Second Nature Home > Short Essays by Dan Bruiger >

Gender Wars

Only relatively recently have ideals of genderless identity gained widespread acceptance, perhaps beginning with the Christian ideal of heaven, where there is neither male nor female. Genderless concepts of soul, person, and human being have led to humanism and universal human rights, on the one hand, but also to the invasion of gendered tradition by commercialism in industrial society, where the individual is a sexless unit of production and consumption. Only with the Industrial Revolution was a genderless worker conceived, along with genderless labor, tools, processes and materials. The new science which paved the way for industrialization introduced a neutral, quality-less, abstract matter at the disposal of industrious Man—no longer men in distinction to the moiety of women, but another abstraction: the observer, experimenter, inventor, laborer, merchant, entrepreneur, etc. These roles were nonetheless masculine roles, representing a mono-polar force, unbalanced and unrestrained by a complement. Changes in the meaning of materials, tasks, and agents expressed an ultimate triumph, through mechanism, over the feminine. These changes coincided with the first intellectual appropriations of the commons by moneyed interests, the first infringements of modernism on what Ivan Illich calls vernacular values—the traditional ways of subsistence, oriented toward communal satisfaction rather than the exploitation of one segment of society by another. Until then, work had largely consisted of gender-specific tasks performed with gender-specific tools and materials, accompanied by taboos protecting these arrangements. Illich makes the point that the mutual dependence of men and women upon each other set limits to the battle of the sexes in traditional societies—a truce which, however unfavorable to woman, was broken by industrialization.

RELATED TAGS: [gender identity, gender-specific tool, genderless/unisex society/individual/consumer, abstract labor, appropriation of commons, vernacular value, (Ivan) Illich, subsistence culture, pre-industrial society, noblesse oblige, consumer society, battle of (the) sexes, gender war]

© Copyright Dan Bruiger 2008. All rights reserved.