Concluding Notes on the World to which a Social. Theory of Gender Might Lead

For the ultimate goal of the transformation of gender relations there are two logical candidates. One is the abolition of gender, the other its reconstitution on new bases.

Along the first track some bold spirits have proposed the abolition of sexual reproduction. David Fernbach, in a recent and sophisticated version of this argument, goes so far as to suggest that this transcendence of internal nature, modernizing our ‘palaeolithic’ system of reproduction, would be the equivalent of the human transcendence of external nature. Apart from the doubtful politics of reproductive technology already discussed, this vision is based – like the celebration of ‘woman and nature’ that is its mirror-opposite – on a misunderstanding of how the social world of gender is constructed.-The gender order is not andnever has beenJmmanentJn biology. Rather it represents a particular historical response toHFmman reproductive biology. It is possible

to make other collective responses. Attempting to abolish biological sex is certainly one among them. But this would not be a liberating transcendence of nature, because our existing gender order is not given in nature. It would be a collective mutilation, that would certainly reduce the diversity of human experience and very possibly reinforce existing structures of power.

If the abolition of gender is a worthwhile goal, then, it must be the abolition of gender as a social structure that is at issue. As defined in chapter 6 gender is ultimately the linking of fields of social practice to the reproductive division, the creation of a relevance. Its abolition would be, logically, a matter of disconnect­ing those fields. This implies no denigration or denial of biological difference; equally no celebration of it. Difference between sexes would be simply a complementarity of function in reproduction, not a cosmic division or a social fate. There would be no reason for this to structure emotional relationships, so the categories heterosexual and homosexual would become insignificant. There would be no reason for it to structure character, so femininity and masculinity would depart.

Such a future is implied in the deconstructionist wing of gay liberation theory, and as an ultimate goal is more convincing than as an immediate strategy. Its great virtue is that it eliminates the basis for gender inequalities. The wav biological difference and similarity have got incorporated into structures of social inequality creates onTdllemmas about ‘nature’, noFnature itself. Inequality is the bdsTTol the social constitution of interests, which generate the practices that institutionalize injustices, the politics that defend them, the ideologies that justify them. The concept of liberation is not about freedom, in the sense of lack of constraint on personal behaviour, so much as about equality.

That is easy to say, but as many details canvassed in this book show, more than a little difficult to achieve, even in narrow settings. Equality is an absolute concept. It allows of no qualifi­cations however well intentioned. Equality would be wholly unrealistic as a criterion for practice if it required complete equality to be an immediately achievable state. The arguments on the stability of personality traversed in Part III are sufficient to demolish any idea of general deconstruction as an immediate option. A strong concept of equality can, however, be a practical criterion without being compromised, if it is taken as a direction of movement which is never given up. That is, the equality criterion

of all practices is that they produce more equality than the conditions they started from, with no intention of stopping at the conditions produced. In that sense deconstructing gender is a feasible ethical programme. The criterion of political practice becomes the disconnection of some further area of social practice from the reproduction complex.

The standard argument against the abolition of gender, like the traditional argument against the abolition of class, is that it would result in sameness. Without sex difference we must have grey uniformity – we will all wear boiler suits and have hair just covering the ears. The claim is perhaps effective as rhetoric, but as analysis it is simply misconceived. The logical consequence of deconstruction is open-ended variety. Marcuse’s discussion of ‘polymorphous perversity’ in Eros and Civilization is not a bad summary of this conception, though with rules dismantled nothing can be defined as normative and hence nothing as ‘perverse’. Polymorphous eroticism, perhaps; and also polymorphous labour and polymorphous structures of decision-making.

The cost of the abolition of gender, then, is not sameness, but the loss of certain kinds of structure. A judgement of this conception of liberation turns on whether gender structures have any value. What would be our loss if they went down the gurgle-hole of history?

It has to be said that a great deal of our culture’s energy and beauty, as well as its barbarism, has been created through and around gender relations. A gender-structured culture, and quite specifically sexist sensibilities, have given us Othello, the Ring of the Nibelung and Rubens portraits, to go no further. Much of the fine texture of everyday life, from the feel of our own bodies, through the lore of running a household, to popular songs and everyday humour, are predicated on gender. Our eroticism and our imagination seem to be both limited and fuelled by gender. To discard the whole pattern does seem to imply a way of life that would be seriously impoverished by comparison with the one we know. At best it would be so different from the world of our experience that we can hardly know whether it would be desirable or not.

Yet the constraints that produce this experience, this richness of culture, also produce the massive inequalities, bitter oppressions, violence and potential disaster that are the reasons for the critiques of gender discussed in this book. This raises the question whether

the cultural energy can be disconnected from the structure of inequality, gender not abolished but reconstituted in unmurderous forms.

This implies restructuring rather than destructuring. It presup­poses that the elements of gender orders can be reshuffled in some sense. The historical argument of Part II certainly supports this idea, though how far it can be pushed remains open. It implies a process at the collective level like what Piaget calls ‘assimilation’ in the psychology of intelligence, in which the existing materials of a sexist culture are taken up and made over to new purposes. A clear example on a small scale is the appropriation of punk styles by girls mentioned in chapter 6. Piaget defines play as almost pure assimilation, and it might be said that what is involved is a qualitative growth of our collective ability to play.

Playing with gender is not unknown at present. Elements of sexual character, gender practice or sexual ideology are often disconnected and recombined for enjoyment, erotic tension, subver­sion or convenience. Such games are most developed, perhaps, in sexual subcultures. Peter Ackroyd argues a’ historical connection between drag and the subversion of everyday custom in ‘carnival’. Pat Califia describes how lesbian sado-masochism disconnects power from masculinity for erotic purposes. The erotica of fetishism – rubber, leather and others – systematically ring the changes on gender symbols and relationships. But the same kind of thing happens in less exotic contexts. Mass fashion began playing with gender recombination in the 1930s, and more vigorously in the ‘unisex’ styles of the 1960s. Gender ambiguity has been a theme of rock music presentation from David Bowie and the New York Dolls to Grace Jones and Boy George. In a different vein, the Soviets’ creation of women cosmonauts as media figures is also a game with femininity/masculinity and the sexual division of labour, played for political effect.

However the implication of restructuring is more than the reshuffling of existing practices and symbols, more than the turning of a kaleidoscope; and the ‘game’ analogy only goes so far. When the relations between cultural elements change, new conditions for practice are created and new patterns of practice become possible. Deconstruction implies that the biology of sex would become a minimal presence in social life, a kind of sexual cuisine minceur. The restructuring conception would admit a cultural elaboration of difference and similarity in reproduction, though

with the weight of power, divisions of labour and rules about cathexis lifted off it. The culture could attend to, and celebrate, the nuances and variations of conception, gestation, birth and suckling, growth and ageing.

More, it would be possible to explore and invent many different ways for people to become involved in the process. We have for the most part stuck at two sexes. But early gay theory conceived of a ‘third sex’, and Olaf Stapledon, in one of the first classics of science fiction, imagined human species in the far future with multiple sexes or sub-sexes. These were imagined as biological types; the real possibilities are social. While the ‘third sex’ concept is obsolete, it would be quite possible for gay women and men who do not have children of their own to be routinely involved in the raising of children. This would construct specific patterns of relationship between children and adults, able to complement and enrich the relationships constructed by heterosexual adults. Gary Dowsett points to historical examples of relationships between young children and adults who are not their parents, such as aunts and uncles in the nineteenth-century bourgeois family, as models that could be revived and given new meanings. The symbolic participation of men in birth through the ‘couvade’ is another historical experience that could be given a new meaning. If the inequalities of the sexual division of labour are to be dismantled, men must obviously take up much of the domestic work created by pregnancy, birth and early childcare. The somewhat fragile industrial concept of ‘paternity leave’ is a small beginning with a shift that needs to be given a much stronger social definition.

What would be lost in the restructuring conception of liberation is the necessary connection of the elements of gender relations to institutionalized inequality on one side and biological difference on the other. The depth of this change should not be underestimated. It would be a fundamental departure from a key condition of our present culture, which might be summarized as the sense that gender is fatality.

At present this sense runs through every area of gender practice, penetrating imagination and action alike. The naturalization of gender is the basic mechanism of sexual ideology. A leaden fatality invests the division of labour: ‘woman’s work’, ‘a man’s responsibilities’. A sharper-edged fatality of cathexis is central to Western culture’s treatment of the theme of love, from the Medea to Casablanca. A sense of the psychological fatality of gender is

expressed in the doctrine of sexual character.

Given this, a society that eliminated sex inequality by the recomposition of gender must have a different structure of feeling. Much of the cultural inheritance will then only be recoverable as history, by a shift back into alien frames of thought. Not wholly alien, of course; there will still be love, hatred, jealousy and divided loyalties to keep life interesting. But they will be experienced as relationships between personal projects rather than as fatality. This may mean they have less cultural power. The sense of fatality is not a passive consciousness but a lever on experience and action, a generator (to change the metaphor) of tragedy and exhilaration. If it narrows the world it also makes parts of it more intense.

At that cost, a recomposed human society will gain a degree of practical equality never yet achieved, and an enormous enrichment of its cultural resources. This enrichment is worth spelling out. First there are more players in the game. The ‘equal opportunity’ argument that sex discrimination wastes human resources is, with all its limitations, correct – and can be extended far beyond the issue of employment. Second, the free reworking of gender relations which are at present strongly constrained, and psychological and cultural patterns at present strongly stylized, geometrically increases the possibilities of experience and invention. Hermaphro­ditism or androgyny is hardly even a beginning. Third, and perhaps most important, the emotional dimensions of life that are opened up for exploration in a sexually equal society are more complex than those of our own society because of the greater possibilities of creation and diversity. Love between equals is no less passionate than love under the star of gender inequality. It will be differently passionate as the business of protection and dependence is dispensed with. These themes in relationships will perhaps be replaced by the excitement of the unknown and unpredictable, and of constructing futures that are genuinely without preordained limits. Love will also have new difficulties, such as problems of constructing new forms of reciprocity and of balancing commitment with personal invention.

These possibilities, though argued here on the basis of change in the structure of gender relations, have other presuppositions. Notably they presuppose a move towards a society free of class and racial inequalities, and a world free of imperialism and the obscene inequalities of global living standards that we have today.

The analysis in this book rejects both the idea that gender is

the basic oppression from which these others spring, so sexual politics must take priority, and the idea that gender inequalities are secondary, so sexual politics can be sidelined while the main event proceeds. The main event, the historic struggle for human equality which is now also a struggle for human survival, is a complex of these constituents. Global inequality is a composed structure in the sense of my argument about gender, on a larger scale again.

This implies that the constituents react on each other. It is therefore not possible to accept the arguments, which seem increasingly popular with radical intellectuals, that fragment radical politics into a plurality of struggles in different sites with no systematic connection to each other. These arguments reflect a well-justified discontent with attempts, for instance by orthodox Marxism, to hegemonize other groups, campaigns and social struggles. But they leave us with no way of making rational choices of strategy based on concepts like crisis tendencies. Movements for social change need strategies if their priorities are not to be set for them by the opposition.

It is possible to imagine a society with sex equality in which other kinds of inequality are far from dead. One thinks of the guardians in Plato’s Republic, or the aristocracy and bureaucracy of Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Conversely there are socialist Utopias with a highly conventional idea of the naturalness of sexual character, like Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. The connection between structures of inequality is not a logical connection: theorists who have assumed that have been seduced by another kind of Hegelianism. The connection is empirical and practical. As a matter of fact, the core institutions of the contemporary structure of gender power cannot be torn down without a class politics, because those institutions fuse gender and class domination. As a matter of practice, equality is difficult to contain; the origins of modern feminist radicalism in the New Left show that. The historic association between socialism and feminism, however tense and ragged it has been, expresses a basic truth about the global structure of inequality and what social forces might dismantle it. For all its resistances the British Trades Union Congress did march in support of women’s abortion rights; the Confederation of British Industry did not.

There are other conceivable futures that are a great deal less attractive. Margaret Atwood’s novel about a repressive future,

The Handmaid’s Tale, is a satire but not wildly implausible. A recomposition of gender might well be undertaken as part of an authoritarian politics; the current development of birth technology points in that direction. A recomposition of gender that realizes the possibilities I have discussed, constructing an egalitarian form of life, is only a historical possibility and not a necessary future. If it is to happen then its practice, the projects in which we undertake recomposition, must be part of a politics that addresses oppression in all its forms, that sets no limit to the principle of human equality. In undertaking that we would be shifting the internal limits to our collective ability to shape a future that is physically and environmentally safe, rich in experience and historically open.

Present and Future

The Present Moment

Hegel invented, and Marx made popular, a way of schematizing history in which there is an origin, a dialectic of necessary stages and a culmination – the ethical state, the classless society. It is tempting to schematize the history of gender relations the same way. Thus the story of primitive matriarchy, disrupted by men who seized power and set up a patriarchal society, which has now matured a feminist revolution in its turn. Or the: uiea-that the social subordination of womenflowed from their place in biological reproduction, was "tlT^efdfe^technically necessary while fertility was high, productivftyluw TmdTTife short,3пН^ТтщуТаЬГе to be abolished because technological^change has freed women from the need to spend their lives around babiei^–

In such thinking the present moment is one of culmination, or perhaps the dark just before the dawn, and previous history was a kind of preparation for the present. Interim oppressions and injustices may have been nasty but they were in some sense historically necessary; they allowed the maturing of the good society in the end. Indeed quite a lot of nastiness in the present may also be justified to allow the good society to emerge from the womb of history.

Hegelian thinking is seductive: it gives dignity to present oppressions, a sense of connectedness to the past and a vision of the future transfigured. But it is also slightly paranoid. The present we live in was no more a historically necessary development than any of our possible futures is. Human practice produced it, not the operation of a mechanism, whether cosmic, logical or biological. That means that patriarchy, sexism and sexual oppression have never been necessary. Every society has been able to abolish it,

whatever the level of technological development; just as class inequality could be abolished at any stage of history. What is changed by the level of technology is not the possibility of altering gender relations but the consequences of doing so. For example sharing childcare between women and men in an agricultural society without scientific medicine means a different set of arrangements from shared childcare in modern low-fertility cities.

So we live in a world shaped by the collective failure of our forebears to abolish gender inequalities. The corollary is that our children may also live in such a world. An end of gender inequality is by no means inevitable now. This has been seen by some feminist critics of the idea of revolution by bottle-babies, the idea that technologizing reproduction will liberate women from the imperatives of the body and social subordination, or will end the oppression of homosexuals by abolishing distinctions of sex. There is no guarantee that the new technology of reproduction will be under women’s control, or under any kind of democratic influence at all. Indeed there is reason to expect the opposite, given the current rapid development of genetic engineering by big business and the state, and techniques like in vitro fertilization by technocratic medical specialists. Our future could be one of rejuvenated high- technology patriarchy.

The present moment, then, is not a culmination but a point of choice. The purpose of analysis is to understand better the structure of the choice and the collective projects that are feasible responses to it.

The emergence of women’s liberation and gay liberation reflect crisis tendencies of a general kind, and are historically novel in the depth of their critique of the gender order and the scope of the transformation they propose. This surge in the pace and depth of sexual politics and the power of theory opens the possibility of conscious social and personal transformation in a degree unthink­able before. Yet the liberation movements have nothing like the social power needed to push this transformation through, except in limited milieux. And in some respects their internal evolution has led them away from the project of general structural reform, to focus on problems of survival rather than on the fault-lines marking general crisis tendencies.

Other components of a larger transformative project, notably working-class feminism and counter-sexist politics among hetero­sexual men, exist in a dispersed state. The hegemony of an

authoritative masculinity, guaranteed by science if not religion, has been disrupted. But the weakened integration of the gender order has led to a fragmentation of opposition as well. In the absence of a unifying practice this fragmentation could increase.

If some combination of social forces around a progressive programme were achieved, contemporary social and physical technologies would allow a collective choice of the following kind, at least in the richer capitalist and Soviet-bloc countries. Childbearing can be made a fairly short episode in any woman’s life, and can be made socially equivalent to conception, pregnancy – support and infant care in men’s lives. We have the knowledge and resources to share childcare and domestic work among adults to any extent desired in a balance between efficiency and privacy. Large numbers of men and women can choose to be childless without any danger of depopulation; a free choice of forms of cathexis becomes a general possibility. No average physical or psychological difference between the sexes has the slightest bearing on the efficiency of production in an age of numerically controlled machine tools, automatic data-processing and mechanized agricul­ture. Thus there is no economic sacrifice in a total abolition of the sexual division of labour. Hegemonic masculinity is no collective asset in a struggle for survival, in fact it is now a general menace. The social hierarchy of masculinities can be abandoned, and with it the definition of an emphasized femininity.

The situation in the rest of the world is different, and there is no reason to expect that Western patterns of gender relations must provide their model. I know so little about Third World situations that I hesitate to say anything about feasible futures. But one thing is clear, that the world has become an interconnected social order and this is true of the dynamic of gender as well as other structures. Global reconstructions of the sexual division of labour show this already. It is not impossible that low-technology methods of equalizing gender relations could emerge mainly from the poor countries. Such a development could be powerfully reinforced by a transfer of resources made possible by the pacification of gender relations in the rich countries.


If this is a practicable world, what are practicable ways of getting there? The recent history of sexual politics offers two general

strategies, which might be called intensive and extensive.

I have mentioned the attempts to construct, in the social networks involved in radical politics over the last two decades, households and sexual relationships based on thoroughgoing equality. This involves, first, finding ways of equalizing economic resources and decision-making power. This is often difficult in a mixed household given men’s greater earning capacity in a gender – structured labour market. Sometimes the best that can be achieved is some guarantee of an economic ‘floor’ for women, for instance by having property in a wife’s name rather than a husband’s. Second, it involves the reorganization of relations between children and adults, in the teeth of a vast array of institutional and cultural arrangements that presuppose all early childcare is done by women. Third, it involves a reworking of sexual character and sexuality, on the run and often in the context of attachments to third parties and terrible doubts about loyalty and personal worth. The process sometimes feels like tearing out one’s hair, clump by clump, with a badly adjusted mechanical harvester. It is no wonder that a good many people have abandoned the attempt and that those who stick with it can be reluctant to talk about it. It is perhaps important to make the experience more public and cumulative. It is also important to find ways of expressing its positive side: the generation of energy, the joys of being with children, the pleasures of love between equals.

The attempt to create ‘liberated zones’, as this kind of practice is sometimes called, may literally mean a physical space. A common demand of feminist groups in institutions has been a room for women. Refuges, rape crisis centres and women’s centres have often operated on the principle of keeping all men out. More generally, however, a liberated zone is a social ‘space’, a particular institution or part of one, a network of relationships or simply a group of people, where a degree of sex equality has been achieved, heterosexism eliminated, or counter-sexist practice sustained.

The problems of sustaining such a ‘zone’ have something in common with the problems of other enclaves. They require a constant expenditure of energy to keep up. When it is a question of a radical departure from common social practice, as a serious effort at sex equality is, the energy level required is fairly high. People get tired of constant meetings, monitoring and mutual criticism. Egalitarian practices constantly confront hierarchical intrusions from outside the zone. An example is the radical health

collective whose one qualified doctor is treated by the funding authorities, and many of the patients, as the head of a conventional medical practice. Such matters can be worked on, but at a further cost in energy, time and friction. Trade-offs have to be made, things let slide. One of the things most often let slide is the cleaning; liberated zones tend to be grubby.

Offsetting these costs are three kinds of gains. Bases are established for politics of wider scope. Marches and rallies, for instance, do not just happen; there have to be people who call them, people who get on the phone and spread the word, people who paint banners – and provide places to store them. Next, liberated zones can generate energy by giving a taste of the social world to come, what Sheila Rowbotham called ‘prefigurative’ politics in Beyond the Fragments. The sisterhood of feminist activists, the solidarity generated in gay liberation campaigns, the sense of sharing in collective households, are real experiences and do matter in showing that the goals are practical ones.

Finally there is the personal dimension. Radical politics often presuppose superhuman energy and result in burnout, or presup­pose superhuman virtue and result in disillusion. Critics of feminism rejoice in claiming that feminists with power behave as crassly as patriarchal men; and of course some do. Likewise some gay liberationists are self-interested or insensitive, and some anti­sexist heterosexual men fail dismally to love vegetables and babies. A relatively liberated zone provides some chance of working on these issues, taking up the politics of personality outlined in chapter 10. It may also provide an essential kind of support. The main resource of radical politics is its activists. Political practice can be personally demanding, wearing and damaging to a high degree. Daily confrontation with sexist business men or bureaucrats is no life for the thin-skinned. It matters to find ways of conserving the human resources and repairing damage.

This issue is common to all radicalism, but sexual politics has a unique personal dimension. Breaking down the gender system means, to some extent, tearing down what is most constitutive of one’s own emotions, and occupying strange and ill-explained places in social space. The oldest jibe against feminists is that they are trying to turn women into men and men into women. In one sense this is right; reform of the division of labour must mean women doing things conventionally thought masculine. Yet ‘role-reversal’ of the kind often advocated in the early seventies has proved

inadequate as a strategy. Feminism has attempted, not just for tactical reasons, to hold on to qualities and practices traditionally thought feminine too. Thus the movement has found itself weaving across the conventional gender boundaries of sexual character and the division of labour, and to the extent that bisexuality has commended itself as a sexual practice, across the boundaries of the structure of cathexis too.

To some theorists the occupation of what might be called ‘border country’ has seemed a basic strategy. Fernbach and Mieli both insist on the gender ambiguities of gay ness. Chodorow and Dinnerstein derive psychoanalytic arguments for the importance of men taking an equal part in early childcare. The counter-sexist men’s movement, at least its more radical wing, sought to purge masculinity of its connection with hierarchy and easily tipped towards ‘effeminism’, attaching a male tail-end to radical feminism.

‘Border’ like ‘zone’ is a spatial metaphor and perhaps too rigid for a dynamic process. The point may be better made by saying that practice on many questions of sexual politics requires living in and through contradictions about ‘gender. Sometimes it is necessary to intensify the contradiction rather than try to resolve it. The problem with the ‘androgyny’ model discussed in chapter 8 is not with the idea that feminine and masculine qualities can be combined in the same person, a helpful if not wholly new insight. It is with the idea that combining them somehow resolves the tension between them. It may do just the reverse.

The domestic politics of the Left, the partly ‘liberated zone’ sketched above, has another strategic significance. The attempt to create egalitarian households and a non-sexist environment for children to grow up in is the only form of progressive sexual politics in which significant numbers of heterosexual men have become involved in a continuing and active way. It is therefore something of a laboratory for the possibility of alliance between groups normally divided by sexual politics.

Gay liberation is another. The tensions between women and men in homosexual politics mentioned in chapter 12 are real and continuing. Given these pressures the continued existence of the movement over fifteen years of fluctuating fortunes is a considerable achievement. Its experience of discussion and compromise, joint and parallel action and collective celebration is perhaps the most sophisticated practice of cooperation between women and men

that has yet been developed in the radical reconstruction of gender relations.

These two cases raise the more general strategy of alliance, the ‘extensive’ side of sexual politics. Many, perhaps most, of the campaigns waged by feminists and gay activists have involved acting in alliance with people outside their ranks. Numbers, access, money or technical skills may be needed from outside. Movement rhetoric usually ignores this, stressing opposition from the rest of the world and attributing all gains to women’s or gays’ own determination and strength. The political reasons for talking this way are obvious enough; but the habit does make it difficult to discuss what is actually going on in sexual politics, and often creates an impression that alliance or support is not wanted.

Homosexual law reform, as one example, involves lobbying ministers and members of parliament, working on party platform committees, discussions with police, liaison with civil liberties groups, detail work with sympathetic lawyers, academics and journalists. Most of them are not gay or are not admitting it. As another example, setting up women’s studies courses in universities involves working with curriculum committees, getting support from authorities who have money or staff to allocate, co-operation from other teaching staff in the reallocation of labour, organizing rooms, furniture, equipment, secretarial help, library facilities amici’ so on. Most of this requires the co-operation and labour of people who are not feminists, a good many of them not even women.

These alliances are usually temporary affairs. The public side of sexual politics in the last two decades has mainly been a patchwork of campaigns. Local movements and alliances developed around particular issues: setting up a health centre here, demon­strating on Anzac Day there, organizing a lobbying day at Parliament House and so on. Each grouping was liable to disband as soon as some resolution of the particular matter was reached. There have been attempts to set up permanent formal organiz­ations, the National Organisation of Women in the United States and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in Britain among the most successful. Both of these have provided a framework for alliance in the context of pressure-group politics, for law reform and like purposes. Across the wider spectrum of sexual politics, however, permanent organization has been uncharacteristic. The continuity of women’s liberation and gay liberation, considerable in both cases, is due to overlapping membership of many different

campaigns and networks and to endless internal talk rather than to formal structures.

In the liberal capitalist countries this kind of politics could continue indefinitely. There is enough tolerance and enough intermittent support. It will sustain a feminist and gay political presence at the level of pressure-group politics. But to pursue the project of transforming the gender order something more formi­dable is required. This is a question of putting together radical majorities in sexual politics, and keeping them together for considerable periods of time.

This is an old aspiration, though it is one from which leading tendencies in both gay and feminist politics h? ve now retreated. Majorities matter, if the process of social change is to come under conscious human control. On the argument of this book, structures cannot be levered into new shapes without mutations of grass­roots practice. But majorities do not fall from heaven. They have to be constructed; and if they are to be constructed against the ruling powers, around a radical program of equality, then we need a clear understanding of the social dynamic that might make it possible.

The crisis tendencies discussed in chapter 7, which make radical majorities conceivable, also give some leverage on the main structural obstacle-The lion in th£_&ath is the calculus of interests. In Tygencherfirclef^where men are advantaged and women are disadvantaged, major structuraUieform is, on the face of it, against^ men’s interests] Even subordinated m as culm і tivs” sfiareTo some d^grSmTTrThtSadvantage – as Mike Broker puts it, T may be a queer, but at least I am a man’. With the considerable number of women who gain wealth, prestige or other advantage through their marriages or kin relationships, or through applying an emphasized femininity, there would seem to be a permanent majority for patriarchy.

For two reasons this calculation is not conclusive. First, ‘interests’ are relational as well as egocentric. A father, for instance, has an interest defined by the advantages of men, but also has an interest in the welfare of his children, and half of all children are girls. The practices that articulate interest may be organized around these relationships rather than around the gender category. The crisis of the sexual division of labour in childcare invites this. Second, even egocentric interests are liable to be ambiguous or divided. The ‘men’s movement’ literature was wrong in thinking

men had the same interest in liberation as women but was right in pointing to tensions, costs and unease with hegemonic masculinity as a fairly widespread experience. The crisis tendencies in structures of power and cathexis are likely to increase such internal divisions of interest.

Whether the gender order’s tendencies towards crisis have gone far enough to provide a basis for majorities committed to major structural reform, is perhaps the key strategic question radical politics now faces. It involves, in some sense, a combination of intensive and extensive strategies; the former to define directions and feasibility, the latter to provide the muscle. That kind of combination has not so far been realized. Tendencies towards it seem stronger in relation to the sexual division of labour than elsewhere: one thinks of the breakdown of the ‘family wage’ concept, the crisis of childcare and changing views about fathering, the inability of the liberal politics of equal opportunity to deal with mass youth unemployment. Yet the main energies of movement radicalism are focused elsewhere. If radical majorities are to materialize it is not just a matter of the masses flocking to the banners already embroidered and raised. Some painful reorientations of present radicalism will also have to happen.

Liberation Movements: Birth and Transformation

The articulation of interests in the women’s liberation movement differs from the articulation in working-class feminism in a number of ways. Its main feature has been the construction of a collective project whose theme is the generalization of women’s struggles across different settings, relationships and areas of life. It arose on a much narrower social base but achieved an intensity of commitment and degree of self-consciousness unparalleled in sexual politics.

Much has been made of the ‘middle-class’ character of this

movement, which orthodox marxists commonly lumped with liberalism as ‘bourgeois feminism’. While there always have been working-class activists in women’s liberation, its major social base is undeniable. Most of the early activists were white, tertiary – educated, belonged to a particular generation, lived in big cities and either came from well-off families or could expect to get well- paid jobs as teachers, journalists, welfare workers and the like. The movement has continued to recruit more from students in higher education than from elsewhere, though there is now a second generation of activists. Broadly it is a movement of the intelligentsia, if that is taken to include professions and semi­professions.

To recognize this base is not to discredit the movement, except on the crudest view of class interests. Rather it raises questions about the particular kind of articulation of women’s interests accomplished here, and the particular circumstances that allowed such a project to emerge.

The first point is the more debated. The account of women’s interests produced in women’s liberation was for the most part based on categorical theory. As Hester Eisenstein argues, this easily led to a ‘false universalism’ that assimilated the situations of Third World, black and working-class women to the situation of affluent whites. This has changed, at least at the level of movement practice. There have been attempts to address the concerns of migrant and black women in the rich countries, and to take a less imperialist view of women’s politics in the Third World. They remain an amendment rather than a reconstitution of the movement.

The impulse behind the earliest women’s liberation groups was the contradiction between the radical democracy professed by the men of the ‘New Left’ and their actual exclusion and exploitation of women. Lynne Segal convincingly argues that 1960s radicalism was more than a target. Its critique of the family and its liberal attitudes to sex had helped emancipate younger women despite the alienated sexuality and frequent selfishness of radical men. The pursuit of personal freedom and attempts to build a ‘radical self highlighted questions of emotional relationships and personality, which were shortly to become central concerns of women’s liberation consciousness-raising groups. The contrast between student activism and the workers in Cavendish’s factory highlights the importance of free time and material resources in shifting the

grounds of sexual politics. The movement has survived on a material base which working-class feminism does not have: the incomes of professional women (financing journals, films, conferences, women’s houses etc.), access to the state for the funding of women’s services, and the unpaid labour of women without young children.

The work of activists in the first half-dozen years created not only campaigns against injustices but also a political resource. The collective project was materialized, and to some extent institutionalized, in definite ways. First and most important was the allegiance of some thousands of women in each of the major cities of the rich capitalist countries. ‘Allegiance’ meant practices like CR groups, turning out for demonstrations, coming to meetings, reading and sometimes subscribing to feminist publi­cations. It also meant a loyalty to the movement. Many participants came to define themselves politically as feminists before anything else, and to identify closely with the women who had been through the same campaigns and helped each other change their lives.

The second dimension of the resource was a network of institutions and enterprises based on feminist ideas or catering for a feminist clientele. The listings in the New Woman’s Survival Catalog of 1973 are a measure of what had been established in the United States in a few years: feminist publishing houses, art galleries, rock bands, clinics, schools and courses, rape crisis centres, businesses, legal practices, women’s centres, newsletters and magazines, theatre companies, and campaign groups of many kinds. Also growing by the mid-1970s was a feminist presence in the state, notably in the welfare bureaucracy and universities, and in political parties and unions.

Third, less tangible but also important, was the growing credibility of feminist ideas and of the movement as a representative of women’s interests; credibility both among women outside the movement and among men. Ideas spread despite the lack of mass organization. Thus Elaine Markham stated a general principle of sex equality in language undoubtedly derived from feminism, and the workers in Ruth Cavendish’s factory did much the same. We were surprised to hear, in schools like Elaine’s, a considerable number of boys also endorsing the principle of equality. The funding of feminist refuges, with some difficulties but not intense resistance, illustrates the credibility acquired with men in the bureaucracy over an issue like domestic violence.

In a sense feminist theory predicted the creation of this resource: ‘sisterhood is powerful’, women together can make things happen. But categorical theory assumed it was a resource for women at large and had little to say about which particular women did or should direct it. In the mid-1970s several developments made this issue acute. The recession squeezed state expenditure on welfare and made it progressively harder to fund feminist welfare and education initiatives. It also led to mass unemployment among younger women and made it harder to open up new fields of employment. At the same time right-wing mobilizations developed against feminism on issues like abortion rights and the American ERA. Though there are no membership figures it seems likely that in the second half of the 1970s the women’s liberation movement had either stopped growing, or at best was expanding much more slowly than the pace of the early 1970s.

In this context differences of opinion and strategy once easily accommodated were liable to harden into factional conflict. A struggle for hegemony developed within feminism whose stake was control of the political resource that the’movement had created. None of the major tendencies proved strong enough to eliminate the others. In Britain for instance the result of a deepening series of conflicts, over issues of sexuality especially, was the shipwreck of the movement’s national conferences, the last of which was held in 1978. In the first half of the 1980s the public face of women’s liberation was increasingly presented by the ‘woman-centred’ ethos of cultural feminism, and by the political priorities of radical feminism (in the narrower sense) with a focus on ‘male violence’ as the means of oppression, men’s hostility and power-seeking as the reason, and separatism as the strategic response. This strategy capitalized on resources generated within the movement and the possibility of turning it into a community, at the price of making the movement less accessible to those outside.

At one level this account reinforces a point already made, that there can be no single articulation of a structurally defined interest. The projects of socialist feminism, political lesbianism and so forth, have common ground but also cut across each other. At another level it shows the power of structural alignments once they are articulated at all. For the most remarkable feature of these events is the persistence of the movement despite sharp internal conflicts, changes of circumstance from boom to recession, changes of practice with the rise and decline of CR groups, and

an increasingly hostile political environment.

In some ways the political history of gay liberation seems very like that of women’s liberation. It emerged at much the same time and in the same metropolitan centres, used similar political tactics and rhetoric, grew rapidly in the same years, developed and factionalized in the 1970s. It too has been characterized by tension between a socialist wing and another more concerned to build a self-sustaining community and to develop gay culture. Like women’s liberation it has had a highly ambivalent relationship with the state, often attacking it for anti-homosexual laws, police violence against gays and court discrimination against lesbian mothers, but also wanting to use it for antidiscrimination legislation and welfare provision.

In other ways the story is very different. Women’s liberation developed out of a long history of women’s mobilizations, and has operated as the radical end of a spectrum of women’s organizations in parties, churches, charities and so on. While there is a history of homosexual rights groups going back to the turn of the century, among them Magnus Hirschfeld’s ‘Scientific Humanitarian Com­mittee’ in Germany, the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis in the United States, they had always been small. Modest successes in gaining toleration, for instance through the 1958 Wolfenden Report in Britain, were achieved by alliance with liberals in the establishment, not by mass mobilization of gays. It was assumed that was impossible because of legal repression and public hostility. The ‘Stonewall riots’ that launched gay liberation were sparked by a routine piece of policing by New York’s Finest; only the response was not routine. Within a very short time the mobilization undoubtedly had brought into political campaigns more people than all previous homosexual organizations put together. Gay liberation stood alone to an extent women’s liberation never did, and at least in its early days was the only significant articulation of the interest of gay people.

The second difference is that gay liberation, an articulation of interest based on the structure of cathexis, was built across the major divide in gender relations. So far as the interests of women and men diverge, the movement has an inbuilt tendency to divide. In law reform, for instance, lesbians are more affected by the operation of marital law, such as custody issues, and homosexual men more affected by the criminalization of sexual intercourse. What constitutes them as members of an oppressed group is in

some ways different. There is much more violence against homosex­ual men than against lesbians, and male homosexuality has historically aroused more horror among straights. On their side lesbians suffer not only the stigmatization of homosexuality but also the social, psychological and economic penalties attached to being women. Politicized lesbians often have a stronger commit­ment to women’s liberation as a movement than to gay liberation. For the most part ‘gay politics’ has been gay men’s politics; the 1984 conference of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in Britain, to take one example, had five women and fifty men. It is understandable that the political relationship between lesbians and gay men has been complicated and often tense.

Third, the relationship between politics and community is different from that in women’s liberation. To some extent a gay community existed before gay liberation, in clandestine networks and around beats and gay bars. The movement brought it into the open and gave it a massive stimulus. The growth of ‘gay capitalism’ since is familiar. There is some parallel in the growth of entrepreneurial feminism but the balance of forces is very different. By the late 1970s the proprietors of gay businesses had emerged in a number of cities as an alternative leadership. They articulated the interests of gay people in a very different way, having themselves a strong interest in the consolidation of gay identities and none at all in revolutionizing sexuality in the rest of society. The early gay liberation slogan that ‘every straight man is a target for gay liberation’ meant nothing in this context except an invitation to trouble. Dennis Altman points to the tendency to reconstitute gay politics as an interest group on the model of ethnic communities, seeking accommodations with the state and other interest groups.

As this tendency has gathered strength, the socially radical thrust of gay liberation easily becomes pitted against the trends that are giving social identity and personal self-confidence to homosexual people in their ‘private’ lives. Gay liberation increas­ingly was at risk of losing the base it had created. This strategic dilemma has not been easily resolved. The deconstructionist debate already discussed is one consequence. Another is a turn by political activists to electoral politics and the local state, with some success in San Francisco, Sydney and London. Thus gay politics have come by a different route from feminism to the problem of maintaining a radical presence inside the state.

Movements for a progressive sexual politics among heterosexual men have been on a very small scale by comparison. The 1970s talk about ‘men’s liberation’ has already been mentioned. Most of it was based on a sex-role perspective on gender that ignored questions of power and exploitation. The group that holds predominant social power cannot be ‘liberated’. The issues about the reconstruction of masculinity raised by this beginning were real enough and keep coming back, in feminist writing as well as men’s. The difficulty of constructing a movement of men to dismantle hegemonic masculinity is that its logic is not the articulation of collective interest but the attempt to dismantle that interest. While there are good reasons to do this, some of which I listed in the Introduction, the chances of a widespread mobilization on this basis are slim.

The focus of counter-sexist politics among heterosexual men has therefore been domestic. I would guess that most energy has gone into the completely private renegotiation of relationships with feminist women in the context of individual sexual relationships and households. There has been little exchange of ideas or experience among the men involved. The exceptions to this are the ‘men’s groups’, modelled on feminist CR groups, that still exist, and a degree of networking in the left-wing community politics discussed above.

Working-class Feminism

In plain language, both in law and in popular morality, the wife is still the inferior in the family to the husband. She is first without economic independence, and the law therefore gives the man, whether he be good or bad, a terrible power over her. Partly for this reason, and partly because all sorts of old half-civilized beliefs still cling to the flimsy skirts of our civilization, the beginning and end of the working woman’s life and duty is still regarded by many as the care of the household, the satisfaction of man’s desires, and the bearing of children. We do not say that this is the case in every working-class home, or that there are not hundreds of husbands who take a higher view of married life and practise it. What we do say is that these views are widely held, often unconsciously, and are taken advantage of by hundreds of men who are neither good men nor good husbands and that even where there is no deliberate

evil or viciousness, these views are responsible for the overwork and physical suffering among women and for that excessive child­bearing, of which more will be said later.

The author of this remarkable passage, written seventy years ago, was Margaret Llewelyn Davies, general secretary of the Women’s Co-operative Guild in England and one of the most effective organizers either feminism or socialism has known. Here she sketched out both the main arena of mass sexual politics, the working-class household, and some of its major issues: economic dependence, ideological subordination and the physical conse­quences of oppression.

The inequalities in such a setting are clear enough, and therefore the inert opposition of interests between women and men. In terms of income, authority, leisure time, prestige, access to organizations and public life generally, working-class husbands had privileges to defend. Though some of the details have changed, in broad terms they still do. This has never gone without challenge, as is clear from the vivid autobiographies of women in the co-operative movement collected by Davies and published in Maternity and Life As We Have Known It. The articulation of this challenge is the political practice I will call working-class feminism.

Power and inequality within the family are the objects of a widespread, active, often vehement face-to-face politics. Most of it leaves no record except in the memories of the participants. It therefore goes undocumented, except for novels like Glen Tomaset – ti’s Thoroughly Decent People and academic family research of the scientifically disreputable kind that actually listens to people talking about themselves. From one such study comes the following example. The setting is the working-class Australian suburb in which the Princes (chapter 1) also live.

Mrs Markham is very much the central person in her family, the hub of discussions and decisions, and emotionally the source of strength for others. She has been conscious of prejudice against women for a long time. She recalls being ‘bitterly disappointed’ when forced to leave school early, and thus miss out on her ambition to become a journalist, because her mother could see no point in education for women. Mrs Markham is determined that her girls will not repeat her frustration, and has pushed them hard at school.

Elaine Markham, the oldest daughter, has taken over this pro-

ject, internalized it, and become highly competitive at school. With success: she is in the ‘A’ class and indeed one of its academic stars. Like her mother she is contemptuous of ‘the little housewife’ and of her schoolmates who are growing up in that image. Though she will not go as far as ‘Women’s Libbists’ burning bras and demonstrating in the street, she firmly supports ‘the overall idea of women being equal’. But all this has not come easily. She sometimes comes home from school in tears from tension and frustration. She talks of the school as a ‘dead’ place. She is thinking about leaving early despite her academic success.

The corollary of Mrs Markham’s strength is Mr Markham’s marginality. He is a storeman, earning below average wages. He came from a poor family, left school at 15, has held a range of jobs. He gets pushed around a good deal at work. While antagonistic to unions he is also angry at his bosses for not giving him recognition and a better wage. He finds their pressure for profit erodes the service his unit can give, and offends his pride in workmanship. The work situation, in short, constantly erodes his self-esteem. He tried to assert patiarchal rights in the family, for instance refusing to take on a share of housework when his wife took a job. But the main result was that he became increasingly marginal in the household. The women have concluded that he has failed as a husband and father. He too, rather wistfully, now accepts that opinion of himself.

This is only the barest outline of an intricate situation; even so it is of interest. In the last few years a whole series of problems about gender relations have been at issue inside the Markham family: ideas about the proper place of women in the world, access to new resources for girls, the division of labour in the household, the authority of men, the character of masculinity.

These issues are not exactly light-years away from the concerns of organized feminism. But the Markhams have no contact with that movement. Their only knowledge of it is the media stereotype of ‘Women’s Libbists’, with whom neither Elaine nor her mother care to identify. Their sexual politics is developed out of their own experience.

A politics mostly generated in the family and mostly conducted in the family is unlikely to make an issue of the family. The low level of women’s wages, and the lack of collective provision for childcare, make it extremely difficult for women who do not have the capital to buy a house nor qualifications that would guarantee

a good job – but who usually do have children to be supported – to survive without a husband and a husband’s wage. In working – class life, accordingly, the family as an institution is not very much contested. The questions at issue are the terms on which family relationships work.

Mrs Markham has a job in a factory, Elaine goes to school; both places have their own gender regimes and surrounding politics. The workplace is the second main site of working-class feminism, with the inequalities of wages, power and conditions already discussed. The assembly-line workers in the plant studied by Ruth Cavendish respond to these inequalities in a way which I suspect is very general. They are basically disillusioned with men, and are familiar with feminist arguments about men’s unjustified privileges. In the daily struggles about work and conditions in the factory they systematically support each other against the men who are their supervisors and managers. Since most of them have a household to run also, with a sharp sexual division of labour and little help from their husbands, they are chronically tired and have no leisure. Both facts make it difficult to organize. Men control the union, which did little for them in ordinary times and undermined them when they did go on strike. The union, as in the Melbourne factories where the Centre for Urban Research and Action interviewed immigrant women in the study But I Wouldn’t Want my Wife to Work Here, tends to be seen as part of management.

The general picture is a consciousness of sex inequality develop­ing in an extremely constricting situation which prevents much expression beyond a practice of face-to-face solidarity. Within those limits the consciousness of oppression is vivid and the response active. Other studies have found comparable responses; Judy Wajcman’s study of a group of women in Britain who took over their failing factory is particularly interesting. Not all women workers have such a consciousness. Yet there is enough evidence to say that this is an important form of articulation of women’s interests in industrial settings.

There is no platform that lists the demands of working-class feminism. It is nevertheless possible to formulate in outline the issues around which these family and industrial politics revolve and the direction of movement implied.

(1) In relation to the division of labour and gender structuring ofproduction.

In the family: control of the household budget; the search for an independent wage for women and the right to spend it; sometimes, more equal sharing of housework. In the workplace: more equal wages between men and women; ending practices that keep women out of better-paid or easier jobs.

(2) In relation to the structure of power. In the family: control over decisions about the children, such as schooling and apprenticeship; personal independence, notably freedom from put-downs and violence by husbands or de facto husbands. In the workplace: freedom from arbitrary authority, such as rough treatment by bosses or headmasters; being heard by the unions that are supposed to represent women workers.

(3) In relation to cathexis and sexuality. In the family: adequate contraception, including the right to abortion; control of one’s own sexuality. (For teenagers, the right to be a sexual being and to be active in initiating and controlling sexual adventures; for married women, the right to set terms with husbands or leave unsatisfying marriages.) In the workplace: freedom from sexual harassmemt.

Cavendish argues that the concerns of her factory workers are very distant from those of middle-class feminism, and this is a reasonably common view of the issue. I suspect the difference would have seemed less if she had been able to study the same women in equal detail in their families. Overall there seems no obvious reason why this kind of politics should not be called ‘feminist’. It articulates women’s interests and involves an extensive critique of the power of men. Its forms and priorities are certainly different from those of ‘movement’ feminism, especially cultural feminism. It is also happening on a larger scale.

That is, perhaps, the central paradox of working-class feminism. There is every reason to think it is very widespread. The same kinds of struggle bubble up in factories and families in different industries, different countries, and at different times. But in both families and factories the structures that generate this politics also localize it. The result is a vast spectrum of small-scale political processes, each disconnected from the others. They are known about, through folklore, tradition and conversation; but they do not easily feed into each other.

There have been attempts to mobilize working-class women in

a more collective and public politics. Their high point was in the early twentieth century, with movements like the Social Democratic women’s organizations in Germany, the Women’s Co-operative Guild in Britain, and women’s organizations connected with the Socialist Party in the United States. More recently there are events like the Working Women’s Charter campaign and Women Against Pit Closures in Britain; the involvement of working-class women in refuges and the radicalization of Labor Women’s conferences in Australia. Most of these mobilizations have been connected with organizations constructed and dominated by men – parties, unions, cooperatives – and have therefore involved a politics of representation and access from a structurally weak position. The Labor Women’s conferences, for instance, have no formal power at all; as was shown in NSW in 1986 when the dominant right – wing faction in the party, which could not control the women’s conference, simply abolished it. At the national level 76 per cent of the delegates to the 1984 Labor Party federal conference were men, and among the major power-brokers there were no women at all.

To recognize the weakness of mobilizations is not to imply that working-class feminism has been ineffective. Reading the British accounts of family life in Round About a Pound a Week, Life As We Have Known It, and Working-class Wives creates a strong impression of the distance travelled during the twentieth century. Patriarchal authority has been rolled back some way. Working-class women have won more space and more resources. There is a cumulation, however modest each step in it has been.

The Articulation of Interests

The crucial moment in the social dynamic of politics is the

constitution of interests. In chapter 6 interests were defined in terms of the inequalities constructed by gender relations. At that level the interests are inert, and though they structure practice it is only as the external conditions of practices which are directed to other ends. In this sense we might speak of latent interests and demobilised politics.

When practice is, however, directed to these conditions as its object, the interest is articulated in a collective project. The most obvious example is a social movement like gay liberation and women’s liberation. As proposed in chapter 9 a collective project may also take an institutionalized form. It may be embodied in the functioning of a bureaucracy or the structure of a labour market, and may be pursued as a project by the defence of those institutional arrangements. Broadly the interests of heterosexual men in sexual politics are articulated in this way. There is no need for an anti-liberation movement to defend patriarchy.

The constitution of an interest as a collective project requires awareness of inequalities and the social oppositions they define. While that awareness may be aroused by any event – a police raid, a beauty contest or whatever – to clarify and sustain it requires intellectual work. In practice much of this is done by specialists, the groups discussed in chapter 11. Thus intellectuals have often played a strategic role in the constitution of social interests. The notion of the ‘organic intellectual’ is best understood in these terms.

The classification of intellectuals suggested in chapter 11 is related to forms of politics. Much of the interplay between social interests is what Gramsci called for class relations a ‘war of position’, in contrast to the ‘war of manoeuvre’. The tacit politics of bureaucracies and families, for instance, seem constant though the conflicts are real. Both the repetition and the conflict are acknowledged in the folklore of the ‘battle of the sexes’ where drunken husbands, wives with rolling-pins, flirtatious ‘girls’ and dim-witted boyfriends perform their endless ballet.

In such politics the management function of intellectuals is uppermost. Priests negotiate the tensions of the village; psychother­apists talk out the tensions of the urban rich and drug or hospitalize the urban poor; social planners fine-tune the welfare system to mop up the direst effects of structural inequality. The interests of dominant groups can be represented simply by providing rationalizations of the structure as a whole. Such theory takes a

degree of naturalization for granted, suppresses the question of interests and concerns itself with explaining deviations. Sex role theory is a classic solution to these requirements, and can be regarded as an organic ideology of the gender regime in the modern welfare state.

The contrast with the ‘utopias’ discussed in chapter 11, and the crisis tendencies underlying them, is obvious. The interests of subordinated groups are capable of articulation as collective projects which break the bounds of the existing gender order. This may be only in fantasy, as in the classic literary utopias. But the crisis tendencies discussed in chapter 7 create real conditions for transformative practice. Here the formation of a collective project involves the articulation of some group’s interest in a changed gender order, defining a historical trajectory from deprivation or repression in the present to a future of equality or liberation.

In this context the function of theorization is uppermost in intellectual work. Simply to formulate such an interest requires some mental distance from the current gender order, comparing it with conceivable alternatives. In theorizing the existing order the conflict of interest moves to the centre of attention. Categorical – ism is an understandable result, as we see in radical feminism. But categoricalism creates difficulties with the need to grasp processes of transformation and the construction of political forces. So even when ascendant this kind of theory is unlikely to be under challenge or constantly modified in practice.

The broad contrast just drawn has two major qualifications. First, the interests of groups advantaged in the gender order may also be articulated in a transcendent project. A case in point is the contest for hegemony discussed in chapter 6, the displacement of authoritarian patriarchy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by a ma^scuTi^^ technical rationality and

institutionalized thrompTbureaucracy and markets. Among other things this involved the creation of utopias – social contract theory and political economy – which articulated the interests of the ascending groups of men. Another case is masculinity therapy and the ‘men’s liberation’ movement of the 1970s. Here transcendence was pursued because the existing gender order was felt to have become unworkable; the modernization of masculinity was required as a rescue operation.

The second qualification is that the inert interest defined by existing patterns of inequality can always be articulated in more

than one way, as the history of ideological conflict shows. For instance, a common response to crisis tendencies is fear of losing what you already have. Right-wing sexual politics attempts to articulate women’s interests in this way, with some success; some of the bitterest opposition to feminism has come from other women. The ‘threat to the family’ is a threat to the mother where femininity is defined in relation to childcare and domestic work and where ‘the family’ is the only sphere in which women have any power.

These possibilities mean that the pattern of sexual politics cannot be deduced mechanically from structural analysis. The line-up of political forces is always a question of how interests have been constituted, and what alliances are constructed between them. Equal opportunity programmes in the state, to take one example, developed through an alliance between technocratically oriented men pursuing efficiency and professional women pursuing women’s interests as articulated in liberal feminism.

To make this abstract argument concrete, the following sections examine two patterns of political practice, one demobilized and the other highly mobilized. The choice is not arbitrary. I would argue that a combination between the two groupings discussed here is required for a general transformation of the relations between women and men; though to make it happen, both forms of politics would themselves have to change.

Political Practice

The Scope of Sexual Politics

In ordinary speech ‘politics’ is a narrow and faintly disreputable term, meaning elections, parliaments, presidents and party antag­onisms. ‘Politician’ can be a term of abuse,.‘political’ a label for distrust. Social science has found the negative overtones unneces­sary and the narrow definition untenable.

In what follows ‘politics’ is assumed to be neither bad nor good, simply an essential part of social life and a very widespread one. The same kinds of processes occur in companies, voluntary organizations, and in stateless societies as occur in and around the state: contests for power, mechanisms of succession, debates over policy. Sociological research on families found power struc­tures and power struggles even in that haven, as soon as it looked. R. D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience marked another discovery made in the cultural politics of the 1960s. When Kate Millett characterized politics as ‘power-structured relationships, arrange­ments whereby one group of persons is controlled by another’ and by applying the idea to relations between men and women defined ‘sexual politics’, the term startled many people but her thought followed a well-marked path.

Millett’s definition now appears too narrow, given the range of overt social conflicts about sex and gender over the last two decades. It is worth trying to get these conflicts in some sort of order to arrive at a definition of the scope of sexual politics.

There is, first, a political process centred on the state, some of whose dimensions were discussed in chapter 6. Its most visible moments have been attempts to commit major states to guarantees of equality for women, such as the Equal Rights Amendment in

the United States, and the United Nations declaration of the International Decade for Women. Of course ‘sexual politics’ also include the counter-mobilization that scuppered the Equal Rights Amendment and undermined UN policy, for instance the repression of women in Pakistan and Iran. Attempts to introduce equal opportunity policies have contested the sexual division of labour in the state and provoked widespread, if muted, resistance. Issues of access have been fought out in political parties, notably in attempts to get more women endorsed as candidates, and in a few places like San Francisco and Sydney, gay men too. Resources issues have been opened with the creation of women’s units in the bureaucracy, and specific welfare programmes directed towards women, gays, and even transsexuals. A new resources politics is emerging around the unequal impact of apparently gender-neutral state policies such as the form of taxation or welfare-funding cuts. The 1985 ‘Women’s Tax Summit’ which contested the Australian government’s proposed shift to indirect taxes is a notable example.

Overlapping all this is a politics of workplaces and markets. Campaigns to break down prohibitions on women’s employment, or restrictions on promotion, continue. In 1985, for instance, women’s exclusion from the steelworks in Wollongong was declared unlawful. Sexual pressure on women employees by men, especially their bosses, is now defined as sexual harassment and cases are being taken before tribunals – not always with progressive results, as Jocelynne Scutt shows for a landmark Australian case of 1983. The long-standing exclusion of women from power in trade unions, and the corresponding lack of interest by unions in the interests of women members, is also being challenged. In 1983 Jenny George became the first woman elected to the executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions; in 1979 the Trade Union Congress in Britain sponsored a mass demonstration in support of abortion rights. It is more difficult to get leverage on a whole labour market than a particular workplace, but the attempt is made. There are for instance programmes to get girls into apprenticeships, to break down the sharp sexual division of skilled trades; and to get more girls into professionally oriented streams in schools and colleges.

The content of schooling, and other areas of cultural work, has become a focus of struggle. The new feminism sparked the rewriting of sexist textbooks and attempts to remove discriminatory material from curricula and libraries; similar issues have been raised by

gay liberation though with less result. Right-wing politicians attempt the opposite: in 1978, for instance, the Queensland government banned the use of the MACOS primary curriculum because it was thought to undermine the sanctity of the family. Mass-media content has come under fire for sexist advertising and hostile stereotypes of gays, though media-reform groups have not had much leverage. In book publishing rather more space has been gained by feminism. Attempts to gain more space in performance arts, like the ‘Women and Theatre’ project launched in Sydney in 1980, have provoked remarkably hostile reactions from some of the men in the same trades.

The politics of families has a public face. Official campaigns to increase or to limit the number of children are familiar, with the Catholic Church’s intransigence on contraception a curious counterpoint to rising concern with world over-population. Negoti­ation of the relations between husbands and wives often ends in the courts for adjudication of terms of divorce and custody of children. A struggle also surrounds the courts that do this, from parliamentary conflict over divorce legislation, and feminist criticism of inadequate enforcement of maintenance payments, to murderous attacks on family court judges by embittered husbands. The use of force between family members is now a public issue, with campaigns on domestic violence, child abuse and incest. An informal political process has developed around the attempts within parts of the Left to construct egalitarian households, working through conflict-ridden issues over child-care, sexual relationships and property ownership.

The politics of contraception raises the question of control over sexuality. Some of the bitterest conflicts of the last fifteen years have concerned abortion, with right-wing mobilizations in defence of the ‘unborn child’. Conservatism desires to confine sexuality to marriage, though conservatives now divide over whether marital sex should concentrate on procreation (the Pope) or pleasure (Marabel Morgan). Both versions are homophobic. The control of men’s homosexuality is a well-established area of state action, with the front-line police and courts backed by security agencies, discrimination in employment and exclusion from schools. Control of erotica and pornography is also well established. In the 1960s a sudden liberalization occurred in the rich capitalist countries, marked by the ‘Danish Sex Fairs’ of 1969-70. The rapid growth of a mass-circulation pornography industry provoked bitter

criticism from some tendencies in feminism for its exploitative content; some unexpected alliances in the politics of control have emerged in the United States especially.

Finally, the movements addressing these issues have a politics of their own presence. Quiet campaigns for legal reform on homosexuality were transformed into a highly visible Gay Liber­ation movement in the rich capitalist countries; these have since changed again in the context of visible gay ‘communities’. The new feminism was divided early between liberal and radical currents, with radical feminism in turn dividing between socialist and cultural feminisms. New concerns with violence, disarmament and ecology have emerged. There have been internal conflicts over lesbianism, separatism, Marxism, connections with the state and a range of other issues. There have been attempts to create a counter-sexist movement among heterosexual men, which have not been very successful. Nor have the attempts at permanent mobilization of right-wing sexual politics. Organizations like the anti-feminist Women Who Want to be Women remain small; parties like the Call to Australia movement have minor electoral success. For the most part the churches and conservative parties provide the organizational framework for reaction. Their potential strength is shown by the fundamentalist mobilization in the United States over the last ten years. At the time of writing a television evangelist is making a strong bid for the Republican nomination as President in succession to Reagan.

The six fields just sketched involve overt politics, with issues publicly stated and the course of events readily accessible. This is not the entire scope of politics by any useful definition. Tacit politics, where conflicts of interest and power struggles are not publicly articulated, are equally real though less easily documented. Some examples have been given: the family and the street in chapter 6 and workplaces in chapters 5 and 11. The difference between the two kinds of politics is not just a matter of degree of publicity. It has to do with the way interests are articulated and political movements formed.

Ideologists and Interests

If the strategic argument is even partly correct, it highlights the importance of the people who are engaged in remaking cultural forms. Discussions of sexual ideology have to a remarkable extent ignored the ideologists. The main exception is Viola Klein in The Feminine Character. Her approach from Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge led to a concern with the people who formulated the knowledge, the social positions they occupied and the interests they articulated. The resulting study remains, 40 year later, one of the most significant analyses of sexual ideology.

What Klein’s analysis conspicuously lacked was the concept of gender as a social structure in its own right. The same is true of more recent histories of ideas that have dealt with movements in

sexual ideology: Paul Robinson’s The Sexual Radicals; Christopher Lasch’s Haven in a Heartless World; Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality. To the extent that there are structural categories in this research, they are loosely derived from class analysis. The result is a social analysis of ideas conducted with a 90-degree twist in the middle. The argument constantly has to move off the axis of class onto the subject-matter of sex and gender. It remains a shade mysterious why whole groups of intellectuals should arise who are concerned with sexual politics.

Nevertheless these studies point up the importance of the intellectuals who construct accounts of gender relations. In under­standing them it should be possible to draw on existing theories of intellectuals in the traditions of Mannheim and Gramsci; and perhaps also on ‘new class’ theorists who have focused on intellectuals, such as Gouldner, and Konrad and Szelenyi. But there can be no simple translation of any of these ideas, for all of them are constructed within a class framework and ignore the structure of gender. New questions have to be asked about intellectuals and gender relations.

In some recent research, strongly influenced by feminism, these questions are opening up. Ehrenreich and English’s For Her Own Good and Reiger’s The Disenchantment of the Home are perhaps the best examples. Both trace the emergence of new forms of domination of women by men, in which groups of intellectuals are central — professionals rather than the academics who figure in Klein’s story. It is not only a question of professional men justifying and exercising new powers. More strikingly, the historical process surrounding these medical interventions into women’s health and childcare constitutes groups of intellectuals in terms of gender relations. An example is the category of ‘medical authorities on childrearing’, a social category constituted by the sexual division of labour that makes mothers primary carers for children, and by the gender structure of power that makes medical authority masculine.

This work points to a more general issue. From the perspective of a theory of gender, the question is where and how intellectuals and intellectual work fit into the structure of gender relations. From the perspective of a sociology of intellectuals, the question is how and how far they are constituted as a group by gender relations, and how far the character and impact of intellectual work is determined by gender dynamics. Once the questions are

posed in these terms, the tools of ideology-theory and the sociology of intellectuals can be put to work on new bases.

A case in point is Gramsci’s category of ‘organic’ intellectuals, meaning people who perform an intellectual function within a class, giving it self-definition and helping to mobilize it as a political and social force. There are, I would argue, people who perform that kind of task in gender relations. A notable example is Harriet Kidd, a clerk at the Women’s Co-operative Guild head office in Britain in the years leading up to World War I. She was successively a mill worker, an unmarried mother after rape by her employer, a local labour and community organizer and then an administrator. The Guild, founded in the 1880s, was a mass organization of working-class women claiming over 60,000 mem­bers between the wars. The combative socialist feminism of organizers like Kidd was clearly very important in its success.

An organic intellectual of a very different stripe is Marabel • Morgan, a Florida housewife and business woman of the 1970s. The Total Woman has already been mentioned as a classic presentation of emphasized femininity. The book grew out of a four-week course in which other wives were taught the tactics of being a ‘total woman’, with homework assignments about adapting to their husband’s wishes. Though the authorities Morgan appeals to are men, mainly Biblical prophets and psychiatrists, they are not very prominent in the text. Her main argument is carried by dozens of little anecdotes from the ‘total woman’ classes. Morgan is, in effect, mediating an ideology constructed by women and circulating among women. Though it is, as Andrea Dworkin argues in Right – Wing Women, a response to their powerlessness in relation to their husbands, this does not alter the organic character of the intellectual work.

A more general formulation is worth attempting, even in a preliminary way. Groups active in the making of sexual ideology include priests, journalists, advertisers, politicians, psychiatrists, designers (for example, of fashion), playwrights and film-makers, actors and actresses, novelists, musicians, movement activists and academics. When the activities of these groups are considered in relation to the gender order, they fall broadly into three categories.

First is the regulation and management of gender regimes. The Catholic priesthood is a clear example, for its involvement went far beyond papal declarations on sacred motherhood and unholy contraception. Theology justified a patriarchal power structure

but hardly settled how it was actually to work. The traditional village priest spent a great deal of time sorting this out, giving advice, laying down interpretations of rules and managing the domestic tensions of his parish via the confessional, visits to homes and so forth. Psychotherapists, family therapists and counsellors do a lot of the same kind of work now.

Second is the articulation of experiences, fantasies and perspec­tives characteristic of particular groups in gender relations. Harriet Kidd and Marabel Morgan, in different ways, did this. But in other cases the relationship is anything but organic, as the mass fantasies of Hollywood show. Clark Gable articulated fantasies for women, Raquel Welch for men. Third is the theorization of gender relations, a business that implies a degree of disconnection from daily practice and an effort at reflection and interpretation. I mean this rather more broadly than just writing treatises about the sociology of gender. As suggested in chapter 3, novelists like Nadine Gordimer and Patrick White and autobiographers like Anja Meulenbelt are engaged in ‘theorization’ in this sense.

Returning to the question of structural location, if a group of intellectuals is constituted as a clear-cut group in gender relations it implies a strong patterning of the sexual division of labour. Intellectual work is work, with a labour process of its own and a demand for material resources, not the least of them being time. Situations vary and groups of intellectuals vary in the degree to which they are formed around the sexual division of labour rather than around some other structural pattern (for example, class relations).

If we now integrate these two classifications the result is the grid in table 5, on which I have tentatively placed the groups mentioned above.

This is, obviously, only a beginning in thinking about these groups. It is perhaps enough to suggest that there are some systematic links between intellectuals and the structure of gender relations. If so, further exploration on these lines should yield results of importance for our understanding of both.

For the theory of gender, the potential dividend is a good deal more than the deeper understanding of the history of ideas that has been defined as the value of the sociology of knowledge. In chapter 6 a definition of ‘interests’ was suggested in terms of inequalities constructed by gender relations. At that level of definition the interests are inert, in the sense of Sartre’s ‘practico-

Table 5 Intellectuals and the gender order

Major practice

in relation to Degree to which group formation is defined by gender (sexual gender order division of labour) rather than by other structures.

Gender minor,———

———– Gender marked




Politicians Priests




Musicians Movement






Movement theorists

inert’. For them to become active as political forces requires a mobilization, one of whose conditions is a reflective awareness of the inequalities and the oppositions of interest they define. The creation of that awareness is intellectual work. Much of it has in practice been done by specialists, the intellectuals of the groups just discussed.

We may say, then, that intellectuals have a historic place in the translation of structural inequality into sexual politics, at least at the level of public politics. To say that, however, is not to circumscribe very much the form of politics that emerges. For the reflective awareness of inequalities may take very different forms, depending on the circumstances and character of the reflection. Marabel Morgan is articulating such an awareness just as much as Andrea Dworkin; Morgan calls the wife the ‘Executive Vice – President’ of the marriage, leaving no doubt about who is President.

It matters, then, how the articulation of interests is done. To put it another way, ideological struggle in gender relations is to be expected and has effects. It is easy to exaggerate the significance of the abstract clash of ideas. Some of the wars of academics have remarkably little relevance to anything in the world outside. But intellectual work and ideological struggle are scarcely confined to the academy. They occur to some degree in every institution and setting. And if academic abstraction has to be discounted from its own estimate, it is not to be ignored. Generalized formulations of ideas can be important in crystallizing consciousness, in giving names to things felt but not yet stated. When the world is ready,

ideas can be a revolutionary force. The problem is to understand the readiness as well as the ideas.

Cultural Dynamics

The historicity of sexual ideology is seen not only in details like the content of heroism, but in its organization on the largest scale. In pre-capitalist and early modern Europe sexual ideology was organized as part of a religious world-view. The issues of sexual politics were framed as moral questions, to be decided by appeal to revelation or to priestly authority. The massive modern secularization of European culture occurred in sexual ideology as much as elsewhere. The production of a natural science of sexuality and a social science of gender were the theoretical faces of this development.

From the viewpoint of mass practice, the key development was not the shift from a religious to a scientific form of abstraction but the shifting basis of authority. Secularization undermined the ability of ministers and bishops to arbitrate questions of gender. It was by no means a foregone conclusion who, if anyone, would succeed to the office. Scientists, bureaucrats, teachers and philosophers all had claims, and have kept some corner of the action. It was doctors, however, whose claims were most effective and who took the hegemonic position in constructing secularized discourses of gender and sexuality.

The medicalization of sexual ideology has now been traced by historians in a number of areas. Jeffrey Weeks documents the application of the ‘medical model’ to homosexuality in Europe; Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English the medicalization of women’s bodies in the United States; Kerreen Reiger the medical take-over of early childcare in Australia. In all these cases, as Foucault also argues for France, the crystallization of a medical theory of sexual life is accompanied by a practice of control. A form of social authority is constructed, which immediately reaches beyond the business of treating physical diseases.

A major consequence was the medicalization of problems of emotional life and interpersonal relations in the form of psychiatry. Under the aegis of psychiatry homosexual relationships were defined as an expression of mental illness. Resistance by women to domestic subordination became ‘housewife’s neurosis’. A host of conflicts in everyday life were reinterpreted as outcomes of unresolved childhood complexes. Medicalization thus had a double effect. It depoliticized gender relations directly, while building a

more mediated power-structure based on the authority of a masculine profession.

Of course the creation of this authority did not put an end to conflict. The new authority is itself challenged, sometimes successfully. Gay activists have forced official psychiatry to abandon the definition of homosexuality as a pathology, though it is evidently still treated as such in some psychiatric practice. Rather than ending conflict, the growth of medical authority highlights the extent to which the dynamic of sexual ideology is a struggle for hegemony. What is at issue is the power to set the terms on which questions of gender are understood and conflicts fought out.

Hegemony, as noted in chapter 8 for relations between mascu­linities, does not mean total cultural control and obliteration of alternatives. Such a degree of control does not happen in practice. In sexual ideology generally, ascendant definitions of reality must be seen as accomplishments that are always partial and always to some extent contested.

Indeed we must see them as partly defined by the alternatives against which they are asserted. Medicalized ideologies of gender, for instance, are defined partly against alternative forms of authority such as the Church. Hence the need to claim scientific warrant for what are actually judgements of practical morality, like psychiatric interventions in sexual politics. The claim is often made implicitly, by the use of a technical language. Medical ideologies are also defined against attempts to take control of healing into the people’s own hands. Hence the need to assert a strong distinction between the sound judgement of professionals and the ignorance and errors of ‘lay’ people. Here medicine has actually adopted the language of the Church.

Contestation, then, is an integral part of ideology. The forms of symbolic opposition to which it gives rise, for instance in erotica, are intricate and fascinating. Here I will consider only one pattern of contestation, the pattern that follows the lines of crisis tendencies as defined in chapter 7.

Karl Mannheim made a famous distinction between ‘ideologies’, world-views that are integrated with the established order, and ‘Utopias’ which transcend it. This is too neat a package; the argument just made about the contested position of hegemonic sexual ideology complicates the picture. It is still useful to distinguish perspectives and frameworks that are broadly compat-

ible with the existing gender order from those that are not.

Such a distinction is implicit in the argument made in chapter 10 about masculinity therapy, which adapts hegemonic masculinity to changed conditions without risking the institutional bases of men’s power. The anti-sexist men’s movement represented in Jon Snodgrass’s For Men Against Sexism and Andy Metcalfe and Martin Humphries’s The Sexuality of Men is looking for conceptions of masculinity that transcend those power bases. It has clearly had a hard time finding them.

Feminism, by contrast, has generated Utopias both in Mannheim’s broad sense and in the specific sense of imagined ideal worlds. Texts like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915), a novel about an all-woman society hidden in the highlands of the Amazon, document in a striking way both the break with hegemonic ideology and the limits of the shift. In the case of Herland the limit of thought is sexuality. Gilman can conceptualize an all-woman government and radical changes in education, but cannot admit mass lesbianism in her imagined world. She has to get around it by doing away with sexual impulses almost completely.

Formal Utopias are the exception, however intriguing; it is an occupational hazard of academics to overemphasize systematic ideology. Most of the cultural politics of gender is much less spectacular. Its field of action is the possibilities that open up in particular milieux and institutions: the curriculum changes possible in a particular school, the repertory possible in a particular theatre and so on.

Taken case by case, the opportunities are likely to seem limited. The objective possibilities in a particular high school, for instance, are constrained by many forces outside it: the bureaucratic organization of the state, the social composition of the school’s catchment, the nature of the credentials market, as well as the strength of various ideologies of gender. Yet possibilities for contestation and movement are there, and some teachers do explore them. This goes beyond clearly labelled issues of gender. As Lyn Yates argues, the mainstream curriculum is a key field of implicit sexual politics in schools and has its possibilities for change. The sense of overwhelming constraints in a single milieu becomes less dampening when the connections between milieux come into view. Grass-roots cultural politics does cumulate, sometimes into social movements. And it provides the base on

which the makers of formal ideologies build.

Recognizing the importance of cultural politics within the sphere of gender raises the reverse question, the impact of gender relations and sexual ideology on culture generally. There is every reason to agree with feminist cultural criticism that this impact is both powerful and largely unacknowledged. The ‘naturalization5 of gender has extended to the making of culture itself. Until recently it has not been a question why most playwrights, physicists or newspaper editors were men. It is still not a question in the majority of theatres, physics departments and media corporate offices.

The view that sexual politics is the structural basis of culture in general – that for instance our culture is patriarchal before it is anything else – is another matter. The overall analysis in this book would suggest that this view is wrong, at least as a transhistorical generalization. The scope of gender relations is historically variable, and their power to determine cultural pro­cesses in general must be variable too. But a more limited strategic claim may be right. There are likely to be historical moments where the possibilities of general change in consciousness and culture depend more crucially on the dynamic of gender relations than on any other social force. It can be argued that we are in such a moment now. The case is a long way from being proved but cannot be disregarded. I will come back to related questions in the final chapter.

Ideological Processes

Gender relations involve the structuring of social practice around sex and sexuality. The commonest process in sexual ideology involves collapsing that structure, merging the elements into one by ‘naturalizing’ social practice.

The interpretation of gender relations as natural facts is extraordinarily widespread. Sexual divisions of labour are con­stantly interpreted this way. Cockburn, for instance, notes how women were firmly believed to be naturally incapable of handling the machinery of printing, in the teeth of the fact that women actually had done so. In discussions of the division of labour in childcare women’s natural desire to mother children is almost always taken for granted. The mechanism operates equally power­fully on the structure of cathexis. Heterosexual attraction is

constantly interpreted as natural – the ‘attraction of opposites’ – and socially forbidden relationships, especially homosexual, are interpreted as ‘unnatural’. Even the structure of power is natura­lized, for instance in sociobiology, though this seems less insistent than with the other two structures.

The profoundly political character of this process becomes apparent when quite opposite social relations are ‘naturalized’ in different times and places. For instance women were treated as naturally frail in European polite culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, naturally tough in most peasant cultures. At times the mechanism of naturalization is used in an argument for social change, for instance the suffrage movement’s argument that the realm of politics needed an injection of women’s natural qualities of compassion and purity. Some contemporary eco – feminism is very close to this. Nevertheless the main effect of naturalization is conservative; progressive uses of it risk being incorporated. To interpret social relations as natural is, fundamen­tally, to suppress their historicity. To do that is to close off the possibility of human practice recreating humanity. Verena Stolcke’s and Marie de Lepervanche’s studies of the ‘naturalization’ of inequality show close connections between this process in relation to gender and in relation to other forms of social inequality such as racism. Indeed one becomes a condition of the other. As Stolcke notes, biologism leads to a drive to control women’s sexuality in the name of racial purity.

Naturalization, then, is not a naive mistake about what biological science can and cannot explain. At a collective level it is a highly motivated ideological practice which constantly overrides the biological facts. Nature is appealed to for justification more than for explanation. To be able to justify, nature itself must be got in order – simplified, schematized and moralized.

Naturalization thus implies a second basic process in sexual ideology, the cognitive purification of the world of gender. Its most familiar form is the stereotyping documented in media studies such as Patricia Edgar’s Media She. Real practices are messy and complicated, ideological representations of them squeaky-clean. The families in television advertisements are all happy, their fathers are all employed, their mothers just love housework. The ‘girls’ dancing on the screen all have long legs, white teeth, ladder – resistant stockings and are certainly free this evening. Children’s books, as Bob Dixon shows at length in Catching them Young, are

as packed with stereotyped images of gender as they are with messages about race and class.

Jo Spence’s study of photographic images of women shows how the process of stereotyping goes beyond the individual item. Taken as a set, a body of advertising or photo-reportage constructs an ‘implicit narrative’ of a woman’s life, in which individual items are embedded and to whose logic they appeal. In the British popular media studied by Spence in the 1970s this narrative was a highly traditional life cycle (though excluding death), presenting women as providers of services to men and children. Spence noted, however, an altered narrative emerging in the late 1970s with rather more acknowledgement of problems and of paid work and rather more self-gratification for women.

The purification of the ideological world by excluding items that do not fit the implicit narrative reaches a high point where the narrative concerns the public world. It is a familiar finding in media research that only a small percentage of news coverage is devoted to women. Women are also liable to be dropped from view in other forms of communication. – The first human to step onto the moon announced to the waiting world: ‘That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.’ A highly praised book that appeared in the same year (1969) called A History of the Scottish People was almost entirely about men, often read as if men were the only inhabitants of Scotland, and discussed every industry except the one which had the greatest number of Scottish people working in it (‘houses’ appear in its index, but not ‘housework’). A high-powered international conference about the ‘Dialectics of Liberation’ met in London; all of its speakers were men, who discussed war, madness, the environment, imperialism, race, literature, capitalism and socialism, but made no reference to the position of women or the oppression of homosexuals.

These three examples were events of the late 1960s and at least some areas of cultural practice have changed since. Formal language is less likely to be openly sexist. Even so establishment a body as the American Psychological Association introduced a policy of non-sexist language in its journals in 1977. Most big publishers now have a feminist, women’s studies, or women writers’ ‘list’; indeed this is one of the more buoyant areas in contemporary book publishing. But the problem Sheila Rowbotham noted in Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World, the difficulty even left-wing men have in acknowledging gender issues as serious politics,

remains – and not just on the Left. To some extent the exclusion of women is replaced by marginalization, through such devices as a separate publishing list, or media trivialization. The main narrative of the public world – wars, rockets, governments falling, profits rising – carries on as before.

The familiar public/private distinction is part of a process of dichotomizing the world that is the most systematic form of ‘purification’ attempted by sexual ideology. In this simplification, however, is a source of complexity. For if pushed to an extreme, the qualitative distinction between men’s world and women’s world requires different cultural mechanisms to operate in each. A curious illustration of this is an obscure 1951 science-fiction novel by Philip Wylie called The Disappearance. Its premiss is that women and men disappear from each other’s physical world for four years; the results are different kinds of social breakdown, nuclear war in one world and fire and pestilence in the other.

The drive for purification reaches its greatest emotional intensity in the treatment of men’s homosexuality as a symbol of disorder, dirtiness and danger. There is a paradox about a patriarchal social order being so hostile to erotic relations between members of the dominant sex. A sense of this paradox is part of the ambivalent feelings between women’s liberation and gay liberation. The explanation of Western culture’s homophobia is complex, but part of it must be the degree to which the fact of homosexuality threatens the credibility of a naturalized ideology of gender and a dichotomized sexual world.

Within the dichotomized world of sexual ideology two devices for the representation of social life become dominant. One is romanticism. Since this term is often associated with fantasy in the style of Georgette Heyer or J. R. R. Tolkien, I would stress its relevance to everyday life. The Broadway musical is a notable illustration. Its classic subject-matter is the lives of little people: farmworkers (Oklahoma!)] soldiers (South Pacific)] fairground workers (■Carousel), small-time crooks (Guys and Dolls), factory workers (The Pyjama Game), teenage street ‘gangs’ (West Side Story). Everyday life is appealed to, its difficulties even emphasized. But it is transformed by the glow of the love affair on which every plot turns, beside which the other issues pale. True love – in the Broadway musical, in Mills and Boon novels, in women’s magazines – is a symbolic reconnection of the dichotomized worlds. It both asserts the rightness of the dichotomy, and claims a way for each woman as

a loved individual to escape the narrow and impoverished world the dichotomy constructs for women as a group.

On the other side, hegemonic masculinity is naturalized in the form of the hero and presented through forms that revolve around heroes: sagas, ballads, westerns, thrillers. The cultural focus on exemplary individuals is not only a way of justifying privileges which happen to be shared by the unheroic majority of men. Like romanticism it is also a way of dealing symbolically with real problems.

One of the problems about gender relations for men has long been the level of violence between men. It is no accident that the classic hero is usually a specialist in violence. T sing of arms and the man’, announced Virgil at the start of the Aeneid, and one notes that the ‘arms’ come first. Aeneas, Achilles, Siegfried, Tristan and Lancelot hack their respective ways through quite a tonnage of flesh and bones. Tarzan, Bulldog Drummond, James Bond, Rambo and the Bruce Lee characters have different techniques but much the same regard for human life.

The figures in the first list, however, are considerably more than specialists in violence. The plot of the Iliad, for instance, revolves not around Achilles’ superiority in war but around his refusal to use it. When he returns to the fight it is because of his grief for his dead friend Patroclus. Tristan is not only a champion duellist and dragon-slayer but also a tormented lover, an ambiva­lent friend, a lukewarm husband and something of a songwriter and practical joker to boot. Violence is part of the framework of these epics, but it is also posed as a moral and human issue.

By comparison, the twentieth-century killer-heroes are card­board cut-outs, and in modern pulp fiction the questioning is gone. There is a disconnection of action from emotion – at least from emotional complexity – which relates to the historical trajectory of alienation and hegemonic masculinity sketched in chapter 7. A wonderful document of this is a 1955 thriller by Clark Smith called The Speaking Eye. The tough-guy hero is, of all things, an accountant, who is precipitated into a Chandler-style narrative of murders and tight-lipped beatings when sent to do an audit for a company take-over.