Type: Literary Analysis
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Gayle Rubin in “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex”

The theme of women’s oppression and its origins is revealed by Gayle Rubin in “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex”. The author raises the question: which social relations do facilitate female oppression? She explores the works of Levi-Strauss and Freud to give the answer. These theorists suggest a conceptual framework for explanation of the social structures that allow discrimination against womanhood. Such systems are termed as “the sex/gender systems” by Rubin. She describes the purpose of the paper as “a more fully developed definition of the sex/gender system, by way of a somewhat idiosyncratic and exegetical reading of Levi-Strauss and Freud”.

Question of Female Oppression in Rubin The Traffic in Women

However, the works of other scientists are also taken into consideration, and their viewpoints are analyzed. Marx explains women’s oppression, focusing on the role of females in the preservation and reproduction of labor force. Rubin notes that women are repressed in different forms of society, no matter it is a capitalist society or not. Therefore, the conceptualization of sex oppression by classical Marxism is criticized by the author. On the other hand, Rubin supports Engels’ position that both direct material wants as well as the need for reproduction are vital. Further, she indicates that the fulfillment of material needs is realized through socio-cultural development, which contains the sex/gender system.

The Elementary Structure of Kinship by Levi-Strauss

The writer examines the kinship system with the help of The Elementary Structure of Kinship by Levi-Strauss in order to determine the work of sex/gender system. The incest taboo and gift are the two concepts of anthropologist that are used for recognizing in what way kinship is associated with gender inequality. In correspondence with Levi-Strauss, culture is based on the incest taboo and suppresses women as a result. This is what Gayle Rubin cannot accept. She claims that the system of kinship does not exchange only women, but other people, dynasty names, genealogical statuses, and sexual access as well. The kinship system related to the sex-gender one provides the clear-cut rights for males and females, therefore rejecting the women’s right to choose own fate. Women oppression is considered to be a product of social organization rather than its source.

The Political Economy of Sex

Rubin tries to develop “the political economy of sex”, i.e. study the mechanism, which establishes and maintains sexual conventions in community. The notion of Levi-Strauss of the family is another expression of artificial labor division directed at protecting heterosexual marriage. For Rubin, “gender is a socially imposed division of the sexes. It is a product of the social relations of sexuality”. Intersexual marriage is a consequence of the asymmetry between the sexes. Women’s oppression and heterosexuality are connected in such a way.

One more point is that the author refers to psychoanalysis, which describes how androgynous children become “girls” and “boys”. For this purpose, she turns to Freud’s clarification of gender identity, which is biological at first sight. Nevertheless, we can also understand the “Electra Complex” via non-biological means. In general, psychoanalysis deprived of biological context is more in the spirit of Lacan than Freud. Lacan understands kinship as a system of mediation that transforms biological sexuality into the process of entering society. Child realizes his place in the world and permitted objects of desire through the kinship system because he does not have a defined sexuality in the pre-oedipal stage. Phallus is given a symbolic meaning of male domination, through which women differ from men.

The Traffic in Women Summary

In summary, Rubin focuses on the arguments of Levi-Strauss, Freud, Engels, and Marx and explains the reasons of women’s oppression in her own way – sex/gender system. Kinship is supposed to be the basis of sex/gender system, which creates heterosexuality and privileged men’s rights. The author highlights that a feminist rebellion against the existing sex/gender system must be an uprising against the kinship structure. Therewith, kinship has already lost its significance in the organization of contemporary society and remains only a doubtful legacy today.

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