Biology and The Oppression of Women

With increasing debates within feminism regarding the relationship between biology, the body, and the oppression of women, we need a theory which can explain how these phenomena interact.

From tumblr user feminimum
From tumblr user tejuina

The enslavement of the female to the species and the limitations of her various powers are extremely important facts; the body of woman is one of the essential elements in her situation in the world. But that body is not enough to define her as woman; there is no true living reality except as manifested by the conscious individual through activities and in the bosom of a society. Biology is not enough to give an answer to the question that is before us: why is woman the Other? Our task is to discover how the nature of woman has been affected throughout the course of history; we are concerned to find out what humanity has made of the human female.

[Humanity’s] ways and customs cannot be deduced from biology, for the individuals that compose the society are never abandoned to the dictates of their nature; they are subject rather to that second nature which is custom and in which are reflected the desires and the fears that express their essential nature. It is not merely as a body, but rather as a body subject to taboos, to laws, that the subject is conscious of himself and attains fulfilment — it is with reference to certain values that he evaluates himself. And, once again, it is not upon physiology that values can be based; rather, the facts of biology take on the values that the existent bestows upon them.

By doing this, by admitting that there is a ‘natural’ division between women and men, we naturalize history, we assume that ‘men’ and ‘women’ have always existed and will always exist. Not only do we naturalize history, but also consequently we naturalize the social phenomena which express our oppression, making change impossible. For example, instead of seeing giving birth as a forced production, we see it as a ‘natural’ and ‘biological’ process, forgetting that in our societies births are planned, forgetting that we ourselves are programmed to produce children…



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