The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

There is no question that there are biological differences between males and females, but how do the genes that we are born with determine the roles we should play in society? According to our Rubin reading, the answer is not a great deal. In fact, the gender a person eventually assumes is an aspect of the society in which that person lives and socializes, not whether he or she is male or female. Therefore, it is less a question of who and more an issue of where.

Rubin points out that in some societies, agriculture is a responsibility of men and in others, women.(279) If the same duties can be proven to be successfully preformed by both sexes, then the ability to preform “gender-specific” roles is not dependent on male or female genes. Why then, do societies perpetuate the division of the sexes when labor is not a major concern? The answer lies in the political and economic organization of the society and the reliance on marriage as “the smallest and viable economic unit.”(278) In marriage, two persons unite their resources and produce children. Spouses become a unit of identification as well as consumers. In order to create a seemingly natural inclination toward this type of family unit and marriage, society mimics the economic market and creates the two genders to be opposite and thereby creating demand. By encouraging the idea of the differences between the sexes, men and women become “an incomplete half which can only find wholeness when united with the other.”(279) This is similar to the role advertisers perform in the economy by establishing standards and generating demand in consumers. A person experiences this concept of incompleteness and seeks completion in the opposite sex in the form of marriage. Therefore, marriage is not necessarily natural or predetermined by our genetics.

Rubin points out that this role assignment and synthetic focus on the differences between the sexes  also suppresses the natural similarities between males and females(279). It would seem that the damage done to both men and women in society is equal, except, as Rubin notes, only women are reduced to exchangeable goods in the transaction of marriage. Even if in the marriage agreement the woman is not being explicitly objectified, there is an implied distinction between the gift and the giver. There are many reasons for this paradigm to have taken hold in many early societies. Marriage was the strongest form of kinship and social relations between groups. “Gifts” of women from one nation to another could stop wars and end aggression for generations. It is interesting to compare this historical practice to the idea of woman being more akin to nature than culture as discussed in the Ortner essay. Women have been seen as less culturally inclined then men, though it is through women that society and kinship has held together.

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Comments on: "Gender Differences, Biological or Societal?- Kaitlyn" (1)

  1. I love how you paralleled the economic benefits of creating opposites between man and woman with the role of advertisers. In my piece too, I was very hardcore when it came to believing biology had the last word over gender and sexuality, and while I’m still inclined to side with science, it’s interesting to consider how big of a role the socioeconomic world we live in plays in our development. In some way, it makes me think of the opponents of gay marriage in the sense that, without the supposed sense of obligatory heterosexuality, how many more bisexuals or gay people would we have in the world? The answer, especially to the former, would probably be “a lot.”

    Between this class and the Queer Lit class I’m taking at Hunter, I’ve been thinking about the differences between male bisexuality and female bisexuality, and the perceived prevalence of the latter over the former. It plays into what Rubin says, in how men are required to reject their “feminine” tendencies and women, their “masculine.” But since masculinity is associated with power, modern women are freer to embrace the masculinity they’ve been previously asked to eschew. If men already have dominance, there’s less freedom to embrace their femininity, therefore less acceptance of male bisexuality. Though perhaps I’m thinking about it in the context of the mainstream culture.

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