Re: Reply to Lieber

Harriet Whitehead (whitehea@WSUAIX.CSC.WSU.EDU)
Thu, 8 Dec 1994 11:53:36 -31802

Sarah, I too have despaired of understanding gender matters in a way
entirely free of reference to our biology, and have grown tired of the
grossly oversimplified charge of "essentialism." I think its Gyatry
Spivak who spoke of "taking the risk of essentialism." While I'm not sure
what *she* had in mind, I find it a useful citation in this context.

Harriet Whitehead
Anth WSU Pullman WA

On Tue, 6 Dec 1994, SARAH J. HAUTZINGER wrote:

> I did mean something along the lines of both interpretations you give,
> but opted for the Rushton etc example rather than the one closest to my
> work, assuming that that eg was most familiar.
> I agree that the refutations of Rushton, Murray etc are effective, or at
> least many of them. But I think the reactionary, pc examples do as much
> damage as the effective ones do good, which is likely to be exactly the
> reaction some of these new authors are seeking. When these reactions are
> on the anthro-list, I think this is in part that due to the fact that
> many cultural anthropologists who no longer are receiving fourfield
> training only see "straw men" representations of biosocial approaches,
> and have leared that it's okay to use all such approaches as foils for
> more constructivist arguments.
> Like you, I don't know of additional examples of biosocial strategies of the
> New Right along Murray & Rushton's lines. But one place where you see the
> socio-cultural folks being, I think, unduly antagonistic toward biosocial
> angles is in gender studies. I work on domestic violence (mostly
> male-to-female) in Brazil, and I feel (because of differential physical
> strength and reproductive issues) that it's crucial that my analysis be
> informed by sociobiology. I argue for a gender theory that insists that
> all genders, however multiple and non-deterministic they be, will refer
> to sex (maleness and femaleness) as referents, if only on a symbolic
> level. Often actors of what I call counter-hegemonic genders (ie
> travestis or Brazilian transvestites) are constructing their gender
> identities *against* the dominant models, but they nonetheless use "male"
> and "female" as referents in order to do so. This derives, I think, from
> the pervasive dimorphism of the species, and if "gender discourses" don't
> use these referents, I have no way of knowing it is about gender (as
> opposed to ethnicity or other distinction fields) at all. While I
> emphatically believe that this way of conceptualizing gender as a
> theoretical category does NOT have to be ESSENTIALIST, again and again I
> am dismayed by how easily dismissed as such it is by many feminist
> scholars.
> Anyway, a long explanation about why I think that the increasing
> "biosocial-phobia" of many cultural anthropologists is costly to the
> discipline as a whole.