that classification and come to constitute a kind of group.
And although they may not have regarded themselves as similar before, once they are classified, they become more similar than they were
before. On the other hand, objects do not respond to being classified and do not modify their behavior in accordance with the classification.
Human beings do, however, because they know they are classified.
Domesticated animals modify their behavior having been classified, in a family structure for example, but are *not* aware that they are
being classified. Also, women refugees, like domestic animals, change their behavior once they realise they are refugees in an
English-speaking country, even though they may not speak a word of English.
You are a "wife" only insofar that you stand in relation to a man within a marriage that is sanctioned by the state, which is a socially
construction. So, socially constructed entities such as the state, create sub-entities such as marriage within which people adapt their
behavior, or rebel of course, accordingly. Social constructions are very real, in that sense, not just something "in our heads".
Other examples of constitutive constructions include professors, landlords, presidents, nation-states.
"Disabled" as a social construct
Social factors are the cause of much of what we take for disabilities, poverty being the single most important factor.
Culture also erects many different kinds of constructions around disabilities, and those attributes vary from one extreme to another,
such as dependency, moral depravation, superhuman heroism, asexual and pitiful. The problem with social constructs around disabilities
is that "they subtly determine conditions of normality and exclude those who don't meet them from full participation in their societies."
So, the cultural contexts attribute more than just "infirm" to disabilities, they attribute "not normal" - something different entirely.
On the other hand, people who can't "keep up" in a socially constructed society, such as a state-sponsored capitalist system, are "losers"
and so on... and in that sense, culture takes a leap too far in attempting to map a social construct with a natural one.
As long as social factors are masked, then we, as people can regard them as not "our fault". The challenge, according to Wendell,
is to ask whether the disadvantages we see in this group or that are justified.
Sexism/racism. What is it?
A matter of false prejudicial belief about members of the race/sex.
Am I a Racist?
I act on my belief.
I do not change my belief in the face of new evidence.
So, sexism and racism are a matter of deeply entrenched prejudicial beliefs that are resistant to contrary evidence AND which inform action.
Sometimes, our beliefs are held in place due to lack of care and concern, which according to Garcia, 2008, is "a failure of the heart and mind".
Sometimes we are put in situations where we have to act on sexist or racist rules or norms even if we do not have those beliefs.
The default position should be that we are "colour blind" in situations where sex or race are irrelevant, and "non-colour blind" where colour or
sex genuinely matter. So, sexism is what we do when we exploit any irrelevant distinction between the sexes. E.g. Princeton admission policies
during the 1980s.
When do colour or sex matter?
For example, a company is hiring a supervisor to work on a team constituting all male employees, none of whom have worked with a female supervisor
before. Typically, if the female supervisor is taken on to the team, both she and her male supervisees will work less effectively in their roles.
So, in that instance, sex is a relevant factor in predicting how things are going to work out. But isn't that sexist? And shouldn't we challenge
the situation on principal alone? (Fyre, 1983) concludes that "the locus of sexism is primarily in the system or framework, not in the particular
act". And challenging institutional rules and norms is different to challenging individual positions on the matter.
Oppression is like an invisible cage (Fyre, 1983). Oppressed people live their lives confined and shaped by forces that are not accidental or
occasional, but are systematically related to each other such that they impede (penalize) motion in any direction beyond the cage.
Of course, oppressed people can in fact challenge the situation and live with the consequences but that is not important.
What is important is that because they are categorized as a particular group, they are contained within a set of structures that cause them unjust
What does oppression look like?
Faces of Oppression (Young, 1990)
Exploitation: "a steady transfer of the results of labor of one social group to benefit another" e.g. from working people to Capital.
Exploitation in this sense is not just about the injustice of the fact of the very wealthy and the rest, it is a fact of social rules that relate
to what work is, who works for whom, how work is compensated and so on, which are enforced in institutional structures that enact relations of
power and inequality. Gender exploitation is similar along the lines of the transfer of nurturance and sexual energies to men.
Racist exploitation presents the assumption that some people ought to be the servants of some privileged group or other.
Marginalization: happens when a whole category of people are singled out of society for non-participation and possibly extermination.
"Marginals are people the system of labor cannot or will not use" (Young). Both the elderly and the poor are vulnerable to the most marginalization.
Marginalization is not just about material deprivation but, more importantly, a denial of the experience of participating and experiencing one's
own significance in the society.
Powerlessness: people can be regarded as "powerless" when they are subject to actions of power without being able to respond in kind.
In other words, people whom power does things to. Another way of looking at it is people who take orders but rarely, if ever, give them.
The powerless have little or no work autonomy in relation to creativity and judgement; have no technical expertise or authority. As a result,
the powerless tend to express themselves awkwardly, especially in relation to public or bureaucratic settings, and they do not command respect.
Example, non-professionals are powerless relative to professionals.
Cultural Imperialism: Related to marginalization where the dominant meanings of the society render one's own perspective, as an individual or
as part of a group, irrelevant but also marked out as "Other". Example "heteronormativity". With cultural imperialism, we lose the desire and even
the capacity to consider a common humanity and human condition beneath the cultural differences of all.
Systematic Violence: According to Young, the specific acts of violence, even though they are often horrible, are not the main point; what
matters most is the social context that makes the acts of violence possible and even acceptable. In that sense, it is the ever-present threat of
violence that deprives people of freedom and dignity.
Our subjective experience of oppression depends a lot on "intersectionality", meaning that many people who are oppressed belong to more than just
one oppressed grouping. Example, black women, poor and gay, and so on. Also, we each experience oppression in different ways, for example,
poor white women experience oppression differently to wealthy white women.
People who study oppression attempt to identify and describe oppressive experiences of individuals, and then they see if those experiences can be
extrapolated out to a particular group to which they belong, and then traced back to them as individuals. Once they have done that, they then
look through time, space, history, politics and personal case studies to paint a picture of the situation, which they then use to remark on the
contextual framework with the view to challenging it, or having the readers of their work challenge it.
"Tell Grandma I'm a Boy" - Dean Spade, 2006.
Spade regards transsexualism as socially constructed by medical practice. His own view is that gender self-determination and expression should
be the goals of any medical, legal or political examination, before they intervene. Medical practice categorizes transsexualism as "a problem in
the mind of patients".
The origins of "social" sexuality
Since the 16th century, matters of gender and sexuality have been approached by the medical, legal and political establishments in terms of a
"repressive hypothesis" (Foucault). But that is not how individuals view the situation; rather, they view it as an "incitement to speak",
which is the opposite of repression. Also, from the 16th century onwards, sexuality became equated with the "true self", and so the theory went
that if we cannot define and neatly categorize our sex and our sexual desires in relation to the society, then we, our "true self" becomes a
"public problem" requiring management by medical, psychiatric and criminal justice specialists.
From frying pan into the fire
While the law states what is permissible and what is not, the medical and psychiatric establishment creates a whole new set of problems for the
"true self", namely it implies that these people are a danger to society until they can be cured/dealt-with and so on. Billings and Urban argued
that bodily alteration of transgender person was a form of giving-in to society's enforced norms and unfair rules. They painted transgender
persons who sought bodily alteration as brainwashed victims, as if the physical changes they sought were the equivalent of seeking
electro-convulsive therapy for faulty ideation.
Alternatives to the usual
Spade argues that there is a middle-ground available to both transgender persons seeking bodily alteration, the medical establishment, AND those
that argue that people who seek bodily alteration for transsexualism are abandoning the political cause for free expression of self as one finds
oneself. So, the medical establishment, instead of taking the view of normal people as either male or female in a strictly physical sense -
i.e. "if you want to be a woman or a man, we can make you one, but you *have* to be either a man or a woman, it's not right to be both".
To do that, the medical and psychiatric establishment, according to Spade, would need to take a lead in ridding itself of institutional
incentives for performing gender-related surgery. Because the medical establishment, while limiting itself to bodily alteration, is left with a
rather simplified approach to the matter, namely 'just *how* "trans" are you?', which is hardly a medical question, let alone a question that
someone can answer without basing the answer on established norms and rules, which both trans persons AND the medical establishment claim to be
General idea: "the legal subordination of one sex to the other – is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement".
Clearing the Ground
What is "customary" and "natural" is presumed correct. But does the society subordinate women because it is sound policy? The 'law of the
Strongest' is generally regarded as the wrong basis for good policy. Although the intimate relations between men and women put men in the
better position to prevent organization and collective uprisings by women, is it sound to enshrine women's subordination in policy and law?
Of its time
Mill's book was published in 1869. And at the time, much of society thought that women's position was natural or at least voluntary because few
women complained, and therefore seemed "satisfied". Mill argued that many women do not accept their position and are not satisfied, and he also
argued that it is not so easy for women to complain, given the socialization of women, and the penalties for resisting.
The "nature" of things?
The notions that we have about the nature of both women and men are artificial things aka. socially constructed notions. We cannot know anything
positive about either sex because they influence each other mentally and morally. In the case of women, we have forced repression in some
directions, and unnatural stimulation in others. Besides, where does the idea come from that nature needs "help" in enforcing what is natural?
Nature is able to do that on its own.
A little bit of freedom
Humans should be free to achieve what they and the small groups to which they belong regard as good for them. According to Mill, the competent
will succeed in the long-run without the necessity for relations of "slavery". Besides, the whole of society misses out on the good consequences
that would result from treating women as equals.
'One is not born, but becomes, a woman.' - Beauvoir
So, What is Woman?
If women become women on their own, then why is there so much exhortation for women to become women? The exhortation on women is to become feminine
- a "good" woman. So, while man/masculine is both positive/neutral, woman/feminine is all negative. Humanity is male, and woman is a relative of
the male, not herself.
'Man can think of himself without woman, but woman cannot think of herself without man.' - Michelet. Woman is called "the sex" because she appears
essentially to the male as a sexual being; she is both incidental and inessential in and of herself. He is absolute, she is the Other.
Moreover, in order for there to be "the one", "the one" must set itself against "the Other".
An Existential View
Existentialism distinguishes free conscious beings "for themselves" from things "of themselves". Simone de Beauvoir argues that we must all choose
what we will be, and in doing so, project ourselves, transcend our circumstances, live authentically with the consequences of our free choice and
action. But freedom brings anguish, and with anguish comes a desire to be more like an object than a free person - a thing that cannot choose what
it does. Beauvoir argues that to live like that is to act inauthentically and in bad faith.
A group sets itself up as the "Subject" in relation to the Other as the "Object". This happens in part because of human consciousness and in
part from concrete material circumstances.
But Where is the Rebellion?
A woman, or any such Subject, such as "the negro", when compelled to assume the status of "the Other" will be doomed by her Othering to the bond
that unites her, not to herself, but to her oppression. So, why have women not rebelled more strongly? Some reasons:
Women lack the concrete means for organizing themselves.
Women have no past, no history, no religion they can call their own.
Women have no solidarity interests such as those of the proletariat, in the view of K.M. Division prevents solidarity.
Women live dispersed lives attached to men more firmly than they are to other women, because oppression, in the current circumstances, is to
the women's advantage.
Women are complicit in "avoiding the 'anguish' of freedom" in bad faith - Beauvoir
Women's happiness, apparently, is being "at rest".
Women's oppression in general is in all men's interests, especially in the interest of mediocre men who can be made to feel superior and even like a
demigod among women.
Epistemology of Oppression
Because there are no neutral witnesses, the oppression itself looks like it is evidence that justifies it! One way of gaining more insight into the
oppression is to consider the situation of women from the point of view of men who are glad they are *not* women:
Jewish men: "Blessed be God… that he did not make me a woman."
Jewish women: "Blessed be the Lord, who created me according to His will"
Plato: Thanked God for making him a free man, not slave; and then for making him a man and not a woman.
Put simply, men have used religion to turn their fact of their supremacy into a right. The "good Negro" and the "truly feminine" have a lot in
common with each other in relation to "their place" in the society. "The American white relegates the black to the rank of shoeshine boy; and he
concludes from this that the black is good for nothing but shining shoes" - George Bernard Shaw. It follows that if someone is kept in a position
of inferiority, then it is because he is inferior.
Judith Butler, in her book, "Gendering the Body" highlights two claims
that the body is not a natural fact but an historic idea and
one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.
What about i)? Aren't there differences between male biology and female biology, or is Butler making a different point?
A key mechanism of the global phenomenon of male domination, oppression and exploitation of females, is near-universal female heterosexuality -
Marilyn Frye. All the institutions presuppose almost universal female heterosexuality and/or regulate and enforce female heterosexuality.
The taboos of female non-heterosexuality are about male fraternity and the exploitation and oppression of women. They have nothing to do with love,
human warmth, solace, fun, pleasure or deep knowledge between people (Frye).
Original meaning: a free woman, not married, not bound to, not possessed by a man. A female who is sexually and socially her own person.
There are no female virgins in our society in this sense.
New meaning: a woman whose vagina is untouched by a penis.
Radical Feminist? Homosexual, obviously!
Can a woman be radically feminist AND straight? In the patriarchal meaning of the word, women have to be heretics, deviants, undomesticated,
impossible. In other words, they have to be "virgins" in the original sense of the word. Women, according to Frye, must interrogate their own
desires in relation to men.
Sexual and Social Autonomy
Sex is a political category that founds society as heterosexual (Frye). Therefore, before we can even begin to exist as humans, we must rid
society of this category that is nothing more than a rigid obligation to reproduce the "species", and by implication, to reproduce
"heterosexual society". We all have the capacity to become someone, ourselves, in spite of oppression. But first, we need to have a self for which
to fight because although we fight together with others for a cause, the basis of that cause is essentially a fight for ourselves as individuals.
In other words, if we do not fight for ourselves then our fight for a cause lacks the internal motivation for the fight, which means that we will
not last-out together.
Class Consciousness is Not Enough
Women must be able to recognize their individual oppression in relation to their own history. That is class consciousness. But more than just fight
against oppression in the abstract, we must, Frye proposes, do more than react; we must re-evaluate our whole conception of the social world and
reorganize it with new concepts arising out of our own individual experience of oppression.
Assumes that those who share one's identity, such as "black feminist", will be one's closet allies. That is not to say that identity sharing is
not, in its own way, problematic; rather, it assumes that identities matter and are in some sense real. Typically, we work best and most diligently
against oppression with which we can identify as individuals; we care somewhat less about other oppression.
Where do we Stand?
Internally and deeply, in relation to the external axis of power? What are our privileges? What are our woes? And, who is standing on our toes?
Epistemically - those who are oppressed as a group stand in a privileged position as "knowers" of the oppression. In exploring our experience and
understanding as knowers we set out on a path to more objective truth.
Our Oppression - the knower as "lever"
The idea is to learn about structural, institutional and oppressive hierarchies from our own point of view as knowers and then move beyond it.
Otherwise, all we are doing as "learners" is finding out "about" those structures, and because we are not engaged with the matter, then we learn
by default about those structures and frameworks from the point of view of the powerful. And that can make us feel less free, not more because
the imagination starts to work on what we are learning, and makes those frameworks and structures look far more monolithic than they are, or might
The simplicity | complexity dilemma
While thinking about "ourselves" as a collective, we tend to oversimplify matters so that we can all gather round an issue with the view to doing
something about it. The problem is that in making an issue that simple we lose a facility for challenging it beyond mere generalisms. We also,
typically without realising it, attempt to herd one another around the place in relation to our simplified view of the world, which is precisely
what power systems do. Also, our idea of what the world is like becomes more like an "ideal", and when that happens we leave ourselves vulnerable
to obvious arguments from Power. We also remove any pleasure from the experience as we examine the question "do I agree or disagree with my friend,
as part of the movement".
Barbar Christian: "there resides, in our particularities, a new and profound universality."
What is GENDER?
The characteristics and traits that differentiate men from women. More specifically, what it takes to be a good man or woman. Based mostly on
value judgements both positive and negative. Gender is not a euphemism for "women", it's a relational category. Things other than people can be
"gendered" - a pink outfit, a male sport, a man's job and so on.
Gender and society
The idea of gender as a social construct began to be examined more fully during the 1970s - as a social construct, not a natural one,
which implies that gender is not inevitable. The subject of sex - biological and physiological characteristics, and gender - social expectations
and norms was deemed, from the 1970s onwards, to be inadequate in examining what it means to be a man/woman.
What is SEXUALITY?
That is, sexuality as opposed to sex difference. We are talking here about desire as an aspect of human nature, sexual acts, practices and
behavior in a context of social relations. We are also talking about personal identity - gay/straight/bi and so on. What it means to be a man or
a woman in a social context varies hugely among cultures. For example, sexual modesty in Muslim women alongside ritualized homosexuality among
Gender in the U.S.
Gender is an economic as well as a social and emotional relationship. In the U.S. we have social pressure to conform within binary systems of
identity. We also have a lot of violence and misogyny as a result. And then there is the resistance - gender bending, sex change surgery,
cross-dressing that challenge the binary system. But does that form of resistance just reinforce the binary system of gender identity in new ways?
There are infinite ways to exist between any two binaries in relation to identity, but society bundles them into a sense of identity while
attaching that identity to morality, which we then use to legitimate social inequality.
What is CULTURE?
Encompasses the things a people make, do, believe and also acts a frame of reference for a people to perceive things, while giving meaning to the
things a people do. In that sense, we don't just "have" culture, we "think" and "do" culture. And once we understand that then it's a matter of
looking at the WAY we think and do culture. For example, the Barbie doll is more than just a doll in the context of what we do with the Barbie
doll. So, while culture dictates and reproduces social norms, it also includes opportunities for subverting, resisting and messing with social
norms, and with gender. And that means considering what the dominant social norms are, the relative weight given to the expectations, and most
importantly, how individuals interpret those norms. Because everyday life, gender and sexuality, while being codified in tradition, are also
improvised in daily life.
The so-called "culture wars" often have to do with arguments about "nature" and what is "natural" behavior.
Here, we want to avoid the "naturalistic fallacy" - that what's natural is good, or inevitable, because it is a cultural belief.
Ruth Hubbard - "On Women's Biology"
According to Hubbard, we perceive and interpret biology through cultural lenses, and that biologists are having increasing difficulty separating
the notion of culture from nature. Hubbard studied girls with different diets and levels of physical activity, and found a range of differences
in the menstruation patterns, while some athlete girls stopped menstruating! To say that women's biology is "socially constructed" is not,
Hubbard insists, to say it is not "real" - having real effects. But Hubbard argues that "biology is not destiny", in contradiction to S. Freud,
who said "anatomy is destiny". Rather, biology, society, nature and culture continually reshape one another. Consider the efforts to tame
unruly secondary sex characteristics among women - plucking, shaving, dying hair, voice training and so on.
Hubbard argues that socially sanctioned childhood activities create gendered bodies - the tomboy girl who likes sports, or the bookworm boy who
doesn't, and we focus on the uneven ends of each rather than the overlap. Why? A capitalist economic system prefers to have the labor force
stratified by sex without ever explaining why it prefers it that way.
Anne Fausto-Sterling - "The Five Sexes"
Humans do not just fall into binary categories such as male or female. Rather, a combination of overlapping variables form a human being.
F-S notes five: GENES, HORMONES, GONADS, GENITALS, BEHAVOIR. These factors do not always line up into neat little categories, for example,
1 in 2,000 babies are born with ambiguous genitals, making it difficult for doctors to declare whether "it's a boy" or "it's a girl".
Intersexuality (later) could be valued in the culture, like it has been in many cultures throughout history. If it were valued, we could
use natural hormones such as progestin to androgenize people, if it were culturally valued here, but it isn't. On the other hand, valuing
teenage girls who fight off selected secondary sex characteristics is culturally valued. So, F-S's argument is that biology does not bound
culture but culture invests ideologically in bounding biology.
Leaving it to the professionals
Doctors think they are doing their patients a favor in modifying intersexed individuals because the legal and medical institutions are concerned
about people not fitting-in. That is, fitting into to the product of a deep commitment on the part of the medical, legal and societal
institutions as a whole, to the notion that there are just two sexes. Why? Because it makes people easier to govern re: marriage, paternity,
hereditary titles, and eligibility for professions, voter registration, anti-sodomy laws and so on. F-S argues that if the state have a vested
interest in maintaining a two-party sexual system, "they are in defiance of nature". Between 1968-2000 Olympic female athletes had to prove
they were female, dozens failed because the majority disorders were genetic - XY androgen deficiency, and therefore not contributing to advantage.
Be aware of the force of binarisms, and more importantly, the work that goes into appearance of binarisms.
How do individuals learn gender i.e. learn they are "gendered" and then live up to the expectations for what that means?
Simone de Beauvoir - "one is not born, but becomes a woman" (or man). In other words, although we are born in nature, we develop through
culture. Biologists have already found that "nature" and "culture" are not entirely separate, independent domains. So, when culture attempts
to interpret nature, it looks to both the physiological and supernaturally divine.
Two aspects - i) mimicking; and ii) elicitation - how children are treated, that is, rewarded or punished. Although children internalize the
expectations of parents, teachers and so on they do so only in part. Barrie Thorne found that sex play and gendered play is far more fluid among
pre-school kids than is represented in toy stores, but parents and teachers often see what they expect to see while concerning themselves
above all with society's predefined stereotypical expectations of boys and girls. In that sense, Thorne suggests that we look at gendered
practices not gendered roles when learning what is natural for children.
Formalized ways of laying out cultural principles, norms and behavior. Do babies have the devil in them and need to be baptized?
Or are babies divine? Is personality and character shaped from the day of birth? Both baptism and reincarnation would have us believe that it
is so. The main focus of ritual in relation to child-rearing is to having children manage their emotions. Most rituals in most cultures involve
two elements: i) the physical separation of an individual from the rest of society; and ii) the symbolic separation of the individual from the
past. The individual, as the subject of the ritual, is, for a certain period of time - statusless, identityless; a non-person. Then, through
gaining secret knowledge, training and often symbolic cleansing, the individual is reincorporated into the society, but in a new position, with
new status and new obligations and rights.
So, when we are talking about becoming a man or a woman, we can talk about it only in the context of becoming a man or woman in this culture,
which might have completely different ideas to that culture.
...gender and status in agrarian societies.
As we saw in the previous section, girls and boys learn their expected gender roles mainly by *not* acting like one another; "boys don't cry"
, "don't be a tomboy, be nice", "don't be such a sissy". They absorb these messages even quicker in an atmosphere of parental and teacher
anxiety. The fact that these dictates are almost always stated implicitly rather than explicitly gives them a new power - the power of
common sense. So, "girls should sit with their legs closed" implies that boys don't have to. In other words, you are a boy because you are not a
girl and vice-versa. As mentioned though, this form of socialization means that there are gaps, fissures and tensions all around the experience
of childhood, and kids somehow find ways of being themselves without parents or teachers noticing.
Jane Collier argues that to understand gender "we must look beyond what men and women do, and ask what people want and fear, what privileges they
seek to claim, rationalize, and defend”, and how they intend to use gender to do so.
Economics - the founder of gender inequality
Primary ideological reasons for gender inequality started with subsistence-based economics - agricultural society, and then developed through
chattel slavery and market capitalism. Gender inequality, in this sense, is based around a society which bases itself around an economy, and it
feeds into every aspect of life: i) subsistence and division of labor, ii) distribution and exchange of goods and services, iii) child-rearing,
iv) sexuality, iv) symbolism and ritual; and vi) extraordinary events - who deals and how with unexpected crises, illness etc.
The necessity for FEMALE CHASTITY
All of these constraints on human behavior intersect at female chastity. Why? According to Collier, "to question the chastity of a man's mother
is to question his right to the status he claims is his. In such a world, women's bodies appear as gateways to all privileges".
And the rest follows from that.
A shift in gender ideology happened with the shift from agrarianism to market capitalism in 19th century England. Wage labor changed everything
in relation to gender ideology because although laborers could be sold as slaves, indentured as servants and so on. BUT labor-power could not be.
Free to be poor
Persons, in that regard, became "FREE" to sell their labor, given an assumption that persons "OWN" their labor.
Now that persons "OWNED" their labor, they could sell it "FREELY" and if they did not succeed or perished then it was their own fault and
no-one else's. One of the effects of the new free market system was to enshrine a sharp division of work done in the household and in the public
sphere, a division which did not exist in agrarian society. So, productive labor in the workplace was the man's job and reproductive labor -
making babies, was the job of woman, in addition to Feeding | Nurturing | Socializing good citizens | Cooking | Cleaning | Sexing | Caring for sick
Middle Class prestige
The stay at home mom has become a symbol of middle-class prestige during the 19th century and beyond - raising well-adjusted children while being
smart consumers, through developing networks of kinship among others in the community. "I was supposed to provide the feminine glue that keeps
families together, writing thank-you notes and remembering everybody's birthdays" - narrator in Middlesex by Collier. It became easier to separate
between "natural" and "logical", domestic and capitalist market, private and public, unpaid and paid, love and money, family and co-workers,
production and reproduction. And although the middle classes prided themselves on how effectively they worked these separations, they are clearly
not natural, old or inevitable separations.
And that is the basis for Collier's "The Woman Question" - how gender ideology changed with economic transformation.
A Labor of "LOVE"?
Rayna Rapp looked at something different, namely, the gap between ideologies of capitalism and the more or less objective realities of how
capitalism works on the ground. Rapp re-examines the role of the FAMILY in MODERN SOCIETY. First, she distinguishes between "family" and "household";
households = "entities in which people actually live" and in which people pool their resources, such as they are, which is related to wealth
distribution. People, according to Rapp, are "recruited" into households via the family. Fredrich Engels, noticing the same thing in the 19th
century, described MARRIAGES as SLAVERY, "the crassest prostitution" of capitalist society in which women service men both sexually and
domestically in return for survival. In Engel's view of marriage: husband=bourgeoisie while wife=proletariat. But in Engels day, people did not
see it as "exploitation". Rather, they viewed the family unit as the opportunity for women to demonstrate that they LOVE their husbands and kids.
Also, women take pride in home and in a role they perform well, even if it is their "destiny" - natural or divine. They didn't say that they were
living under conditions of exploitation of their labor and oppression of themselves as living beings.
It was "the way things were" right up until the 1970s. Of course, working class women hardly ever had the luxury of staying at home but that
sample, theorized from a middle class norm, was completely ignored.
"Stability" - the watchword of capitalism
Domestic work vs public work is a false distinction that is absolutely crucial to capitalist economics, in that the chores and handling of
emergencies in the household are intimately intertwined with capitalist production, not just something incidental. It is women, says Rapp, "who
bridge the gap between what a household's resources really are and what a family's position is supposed to be". In other words, while
women not only memorize, prioritize, research, and anticipate, to keep the household going, they also have the double-burden of being responsible
for social class movement among the occupants. Language/accents, aesthetic tastes, values, knowledge of culture and everything that goes into
being a "success" in a capitalist society, falls to women, mainly.
So, families, like the market economy, can and do involve exploitation. And the only way women can break free of it in a capitalist society is to
join the public sphere of work while pushing all these "duties" onto women of a lower social class.
Gender is a social construct that interlocks with other systems of inequality (Collier).
Having considered the labor market as being systemically connected to households, how might we think differently about it in relation to PAY.
Remembering a household to be a group of people sharing a dwelling and pooling their resources in some form or other, as opposed to a "family"
with its associated moral undertones and moral "values"?
The Occupational Setting
In 2002, 59.6% of women were participating in the workforce in the United States. That is, 59.6% of women were either in work or actively
seeking work. Women comprised 47% of the total workforce - men and women. There were not many self-identified "homemakers" and "housewives"
out there at the time. But most of the women were in what are regarded as "pink-collar" jobs - the retail service, mainly.
But a few years later, the U.S. government STOPPED collecting gender-related occupational data. WHY?
Gender Bias Meets Racial Bias
The statistics began to highlight a racial divide together with a gender divide, which intersected at the point between skilled and unskilled work.
In other words, unskilled work opportunities were found to be biased, that is, positively discriminated, in favor of women and all people of
colour. In addition, the statistics highlighted some obvious patterns in the uptake of unskilled work by both women and people of colour, such
as: women's desperation for money AND women's wages as supplementary to the wages of the main bread-winner - typically the man. Both women and
people of colour began to find common cause in challenging a system that appeared to "justify" as opposed to "explain" low wages. Not only,
then, did women and people of colour begin organizing and responding to the "myth of meritocracy" - equal pay for equal work, they also began
organizing around a "living wage" for all, AND they began to challenge the systemic evaluation of work such as nursing and caregiving as
"unskilled" and therefore incomparable with higher-paid "skilled" work.
And so, the government stopped releasing the annual data.
Gender Bias as Inverted Gender Discrimination
Kath Weston (1991) argues that gender bias is more subtle than gender discrimination, and far more enduring. She highlights how ideology of
gender and work ability are still used to help keep women out of the better-paying, unionized skilled trades even though gender discrimination
in hiring is a federal offence. The reason, she argues, why it happens is because society sees people in general, and job applicants in particular
as having inherent traits - competence traits, that incorporate cultural notions of gender and what it means to be "able".
Weston found that men see something different when a woman is doing a job as opposed to when a man is doing the same job. Moreover, men often
exaggerated the "heaviness" of the work, but, asks Weston, "do men lift engines or use engines" and "can't a tyre be rolled rather than lifted"
from one place to another? Essentially, says Weston, the society needs to disentangle gender displays from the labor performed, because persons
do not possess gender typed qualities so much as they use symbols to fashion presentations of self that incorporate gender.
Social Structure vs Individual Agency
A History of Servitude
Black women and women of colour were "incapable of governing their own lives and were thus dependent on whites - making white employment of them
an act of benevolence" - Nakano Glenn. But a lot of work went into fabricating the appearance of dependency, such as:
Calling domestics by their first name, giving domestics family cast-off clothes, giving domestics left-over food; and having domestics use the
back door. Today, the status of the family one is born into still matters.
Power and Resistance
Scholarly work on the relationship between male dominance and women's agency took off in the 1960s and 70s. Abu-Lughod and Kandryoti began to
look at how subordinated groups resist dominant power structures, not necessarily through overt rebellion, but through everyday acts of
subordination, such as reinterpreting dominant symbols like "gay", "queer" and "black power".
Where there is power...
...there is resistance. - Michel Foucault. Resistance to power structures starts out with the realization that people, although going along with
the status-quo, are not necessarily "brainwashed" into going along with it. These people who are denied prestige then come together to manoeuvre
behind the scenes to affect outcomes. In that sense, the appearance of prestige can obscure the realities of power, especially for the people in
positions of power.
Veiled Women Collaborators!
While the Muslim veil is a conservative symbol of resistance to change, it also affords Muslim women the opportunity to participate in the public
sphere of work, for example, and connect with others while at the same time being worthy of male respect and protection.
In that sense, argues Abu-Lughod, social change is not all or nothing, especially in the context of the "patriarchal bargain".
In fact, Muslim women who adopt the veil often pity Western women objectified as sex symbols by strange men, and so, regard themselves as getting
a better patriarchal bargain than Western women. Women sometimes trade short-term gains for long-term subordination. Examples?
The powerless can use their traits strategically to highlight, subvert, and undermine the structures and frameworks of power.
Why is it that women often contribute to their own symbolic and material subordination? And sometimes even find pleasure and pride in those
things - the fashion magazines, the dieting, the double day of housework done for "love" on top of one's "real" job?
You are what you eat
Our eating philosophies embody particular notions of selfhood - a notion of subjectivity. "Subjectivity" meaning how one sees oneself as an
individual with a community of others. And in that sense, the aphorism "you are what you eat" is more of a metaphysical truism.
The "New Subjectivity"
Collier traces a shift in the concept of subjectivity. Whereas people used to view success as a matter of inheritance, they have now come to
view it as a matter of personal achievement, which is a complete shift in one's notion of self-hood and human potentiality.
Counihan proposes that we can embody the principle of achieved status through our relationship with food. Thin = self control, moral superiority and
higher social status; while Fat = lack of self-control, lack of pride and moral inferiority. Gremillion argues that many women have come to
associate a slender, fit body with autonomy and success, but she notes that it implies dependence on other's approval, perhaps especially men's.
Counihan agrees, while noting at the same time that although being slender and attractive contributes to women's subordination as a whole, it
also gives women and girls some power within the status quo - the "patriarchal bargain".
Exaggerated Anorexic Subjectivity
Counihan: There is a link between weight loss and the creation of a unique independent identity. But while losing weight requires little effort,
keeping up with other activities at increasing lower weights balances that out. Losing weight can be associated with a test of ability to
achieve, but typically what often matters more is not the target setting but the process itself, feeling natural to the sense of an independent
identity. In that sense, extreme weight loss might not reflect a distorted body image i.e. not seeing oneself as fat.
The achievement though, in many cases, is about self-control, not power, with the longer-term aim of achieving individualism, productivity and
ultimately 'self-actualization'. Counihan views this paradigm of subjectivity as a late arrival to capitalist consumer culture, particularly in
the U.S. Gremillion's thesis supports this argument while viewing the situation as a logical conclusion of dominant cultural values, where both
social and moral fitness are emphasized. But Gremillion argues that psychiatric treatment for anorexia worsens the problem because it operates
within the same cultural logics that produce anorexia in the first place - that girls and women ARE their bodies and must work continually ON
"Heterosexuality is a modern invention, dating back to the late 19th century." - Jonathan Ned Katz
Sexuality both is and isn't part of the making of manhood and womanhood.
One can be "a" heterosexual and not actually have "had" sex with anyone, the same goes for "a" homosexual. Heterosexuality is the norm against
which homosexuality is defined as deviant, and that is a relatively recent phenomenon, and also a culturally specific way to think about persons.
We are not talking here about good/bad or right/wrong ways of thinking, we are simply recognizing it as one of many culturally-specific
The making of men
In ancient Greece, the active/passive position mattered to some extent but homo/heterosexual orientation did not matter at all.
The Sambia of Papua New Guinea ritualized oral sex where young men ingest semen from older men as a "rite of passage" into adult Manhood.
Homosexuality is not at all regarded there as it is here - as an identity based on "the gender of the generalized object of one's desire" - Katz.
The economic origins of gender identity
In the 19th century, with the onset of industrial capitalism, the new political-economic system created new categories of person, claims to
hierarchical positions, and ideologies to justify them. The early Victorian era, the first half of the 19th century is the eve of the onset of
heterosexuality. Proper womanhood and manhood became based on "purity", and in a pre-capitalist society, having children meant gaining "extra
hands" as opposed to "extra mouths to feed". The Protestant work ethic became applied to people's sex lives with the ideology of sexual desire
organized around something to struggle against as opposed to something centred around pleasure. Procreative sex=good; but ANY public sex, sex for
pleasure, money, or without the possibility of procreation = bad.
Capitalism leads the way
When capitalism took hold and children were no longer regarded as "extra hands", and instead regarded as "extra mouths to feed", sex started to
be separated from procreation, and begun to be talked about on its own terms, for pleasure. In the cities, restaurants, bars, clubs and bath
houses started to open as sex moved from the private household into the public arena. Capitalism likes having things categorized so that it can
fulfil needs and wants more specifically, and with commoditized sex, came new means of classifying differences between "normal" and "abnormal"
desires. Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1891) depicted aristocratic male society in a context of "the love that dare not speak its
name". Wilde was put on trial for "gross indecency" - an act, but it is important to bear in mind that he was not put on trial for being "a"
homosexual. Sex between men was regarded, by the middle class, as a moral problem - a lack of self-control, and a social problem in the sense
that it disrupted the norm of man as "breadwinner".
Sexual desire as "lifestyle"
In cities like London and NY, Men began to live openly without women, which led to the criminalization of sodomy - acts of anal and oral sex.
The reason for the criminalization was in part that the upper class men who could afford to live without women were taunting the middle class
married men who were tied down to their nagging wives. A 2003 ruling in the supreme court in the U.S. enshrined the right to sexual privacy.
Words and Meanings
The words "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" appeared in the OED only after 1901. Psychiatrists at the time used the word "heterosexuality"
to categorize people with multiple attractions. In other words, bi-sexual. Freud, on the other hand, posited that "homosexual" attraction
indicated "arrested development". In 1930, the word "heterosexual" appeared for the first time in the New York Times, and from then on,
heterosexual, as a category, became associated with "the consumerist pleasure principle and the institutionalized pursuit of happiness" - Katz.
Now, heterosexuals could be procreative, enjoy sex AND be normal too! And when religious persons today talk about heterosexuality as being
something ancient, they are simply wrong. Queen Victoria famously dismissed the very idea of women loving women as simply absurd - "what would
The marriage resisters
In the U.S., the sub-culture of marriage resistance among women has always been more common among working-class and upper-class women. Why?
Because the middle-class women have always been more dependent on marriage - on men's incomes. WWII gave women the opportunity to break free of
domestic gender-based roles and get to know themselves and other women on their own terms. The military tolerated lesbian relationships as being
good for morale and, therefore, didn't mean the women were "homosexual" as such, which at the time was defined in terms of "addiction".
In that sense, Allan Berube argues, WWII did for lesbian communities what capitalist urbanization did for gay male communities at the end of the
The PROCREATIVE ETHIC Returns
The 1950s saw a return of the domestication of women and heterosexual normativity. The 1950s were difficult times for gay men and lesbians with
military "witch-hunts" against them coupled with the argument that to be "a" homosexual was to reject the procreative ethic in favor of a
pleasure ethic - immoral. However, heterosexual men and women began to feel oppressed by the expectations of early marriage and responsibility
to family, and so a new ideology of masculinity emerged, directed at middle class white men.
Playboy™ hits the stands
December 1953, its first centrefold being a famous nude calendar shot of Marilyn Monroe; its first feature article was "Miss Gold-Digger of 1953" -
attacking money-hungry women i.e. potential wives! Playboy permitted men to be heterosexual, unmarried and not want to be married, AND not be
gay. Lesbians, at the time, were stigmatized as "Old Maids" who couldn't catch a man. Maxine Davis, in her famous book "The Sexual
Responsibility of Women" (1956) advised women to bring romance and sex-as-entertainment into the home. And from then on, compulsory
heterosexuality became more of a matter for women than for men.
Arlene Stein, in her book "Lesbian Experiences in the United States" argues that basing one's identity on the object of desire (hetero/homo) is
too restrictive to accommodate the range of subjective experiences she found in her interviews.
The "Choice" Dilemma
The idea of sexual desire as choice does nothing to answer the question of why people "feel" one way or other, nor does it help us understand
people who are convinced they were "born gay", or "happily heterosexual" for that matter.
The "Categories" Dilemma
According to Stein, in the 1980s, tensions appeared in lesbian feminism between "born lesbians" and "women-identified" lesbians - lesbians who
still fantasize about men while being politically committed to women's community. It is interesting to note that these tensions happened among
women who were challenging restrictive roles for women generally.
The ritual of self-definition
"Coming Out" in the classic sense, means revealing to others one's deepest, most authentic inner self. But it has more to do with social identity
than personal identity. However, while coming out can be potentially limiting, it can also be potentially strategic - a form of "necessary fiction",
if you like, that has helped to free generations of women and men from deep, painful, socially-induced shame.
We have looked at how identity categories are oversimplified, but moreover, individual identities are not necessarily stable; women and men use
both femininity and masculinity. So, does it make sense to speak similarly about sexuality?
Revisiting the Sambia, Papua New Guinea
Gilbert Herdt, a well-known anthropologist, studied Sambia in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea in the 1970s, making return trips through the
1980s. He now heads the Human Sexuality Program in San Francisco State. His work addresses i)the role of ritual in gender/sexuality,
ii) the multiple interrelations between gender and sexuality, iii) the distinction between sexual acts and "orientation" as identity.
Herdt found that the Sambia have strong binary oppositions between male and female along with strict gender division of labor.
However, they do not have an equivalent sexual/gender system. Females of the Sambia are regarded as natural and heterosexual while males are
regarded as cultural and sequentially bisexual - first homosexual, then heterosexual.
Natural vs Cultural
Women, being "natural" are regarded as "complete", necessitating less need for ritual to bring them towards adulthood; men, on the other hand,
being "cultural" need to be made into males through ritual. In other words, while blood makes women, women; semen, the Sambia believe, makes men,
Ritual use of feminine imagery
"when the semen falls into my mouth, I think it's the milk of women". It is not hard to identify that as a homosexual practice, however, the
feminine imagery of the male body as the "vessel" turns Western views of male and female around. And of course, what is being ritualized here in
general is not altogether "progressive" from how we see things in the west, because what is being ritualized here is Male Prestige, given that it
all happens in secret from the women - they do not know it happens.
A visit to Mexico City
A book, Mema's House by Annick Prieur examines the culture of sexuality in contemporary Mexico City. Let's look at some of the lingo:
Joto = passive exclusively homosexual; Jota = passive feminine homosexual - "queen"; Vestida = jota who cross-dresses;
Mayete = active masculine who penetrates jotas and who also has sex with women, simply call themselves 'men'
Note with Mayete that act does not equal identity. Tortilla = mayete sometimes taking passive position with men; Buga = term used
by homosexuals for men who they think have sex with women only aka manly man, macho.
Cultural anthropology involves a complex process of discerning meanings in cultural practices. So, meaning comes first from what the
anthropologists think they are observing, then from interviews with members of the culture, and then from the anthropologists re-examining their
own perceptions of meaning - a male anthropologist might "read" one meaning from observing a female ritual, while a female anthropologist might
read something different, and vice-versa. So, what matters most in the records of cultural anthropologists are the testimonies with the
participants themselves; and it is only with time, practice and patience that anthropologists can trust their own insights into what is actual
What causes homosexuality?
What do we think of this question? Is it a "loaded" question"? Is it a "leading" question? Is it a "trick" question? Is it a "useful" question?
And if so, are there assumptions in it, as a question? Is homosexual desire the same for jotas as it is for mayates? Is homosexual desire the
same between working class and middle class men in Mexico?
Examining the narratives
A common narrative among jotas as children in Mexico City goes along the lines of - dolls, dressing in mother's clothes, fascinated by penises,
early sexual abuse (6-8yrs old), possibly triggered when adults recognise their "homosexual or feminine tendencies". Some report that they "liked"
the abuse. How are we to understand and interpret in that? Classic patriarchy - law of the fathers, man often = abuse, normal "patriarchal bargaining"?
Choosing to choose
According to Prieur, the percentage of Mexican men who have sexual experiences with other men, at least once in a while, is well over 50%.
The only real concern among them is that if they try a passive role, and like it, they might have to come to terms with a new "self-realization" -
according to jotas, anyway. Tortillas who pretend that they do not take a passive role, while rumour has it that they do, are regarded as
"repressed homosexuals". So, what is the relationship between denial of pleasure and "crisis" of identity in these situations? Because broadly
speaking, the only class of people in Mexico, according to Prieur, who identify sex acts with identity are middle class bugas.
Clearly, the gender roles learned during childhood matter, however the passive role in sex is not "closeted" in Mexico City.
Rather, it is "hidden". By and large, sexual acts are *not* attributed to social identity in Mexico City as they are in the U.S.
The implied insult to women
Women's subjective experience of sex is not reducible to passivity however much jotas make of their "feminine" identity. So, while "real men"
are active, aggressive and dominant, any exception becomes proof of the rule of femininity and proper womanhood. In other words, one gender
defines what it *is* in direct relation to what it is *not*, and then attributes what it is *not* as proper characteristics of the other gender!
Why? It probably stems from the oughts, musts, shoulds and don'ts associated with anxious childrearing.
For that reason, anthropologists, as mentioned, if they aim to find anything that is "true" about people, emphasize the importance of direct
testimony from people both as individuals and the small groups and collectives to which they deem themselves to belong. Men who are *not* women
tells us nothing of their manhood.
This whole conundrum has real, often tragic outcomes for a society, leading to health problems, violence and disillusionment. We're not entirely
men or women, but at the same time we're not, not entirely men or women. And so we have jotas identifying with what they 'think' is womanly -
passive role in sex, ability to attract manly men, and signs of feminine sexual availability. Hardly a feminist understanding of the situation.
At the same time, jotas involve themselves in fistfights, masculine competitiveness and messiness - not very lady-like.
Gender is not a straightforward matter of personal "choice"; social class matters. And while vesitas identify with what they think is womanly,
they ultimately parody feminine sexuality, which reinforces gender stereotypes far more than challenging them.
First, what does it mean for an aspect of gender or sexuality to be "problematized" in a society, that is, particularly meaningful and
therefore under surveillance, scrutiny and critical observation, while at the same time being morally laden and thus hidden.
Foucault wrote about Socrates and Plato, arguing that, for them, sexual desire or preference, in men, was a matter of taste - like beer or wine.
In other words, it wouldn't get on Jerry Springer, and would be highly unlikely to be funded for critical research study. And although the
Greeks problematized the amount of sex men are having, and also whether men took the active or passive role, no one cared about the rest.
The "fragility of manhood"
If you try it, you might like it. Classic homophobia is, by definition, fear of one's own desires, not the desires of someone else.
Female homosexuality is not problematized in the same way. Why? Because female homosexuality typically shares the passive orientation.
In summary, what is problematized in a society regarding sexuality is the level of "crisis" it brings up in relation to one's social identity
and the identity of others. It is an important point of note that the problem has economics - the perceived ability to be the breadwinner,
at its core. And when matters of sexuality become matters of economic survival, problems arise.
Transgender vs Transsexuality
While gay, bi, lesbian, homosexual have become far lower on the media radar in the U.S., the newspapers nowadays focus on transgender and
transsexual as issues. So, first, what do we mean by transgender as opposed to transsexuality?
Transgender means "living a gender" consistently throughout one's life although one is not "prenatally assigned" i.e. no "sex-change" surgery.
Sometimes, as in the case of the famous jazz musician, Billy Tipton, no-one "realizes" until after death.
Transsexual or trans sexed refers to anyone who undergoes or hopes to undergo physical interventions to bring "the sexed body more closely in
line" with the gender with which the person identifies - taking hormones, applying for operation, the lot...
Trans people are another category of people who identify and feel with a gender that is not the one they were born with.
To resist too much categorizing of individuals, which can feel oppressive; remembering that it is the testimonies of those who are relating
these situations to us that matter most? On the other hand, we do want to be able to draw some distinctions, at least when they matter, between
transgender, transsexual and trans people. The trans people category is of particular interest in social study as it implies what is already
known and understood about people in general - that we are all in between the binaries of male and female. No one, in other words is "all man" -
like... never cries, and no-one is "all woman" - like... asserts self once in a while. More seriously, what we are looking at here, at source,
is the notion of "choice" that is often associated with one's sexuality and gender. In a society that regards a sexual identity as problematized,
typically, it implies that "choice" is at the core of the matter. As the society comes round to the idea of what is happening with the
individuals i.e. better prepared to listen to the individual testimonies, it gradually becomes more sympathetic with the individuals, and others
who identify similarly. Clearly, a "man" dressing as a woman in public or applying for trans surgery is far more connected to the notion of
choice than the person or people to whom one is attracted and how one feels about the object of attraction.
Heynes, referring to the jotas: "these people work to become what they think they were born to become" and are attempting to resist victimization,
not attract it. And even if they regard their labelling as imperfect, they need to have a sense of self at a social level.
On the other hand, the strong feminist critique of trans lives is not surprising - "what good is gender outlaw, when one is still abiding by the
law of gender" - Kate Bornstein.
As mentioned in the section: Is Sex to Gender as Nature is to Culture?, 1 out of every 2000 babies are born with 'ambiguous genitalia', and 1 in
400 where the five sex-related characteristics do not line up neatly.
Natural Ambiguity and Culture
So, how does culture interpret and live with this natural ambiguity? Well, the hijra in India are regarded more as a role as opposed to a 'natural
category' of persons. In the west we would call them eunuchs (castrati), homosexuals, transsexuals or trans persons. And although the hijras
are marginalized, they are at least recognized (Serena Nanda), and in that sense, there is a "conceptual space" for the ambiguity in Indian
society. How about the guevedoche (penis at 12)? Well, although they are recognized in the Dominican Republic, there is no popular name for it
in the U.S. What matters in the U.S. is that the ambiguity is "treatable", which is somewhat different from "acceptable".
Gender Categorization Anxiety
Clearly, hermaphrodite is not yet an option on a birth certificate. And it is not a new phenomenon; the ancient Spartans used to practice infant
abandonment for reasons of sex ambiguity at birth. By rejecting the ambiguity of intersex, we have no social category to accommodate ambiguously
sexed individuals, except commodifying them via pornography and freak shows. The 'queer' identity is the social answer to this quandary - "queer"
meaning a growing section of the population sharing an essential identity but on the basis of nonconformism, not necessarily any specific gender
Intersexuality and the Establishment
How would the law define a man or a woman today? Well, the law normally takes its cues from the medical establishment and vice-versa.
In the 1950s, doctors would do sex determinations without either the permission or the knowledge of the parents. What does that tell us?
It tells us something of the strong assumption that gender acquisition would go more smoothly for everyone if there was no ambiguity, and with
90% "determined" as female it told us that it was easier to "make a hole than a pole" - hardly a thoroughly thought-through medical prognosis.
Is rational science at work here? Or is it patriarchal culture of heteronormativity?
Systemic Change to End Shame
Cheryl Chase and the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA.org) look at the cultural underpinnings of this scientific protocol and makes some
Intersexuality is primarily a problem of stigma and trauma, not gender;
Parents' distress must not be treated by surgery on
Professional mental health care is essential;
Honest, complete disclosure is good medicine.
All children should be assigned a boy
or a girl at birth without surgery.
The medical establishment have been appealing to "nature" and "natural fact", not to help individual patients but to legitimate social
formations. These matters are political and cultural, not strictly logical. We need to get at experience of the people involved, and therefore,
art and fiction might help us, as a society, get beyond the shame and stigma to a richer transsexualism philosophy.
Can we gain insights from other cultural settings and bring them back to the U.S. to shed light on the possible limitations of our own
assumptions about sexuality, gender and identity?
It's what's outside that matters
In the west, we emphasize external expressions of inward feeling e.g. the 'coming out' ritual. But in the Third World and even working class
rural contexts in the U.S. this culture is often overshadowed by NEEDS - economic and social survival. Likewise, in many parts of the world,
family, clan and community involve shared resources, shared status and shared survival strategies. So, public matters go in conjunction with
private desire. In other parts of the world, like in the U.S., there are struggles over rights, such as the legalization of homosexuality,
but these struggles are intertwined with politics of intimacy, sexuality and access to resources. People in many parts of the world enter into
friendships and all sorts of relationships with economic strings - "sex for money", both "with and without labels" - Holly Wardlow.
Entering the Red-light District
Sex work emphasizes the labor component as income generating activity rather than a totalizing of identity. The struggle of sex workers is often
focused on the reduction of stigma, because if work has to be "acceptable" on one hand and "kids must be fed" on the other, then we need to
address the moralization of work, given that most of us agree that work, especially to feed children, is a virtuous practice. On the other hand,
just as generalizations do not help much in relation to sex work in the west, neither does it help to generalize about it in other parts of the
world. So, while economic factors, such as scarcity and poverty play a crucial role in determining who becomes a sex worker in Papua New Guinea,
say; sex work is, at the same time, associated with resistance against feminine roles and also tied to reproduction anger.
From the general to the idiosyncratic
A father of a woman kills his wife or his daughter and the woman becomes a sex worker, only temporarily, to make herself unmarriageable so the
father does not profit from the bride's wealth - a common enough practice in Papua New Guinea. What does sex work look like in the U.S.?
In other words, what is the general narrative around it that most of us are accustomed to? It goes something like this: "the oldest profession" -
women being sexually desirable objects to men, the man's desire being the active force. Sex, therefore, can be made available by women as a
commodity to be purchased by men. The sex is not intimate or emotional, it's "just work".
This narrative does not make sense in many other parts of the world. In Papua New Guinea, men are encouraged to "look good" to attract women,
who, although regarded as the most "natural" gender, are not necessarily "beautiful". The women, therefore, are encouraged to resort to magic to
What are men paying for?
Studies in Papua New Guinea found that men are often paying for non-traditional sexual practices that they feel they could never ask of their
wives. Also, the men are keen to resist sexual taboos and become more "modern". The women perceive the offer of money for sex as evidence that
men are so consumed with desire that they overcome their fear of women and their vaginas, and in that regard, offer money out of gratefulness
rather than contempt. The women read that as their "vanquishing" of men.
While there are many cross-cultural similarities regarding sex work, for example, between the U.S. and other parts of the world, the questions
we aim to examine are related to practices, identities and genders that are "problematized" in the U.S., especially in the context of
Lori Heise, while arguing for the need for more statistical research on the matter, notes that between 1-5 to 1-7 women in the U.S. will be
subject to "complete" rape in their lifetime. And while a definition of rape is at the heart of the matter, the repercussions for family
planning and HIV-AIDS prevention are very real nonetheless.
Targeting Women with Condoms
The assumption being that it is up to women to affirm their "choice" that men use condoms. But in Greece and elsewhere, condoms are regarded
as old technology associated with extramarital affairs and prostitution. So, how is a woman to broach the subject of condom use with a man
without insinuating his infidelity or her own? Why else would condoms be necessary within a marriage? So, while bringing up the subject has
often led to violence within marriage, even the threat of violence is enough to silence women in relation to the subject of their own sexual
health and that of their husbands.
"Over-egging" the problem of sexual violence
Heise acknowledges two main hazards in exposing the reality of violence: i) it promotes an image of women as endless victim - all sex being bad,
no such thing as pleasurable sex, especially for the passive women; and ii) it feeds into stereotyped images of the male aggressor as a universal
phenomenon, and therefore biologically based and "natural" - meaning "good" or at least inevitable.
The "anthropological veto"
meaning: Defining a practice as nature-bound, not culture-bound, and therefore to be found "universally" in any culture under any conditions.
But why does violence occur in general? There are, of course, many reasons, such as revenge, fear, hatred, misunderstanding, conquest, political
ends, and material gain and so on. But there is a world of difference between wondering about the causes of violence and giving violence a
natural meaning such as "a natural outcome of male sexuality" or "a bi-product of evolutionary biology" - book: A Natural History of Rape: The
Biological Basis of Sexual Coercion.
It is interesting that nature seems suddenly "uncontrollable" when it comes to socially contentious issues. Then there is the constructivist
argument - that men rape because they are taught that they are naturally aggressive - that rape helps bolster their masculinity, and that is why
they do it - Heise. The feminist activists argue that rape is not about sex, that it is about Power.
But do these generalizations undermine both political and moral efforts to eradicate violence?
A look at Cultural Context
Consider militarized mass rape, religious-based rape and race-based rape, where we have situations such as white man | black woman, Serb man |
Croat woman. In that sense, reducing rape to something between man and woman in general hampers us in getting at an answer.
One thing that is known about human beings is that we cannot analyze away our subjective experience. In other words, knowledge does not
necessarily command the emotions. Rather, fear is shaped by cultural forces such as myths and stereotypes, and we don't always realize that
until after the adrenaline rush has passed.
The challenge is to move back and forth between science and personal experience while not overriding one with the other, and that is a
challenge for education.
From sexuality to reproductive politics
Flip-flopping with the times
During the 19th century sex became "good" because sex produced babies, and producing babies is "good". But what about pleasure is "good",
sex is pleasurable, and so, sex is "good"? The two narratives are not necessarily different, meaning mutually exclusive; they are more a
matter of emphasis. Today, the increasing visibility of homosexual lifestyles are making straight people wonder if they are missing out on
something in relation to pleasure, but at the same time, abstinence is becoming increasingly a matter in sex education with regard to
same-sex experience. Moreover, it is being applied more consistently to women than to men while making the direct association between women's
"natural" sexual desire and their desire to procreate. Anyway, these emphases keep flip-flopping through history, and the flip-flops are
happening more frequently so that we will see many of them in our own lifetimes. So, it is not hard to see how sex and sexuality is far more a
cultural phenomenon than a "natural" one.
"The Family" in capital letters
the "foundation of society" and the "foundation of civilization" - in a particular exalted type of society. But most of our talks about
families are clouded by unexplored notions of what families are 'really' like (Collier, Rosaldo, Yanagisako). When it comes to "Family" matters,
our society not only confuses an ideal with reality, at the same time we under-appreciate the deep significance of what families are - cross-culturally.
As soon as we hear the word "Family", we stop thinking, because the family has always been on the private side of an illusory public | private
division. Society, we are told, must have "faith" in the 'natural' source of 'nurture' that, we are told, is to be found in the home.
Therefore, as the belief goes, we ought to limit our search for intimacy to the family, which despite being an inhospitable place in
patriarchal society, the "law of the fathers", we are led to believe, does not mean that the home is any less nurturing for tomboy girls with
"compulsory heterosexuality" all-round. - Adrienne Rich.
Blame the British
Much of what we have come to (mis)understand and believe about "The Family" comes from British social anthropology, and Bronislaw Malinowski,
a British man, in particular, regarded as "the father" of British social anthropology. During the 1920s Malinowski researched family matters
with the "purpose" of arguing against 19th century social evolutionists who saw the family, not as the cornerstone of civilization, but more as
evidence of western moral superiority. Malinowski argued that since we "need" nurturance and families=nurturance, families, therefore,
function as nurturer. The notion of "functionality" is now well known and understood to count for little or nothing in certain areas of
evolutionary biology. It is like saying that animals scratch themselves on sharp rocks, so the "function" of sharp rocks is to give animals
somewhere to scratch themselves - Dawkins. The functional framework is understood as a very British characteristic of social anthropology.
Collier responds to the argument with this: "because a social institution is observed to perform a necessary function, it does not mean that the
function would not be performed if the institution did not exist or that the function is responsible for the existence of the institution."
Is there "A Mother" in capital letters?
Are mothers, by definition, or by nature, nurturing and loving? What is mother love? Do children "need" both a father and a mother? If so,
what distinguishes fathering from mothering? Can fathers be mothers? What is God's will? And what are we to make of the indifference of the
state to infant mortality (barely registers these deaths, or lives) and a Church that once celebrated child death and now wants to deny it,
while withholding contraception and abortion? In the U.S. a woman who chooses not to subordinate her own interests to a foetus is "unnatural".
Landsman - if a mother is expected to follow prenatal advice, then she should have control over the outcome.
Motherhood as "Achievement"
In the U.S., motherhood, like many aspects of culture, is something that can be "achieved" - from supermoms who excel brilliantly in the role,
to foster parents who take on 'especially difficult kids', to mothers of children with disabilities. Particular kudos goes to those mothers
whose kids are regarded by the wider society as the biggest "handful". All of these mothers can "earn" the status of "real" parents, whether or
not they are the biological parent of the child. They can even earn the affection of the child, which the society, whether it realizes it or not,
regards as an entitlement for achieving parents. Look at international adopters "returning" children for "failing to bond".
What about Adoption?
In the U.S., adoption includes three people - two failed mothers and a rejected or substitute child. Also, 2% of unmarried births lead to
adoption, the other 98% are mainly women with higher education and class aspirations who are more likely than working class women to give up
their babies. Also, in the U.S., older children, survivors of child abuse, and children with disabilities are more likely to be placed with
single parents, black parents, and interracial parents. That is to say, the kids who need the most help are placed with the people with the
fewest resources. WHY? The answer is the society's overriding commitment to reproducing class status from one generation to the next.
The relationship between a pregnant woman and her foetus has become tied up in abortion politics in the U.S. The aim, here, is to look at some
of the assumptions that underlie how abortion is debated - as a debate over relative rights, but mainly the right of women to privacy with their
doctor. But the right of privacy between women and their doctor is a negative right, not a positive one - like the right to be free from
"government interference" or "government surveillance".
Abortion and Criminalization
Firstly, criminalizing abortion has NEVER ended its practice. Legal abortion, therefore, has never meant abortion vs no abortion; it means safe,
medically regulated abortion vs non-safe unregulated abortion. The "right to life" champions have reframed the debate as mother vs foetus,
pitting the rights of one against the rights of the other. And that is not a celebration of motherhood, it is a rejection of maternal values and
nurturance (Faye Ginsburg's: Contested Lives).
A Relatively Common Occurrence
In the U.S., roughly 20% of all pregnancies end in abortion, and 13% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. The abortion rate dropped during the
1990s under Clinton. Why? Because there were stronger maternal values during the 1990s? The reason was the availability of better contraceptives
and the morning-after pill, not to mention a stronger economy. The abortion rate went up again under Bush for the very opposite reasons -
[stats from the Guttmacher Institute].
What's 'wrong' with Ultrasound?
nothing at all. That would be like asking "what's wrong with buying pink for a girl and blue for a boy". It's not exactly evil although, as with
ultrasound, it does contribute to an enduring belief in certain expectations. Rosalind Petchesky, interested in the cultural assumptions that
inform the use of ultrasound, found that fatal images have become ubiquitous in the pro-life campaign over the past 20 years.
The popularization of ultrasound, Petchesky noted, originated with an advertisement in the NE Journal of Medicine, which suggested that early
foetal ultrasounds resulted in "maternal bonding" and possibly "fewer abortions". And although the article simply put forward the hypothesis,
based on two isolated cases without scientific controls, the National Right to Life Committee made it the basis for their film "The Silent Scream".
For the first time, the foetus was viewable to a broad public, as outside observer - with no pregnant woman in sight.
And notwithstanding the fact that foetuses cannot scream, the film managed to put forth the idea of a foetus as a "social person", or at least a
From Anticipated Personhood to Anticipated Motherhood
If sacrifice can be expected of mothers, the argument went, then shouldn't it be expected of expectant mothers? Shouldn't nurturance begin at
conception? And who should we blame, but mothers, for birth defects and "MIS-carriages"? The film portrayed the foetus as free-floating
individual, just hanging by a cord - both daring and heroic in space and time; no sign of woman at all. And because we read visual images
literally, it all made sense both to us viewers and the object being visualized - the foetus. Again, no sign of woman. Although 90% of
abortions happen within the first trimester – up to 12-14 weeks, and only 1% after 20 weeks, the most common "public foetuses" are late term -
12 weeks and beyond. Even at 12 weeks, the foetus is just over 2 inches long.
The Social Aspect of Pregnancy
Very late term abortions - between 18-20 weeks are almost always performed on women who want the child. Linda Layne, while studying the
ethnography of pregnancy loss, a term she prefers to "miscarriage", argues that "personhood is actively constructed during the course of a
pregnancy". Parts of the foetus are used as indexes of personhood, such as footprint, hair, handprints and fingerprints. And these symbols of
humanness, uniqueness and individualism are promised, in the pro-life literature, to facilitate bonding not only of mother to child but older
kids, deployed father and so on.
Ultrasound images are being used to challenge the legal status of abortion and other reproductive politics, while undermining the right to
privacy and choice among women, and as a result, complicating the experience of pregnancy loss.
Nationalism and the interests of state governments help to construct gender.
"Boys or Men?"
Rhoda Kanaaneh, an anthropologist who grew up in a Palestinian family in Israel, looks at the militarization of masculinity in the context of
the complex Israeli-Palestine conflict. In particular, she discusses the popular opposition to the state together with the fact of state
collaborators - Arab soldiers volunteering to serve in the Israeli army. Militarism, she concludes, does not represent a valued masculinity
among the population of either Israel or Palestine.
"Birthing the Nation"
Kanaaneh, from a case study of Palestinian Israelis also analyses how state interests concerning population issues have been forwarded through
the control of women's bodies and through regulating their sexuality and reproductive capacity. Citizenship, in general, means having rights
and obligations as a member of a nation in return for protection by the state. But what those rights/obligations have been, not only in the U.S.,
but throughout the world, has historically been framed by states, which "have great political interest" in human reproduction.
It is most often through families that citizens acquire their citizenship of a nation, and in a state such as Israel where maintaining a fairly
consistent RATIO of 20 Arab/80 Jewish is of paramount importance to the very idea of "Israel" as a Jewish state, women are pressed into service,
in two ways in particular:
i) Quantitively by simply birthing enough citizens and new citizens to provide workers, soldiers and so on.
In the wider world, we see a dichotomy between pronatalism vs antinatalism; pronatalism as state policy where the women are awarded for their
birthing role as patriotic duty, and antinatalism in states such as China, with its one child policy. Israel used to award "heroine mothers"
who gave birth to more than 10 children, but the policy was stopped when it became apparent that Arab mothers were winning more of them.
ii) Qualitatively by inculcating cultural traditions and values in the children, and in so doing - "binding the nation" in a unique cultural
identity. August Comte, writing in the early years of the French Republic, said that women should serve as the repository of moral values;
and that these moral values can be preserved in women only if women can be kept out of the political and business arenas.
Women on the pedestal
Women are framed front and centre of the nationalistic race between nations to outdo each other in terms of population size. But with more and
more women having access to education, in particular, but also birth control options, the patriotic pedestal is making less and less sense to
them. At the same time, women are becoming more vulnerable to sexual violence around the world, as the state regards them as "markers" for
national boundaries; the ideology going something like this: just as our national boundaries are permeable to invaders, so too are our women
"permeable" to others. Historically, the incidence of sexual violence towards women has always risen sharply both just before and just after a
In a nutshell
Women's civic duty is to produce boys who can later die as soldiers, while men's civic duty is to die WILLINGLY as a soldier. So, while
capitalism forms gender roles for life, states and governments form roles in relation to being born and dying. And the reason why militarism
does *not* represent a valued masculinity is because it always depends on which side of the state divide one is fighting for in relation to how
one is perceived by one's fellow citizens. Real "men" fight for "us" while immature "boys" seduced by guns fight as traitors for the opposing