Deconstructing Dichotomies: The Essence of Gender Dualism

Sharon Ford

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Given the background of women’s oppression, the association between woman and nature in Western thought has led many feminists to extricate ‘woman’ from the category of ‘nature’. One of the main devices developed for this emancipatory flight has been a sex/gender distinction which grounds biological sex in nature, but which situates gender in the socio-cultural. However, the relationship between sex and gender does not involve a clear-cut divide. The question of how a clear-cut line can be drawn between the two has acceded to the more troubling question of whether a division can be made. On one feminist extreme are those who believe either that sex is socially constructed or, at least, that biology can be ignored, as reflected in the views of Monique Wittig and Christine Delphy. Wittig, arguing that nothing exists outside of matter, posits that the body is not matter but pure social construction (Wittig, 1981, p. 51). Delphi proposes that biology be ignored, since women and men are primarily social groups, writing that, ‘[t]he vast majority [of feminists] continue to think that “we musn’t [sic] ignore biology”. But why not exactly?’ she asks, ‘… women and men are social groups… they are socially named, socially differentiated, and socially pertinent.’ (Delphy & Leonard, 1984, p. 23, 24) This social constructionist position is in contrast to the essentialist discourses [note the plural here] which attempt to collapse the distinction between sex and gender by blurring the boundaries between nature and culture. As noted by Joanne Entwistle, ‘[c]elebration of the female body can be found in some contemporary radical feminism where there is a tendency to collapse sex and gender: the female sexual characteristics are seen to be a source of ‘feminine’ characteristics such as nurturing or passivism (Entwistle, 1998b, p. 159). Val Plumwood suggests that women conceive of themselves as more embodied in nature, and that nature should be reconceived as more mind-like. ‘This,’ she says, ‘is a condition for remaking our relations with nature, and beings in nature.’ (Plumwood, 1993, p. 124) Stacy Alaimo discusses Donna Haraway’s Cyborgs concept, noting how it blurs the distinction between nature and culture by insisting, again, on the agency of nature (Alaimo, 2000, pp. 171-187). Alaimo also writes of herself, ‘Along with Plumwood, Braidotti, Haraway, and others, I believe that neither a feminist retreat into nature where we pose as “angel[s] in the ecosystem” nor a feminist flight from nature is the answer.’ (Alaimo, 2000, p. 13).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003
Externally publishedYes
EventAustralasian Association of Philosophy Annual Conference (2003) - University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 6 Jul 200311 Jul 2003


ConferenceAustralasian Association of Philosophy Annual Conference (2003)


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