Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Less writing, more reading

It's been one of those weeks when one desperately tries to sneak some pieces of other activities in between the thinking about, planning for and actually doing a lot of work on several projects that somehow manage to have a deadline on the same day (monday, which means no free weekend).

Which means that I have to do some quality reading to persuade myself to relax. This week it is body-and-gender cultural history (T. Laqueur's "Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud", but, alas, in Swedish translation). The two most interesting things so far:

*I finally get an explanation to how it was explained that out-of-wedlock children with another mother were almost as legitimate as the 'real' legitimate children, but children with another father were illegitimate and expected to have lesser morals and be less intelligent. Apparently the view of conception was that the mother contributed with the body and the father contributed with the 'idea', the 'soul' and persona of the child which was the father's blood distilled, figuratively speaking. Thus, the child was only of its father's blood. Bad father, bad child. Not that this is entirely logical, you know, but at least I can see where it comes from. That it was so hard to understand before makes me realize how much my views are informed and determined by my knowledge (and undoubtedly, misconceptions) of biology.

*Which leads me to the other interesting thing: that the view and interpretation of biology was so very much determined by the social and cultural view of gender. The notion that there really was only one sex, though two genders, influenced biology so much that even after a couple of hundred years of dissections the prevailing view was still that the female genitalia were just the male genitalia turned outside-in. A view that - of course - was used to motivate that a woman was an inferior version of a man. (Had the then society been structured the other way around, the view might have been the opposite).

Couple this with some of the more recent gender research that (to my uninformed amateur mind) seems to partly want to reconcile two (biologically defined) sexes into one gender, and it makes for interesting reading. But otherwise, I wonder how much has really changed. I came across a manual on how to write proposals for projects within the 6th EU framework, issued by the (German) Fraunhofer Institute. It starts out by defining the terms "gender" and "gender mainstreaming" and goes on to state:

Gender describes the sexually defined roles of men and women in a social and cultural context.
So far, it's OK with me.

Gender mainstreaming means identifying and integrating the different circumstances and interests of women and men [...] The objective of gender mainstreaming is to consider the differences between men's and women's life patterns and to use them as a starting point for all actions.
But now, I become a little worried. It could be that it's just clumsily formulated, but if one assumes that for every possible action, men's and women's life patterns are different enough that actions have to be targeted differently, then one might just as easliy use this as a motivation to have all women stay at home and take care of the kids - after all, they can become pregnant so that is their life pattern (some will say, that the goal of women's lives are to become pregnant and take care of kids). And then what have we won?

I am not at all sure that the circumstances and interestes of men and women are all that unchangeably different. This seems (to me) to be the Larry Summers argument in just another guise.

(The manual can be found here)


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