The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

Woman as a Commodity

Rubin incorporates multiple theories in investigating the origins of women’s oppression, but particularly relies on the work of Freud and Levi-Strauss in finding a “… fully developed definition of the sex/gender system” (273). Levi-Strauss’ theories on the exchange of women within a kinship system were much more interesting because they seemed to be the most developed and inclusive of the theories discussed.

Levi-Strauss’ theory of sex oppression, underlines the idea that “the essence of kinship systems… lie in the exchange of women between men.” A kinship system is a set of “categories and statuses” that define a group of people according to their relationships and interactions. According to Rubin, another theorist, Mauss, “… proposed that gifts were the threads of social discourse, the means by which such societies were held together in the absence  of specialized governmental institutions.” From this idea comes “the theory of primitive reciprocity the idea that marriages are the most basic form of gift exchange, in which it is women who are the most precious gifts.”  The concept behind this theory ties in the idea of an incest taboo, which aims to prevent marriages and therfore intercourse between members of the same family, this guarantees that a family will give their daughter into another family and take a daughter from another, thereby joining these families in a bond of kinship. (276)

However, another idea that stems from the concept  of the kinship system is the exclusive benefits of men from the exchange of women. Since only men have the right to give their daughters away, then they are essentially forming an agreement of partnership with each other, and “it is men who are the beneficiaries of… social organization” (277). Additionally, since only men have the right to exchange women, then women have lost the ability to give themselves as a “gift”; therefore, women have no bargaining chip in society and therefore no power. Though Rubin does not believe there is an issue of ownership of women, but rather a right of bestowal associated with the concept of exchange, the fact that a woman can be given to someone against her will means she has lost the major qualifications to call herself a free entity. She must follow the roles laid out for her, the path chosen for her, and the life that is planned for her; additionally, she can only enjoy the rights allowed to her.

The concept of the exchange of women in neither outdated nor obsolete, because there are still forms of exchange in todays society, despite the changes in the way this exchange is manifested. According to Rubin, “Women are given in marriage, taken in battle, exchanged for favors , sent as tribute, traded, bought, and sold. Far from being confined to the  “primitive” world, these practices seem only to become more pronounced and commercialized in more “civilized” societies” (277). In an article from my Women’s Studies text book, there was a depiction of the sexual services established for male soldiers in third world countries where there are military bases. In 2009 , a NY Times article described a similar system established in South Korea.


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