Thursday, May 08, 2003

Insecurity and Gender

In the middle third of the nineteenth century there was a lot of emphasis on women's place being in the home. To oversimplify a theory in women's history, the reason for this was that men felt insecure in the new more competitive world brought by new technology, and they reacted by wanting to preserve an imagined older stability in the home. I thought I saw that sort of thing happen after 9/11/01; in times of insecurity society tends to want women to be more domestic, wants to make gender roles more rigid.

The question I got thinking about is why is it in gender roles, particularly, that the need for stability is acted out? Why not in some other area of culture (I suppose the other place it is acted out, which fits both cases, is in religion). The answer that just occurred to me is that as our world becomes more and more mediated by technology, gender feels like our grounding in biological reality. The more out of touch we are with biological reality the more people hang on to gender roles as the one place where we are grounded in biological reality, even though gender roles aren't biological at all and there is far from a fixed line between male and female even biologically. We don't grow our own food any more but we still make our own babies (most of the time).

For me, gender fluidity is a liberating idea. But not very many people see it that way.

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