Florence Binard | The sex/gender bicategorisation: a sexist analytical tool ?

Abstract

If the difference between the races has long been deconstructed, the difference between the sexes which partakes of a similar construction in that it proceeds from an essentialisation of physical and mental traits based on superficial phenotypes (not the skin colour but primary and secondary sexual characters) remains a matter of debate amongst scientists and feminists. If the sex/gender bicategorisation (a 70s feminist concept) aimed at emphasisng the cultural construction of the feminine and masculine, it nonetheless contributed to reinforcing the idea of an natural, innate sex as opposed to an acquired gender. As a matter of fact in this binary opposition, feminists have mainly studied gender to the detriment of sex thus paving the way for an androcentric scientism of the sex. We can but deplore the fact that today contrary to the concept of ‘race’, the concept of ‘sex’ has not yet been de-essentialised in the minds of numerous feminists and a fortiori in that of the public at large for whom the idea that women are from Venus and men from Mars stands as an undeniable fact.
The aim of this paper will be twofold, on the one hand we will study the impact of the theory of sexual selection developed by Darwin in The Descent (1971) on contemporary feminist theories. On the other hand, we will show that the bicategorial analytical tool, sex/gender, proceeds from a basic binary frame of mind which reinforces the idea that sex structures the identity of an individual and that as a consequence a scientific deconstruction of the sexual dimorphism is crucial to an anti-sexist theory.