Many writers on gender today have seen René Descartes as a crucial figure in the history of ideas, precisely because his differentiation between mind and matter exacerbated a tendency of Western thought to define thought and reason in opposition to matter. If women had always been associated with embodiment and men had always been in greater possession of reason, then the distinction between mind and matter as two distinct substances could only exaggerate the irrationality of nature and, by association, of women. The first-wave feminist response to the modern elevation of disembodied reason was to reject the association of women with embodiment. This rejection took two related and overlapping forms. First, a distinction was made between sex and gender. One’s body or sexuality was a merely physical quality and had nothing to do with one’s subjectivity. If reason was a distinct and disembodied substance, entirely other than the body, then women and men — at least as far as minds were concerned — were of the same substance; they were both rational human subjects. There could be no justification for arguing that the bodies of women led to any specific, immutable and subordinate gender. Once essential genders were rejected, women could insist on the irrelevance of sex and demand inclusion in a single and genderless humanity.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
- Sex without Gender
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number
- Chapter number