PHIL 242 - “The Traffic in Women”
NEW UNIT: EXPLAINING OPPRESSION
- In particular, we’ll be looking at various versions of the idea that sexism is built into the
structure of society (or societies)
- ...in both the large scale: the way wealth and power are organized (‘political economy’) and
how sexism/oppression may be linked with that
- ...and the small-scale: the family and the way it shapes individual people and how
sexism/oppression may be linked with that
RUBIN INTRODUCES THE PROJECT
- Providing an explanation of oppression is important because it will determine…
- whether change is possible
- what it will involve, if it is
- One part of the challenge: To explain both the universality (or near- universality) and the
variety of sexual oppression.
UNIVERSALITYAND PARTICULARITY, FOODAND SEX
- Every culture needs some way to get food into people’s mouths…
- ...but there is enormous variety in how many meals people can and should have, who prepares
it, how they eat it, and even in what counts as food.
- Similarly there must be a cultural system determining how people have sex and make sure that
there are more bodies around…
- ...Rubin calls this the “sex/gender system.”
- What’s the difference between a group of people in one place and a community?
- Parts of an answer: People in a community will have
- (i) roles or stations within the whole, and
- (ii) enduring bonds with and dependence on each other.
INCEST TABOOAND KINSHIP
- Communities are also defined by roles that are occupied by various members—these are shaped
by various cultures’versions of the incest taboo:
- “the incest taboo imposes the social aim of exogamy and alliance upon the biological
events of sex and procreation. The incest taboo divides the universe of sexual choice
into categories of permitted and prohibited sexual partners. Specifically, by forbidding
unions within a group it enjoins marital exchange between groups.”
THE EXCHANGE OF GIFTS
- Rubin thinks that all cultures give and receive gifts…
- ...in ways that that serve no obvious purpose in terms of efficiently distributing resources, etc.
(“in a typical gift transaction, neither party gains anything”)… - ...this practice make the difference between communities and groups of unconnected
individuals—they it “confers on its participants a special relationship of trust, solidarity, and
IN MOST (ALL?) SOCIETIES, WOMEN ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT GIFTS
- Marriage is often (always?) understood as men giving women to each other.
- In exchange for other women?
- In exchange for material goods?
- They are especially useful for creating social bonds because of their role in reproduction, and
so for shaping kinship.
CONSEQUENCES FOR WOMEN
- But if women are the things given and taken, they aren’t members of the gift-giving
- Another way of putting this: “a system in which women do not have full rights to themselves.”
TWO ESSENTIAL PRESUPPOSITIONS OF THE EXCHANGE OF WOMEN
- 1. Sexual difference. Exaggeration of differences, suppression of similarities between men and
- “Far from being an expression of natural differences, exclusive gender identity is the
suppression of natural similarities. It requires repression: in men, of whatever is the
local version of “feminine” traits; in women, of the local definition of “masculine”
- 2. Heterosexuality. If exchange of female partners by men holds culture together, partnerships
must reliably be between men and women.
FROM ANTHROPOLOGY TO PSYCHOANALYSIS
HOW DO THESE STRUCTURES FIND THEIR WAY INTO THE DESIRES AND
IDENTITIES OF INDIVIDUALS?
- Gender roles take totally different forms in different societies, and yet they shape our des