A previous post on “Social Constructions and Biological Differences“, generated quite a bit of discussion, which I found genuinely fascinating, having thought some more about some of the issues in what was quite a fast moving interaction, I wanted to pick up on some of the points made. It took me three readings of Judith Butler to have any clue what she was on about and from speaking to others that seems about par for the course but although I found her ideas interesting, challenging and made me reconsider a great many of my initial thoughts on gender and its origins, I found her assertion that sex was a social construction, despite the arguments that she puts forward for the wide variations in sex which does not fall neatly into two biological categories as would usually be assumed, to be dismissive of the lived reality under which we spend our lives. From the discussion on the previous post, and other discussions which have taken place online, I am told that the category of “female” is part of a “hetero-masculine discourse” and as such the very concept of “sex” and its association with reproduction is the underpinning of patriarchy.
The category of “female” is a cluster concept. As Judith Butler points out there is no definitive test which can indisputably put everyone into a male or female category, although there area number of biological features which are all heavily correlated with one another which are associated with one sex or the other. These are chromosomal – females tend to have XX chromosomes while males have XY; sexual characteristics – females have vaginas, urethras and clitorises, while males have penises and reproductive characteristics – females have uteruses, ovaries and produce eggs, while males have testes and produce sperm. Although not all females nor all males conform to a biological “ideal” of the sex with nearly 2% of people displaying a deviance from the traditional pattern, in over 99.98% of cases the presence of sex indicators accords with chromosomal sex.
It is my belief that the basis of the patriarchy is a desire to exploit and control future unit of labour, that its entire purpose is to limit and regulate the behaviours of those who are capable of gestating other humans. Although this purpose is aimed squarely at fertile ciswomen, other groups find themselves being caught up in patriarchy’s web as their very existence as a deviance from the patriarchal narrative undermines its purpose.
- Non-monogamous in women challenges the ideal of ownership of a fertile ciswoman
- Contraception and access to abortion challenge male control over the reproductive abilities of a fertile ciswoman.
- Female homosexuality challenges that a fertile ciswoman is desirous of sexual relationships which are likely to lead to reproduction
- Transwomen challenge that fertile ciswomen can be identified by gender
Among men, heterosexuality and the promotion of misogyny gains patriarchical points while deviance from that patriarchal standard can see such men demoted into the ranks of “cissies”. Men who are not competent to be considered such under the patriarchy. Males have no ability gestate other humans. Some females also do not have that ability – for some this is temporary – pre-menstrual females and females who have had medical intervention to prevent this ability being activated; for some it is a permanent condition – infertile females, females who have medical intervention to remove the ability, and post-menopausal females.
Thus we have a hierarchy of gestational ability – or perhaps more accurately, lack of gestational ability.
- Males: who know from birth that they are unable to gestate
- Females who have a reasonable belief based on medical intervention or testing that they received that they cannot ever gestate
- Females who have a reasonable belief based on medical intervention that they cannot gestate at the current time.
- Females who have a reasonable belief based on their menstrual status that they cannot gestate.
- Females who do not know whether they are able to gestate, but have a reasonable inductive belief that they can.
- Females who have a reasonable belief that they are able to gestate based on previous initiations of the ability.
Of these groups, only one, males, can be fully certain throughout their lives that they are unable to gestate. They have no need to concern themselves with any personal consequences of reproductive activity and never perform reproductive labour. Sterilised, post-menopausal, pre-menstrual and women using long term contraception can only have a confidence level in their lack of ability and/or a temporal relation to their gestational status whether that is age or a date of medical intervention. They may have performed reproductive labour at some point in the past, so so in the future, have had medical intervention to end their ability to perform reproductive labour in the past or have ongoing medical intervention to prevent performing reproductive labour currently.
It is suggested by Queer Theory that the distinction made on the basis of sex is reducing females to a “hetero-masculine discourse”
According to Foucault, discourses create regulatory spaces in which identities are formed, reinforced and reproduced. These discourses, comparable to an omnipresent disciplinary regime, are employed as a means to maintain social control over conceptions and practices in gender and sexual identification to guarantee that identities are suited to heteronormativity. Butler contends that identity is constructed through performativity – the stylised repetition of acts through time; the resulting identity has no inner core but merely the illusion of a self (emphasis – mine).
The language used in this extract is telling and worth deconstructing. It is females who conceive and who perform reproduction. These are material manifestations. The ideological representations to which Foucault and Butler refer mimic real world material realities of reproduction, of conception and of performance. The denial of “sex” as a concept and the eradication of “female sex” as at category within it which has a link to the relationship between the body and reproductive status denies that material reality.
To have a conceptualisation of bodies which does not include sex – as a concept which is primarily based on reproductive status, and of a particular category within it which identifies those who do not have the privilege of knowledge that they will never be required to perform reproductive labour is to conceptually eradicate the female experience, an experience which necessarily includes such a link, for even when a female gains certain knowledge that she cannot be called upon to perform reproductive labour it is contingent on either the passage of time or medical intervention. It also denies females the possibility of activating their abilities for their own ends – through artificial conception, as many lesbians and unpartnered women seek to do to avoid heterosexual relations.
The categorisation of “female” as defined as “the group of people who at some point in their lives believe that they may be called upon to perform reproductive labour”, within a concept which links people to their gestational abilities denies females the power over their abilities and seeks to eradicate the language used to distinguish those who have such an ability. While there is much in Queer theory which can challenge patriarchy and male dominance, the eradication of “sex” as a concept and “female” as a categorisation within it is, in itself, a hetero-masculine discourse, in that it assumes that the state of not being called upon to perform reproductive labour is the norm to which one should aspire, and in denying females autonomous power over their ability, maintains a heteronormative ideal.
While the eradication of gender, or at the very least the decoupling of gender from sex may be a step forward in challenging patriarchy, the eradication of sex, or its decoupling from reproductive identity maintains it, through a refusal to allow those who perform reproductive labour to form a coherent identity grouping as a means through which they can challenge its exploitation.