Re: Sex Change
Sun, 27 Jul 1997 10:29:19 -0700 (PDT)

On Sat, 26 Jul 1997, Steve Witham wrote:

> Robin Hanson writes-
> >>This quote says only that gender *is* constructed, which I have not
> >>disputed. It does not address my question, which is why social
> >>institutions would want to hide the fact of that construction.
> Kathryn Aegis writes-
> >I would not say that they 'want' to hide the fact of the
> >construction, I would say that it runs contrary to the interests of
> >social institutions to reveal the mechanics of their own
> >constructions to the individuals that are affected by them.
> Yes, but why? "Want" is just a shorthand. The question is, *why*, in
> your opinion, it's in the interests of "social institutions" (and, as Robin
> points out, you seem to mean *all* of them--baseball, trade, the word
> "the," etc.) to conceal rather than reveal their own constructions? Why
> don't they benefit by being up-front and above-board instead? Why
> don't they benefit by actively *encouraging* exploration of and challenge
> to their constructions? Isn't criticism helpful? Isn't openness good
> publicity? At least in some cases?

Don't underestimate the normative weight of the "real." Social
institutions, vocabularies, scripts often best maintain themselves by
relying on a fantasy of their necessity, inevitability, or self-evidence
(the "given" as "taken", eh Steve?), etc. The point is not that
institutions deny the particular histories down the path of which they
have been constructed, but to disavow their constructedness *as such*. Am
I the only one who remembers Adrienne Rich on "Compulsory
Heterosexuality," for example? I'm the last to deny that robust and
attractive social institutions might could should and often have
maintained themselves in other modes -- the openness you describe, for
example -- but this simply doesn't apply to Western constructions like
race, sex, gender, sexuality, beastliness, and the rest of that pesky
constellation as they have come down to us here and now. Some feminisms
overestimate the strategic power of exposing the constructedness of
gender, but it's surely just as wrong to underestimate the power of this
exposure. As for all the intention-speak shorthand happening in this
discussion: *of course*, institutions, scripts and the like don't want to
preserve and augment themselves so much as individuals do and it is by
citing, performing, and otherwise making recourse to these institutions,
vocabularies, scripts as they calculate and undertake actions to their
best advantage, that self-interested individuals also happen to buttress
and invigorate the social structures as well. Correct?
Best, Dale

Dale Carrico |
University of California at Berkeley, Department of Rhetoric

If you want to tell people the truth be sure to make them laugh.
Otherwise, they will kill you. -- George Bernard Shaw
State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. -- Nietzsche