In “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex”, Gayle Rubin attempts to answer two key feminist questions: what causes the oppression of women, but also how this would help to assess necessary changes to “achieve a society without gender hierarchy”(230). I found Rubin’s philosophies on the applications of the reasoning behind female oppression to be very interesting, especially, since her tone is much less confident and serious in the passages where she explores how her theories could translate into actions.
In many ways, this thread on achieving a society without gender hierarchy stood out to me simply because of the tone Rubin took in addressing this idea. She refers to the logical “extermination of the offending sex or else a eugenics project to modify it’s character” (230) or a socialist revolution to counteract the capitalist roots of female oppression. These suggestions are clearly not serious and the abrasive sarcasm shows that in many ways Rubin views resolving gender inequality to be futile.
An aggressive start to an academic essay and a perspective of the potential futility of Rubin’s scholarship was shocking to me. It was especially surprising since her insecurity and intensity was consistent even through her incredibly intricate academic arguments. Though a logical, clear academic with eloquent insight, she still is angry and insecure about the prospects of changing culture based on her findings. She states that Levi-Strauss established that the defeat of women in history is not only the origin of culture, that it is also the prerequisite of it, then contemplates how this translates to how to change from this type of society. “ If his analysis is adopted in its pure form, the feminist program must include a task even more onerous than the extermination of men; it must attempt to get rid of the culture and substitute some entirely new phenomena on the face of the earth.” (234). Here, Rubin makes a more extreme claim, and even the phrasing of “new phenomena” seems elevated, exaggerated, and from my perspective, a little sarcastic. Accepting that we wipe out culture as we know it, is so radical and grates against the heavily textually based and rational argument of the essay. I was bothered by this passage because though it reveals some self-awareness in admitting that she does not know how to resolve this issue, her suggestions a little too extreme, simple, and underdeveloped.
I was not fully satisfied with Rubin’s resolution on how she believed the application of these ideas should manifest themselves. Even toward the end of her essay, she refers to “feminist utopia” and frames her vision for society as a dream, maintaining extreme and idealistic language that does not work with the generally serious tone of the essay. “The dream I find most compelling is one of an androgynous and genderless (though not sexless) society, in which one’s sexual anatomy is irrelevant to who one is, what one does, and with whom one makes love, “(244). This conclusion lacked practical, concrete and objectively supported ideas. Since Rubin proposed she would tackle this question and proposes a theoretical daydream at the end of a dense, academic essay bothered me.
This essay prompted me to consider two issues of my own with feminist theory. Primarily, there is a true issue of practical application. Feminist theory tends to be very academic and assertive however, these authoritative and likely masculine traits of scholarly thinking do not prevent me from finding it difficult to see the concrete applications of these theories. Also, I think the fluctuations in tone are not unique to Rubin, but are consistent in feminist thinking. On one hand, this is a very blunt, serious, and assertive essay, but on the other there is a sense of unresolved idealism. The mix of the two made it difficult for me to consider these ideas in a way that was more concrete and less theoretical. I think this is an example of some of the frustrations that many people have with accepting “feminist” as a term that they apply to themselves and their lives.
Like Rubin, I would like to see these theories take action and turn into concrete steps towards a less oppressive society, but this disconnect in tone between extreme serious academia and idealism and sarcasm, leads to a seeming inconsistency in philosophy which consequently causes an inconsistency and shaky foundation for feminist progressive actions to rest upon.