The Politics of the Natural: The Case of Sex Differences

  • Sandra Harding
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 22)


It is difficult these days to talk intelligibly about what is really natural or unnatural, normal or abnormal, about sex differences, human sexuality or the human body. The distinction between natural/unnatural or normal/abnormal presumes a standard for what is given us by biology and what by culture. But contemporary feminists argue convincingly that women, like men, appear in everyday life as a socially constructed sexual class, not primarily as a biologically distinct group. Of course males inseminate and females incubate and lactate. There are male and female developmental processes that account for this reproductive difference and are defined in terms of five biological criteria: genes or chromosomes, hormones, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia ([40], p. 11). However, behavioral differences between the sexes overwhelmingly appear to be the consequence of relevant social differences. As Simone de Beauvoir wrote:

One is not born, but rather becomes a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society: it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch ([12], p. xiv).


Human Sexuality Male Dominance Radical Feminist Cultural Constructionist Feminine Gender 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Arditti, R., Brennan, P., and Cavrak, S. (eds.): 1979, Science and Liberation, South End Press, Boston, Mass.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ardrey, R.: 1966, The Territorial Imperative, Atheneum, N.Y.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Balbus, I.: 1982, Marxism and Domination, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Barash, D.: 1977, Sociobiology and Behavior, Elsevier, New York.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Barnes, B.: 1977, Interests and the Growth of Knowledge, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Beach, F. A.: 1947, ‘Evolutionary Changes in the Psychological Control of Mating Behavior in Mammals’, The Psychological Review 54, 297–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Berger, P. and Berger, B.: 1983, The War Over the Family: Capturing the Middle Ground, Anchor, N.Y.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bleier, R.: 1979, ‘Social and Political Bias in Science: An Examination of Animal Studies and Their Generalizations to Human Behavior and Evolution’, in E. Tobach and B. Rosoff (eds.), Genes and Gender II: Pitfalls in Research on Sex and Gender, Gordian Press, New York, pp. 49–70.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Bloch, M. and Bloch, J.: 1980, ‘Women and the Dialectics of Nature in Eighteenth Century French Thought’, in C. MacCormack and M. Strathern (eds.), Nature, Culture and Gender, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 25–41.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Bloor, D.: 1977, Knowledge and Social Imagery, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, England.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Chodorow, N.: 1978, The Reproduction of Mothering, University of California Press, Berkeley, California.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    De Beauvoir, S.: 1952, The Second Sex, Bantam, New York.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Dinnerstein, D.: 1976, ‘The Mermaid and the Minotaur’, Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise, Harper and Row, New York.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Eisenstein, Z.: 1983, ‘Feminist Revisionism: Debating Sexual Politics’, unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Elshtain, J.: 1979, ‘Feminists Against the Family’, The Nation, Nov. 17, 481–482.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Elshtain, J.: 1981, Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political Thought, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Elshtain, J.: 1982, ‘Antigone’s Daughters’, Democracy 2, 46–59.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Fairweather, H.: 1976, ‘Sex Differences in Cognition’, Cognition 4, 231–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Fee, E.: 1983, ‘Women’s Nature and Scientific Objectivity’, in M. Lowe and R. Hubbard (eds.), Woman’s Nature: Rationalizations of Inequality, Pergamon Press, New York, pp. 9–28.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Foucault, M.: 1980, The History of Sexuality, Vol. I, Vintage Books, N.Y.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Friedan, B.: 1981, The Second Stage, Summit Books, New York.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Gilder, G.: 1973, Sexual Suicide, Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., New York.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Haraway, D.: 1978, ‘Animal Sociology and a Natural Economy of the Body Politic: Parts I and H’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 4(1), 21–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Harding, S. and Hintikka, M. B., (eds.): 1983, Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, D. Reidel, Dordrecht, Holland.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Hubbard, R., Henifin, M. S., and Fried, B. (eds.): 1982, Biological Woman: The Convenient Myth, Schenkman Publishing Co., Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Illich, I.: 1983, Gender, Pantheon, N.Y.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Jordanova, L. J.: 1980, ‘Natural Facts: A Historical Perspective on Science and Sexuality’, in C. MacCormack and M. Strathern (eds.), Nature, Culture and Gender, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 42–69.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Keller, E. F.: 1982, ‘Feminism and Science’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 7(3), 589–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Kuhn, T. S.: 1970, The Structure of Scientfic Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Lacan, J.: 1982, Feminine Sexuality, J. Mitchell and J. Rose (eds.), W. W. Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Lasch, C: 1977, Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged, Basic Books, N.Y.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Latour, B. and Woolgar, S.: 1979, Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts, Sage Publishing Co., Beverly Hills, Calif.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Leibowitz, L.: 1979, ‘“Universals” and Male Dominance Among Primates: A Critical Examination’, in E. Tobach and B. Rosoff (eds.), Genes and Gender II: Pitfalls in Research on Sex and Gender, Gordian Press, New York, pp. 35–48.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Leiss, W.: 1972, The Domination of Nature, Beacon Press, Boston, Mass.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Levin, M.: 1970, ‘The Feminist Mystique’, Commentary 70(6), 25–30.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Lorenz, K.: 1966, On Aggression, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Lowe, M.: 1982, ‘Social Bodies: The Interaction of Culture and Women’s Biology’, in R. Hubbard, M. S. Henifin, and B. Fried (eds.), Biological Woman: The Convenient Myth, Schenkman, Cambridge, Mass., pp. 91–116.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Lowe, M. and Hubbard, R.: 1979, ‘Introduction’, ‘Sociobiology and Biosociology: Can Science Prove the Biological Basis of Sex Differences in Behavior?’, and ‘Conclusions’, in E. Tobach and B. Rosoff (eds.), Genes and Gender II: Pitfalls in Research on Sex and Gender, Gordian Press, New York, pp. 9–34, 91–112, 143–152.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Merchant, C: 1980, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution, Harper and Row, New York.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Money, J.: 1965, ‘Psychosexual Differentiation’, in John Money (ed.), Sex Research: New Developments, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, pp. 3–23.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Money, J. and Tucker, P.: 1975, Sexual Signatures: On Being a Man or a Woman, Little, Brown and Company, Boston.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Morris, D.: 1968, The Naked Ape, McGraw-Hill, N.Y.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Nagel, E.: 1961, The Structure of Science, Harcourt Brace and Row, New York.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    O’Brien, M.: 1981, The Politics of Reproduction, Routledge and Kegan Paul, New York.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Ortner, S.: 1974, ‘Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?’, in M. Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere (eds.), Woman, Culture and Society, Stanford University Press, Stanford, Calif., pp. 67–68.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Popper, K.: 1959, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Ravetz, J. R.: 1971, Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Rich, A.: 1976, Of Woman Born, Motherhood as Experience and Institution, W. W. Norton & Co., New York.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Rorty, R.: 1981, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Rose, H. and Rose, S.: 1976, Ideology of/in the Natural Sciences, Schenkman, Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Rosenberg, R.: 1983, Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Rossi, A.: 1977, ‘A Biosocial Perspective on Parenting’, Daedalus 106, 1–32.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Rossiter, M.: 1982, Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Rowell, T.: 1972, The Social Behavior of Monkeys, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Sayers, J.: 1982, Biological Politics: Feminist and Anti-Feminist Perspectives, Tavistock Publications, London.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society: 1978, special issue entitled ‘Women, Science and Society’, 4(1).Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Sohn-Rethel, A.: 1978, Intellectual and Manual Labour, Macmillan Publishing Co., London.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Stacey, J.: 1983, ‘The New Conservative Feminism’, Feminist Studies 9(3), 559–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Stehelin, L.: 1976, ‘Sciences, Women and Ideology’, in H. Rose and S. Rose (eds.), Ideology of lin the Natural Sciences: The Radicalization of Science, Macmillan, London, pp. 76–89.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Stoller, R. J.: 1974, ‘Tacts and Fancies: an Examination of Freud’s Concept of Bisexuality’, in J. Strouse (ed.), Women and Analysis: Dialogues on Psychoanalytic Views of Femininity, Grossman Publishers, New York, pp. 343–64.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Tiger, L.: 1970, Men in Groups, Vintage Books, N.Y.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Tobach, E. and Rosoff, B. (eds.): 1978, Genes and Gender I: On Hereditarianism and Women, Gordian Press, New York.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Tobach, E. and Rosoff, B. (eds.): 1979, Genes and Gender II: Pitfalls in Research on Sex and Gender, Gordian Press, New York.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Wilson, E. O.: 1975, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandra Harding
    • 1
  1. 1.University of DelawareNewarkUSA

Personalised recommendations