By Lee Nan-hee

In the 1970-1980s, a new feminist anthropologist of the politics of sex and gender appeared in the U.S.: Gayle S. Rubin. What is the matter, what is wrong with women? Women are just women by themselves. But some women become wives, while other women become prostitutes or sex toys in certain relationships. Rubin tried to understand them. Her starting points are Marx, Levi-Strauss and Freud.

Rubin points out Marx's failure to discern sexual differences. There have been some women's attempts to apply Marxian analysis to women's problems, namely, for instance, placing women's problems at the center of capitalism by arguing that there is a relationship between housework and the reproduction of labor.

When Marx discussed the matter of wages, he assumed that the reproduction of labor would be done only with some necessities and goods without considering the fact that some types of labor (mostly done by women in the family) must be added in order to change or consume those necessities. On top of that, according to Rubin, Engels perceived something that was close to Rubin's sex/gender system, but he didn't go further. In a nutshell, Gayle S. Rubin argues that Marxism is too narrow, and that society has three dimensions, such as the political, the economic and the sexual.

On the other hand, Levi-Strauss and Freud provide helpful tools of analysis to describe women's oppression and social lives, which Rubin calls the sex/gender system. Rubin goes on to analyze the sex/gender system as well as the exchange of women. Rubin appropriated a famous conclusion of structuralist anthropologist C. Levi-Strauss that the exchange of women made kinship institutions possible.

Levi-Strauss saw the nature of kinship as an exchange of women between groups of men (not as an exchange between a man and a woman). A woman appears only as an object of exchange rather than as a partner. What is important here is not biology but the social system. The locus of women's oppression is not the exchange of merchandise but the exchange of women. On top of that, the concepts of the gift and the taboo on incest are significant in Levi-Strauss.

Rubin further argues that from this exchange of women, gender, heterosexuality as well as the taboo on incest are established. She applies Jacques Lacan's theory to explain how children internalize gender and heterosexuality, among others.

Rubin prefers the term, "sex/gender system," to "patriarchy" or "mode of reproduction." According to her, patriarchy came from the nomadic society of the Old Testament (such as the cases of Abraham and Isaac), so the term should be confined to similar cases. Regarding this point, I was quite perplexed and astounded that the Bible's Old Testament was deemed to be the origin or source of male dominance: patriarchy. Of course, it is true on the one hand. But on the other hand, there also exists a liberating, freeing and prophetic tradition in the Bible. Anyway, I think that Christians need to admit historical facts as they are, without distorting or camouflaging them.

Rubin was active in sexual minority groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people in order to promote their social status. It seems to me that in a modern society, the institutions of the family and kinship have been undermined very much. Thus, I am not sure to what extent Rubin's theory and focus on family and kinship are persuasive and valid today. What is obvious is that society is changing rapidly and endlessly. Theories and studies tend to lag behind reality.


Dr. Lee Nan-hee studied English in college, and theology at Hanshin University.



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Gayle S. Rubin: Rereading Claude Levi-Strauss

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By Lee Nan-hee

In the 1970-1980s, a new feminist anthropologist of the politics of sex and gender appeared in the U.S.: Gayle S. Rubin. What is the matter, what is wrong with women? Women are just women by themselves. But some women become wives, while other women become prostitutes or sex toys in certain relationships. Rubin tried to understand them. Her starting points are Marx, Levi-Strauss and Freud.

Rubin points out Marx's failure to discern sexual differences. There have been some women's attempts to apply Marxian analysis to women's problems, namely, for instance, placing women's problems at the center of capitalism by arguing that there is a relationship between housework and the reproduction of labor.

When Marx discussed the matter of wages, he assumed that the reproduction of labor would be done only with some necessities and goods without considering the fact that some types of labor........

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