In my theory course the other day, my class discussed a feminist essay written by Gayle Rubin, called “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex.” This essay explores the idea of having a society where the sex/gender system does not place so much attention on the role of men verses the role of women in society. Inherent biological characteristics such as women having the ability to have children and not men should not be overly emphasized. According to Rubin, when characteristics like this one is too stressed in society, it becomes the person’s identity which leads to the danger of limiting him or her to that particular sphere in which that characteristic dwells. This is how culture develops. Culture takes the ability to have a baby to mean that the woman is confined to the home and taking care of the children. Rubin in her essay aims to fight against this notion that either gender, both male and female should be confined to a set of roles. She calls for a liberation of gender. This instantly made me think of the androgynous mind that Woolf explains in A Room of One’s Own. The androgynous mind would work in perfect harmony with this society that Rubin posits because it is neither male nor female, it is the grey area between the two. It does not need a definition; in fact, it cannot be defined by words in the dictionary. It is a concept that gives both men and women an opportunity to pursue anything without the constant reminder that there are roles in society that are socially constructed to keep order in society.
Interestingly enough, when we were asked whether we agree or can accept Rubin’s theory, many of us said it would be difficult to imagine a world without gender. Many female students said that they enjoyed being a girl and being able to wear their hair and dress a certain way. I found myself saying that it would be difficult to separate gender from our biological characteristics because there are aspects of gender that are so deeply rooted in the biological characteristics that we hold which affirms who we are as people. The concept of mother is so deeply rooted in the fact that a woman can give birth to a child that if a woman left her child on the side of the road, it would be socially unacceptable. Just because a woman can have the child, does it also mean that she has to take care or him or her? Society has sold the idea of motherhood so early in our development that it seems like an absurd question to ask but is it really? This also makes me think of the androgynous mind in our sex/gender society. I know what Woolf describes authors that she believes have an androgynous mind but do you think that that concept could even exist in a world where gender roles are so strongly enforced?
If you would like to read “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex” visit this website and it begins on page 27.