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28 February 2006 @ 10:38 pm
The Radical/Liberal Split?  
Recently in a formal paper Allison Jaegger (WHOSE POLITICS? WHO’S CORRECT?), referring to gender described it as a “distinctive conceptual innovations of second wave Western feminism, which drew a theoretical distinction between sex, a set of physiological characteristics relating to biological reproduction, and gender, a variable collection of normative social identities assigned to sexed individuals.”

The early 1950s were heavily laden with both significant and non-significant events. An insignificant event was that in 1953 I began the first grade. A significant event was that the year before, John Money published his earth shifting paper on intersexed people referred to as hermaphrodites at the time. As a point of origin, I wanted to write contextually of the period between the Money’s publication and of the lessons I learned in the fourth grade. The world is full of new curiosities for fourth graders because everything is so new. We were in “language” class and our teacher was discussing nouns and verbs and she happened to mention a new word that we had never heard: Gender. In the early fifties, the word did not apply to human beings at all. It was only applied to nouns and sometimes verbs. “Goodness”, I thought… “so there are girl” nouns and verbs and boy nouns and verbs. With that brief mention of the word, the word disappear never to me be mention gain for another thirty years.

I related this to establish the ground in which Money did his research. At the time, people were thought of and categorized only in terms of their sex. But Money was researching people who were seen to have the properties of both sexes. Ostensibly his findings were that genitals didn’t establish or determine how someone manifested themselves. It was something else.

At this juncture I’d like to step back sharply and NOT consider Money’s findings. I think it’s important to look at the context in which he made his findings. Socially, this was a period of strong role dimorphism. Women were women and men were men. It was, one hand a sexless and puritanical period that had plenty of sex, it was just very much under the covers, under the covers enough that I sister and I had no idea what it was until the sixth grade. We would go to the movies and see a preview and hear the phrase, “the battle of the sexes”. We didn’t know what that meant but men and women seemed to be fighting a lot too.

The phenomenology of the time was that girls were girls and boys were boys and it wasn’t even questioned. We were girls because we were girls and boys were boys because they were. The ground for that was an assumed conservative essentialism. We are objects of nature and nature hath made us this way. That was simple enough. But deep in his laboratory, John Money was questioning all of this. Again, I want to pull away even from his questions and peer squarely at his starting point, his apriories. His research began with the assumption of differences, differences that patriarchy had constructed both socially an conceptually. Questions had always been asked about the differences between women and men and there was always the cutch and glue of essentialism to fall back on. Notice even here, there is the apriori assumption of differences. So in his figurative laboratory the neither good, nor evil doctor began his research where sex was assumed to be all determining and where this subject’s objects were anatomically ambiguous an interesting, little known and tragically stigmatized population, a human locus where essentialism would be confused and perhaps we could learn from them in this period of Joseph McCarthy, where only nouns and verbs and not people had gender.

Differences. Everyone was sure there were differences. No one questioned their origin so Money’s research was going to be interesting because he would learn about those differences, the differences that were assumed to be there, where his apriories were overlooked. What he learned was that behavior didn’t necessarily follow anatomy or biology. But he assumed, ever so important differences were there. Maintaining the idea of differences, Money ensconced in differences had to have a name for a new fragment or nosology. He must have been friends with my language teacher because he named this quality “gender” borrowing from nouns and verbs. In terms of process, assuming that there were differences but having detached them from biology he formalized a construct (noun) based upon the work of the social construction (verb) of life in gendered classes.

I agree with Allison Jaegger, that this was the cornerstone of second wave feminism and many feminists attributed this to John Money, while overlooking the work of Simone De Beauvior who published five years prior to Money but whose book did not fall on these shores in English until 1954 two years after Money’s paper. Feminism took this split and ran with it and it WAS the cornerstone of second wave feminism.

But feminists didn’t talk about gender per se. We borrowed from Marx and spoke of classes: T-Grace Atkinson’s words from 1969 stood out in bas relief:

“The analysis begins with the feminist raison d'etre that women are a class, that this class is political in nature, and that this political class is oppressed. From this point on, radical feminism separates from traditional feminism.”

Words… radical words… no words, talking alluding to difference, for radical feminists did not buy into the apriories of difference and rejected them. So yes, I want to align with Allison’s comment to the extent that rejection of essentialism was revolutionary and an absolute political necessity (I’m impressed because although there were a few older women, most of the radical thinkers of the second wave were in our twenties) The mucilage of this essentialism is the very glue which holds patriarchy together as a dynamic.

Feminism did reject the idea of inherent differences. BUT, what I must question is the statement about the “split between sex and gender” as I believe such a statement grants too credence to gender as a construct, a construct what in this we almost had a chance to watch unfold before our very eyes.

I have questions about gender. My sex used to be female but when I took my licensing exam, the application no longer had checkboxes for sex. Now we are of the female and male genders? Where did that come from? What does it mean? Where sex used to be seen as something that’s concrete…. is gender coming to be concretized? I’m openly asking here because I can’t see any purpose for this, politically or otherwise. My thinking aligns with the following two MacKinnon quotes:

“Much has been made of a supposed distinction between sex and gender. Sex is thought to be the more biological, gender the more social; the relation of each to sexuality varies. I see sexuality as fundamental to gender and as fundamentally social. Biology becomes the social meaning of biology within the system of sex inequality much as race becomes ethnicity within a system of racial inequality. Both are social and political in a system that does not rest indepen¬dently on biological differences in any respect. In this light, the sex/gender distinction looks like a nature/culture distinction in the sense criticized by Sherry Ortner in "Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?" Feminist Studies 8 (Fall 1982). I use sex and gender relatively interchangeably.”

I think it’s far more complex than you suggest. There is agreement here in part with what you say:

“The person in radical feminist thought is necessarily socially constituted, affirmatively so through an active yet critical embrace of womanhood as identity. Naturalism is at base an epistemological posture growing out of the search for a ground on which to found true reality perception, a location of constancy, a bedrock beneath social shifts, variance, and relativity. Nature is a fixed, certain, and ultimately knowable reality to which there is tangible demonstrable truth, intersubjectively communicable, regardless of perspective. The idea of naturalism, in fact, is that nature is not an idea, but an object reality, meaning that it is thing. Sex as biology, gender as physical body, occupies this place in liberal feminism. In this view, body originates independently of society or mind; then, to varying degrees but invariably and immu¬tably, it undergirds social relations, limiting change. In radical feminism, the condition of the sexes and the relevant definition of women as a group is conceived as social down to the somatic level. Only incidentally, perhaps even consequentially, is it biological.”

Towards a feminist theory of the state – p 46

Allison, I don’t know what schools of feminism you align yourself with. But that definition appeared to be liberal feminist to me.

I’m writing about this because somehow there seems to be a message here, having been born at a time when gender literally did not exist and was not distinct. For feminism to recognize a split between sex and gender seems far too generous to gender for me. Yesterday, Iris was kind enough to mention gender and the queer movement. I suggested I would not have many warm things to say about the queer movement and I really don’t.

The Queer/trans movements come from distinctively a distinctively male standpoint and a relatively privileged standpoint at that. While Butler has made her reluctance to be included by that movement clear, it’s almost devoid of a woman’s standpoint and is extraordinarily underrepresented by women.

When I observe the standpoint of the queer movement and what appears to be visible to its observers, again I am certain that it’s basically a male movement. Allison, I was also glad to see you discuss how women internalize male values and I believe that’s occurred with the women who support the queer. I’m sure they “question gender”. I’m not sure Iris, why a find that phrase so offensive. After all, gender kills. People die because of gender. Doesn’t it seem just a little effete and HIGHLY privileged to utter the statement, “I question gender?” Radical feminists want to eradicate gender. As far as I know, only the freedom of male privilege could “question gender”. In reality, I believe only can have either that privilege or luxury. As women, it’s in our faces all the time.

For women, patriarchy is a wearying dynamic full of double binds. The topic of “difference” is illustrative about how women loose either way with issues of gender. Considering the question of “Equity” when women claim there is no difference, the metaphor of resulting allotments would be razor blades and not tampons because of the implicit male standard. When women say we are different, in order to have our needs met, those differences are hierarchicalized against a male standard and we’re seen as second class. Indeed patriarchy is a two way sword which always finds ways to undermine us.

I see the same, coming from the queer movement with it’s male perspective and lack of woman-identification. Every single queer position on gender rolls downhill and onto the backs of women. “Gender is a play toy”, except for those that are dead and mutilated, that is. What was suffrage and the Salemn witch trails about if not for gender and how much of a play toy were they for women? It might be a play toy for men and radical feairies who cross dress on a weekend, go ‘gender slumming’ but will return to work on Monday morning in their coats and ties and freshly pressed shirts. But what about those who are never so situated and positioned? What respite do we have? We are the gender slum you visit. I do not believe that queer is a friend of women until it does not just question gender. I think it has to do two things. I think it must confront gender because gender has been the handle for the oppression of women. Queer has never acknowledged this because it’s been too busy abstracting women’s lives out of existence and abstractions sounding as detached from women’s lives as does “questioning gender”. Part of the friction between lesbian feminists has been where queer has discouraged the existence and integrity of women spaces.

Radical Feminism, queer and trans abstract women’s lives to varying extents. Certainly T-Grace Atkinson’s statement about women being a political category was an abstraction but at the same time, I’ve never seen a radical feminist deny that women’s lives have contents, indeed our lives have highly constructing (verb) contents. In post modernism, we become but narratives and in queer we’re a category again but seen through male lenses. The queer identity has subsumed the lesbian identity.
What you want is in the blood, Senatorsdemonista on March 1st, 2006 04:37 pm (UTC)
i agree with you. you remind me of sheila jeffreys (maybe because i'm reading her anticlimax right now). be proud.
radfeministaradfeminista on March 1st, 2006 05:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

You're no doubt not alone. And you'll always be welcome on our Yahoo list which is a really great space.
fishyfem on March 2nd, 2006 02:17 pm (UTC)
I feel like there must be something about this I'm not getting. I thought the difference between sex and gender was that one could, say, be born with a penis, but refuse to act in so-called "manly" ways. There we have it: sex and gender. Is this not correct?

(Also renee--could you please explain to be how to use italics, bold, etc. on this posts? thanks so very much!)

radfeministaradfeminista on March 2nd, 2006 06:24 pm (UTC)
Not a question but an answer

I fear your understanding is the traditional understanding... expecially the understanding that the trans movement loves to propagate.

I know a woman who is a birth mother of a woman your age Fishyfem. She was born with a penis and assigned as boy for a few years. What does "gender" say about her?

I guess my answer to your question would be... How does a man act? How does he know how to act?

Here's what I believe gender is... someone comes into the world, identifies himself as a man and begins behaving as men do. They have persmission and even encouragement because of their anatomy. Again, men are already here having preceeded him time and these men were also preceeded by men in time.

Probably before I was 20, I heard the word gender once in school applied to nouns and verbs. It did not exist as a distinction. There are gender roles... which are social. "Gender" is John money's construct one he sold. One that has no helped feminists AT ALL. But are there gender roles "out there" in nature? No, there aren't. The locus of gender roles is exactly in between our ears.

There is an old saying about gender which is that "gender is real...but not true". It means that gender is made socially real... but it's not true or its source is not in nature.

If you define gender as a man being able to choose not to act like a man... what does that say? When I go to festival there, there are all kinds of women "who choose not to act like women". Is that gender? Or are they just being themselves?

Why do we find it so much more remarkable when a "man" (a natural object in your framing) chooses not to act as a man but as lesbians, we don't even notice when "women don't act like women?".

Politically, "gender" accomplishes nothing as far as addressing male dominance. What it does is manage to fragment the issues so that the are more difficult to separate out. So the question becomes - who benefits? Do women benefits from Gender? No, we absolutely do not which rather explains why the radical and lesbian feminist answers are: Eliminate Gender.

If you check out MacKinnon's statement on what a woman is in that post - a woman is NOT a natural object. She is socially constituted, with a critical embrace of woman as an identity. But MacKinnon doesn't stop there MacKinnon does only question gender, she sees sex as a set of socially constructucted signficances. I'll get back to gender in a moment. Here's what MacKinnon says about sex:

Male is a social and political concept, not a biological attribute, having nothing whatever to do with inherency, preexistence, nature, essence, inevi­tability, or body as such. Indeed, it is more epistemological than ontological in a way that undercuts the distinction itself, given male power to conform being with perspective.

There is a film of a Q&A session on the net.... during the session, a man asks something about men in feminism I believe....
MacKinnon responded with something along the lines that there aren't any natural objects known as men. So the guy rephrased his question to "people with testicles...."

It's pretty obvious that "gender" is not something that is out there. Gender is a system of epistemological categorizations that one person imposes upon another.... men have more social power to do that and run the entities that dole out the resources. If a woman had decided to create the word "gender" as a distinction, how far to you think that would go?

it is more epistemological than ontological in a way that undercuts the distinction itself, given male power to conform being with perspective. ...............

radfeministaradfeminista on March 2nd, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)
Part II
MacKinnon is bascially talking about how we perceive things........ about how you perceive things. She talking about the very molecules of our perceptions, about how science is not about "truth" but is about "truth" as men conceptualize truth to be. Science answers their questions to fit their needs. It begins with the very aprioris that I talked about in the paper.

The framing of a question steer the entire line of inquiry: If the question is asked, "What makes women inferior?" That's not a question. That's a statement with a question which begins with the idea of inferiority. Questions of difference are not questions. Because they START from difference.

We ask how patriarchy maintains itself....

One way is where women grant the same primacy and authority to science that men do. When we do this... it's the same as religion. WE are worshipping their god..

It's no wonder to me and I see it over and over again. Often I'll talk to women about the contents of radical feminism and I'll receive silence which really means, "I'll believe what I want to believe" and they will totally discard the radical feminist analysis and......simultaneously wonder why patriarchy continues.