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Gender Relationships Essay, Research Paper
Through out history, men and women have struggled to understand each other. Society has struggled to meld their complex differences while embracing the wonder of individuality. Biologist attempt to explain why men and women are different yet comes from the very similar genetic make-up. Psychologists have made grand strides in understanding how the mind works in the dynamics of relationships between men and women. And in a society that is governed by economics, the realm of social status and money can often determine whom one will couple with.
Gender relationships are currently defined in American society by historical classifications. Historical representations of gender roles have been carried over to today’s culture. The original identities of men and women have survived nearly unchanged throughout time. These are linked to the sexes in a very general way. Men were originally dominant and women, subordinate. Men have always been ideally strong leaders and women, passive and nurturing. These roles have been modernized rather than modified through the years. These standard gender roles and relationships have survived because they remain successful in our culture by satisfying basic needs (Walsh,1987,11).
Three men of great intellectual influences on our society today are Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and Sigmund Freud. In order to understand the association of economics, biology and psychology in sexual relationships, we will refer to these three men and examine their expertise in each area.
Few of us can deny the importance and power that money has in our society. It is difficult to think of issues that affect us on a daily basis, that does not involve money. But where does this fixation on money originate? Is our obsession with dollar signs and the power of money a derivative of our society, or are our actions determined by our socialization to the power of money? Consequently, is it possible that the value of money has a deeper meaning, enshrined within our individual personalities, transcending the limitations of the state, setting parameters for individual actions within society? These questions drive to the very heart of not only our obsession with money, but they also strike at the essence of who we are as individuals, how we act within society, and how the superstructure of society is shaped.
To form an analysis of money and its impact is a two-fold process: we must investigate the dynamics of money on an individual level, and also the interaction and importance of money on a societal level. Traditionally, Marxist theory and Freudian psychoanalysis have been viewed as polar opposites on the spectrum of political thought. The Marxist exploration of economic life in capitalist society strives to define how our society is utilized by the modes of production, bound within the confines of political economy. But, while Marx explains a world of interests and of failures of mutual recognition, he leaves little in the way of clarification on family life – familial recognition and interaction. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, probes into the realm of familial experience, defining the origins of our desires – what factors are predisposed within our subconscious. By bringing the two approaches together, analyzing Freud in a Marxist perspective and vice versa, a direct linkage will be made to explain ‘money’ in the context of both theories.
“Economics of class” is a category foundational to Marxist social theory (Waldron, 1987, 67). Karl Marx argued that the economic structure of any society shapes all aspects of social life and that the relationship of persons to this structure determines their class, a group with a common relation to the mode of production.
Further, in all epochs of history the relationship between classes was antagonistic, marked by class struggle. Capitalism structures a fundamental opposition between the bourgeois and proletariat classes by which bourgeois exploitation occurs: accumulation of the surplus values of workers’ labor, the commodification of social life, the division between mental and manual labor, etc. Marx’s concept stands in sharp contrast to more dominant sociological discussions of class that lose the Marxist idea of class-based exploitation by defining class as a stratum marked by life-styles, educational achievements, and income.
Therefore, according to Marx’s definition, men and women could never be in the same class. Since class is measured by productivity, and statistically, women do not produce nearly what men do in society, nor are they compensated equally with men, women are of a lower class. This barrier can impede the economically driven male to reject a large portion of the female population in search of a mate that can achieve equal status with him. It perpetuates the stereotype of the male being the primary wage earner and producer, with the female being the secondary, lesser-valued partner.
While Marxist, socialist, and liberationist feminists have all drawn on Marx’s work, they have pointed out that because the category of class is based on relationship to the mode of production, it cannot describe women’s role in reproduction. Nor, in fact, can it explain why women earn less and have lower-status jobs than men of their class. These feminists have offered proposals revising the economics of class which range from stating that women are their own class (however, postulating women as one class negates the differences among women emphasized by racial-ethnic, poor, working-class women) to analyzing the complex relations of capitalism and patriarchy. Further work has been done to integrate race and imperialism into an evolving multidimensional analysis, which is essential for any feminist theological method that seeks to clarify relations of domination and oppression as part of a constructive project of social change.
It is also noteworthy that Marx was supported by Darwin’s theory of Natural selection. The Social Darwinian’s parallels with the animal world fitted in with the prevailing racist arguments that human character was based upon the measurement of men’s skulls. Darwin explained that the evolution of life, with its rich and varied forms, was an inevitable consequence of the reproduction of life itself. Firstly, like breeds like, with minor variations. But secondly, all organisms tend to produce more offspring than survive and breed. Those offspring that have the greatest chance of survival are those more equipped to adapt to their surroundings, and, in turn, their offspring will tend to be more like them. The characteristics of these populations will, over time, increasingly adapt to their environment. In other words, the “fittest” survive and spread their favored characteristics through populations. In nature, Darwinian evolution is a response to changing environments. Therefore, we can see how Darwin’s theories inspired Marx to conclude that social status is survival of the fittest, creating sexual stereotype of women being the lesser of the sexes, since they can not produce equally or are not as “fit”.
Darwin taught that the differences between men and women were due largely to sexual selection. To pass his genes on, a male must prove himself physically and intellectually superior to other men in the competition for females, whereas a woman must only be superior in sexual attraction. Darwin concluded that “sexual selection depended on two different intraspecific activities: the male struggle with males for possession of females and female choice of mate.” In Darwin’s words, evolution depends on “a struggle of individuals of one sex, generally males, for the possession of the other sex…” (Darwin, 1859, 55)
Darwin used several other examples to illustrate the evolutionary forces that he believed produced men of superior physical and intellectual strength, and docile, sexually coy women. Since humans evolved from animals and “no one disputes that the bull differs in disposition from the cow, the wild boar from the sow, the stallion from the mare, and, as is well known through the keepers of menageries, the males of the larger apes from the females,” Darwin argued that similar differences existed among humans. Consequently, he concluded that men are, “more courageous, pugnacious and energetic than woman, and have more inventive genius.”
Darwin did much to damage society during his day, women in particular. Victorian assumptions of the inevitability and rightness of a woman’s role of domestic moral preceptor and nurturer and man’s role of free-ranging aggressive provider and jealous patriarch were enshrined in Darwin’s reconstruction of human evolution. Our female progenitors were maternal, sexually shy, tender and altruistic, while our male ancestors were “naturally” competitive, ambitious and selfish. Not unlike Darwin himself who wrote in The Descent: “Man is the rival of other men; he delights in competition.” It was the natural order of things, just as man was “naturally” more intelligent than woman, as Darwin demonstrated to his satisfaction through the dearth of eminent women intellectuals and professionals. “The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown by man’s attaining to a higher eminence in whatever he takes up, than can women — whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses or hands” (Darwin, 1871, 102).
It is quite clear how Darwin perpetuated stereotypes and created conflict between the genders in his day. One would think that time and science would have moved today’s society far beyond thoughts of natural selection and survival of the fittest in the battle of the sexes. However, these premises are still affecting our culture today and tainting the attitudes of men and women in their roles in society. Men are still viewed as the main providers of families.
Further, the conclusion “now widely accepted … that males of most species are less selective and coy in courtship because they make smaller investments in offspring” is used to justify male sexual promiscuity. Male promiscuity is, in other words, genetically determined because males profit, evolutionarily speaking, from frequent mating, and females do not. The more females a male mates with, the more offspring he produces – whereas a female need only mate with one male to become pregnant. Evolution would progress only if she selected the most fit male, which is what Darwin’s theory of sexual selection predicted. For this reason, males have “an undiscriminating eagerness” to mate, females “a discriminating passivity” (Diamond, 1993, 220). Fox even argues that high pregnancy rates among unmarried teenage girls is due to our ‘evolutionary legacy” which drives young girls to get pregnant. Consequently, cultural and religious prohibitions against unmarried teen pregnancy are doomed to fail.
To understand the psychology of this, we turn to Freud. With all of its confusing contradictions, the influences of Freud have had a profound and subversive effect on the thinking of our present age. He changed man’s understanding of himself and his nature. Perhaps the most critical influence Freud has had upon society was his invention of a new determinism by which man does what he does and becomes what he becomes. He saw the libido as the prime mover. This legacy has dragged sex into the streets, our homes, into every nook and cranny of our lives-and has also filled our psychiatrists’ couches.
Much of 1970s feminism was virulently anti-psychological, fearing that inquiry into motives and inner worlds inevitably entailed a strategy of divide and rule: divide the women into their individual inner worlds so as to remove the possibility of their recognition of what was social and therefore common, in its banal ordinariness, to every oppressed woman. It was rape, not fantasy, that began to concern feminists; and, from the late 1970s on, it was the sexual abuse of children, not the Oedipus complex, that became a new crusade for many feminists. Freud and all the institutions of psychoanalysis became deeply suspect for having highlighted fantasy and desire, rather than brute reality and sexual exploitation.
If another such as Freud were to consider gender roles today, he would connect the roots of gender roles to sexuality. The traditional roles materialized originally from sexual desire. Women are considered sex objects because that is what society desires. Men are seen as ideally masculine because society desires their masculinity. Most everyone would like to achieve success. Many men count on a powerful personality to achieve their goals. This is a gender role that usually ensures success. In many ways, society tells us that women can easily be successful through their sexuality. Many women can depend solely on their appearance for a successful life. This is proven through the media’s use of gender and gender relationships. Sex sells and entertains because it provides the consumer with a bit of pleasure beyond that of the actual product.
Darwin, Marx and Freud are mutually constitutive. Darwin brings historicity to the heart of the sciences linking life to the earth and our humanity to both. Teleological and anthropomorphic concepts lie at the basis of his concept of natural selection. Marx teaches us the historicity of all – including scientific – concepts and points out that there is only one science, the science of history. Freud teaches us that all of history and culture continue to be mediated by basic human drives and that no matter how high we reach into abstractions, our thought remains rooted in primitive psychic mechanisms.
It would seem, then, that our conception of a human science must always draw on these three dimensions of what Marx calls our species being. The historical, conceptual and practical tasks that follow from this will surely occupy all of at least to the retiring age.
We have in these three thinkers – at first glance -biology, economics and the psyche, but looked at more closely each takes us to history and historicity, to culture and its roots and to the question of the nature and man and woman’s role in it. Each offers a conception of the disciplined study of humanity that always retains a notion of human values in action as the central guiding conception. None will do alone, while the task of integrating them in historical studies and in theory has hardly begun. Their writings span the century between about 1840 and 1940. Darwin (1809-82) and Marx (1818-83) were near contemporaries and published their main works almost simultaneously. They died within a year of each other just over a hundred years ago. Freud was the youngest of three years when The Origin of Species and An Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy appeared in 1859. The problematic of his life’s work makes little sense without seeing both Darwin and Marx as providing the framework of ideas and aspirations about nature and human nature.
These men provided the framework of history around the constant battle against stereotypes in relationships. Sexuality is the most intimate aspect of human existence. Understanding where a sexual partners ideologies, cultural background and intellectual understandings come from is a major step in insuring tranquility, both intimately and socially. Economics, biology and psychology are the foundation of society and human nature. As Freud points out, it is impossible to avoid human nature, therefore we must seek to better understand it. It is unfortunate that the ideologies of the men mentioned here have still implemented themselves in our culture. While their premises are valid and vastly important in the history of humankind, one must be careful to discern what is relevant in today’s society and what was the experimental leanings and philosophies of the past.
Charles Darwin. (1871) The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
Diamond, Jared M. (1993) The third chimpanzee. New York, NY : Harper Perennial.
Doyal, James A., Paludi, Michele A., (1994) Sex and Gender: The Human Experience.
Walsh, Mary Roth,ed., (1987) The Psychology of women : ongoing debates. New Haven : Yale University Press.
Waldron, Jeremy. (1987) Nonsense upon stilts. London ; New York.
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