The dream I find most compelling is one of an androgynous and genderless (though not sexless) society, in which one's sexual anatomy is irrelevant to who one is, what one does, and with whom one makes love. ('The Traffic in Women' p.204)
For the category of sex is a totalitarian one...This is why we must destroy it and start thinking beyond it if we want to start thinking at all, as we must destroy the sexes as a sociological reality if we want to start to exist.
One of the interesting things about this essay, 'The Category of Sex', is that Wittig openly rejects the philosophically "realist" belief in sexual difference, i.e. the idea that there is metaphysically a real category of the masculine and the feminine. She rejects the belief that,
...there are before all thinking, all society, "sexes" (two categories of individuals born) with a constitutive difference, a difference that has ontological consequences (the metaphysical approach)
Perhaps this shows how nominalism, with its emphasis on the idea that there are only individual instances of things, helps to pave the way for the belief that the idea of sex is merely socially imposed.
Wittig famously claimed that lesbians are not women. This makes sense if you accept her argument that "women" only exist as part of a heterosexual dualism by which one political category "men" dominate another category "women". Lesbians escape this kind of sexual "contract". What Wittig did not foresee is that if you so much reduce the category of womanhood it is difficult to sustain a distinctly "woman's" movement. Little wonder that Kathleen Stock rejects the Wittig position.
Stock is more interested in those who accept, as a baseline position, that humans are a sexually dimorphic species (the biological reality position). She wants to consider whether you can argue from this position that gender should nonetheless be abolished.
She begins with those feminists who wish not so much to abolish the categories of "man" and "woman" but any sociocultural differences associated with them. Stock responds by reminding her listeners that the range of such cultural practices is so vast, that the task of abolishing all of them appears unrealistic, particularly as many of them arise in response to the biological differences between the sexes and the fact of heterosexuality.
Stock then makes a cutting point, namely that those who have favoured this type of gender abolition, such as Shulamith Firestone, were aware of the extraordinarily radical social engineering it would require to be successful. Firestone wrote in 1970:
The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.
Stock doesn't believe this transformation would be desirable, even if it were possible. She points out that it would leave children with attachment disorders, that its implementation would be authoritarian, and that there would be medical issues in having male bodies gestate children.
Stock's next argument is quite a departure from the usual politics. Instead of arguing that sex-based cultural practices are always and everywhere a fetter on the self-determining individual, she argues that they can have a positive effect, in providing individuals with a source of meaning, obtained via identity, purpose, achievement and camaraderie. She believes that there is a risk of a "profound loss" for the individual if all of this were to be suddenly abolished.
Kathleen Stock makes it clear that she does not support this version of gender abolition. She then turns to a third version of gender abolition, which involves the eradication of all social norms based around sex. Stock treats this version seriously and spends some time looking at the role of social norms in society. It's an interesting discussion, but lengthy, so I'll save it for the next post.