In her essay on the political economy of sex, Gayle Rubin makes a significant point when she writes of the Oedipal complex as “a machine which fashions the appropriate forms of sexual individual”(29). Such phrasing suggests that both sexes, male and female, are transformed from their natural state into something that they are not by the sex/gender system. Whether or not the Oedipal complex as Rubin outlines it is a reality, the process of “genderization” through society which it describes seems to me to be fact. Both sexes have artificial restrictions imposed on them by this impersonal and mechanical process.
Indeed, the universally restrictive nature of the gender construct can be found in all instances of societal division. Any time humans organize themselves into distinctions of “us” and “them”, whether it be racial, socio-economic, or gender based, such classification imposes restrictions on every resulting group, including the supposedly superior one. The history of racial segregation in the United States is a clear example of this principle. Although African Americans certainly suffered the most under segregation, white Americans, many of who believed that they were somehow benefitted by segregation, undoubtedly suffered as well. Whites were also restricted under this system, which on a most basic level prevented them from forming happy and meaningful relationships with an enormous number of their fellow Americans. Ironically, segregation, which was created by whites, actually put significant and unnatural restrictions on their daily lives.
The sex/gender system, although not as explicit as racial segregation in its restrictions, establishes implicit boundaries for behavior which are similarly unnatural. Furthermore, these boundaries adversely restrict both males and females. The gender construct certainly is more restrictive of females, but males are afflicted by it as well and it is important to recognize this as our class gets underway. I don’t know much about feminist theory, but I do know that there have been times in my life, as in every male’s life, when I have felt restricted by the behavior that is expected of me as a man.
I’m not arguing that feminist scholarship take pity on the plight of males under the gender construct, but simply that feminists should recognize that males may also have a vested interest in transcending the gender stereotypes. Studying the oppression of females without considering its negative effects on males is like studying segregation without recognizing the harm it brought to society as a whole – it is simply an incomplete understanding of the issue.