The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

The Gift of Women

By: Jasmine Cruz
“The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex” by Gayle Rubin takes an interesting turn in the third page of her essay. Rubin starts off by stating that “The literature of woman-both feminist and anti feminist- is a long rumination on the question of the nature and genesis of women’s oppression and social subordination” (230), her idea is that in order to change “sexism” and “women oppression” would be to start a ” social revolution” where a “sex/gender system” is created.
The reader begins to wonder what is a “sex/gender system” and how would it be created. Rubin begins with a discussion of Marx’s capitalism theory which as she states, “there is no theory which accounts for the oppression of women” and that there is a ” failure of classical Marxism to fully express or conceptualize sex oppression”. Marx’s theory of capitalism “is a set of social relations” where employers and workers make trade offs. The employer gets goods and profit while workers are given a pay. If ” the aim of capitalism is achieved. The capitalist gets back….and increment–surplus value” (231). Surplus meaning that there is more supply then demand for it. Rubin relates this “increment” to women. Women can therefore for in excess leading to the trade off of them although the demand for them may be limited.
While beginning the discussion of “The Elementary Structures of Kinship” the reader discovers that the “chess pieces” in Levi-Strauss argument are women and he relates this to the exchange in gifts. While reading this it was easy to relate the idea to many primitive cultures where women are often exchanged in “marriage”,as Levi discusses, men are in charge of these exchanges (fathers) while mothers are not involved in the exchange. The discussion brought to mind a show that I watched where young girls discussed how men would kidnap and rape them resulting in the ruin of an exchange. The girls stated that once they have been tampered with an exchange could not be made between their family and another. In the terms of capitalism, the families seek to gain a union and thus higher profit for a good, their daughters. The men who raped the girls then married the girls leading to a new union between that family and that man. These men were often poor and realized the value of a virgin daughter. Rubin does well to support the earlier statement that, ” sexism is a by product of capitalism’s relentless appetite for profit” (230).
Unlike other feminist pieces who attempt to discover why there is an unequalness between men and women through biology this piece looks at the social divisions that take place due to cultural deviations. “The very fact that it (the sexual division of labor) varies endlessly according to the society selected” (235), thus a division is created. For example in the beginning of the piece Rubin mentions the Nuer custom of woman marriage changes the definition of kinship (232), ” the status of fatherhood as belonging to the person to whose name, cattle, brideswealth is given for the mother. Thus, a woman can be married to another woman, and be husband to the wife and father of her children” (232).


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