– Kathleen Barry, Deconstructing Deconstruction (or, Whatever Happened to Feminist Studies?) in Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed, ed. Dianne Bell and Renate Klein (Zed Books, 1996), p188
In the beginning there was sex. Sex as in male and female sexes, sex as in sex drives, and sex as in reproduction. Sex was biology as destiny. That was patriarchy’s version.
Then along came feminists.
Feminists challenged patriarchal sex and showed that sex is not “natural” rather, sex (as in being able to reproduce) and sex (as in being sexual) are what they are because of how we regard and use them. Among all the ways sex could be perceived and used, sex is used to oppress; sex (as in male and female) is constructed into a male hierarchy of domination. Feminists redefined what patriarchy had called “sex” and termed it “gender”.
If the patriarchal definition of “sex” was inherent, fixed, natural and biologically determined, in the feminist concept of gender the whole gamut of sexual labels, attributions, behaviours, and acts are socially shaped by the meaning patriarchy gives them; socially shaped to form sex classes (that is, women are not just oppressed as a sex class).
Now, feminists did not make this up; we simply observed and became conscious of what patriarchy had done to sex. This sex-class analysis became the foundation of feminist theory: the social definition of sex was the political condition of women. What we meant by gender no longer tied woman’s destiny to her “nature”, or to any man’s “drives”. Gender meant the possibility of change, self-determination, even liberation.
No wonder patriarchy fought back.
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