The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

If one is taking a course called “Feminist Theory,” then one would expect the focus to be fairly obvious (if not obligatory). However, what draws me to feminist theory and literature is not specifically the plight of women. Instead, I find the the study of the minority to be most fascinating; if that is true, then what greater minority can one find if not half the human species? At face value, studying one gender could be deemed repetitious. But time and again, one gender is linked with the other, and from there is linked with subdivisions such as race and, in Rubin’s The Traffic of Women: Notes of the “Political Economy” of Sex, sexuality. Rubin analyzes Lévi-Strauss’ text, concluding that gender is not influenced by biology so much as it is a produced of “socially imposed division.” (236)

To start this line of argument, Rubin starts by differentiating the biological terms “male” and “female” into the more social/anthropological  “men” and “women.” From there, she questions the assumption that men and women are so different, and each are “an incomplete half which can only find wholeness when united with the other.” Truly, in perpetuating this social stereotype, it assumes that heterosexuality is the norm. Yet according to Rubin, “exclusive gender identity is the suppression of natural similarities.”  Clearly, feminist text exposes not only the deficiencies women experience in gender castes, but also the deficiencies men experience. For one to be completely male, Rubin claims he must repress “whatever is the local version of ‘feminine’ traits,” as women are required to do the same. The ultimate conclusion is one I feel that I have grappled with as a man for years: “The same social system that oppresses women in its relations of exchange, oppresses everyone in its insistence upon a rigid division of personality.” (236) Social rigidity crosses the sexes, and men sacrifice as women do; what makes the situation tougher for women is the idea of sacrifice on top of the apparent female devaluation.

From Karen Horney’s shocking attitude towards homosexuality (and other perversions), it was equally shocking to read Rubin describe Lévi-Strauss as one who “comes dangerously close to saying that heterosexuality is an instituted process.” In a world where nature is deemed to have much greater sway than nurture, it gives one pause when one considers that “if biological and hormonal imperatives were as overwhelming as popular mythology would have them, it would hardly be necessary to insure heterosexual unions by means of economic interdependency.” In some ways, it rings true and puts the “institution” of marriage into further question. Is it a religious union, a social contract, an economic contract, or according to Rubin, a combination of the latter two?

When it comes to gender, Rubin declares, “it also entails that sexual desire by directed toward the other sex.” Indeed, from birth, a boy is as expected to eventually desire a girl as it is expected the other way around, which reveals an inherent link between sexuality and gender. The conclusion here is another link I have often drawn: “The suppression of the homosexual component of human sexuality, and by corollary, the oppression of homosexuals, is therefore a product of the same system whose rules and relations oppress women.” (236) If fortune favors the brave, social rigidity favors the majority, and minorities like women and homosexuals are left to struggle within a gender caste they didn’t create.

Finally, Rubin analyzes marriage from the socioeconomic standpoint she introduced earlier in the context of the arranged marriage. If a woman is promised to a family (and by extension, a man to be her husband),a rejection of the arrangement “would disrupt the flow of debts and promises.” To assure no disruption, it is in the interest of the family giving the woman not to give her “too many ideas of her own about whom she might want to sleep with,” and that “the preferred female sexuality” is not heterosexuality outright, but “one which responded to the desire of others, rather than the one which actively desired and sought a response.”(237)

To conclude, it seems apparent that sexuality, according to Rubin, is less about biology and even less about love and mutual attraction. Instead, sexuality is dictated on the socioeconomic environment in which we live.

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Comments on: "Obligatory Heterosexuality (per Lévi-Strauss)" (1)

  1. […] Less than a week ago, I wrote a frenzied post about obligatory, or compulsory, heterosexuality. “[Gender] entails that sexual desire be directed towards the other sex,” said Gayle Rubin in The Traffic in Women, and readings like this week’s Karen Butler essay, Gender Trouble, compulsory heterosexuality is evidently oft-discussed. Here, Butler analyzes text by Monique Wittig, who writes of a need to “makes the categories of sex obsolete in language.” (153) Butler shows that Wittig’s ideas clash with the very community she strives to protect. […]

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