The bisexuality of morals (redux)

Louis R Godena louisgodena at
Wed Oct 2 16:15:27 MDT 1996

Twelve years ago,  German feminist Frigga Haug exposed the pervasive
discrepencies in the norms ascribed to men and women ("Morals Also Have Two
Genders," New Left Review,  #143),  whether in philosophy,   poetry,
etiquette handbooks,  or everyday discourse.    Concepts such as "decency"
or "guilt",   she noted,  point in quite different directions for the two
sexes.    Where male "decency" is chiefly concerned with courteous behavior
to colleagues or subordinates,  its female variant refers essentially to
regulation of sexuality;  just as masculine guilt is likely to relate to law
or business,  while feminine guilt will usually dwell on matters of the body.

Haug offered a number of intriguing examples of the ways in which the two
genders are differentiated in moral discourse (*women as the representative
of love,  men as the representative of law, etc).   But she insisted that,
rather than seeing the two moralities as opposed systems,  they should
instead be viewed as composing a sort of division of labor.    Moreover,
she points out that many potent institutions in bourgeois society require a
"bisexual" morality--for example,  marriage combines contract and carnality,
while militarism conjoins physical display with a cult of sacrifice.

Haug's thesis was that an emancipatory [truly bisexual] morality would
overcome existing gender divisions within a "unified code that is essential
for a common existence."

A number of feminist writers on the Marxist left (e.g.,  Elizabeth Barret,
Monica Threlfell,  Heather Maroney) have since expanded on Haug's theme.
And, in a later edition of *Marx's Lost Aesthetic* (Cambridge, 1989),
Margaret Rose suggests a further melding of sexual identities in the realm
of politics and art.

Noting that the masculine meaning of morality focuses largely on business,
property and money and that women are socialized via their body,  Ruth
DeDoria (*Morality and Feminism* 1993) declares that womens' "corporeality
is the foundation of their identity as well as of their subordination to men
and their identity."    She urges the creation of "proletarian feminine
collectives" in the workplace and neighborhoods to resist this isolation.
Like Haug,  DeDoria and others urge the Left in general to seriously study
the issues of morality in contemporary capitalism and to raise its
understanding of this phenomenon "to the level of conceptual or scientific

All argue,  in Haug's phrase,   for a "unified moral code" free from the
"divisions and arbitrary reconjugations of its sex-specific meanings" of the
ruling capitalist morality.   In the closing paragraphs of her seminal
article,  she provides much of the basis for a continuing feminist
scholarship on the questions of civil morals:

"[T]he power of the state is not the expression of a masculine morality
which has been erected into a universal ethical code.   [It is derived] from
the iridescent tones,  the shifting meanings and combination of values,  in
short the bisexual nature of morality,  which makes it possible to appeal to
everyone,  each in his/her own way.....[w]e become used to thinking of
contradictory stances as being as normal as the fact that there are men and
women.   The exchange of love for money,  for example,  is something we
regard as possible and impossible in the same breath,  wanting love both to
be the free expression of feeling and to be secured by contract.    Or
again,  we believe that men are prepared to die for the sake of glory,  and
that women should be willing to sacrifice themselves for them.    Or,
finally,  we accept that they should commit murder in obedience to higher
principles while believing that we are the defenders of life--this idea,
too,  is an effect of a bisexual morality."

She ends by urging others to continue to investigate the interconnections
"between the bisexuality of morality,  with its distinctions and
coinflations, and the problems of class,  politics and war."

In a political milieu that,  in late 1996,  is suffused with the
incandescent cheapness of capitalist "morality"-- whether it be the
hypocrisies of family,  business,  politics or sex-- we could do worse than
to continue the work of humanizing the structures of our society in order to
reflect the true commonality of gender.

Louis Godena

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