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Chapter 1 Where to Start

Chapter 2 Language and Giving

Chapter 3 Reciprocity

Chapter 4 Definitions and Exchange

Chapter 5 The Concept of Man

Chapter 6 'Marksist' Categories

Chapter 7 The Collective Source

Chapter 8 Castration Envy

Chapter 9 Is = $

Chapter 10 Value 157

Chapter 11 Shifting into Exchange

Chapter 12 Giving Value to Exchange

Chapter 13 Market and Gender

Chapter 14 Deserving to Exist

Chapter 15 Pointing and Patriarchy

Chapter 16 The Point of the Ego

Chapter 17 What Does Democracy Re-Present?

Chapter 18 The Unmasculated Agents of Change

Chapter 19 Dreaming and Reality

Chapter 20 Giving and Love

Chapter 21 From the Garden to the Grail

Chapter 22 Cosmological Speculations

Chapter 23 After Words Practicing the Theory

Index of Figures

Selected Bibliography

Return to Home Page

Chapter 6

'Marksist' Categories

Co-munication creates the mutual inclusion of co-municators, regarding all the different parts of their world. The naming of gender divides the co-municators into two mutually exclusive, oppositional categories from the beginning, contradicting the mutual inclusion of co-munication. Like the opposed modes of giftgiving and exchange, the genders enter into a kind of complementarity, though they are not a perfect fit. The over-valuing of domination makes mutual inclusion and bonding according to creative giving and receiving difficult. Bizarre developments, like viewing dominance and submission as mutual inclusion, sometimes appear to be the resolution of this contradiction. Giving to the dominator can become a stable pattern--as occurs with so-called 'family values.'

What happens in the distinction of gender is that the aspects of language which involve giving and giving-way are identified as the behavior of biological females, while the aspects of substitution and categorization are assigned to males. These two roles eventually develop into dis-empowered nurturing on the one hand and domination/exchange on the other. The mutually exclusive aspect of gender comes from language itself,1 where 'female' and 'male' are connected by direct opposition. In order to carry out behavior which is supposedly appropriate for a bearer of one's own gender term, one could conceivably look at the behavior of the other gender, and simply do the opposite.

In a founding text on the universals of language, Joseph Greenberg2 discussed 'marked' and 'unmarked' linguistic categories, which are found at the phonological, grammatical, and lexical levels regarding terms in opposition. For example, terms like 'short' and 'tall,' or 'wide' and 'narrow,' 'up' and 'down' imply opposite ends of a continuum. One of these opposites is usually the linguistic norm.3 We ask, 'How old is the girl?' not 'How young?' 'Old' is the norm, what linguists call the 'unmarked' term. According to Greenberg, 'man' is the 'unmarked' term, while 'woman' is 'marked.'

To me, the meta-linguistic expressions 'marked' and 'unmarked' seem to be backwards. It would seem that the more general, more inclusive term should be 'marked' (calling our attention to it) and the less inclusive, 'unmarked.' Instead, the term which is less important has an extra 'mark,' a prefix or suffix, while the more important term, which is called a 'zero sign,' is without additions. For example, in English we add an 's' to the singular to form the plural. The plural is the 'marked' category, the singular 'unmarked.' Even the two terms themselves have their meanings strangely crossed. 'Marked' is un-marked, while 'unmarked' is marked.

Greenberg cites Jakobson's article that defines the distinction: "The general meaning of a 'marked' category asserts the presence of a certain property 'A;' the general meaning of the corresponding 'unmarked' category does not assert anything regarding the presence of 'A' and is used principally but not exclusively to indicate the absence of 'A.'" Then Greenberg goes on to say, "Thus in Jakobson's terms 'woman' asserts the presence of the 'marked' category 'feminine,' while 'man' is used principally but not exclusively to indicate the absence of 'feminine.'"

This analysis is counter-intuitive for women who have been taught by 'the school of hard knocks' that it is being a male that is the important property, the lack of which defines us as women. Greenberg continues, "'Man' therefore has two meanings, to indicate the explicit absence of 'feminine' in the meaning 'male human being,' but also to indicate 'human being in general.'" Thus, according to Greenberg, the term which indicates the absence of the feminine also includes the feminine when it is used in general. Women are included while the feminine is explicitly indicated as absent.

It occurs to me to fantasize that if men and women were words, men would be the 'marked' term, with the prefix of the phallus--so according to this theory, less important, different--while the women would be 'zero' signs, without a prefix, more important, the norm. If it is true that 'man' is defined according to the absence of the feminine property, what is this property? Women's property is just the absence of the distinctive property, the 'mark,' and (added to this) the absence of property in the sense of private property. Women are indeed the norm, as the lacking and unaccepted 'samples' of the human species.

It is on the basis of the absence of the female sample that men define themselves and define humanity. The phallus would be the double negative, the absence of the absence. (Jacques Lacan talks about the 'lack of the lack.') It is not surprising that both children and linguists are confused. And the word 'wo-man' itself is 'man' marked with a prefix which perhaps hides the fact that the mother doesn't physically have one. The difference, her not having a 'mark,' is seen as her difference, a lack with regard to the norm to which the male child instead is similar. The word 'mankind' demonstrates the problem. By taking the phallus as the 'mark' of men, and men as samples of the species, women appear to be 'defective,' members (sic) of an inferior kind.

Being the norm has itself become a male gender characteristic, and the phallus has become, paradoxically, a 'mark' of the norm. The word 'male' and all other words which are used for domination through definition become phallically invested, because of the similarity of the male gender mandate and the definition (from which it derived). The word 'male' over-takes males, those who have a 'mark,' who become themselves over-takers, and who use their 'mark' to dominate or take over. Placed in positions of 'author-ity' by their 'marks,' they use their words to define and conquer.

Verbal communication among males and females thus must attempt to create mutual inclusion among those who are culturally defined as polar opposites, one pole being defined as 'superior' to the other, the marked norm and the sample for the species. The logical contradictions involved in this situation create damaging double binds which society has not yet resolved. In fact, many meta messages about gender are ego-oriented, constructed upon the exchange logic, and confirm the superiority of the male gender. This book is an attempt at an alternative giftgiving meta message about gender categories which would serve the need for abolishing them.

Over-Valuing Substitution

Since more value is socially given to masculated males, more attention is socially given to the substitution side of language, which therefore holds sway over the gift-giving side, in our understanding. A number of self-reflecting patterns develop, which both express the contradictory character of language-based gender and perpetuate it. Substitution or taking-the-place-of becomes domination and repeats itself, taking the place of giftgiving, which nurtures it. The male takes the place of the female as model of the human, and women continue to give to males and to give value to the male model. Male behaviors of domination and competition take the place of noncompetition, of giftgiving and giving-way. These behaviors replay aspects of the service and substitution mechanisms which we saw in the definition. Giving value is an aspect of giving that continues to support substitution-domination in our society.

At the level of language, we give value to the substitute gifts which are words, while at the level of genders we give value to the substitute, the male who takes the place of women (and other men). Our attention becomes focused on the place-taker, and we no longer look at Mother Earth or the mother, or any gift-giverthe one whose place is being taken. Giftgiving itself appears to be inferior (value is not given to it) when compared to substitution, which has usually been stripped of its gift aspects so as to appear more completely the opposite of giving. Then in economics, exchange--which is a mechanism of substitution and giving-way--self-similarly substitutes the whole giftgiving mode, which gives-way. (See Figure 10.)

Another expression of masculation is the use of the definition and naming to control the behavior of others through command and obedience (the giving-way of the will). After the members of one half of humanity have been given the mandate to be non-nurturing, it is difficult to convince them they should do it at appropriate moments and to a limited degree. Thus children may paradoxically be beaten (a physical over-taking) for not giving and giving-way, for being disobedient or disrespectful. Morality and the law are also structured according to command and obedience, domination by the word. Revenge and reprisal are the consequence of disobedience. 'Just' punishment is given in exchange for breaking the law. Giftgiving is made to seem unrealistic, while what is actually needed is not justice--based on the definition, masculation and exchange--but kindness, the restoration of the gift paradigm and the mothering model.

A Divided Community

Virtually everyone in the co-munity takes turns in the roles of speaker and listener (linguistic giver and receiver). Co-munication takes place also among people of the same gender, of course, so that speakers and listeners (givers and receivers) can also be of the same sex. Each gender develops its own kind of co-munity of mutual inclusion with those of the same sex while attempting to bridge the mutual exclusion, by forming a co-munity with those of the opposite sex.

There are thus two different processes for each gender. If forming the co-munity also produces our individual identities at the same time, there will be two kinds of identities for each gender--an identity constructed by co-municating with the same sex and one constructed by co-municating with the opposite sex. (The givers give to givers. They also give and give-in to those who are engaged in taking-the-place-of; the place-takers form a community of similars who also compete to take each other's place.) The basic functioning principles of co-munication--giftgiving and substitution are acted out in the two opposed gender roles.

The misuses of definition and naming--which would otherwise have been relatively neutral and collectively beneficial linguistic processes and mechanisms--are made possible by the invisibility of giftgiving in language and in life. These are both causes and results of masculation and the cancellation of the mothering model. Restoring giftgiving to our view of language and life (and restoring the idea of service and co-municative need-satisfaction to the definition and naming) can debilitate the patriarchal possession of a reified and de-humanized definition process, while taking away the phallic investment of the word.

Family Values

In practice, the mothering model has been kept in the family and dis-empowered, not extended to the rest of society. It has been interpreted by the ideological Right as subservient to the dominant father model. Families built upon such oppressive 'family values' are the cornerstone of patriarchy. In them, the caretaker and giftgiver is captured in the (permanent) service of one who dominates her and usurps her position of model for her sons--a fact which at the same time makes her a model of weakness and subservience for her daughters. Instead, mothering could provide the reasonable, workable basis for our social institutions, and giftgiving could be liberated as the principle of a better social order.

I do not mean by this that the patriarchal state should co-opt nurturing, as has already been tried in many kinds of exchange dressed up as gift and welfare programs. In the US, aid to the 'Third World' at home and abroad is almost always a hidden exchange to the benefit of the 'givers' and to the detriment and humiliation of the 'receivers.' Nurturing from the male model, even the collective male model, has not worked, as many costly examples of communism (state capitalism) and bureaucracy have shown.4

Rather, governments should be re-organized to rid them of competition for dominance, so that individuals and relatively small groups could take part in nurturing one another. A transformation of this sort would also require the creation of abundance through the cessation of waste. Presently scarcity is being artificially created through waste-spending on products which do not nurture life--armaments, drugs, symbolic luxuries. These expenditures deplete the economy of the many in order to allow the continuation of patriarchal socio-economic systems of exploitation and the over-privileging and power of the few.

It is important to look at language for clues about how to organize society, because language has the characteristic of being both individual and social, both in our own minds and in those of our groups. As a major creative factor in the formation of our individual and collective identities, it helps to bridge the gap between the single person and the multitude.

Exchange, constituted by a mechanism of substitution and giving-way as a derivative of the definition, is a very strong self-reflexive template which pulls us towards interpreting everything in its image, while at the same time hiding giftgiving. If we can point out, understand and de-mystify its mechanisms and restore the principle of giftgiving in abundance to our idea of language, we can then use language as a guide towards creating a Mothering Society at home here on Mother Earth. Giftgiving and its values are already available. We must only alter our perspective and take off our patriarchal glasses to see them.
fig Figure 10. Taking-over and giving-way at different scales.

Genderless Categories

Even when we talk about the 'Good' or 'Justice,' which seem like 'unmarked' and gender-neutral terms, we still have males as the unacknowledged models. The 'Good' is loaded with images of male God figures, while 'Justice' usually depends upon male judges and male law. The value given to equality, which is an important factor in the one-many concept form and a main principle of masculation and exchange, also perpetuates the male model. (Mothers nurture babies who are different from them, not equal.) The male images and actors bring with them the values they have been given socially, including the privilege of their 'mark.'

Moreover, the seemingly neutral categories are given a nobility as categories to which we should try to belong. They are a sort of artificial, 'unmarked' state of being, a broader norm to which little boys who had to leave the category of their mothers can as adults strive to return--without going through the terrors of the illusory need for castration. By behaving according to the laws, commandments, rules and regulations of the fathers, they can become similar to their father and brothers, who are not really different from their mothers in this, since the rules are valid for all, even though the males have more authority.

By this, boys as they become adults can partly divest themselves of the invented difference that ruined their primordial integrity, the wholeness and identification with their mothers--the original true experience they had to deny when they found out they belonged to the other category. Their mothers and other females are 'raised' to a level of equality with them, following the same rules and supposedly having the same privileges.

The neutral, objective ('unbiased') categories promise a sort of utopia to which children can aspire if they behave correctly, or if all people behave correctly. By acting in such a way that we can belong to the category of 'good' (or even 'Democrat' or 'American'), we seem to have a chance to overcome the original estrangement due to the 'mark' or lack of the 'mark,' the gender difference. I want to insist here that this sad journey is unnecessary, because the original estrangement is unnecessary. It is the social interpretation of gender that estranges the little boy from his mother because of his 'mark.' And we can change a social interpretation. The little boy really is still a member of the category of the human with the giftgiving mother as model, as is the little girl, and the 'mark' really is irrelevant to the category of the human from the beginning.


Adults socialize children into these roles both by their own behavior and by actively telling the child he is a boy, pushing him towards his father's identity, away from the interactive giftgiving identity he experiences every day with his mother. (The problem is even worse if the father is not available at all, but the child only sees other men on the street or perhaps on television.) We adults divide his conceptual identity from his experience. He is just trying to use language with regard to himself as he uses it with regard to other things to understand what they are.

Similarly, a little girl learns from society that the category to which she and her mother belong is 'inferior,' that it is often not even visible as a category, and that her mother, who is still her model, probably values the male with his 'mark' more than she does her daughter, herself or her gender.

Another effect of masculation is that privilege of one kind or another appears connected to a 'mark.' Money, cars, possessions function as 'marks' of class; skin color, height, and other physical differences function as 'marks' of racial or cultural categories, but all of these dynamics originate from the phallic 'mark,' and from defining the boy's difference from the mother as a physical difference. They promote the idea of a privileged 'deviant.' Then it may appear that we should behave in a masculated obsessive way because we are connected to (or own) a 'mark.'

Money for instance, like the phallus, is the 'mark' which appears to identify the norm. It disqualifies the (giftgiving) norm whose place it has taken, making those who do not have it 'inferior.' Other kinds of biological characteristics like white skin, can function as the culturally imposed 'mark' of the norm, interpreting other skin colors as 'lacking' or 'less normal' categories. We all act according to our definitions just as boys and girls do. We blindly follow the self-fulfilling prophecies of the names of our categories, which bring with them the erroneous social readings of our physical and non-physical differences. Or we have to grapple with the prophecies and contradict them. It would be much easier to change the definitions than it is to change the lives and social patterns that have already been distorted in their image.

Both women and men can learn (and many are already doing so) to speak to children from a meta level about gender, telling them something like "The words we use to talk about ourselves are not quite right; we are a little different from the way it sounds. Even though we say 'male' and 'female,' 'boy' and 'girl,' 'mommy' and 'daddy,' we are all human. We are really all part of the same category." In fact, when children are small, they have to also overlook some other major physical differences (such as size) in order to be able to grasp the category 'human' and themselves as part of it. Surely they are open-minded enough to overlook the difference in genitals for their definition if we don't impose it upon them.

Listen to how people with young children talk about gender. With clothes on, boy and girl babies look very much alike, and the gender is the first thing people ask about. "Is the baby a boy or a girl?" Even the practice of distinguishing babies according to the colors they are dressed in, pink and blue, is misleading.5 We should not impose stereotypes upon our children, but rather allow them to grow up through giftgiving interactions, and to become conscious of what they are as they grow. Perhaps we should allow children to choose their gender at puberty according to sexual preference, enhancing their choices with rituals and celebrations.

We should not burden them with a self-fulfilling prophecy which alienates them from us and from themselves.

We may think children are not smart enough or logical enough to catch these distinctions. But if that is the case, it is probably because we have confused them from the beginning by loading the terms of their identities with such difficult and false differences. We are not doing this only individually; it is part and product of the whole misogynist social drift. Categorization itself has become a tool of oppression linked with the economic evaluation of everything according to its price. But giftgiving and need-satisfaction are more important than categorization for the well-being of humanity. Categorization has just been distorted and over-emphasized as a consequence of masculation.

We could also avoid masculation by abolishing gender terms altogether for children. We could call children 'hums,' for instance, short for 'humans.' We could say, "How's my little hum?" To the question, "Is your baby a boy or a girl?" we could reply, "E's a hum." Or perhaps we could just hum. Maybe adults could finally begin to refer to ourselves that way as well. This would solve the problem of separation-based masculated identity, of the definition of females as inferior and of the over-evaluation of the neuter or objective, by not imposing false distinctions in the first place. The penis is not a special gift or a 'mark' of a superior category. It is only a body part.

I do not mean by this to take the positive and life-enhancing character from sexual differences, but to liberate them from the stereotypes and especially from the obsession of masculation that is murdering us and our Mother Earth. Is it perhaps because we cannot hear Earth saying, "You are like me! You are in my giftgiving category," that we have done this? Or is it that we cannot hear her because we have the obsession? As a species, we have defined ourselves as something ('Man') that is 'other' than the Mother and have to act according to our self-fulfilling prophecy.

In other words, we have done the same thing regarding Mother Earth that we have done as little boys regarding our human mothers. We have denied our similarity and identified ourselves as 'something else,' but we don't quite know what it is (so we end up identifying with the word itself). Our sample seems to be a male god a lot like us, up in the sky and bigger and more important than the Mother. We try to act according to what he tells us to do, invent a hierarchical great chain of being, of over-taking and giving-way, and forget about the giftgiving impulses of our hearts.

Trusted and allowed to play according to their own lights, however, children become enormously intelligent and creative as Maria Montessori discovered. We need to let our definitions of ourselves grow up from our experiences of our free activities--play, creativity, interactions of giftgiving--filling our sensitive learning periods with living reality. We should not make our children have to try to become adequate to pre-existing oppositional adult gender categories. All this is easier where there is abundance and the experience of the child is not blighted by abuse or scarcity.

Maybe 'hum' could also stand for 'humus,' part of earth, the ground which we and our whole cultures are for one another, the foundation from which we grow and to which we return. Maybe we can finally act according to giftgiving, in a continuation of the original mother-child situation, which we can finally allow to flower sanely and untwisted in the whole society.

A Personal Experiment

It is really not difficult to change the language we teach to children. I tried it myself in the 1960s with my oldest child, Amelia. I avoided using the possessive pronoun with her, not teaching her 'my' or 'mine,' 'his,' 'hers.' Since the mother really is the original sample, a child learns from what she says better than from others. I did ask the other people who were with us to avoid these possessives also. Of course, Amelia heard them when we were with people we did not know well, on the radio, and so forth. I got around the difficulties in ideas by saying, "Daddy uses that," for example, instead of "that's Daddy's." It was interesting that she did not learn possessives until she was around three, though she was talking well by then.

I know how she learned. She wanted to play with some dishes and another person there told her, "Don't touch those; they're your mother's." I always felt that the illogical reason (actually she was not supposed to play with them because they would break--not because they were mine) coupled with the fact that the person who possessed the dishes was me, the mother, finally made my daughter start to use that category. It would be hard to say whether not learning the possessives made my daughter any more generous than she otherwise would have been, or whether it had any effect at all. In fact, the experiment ended too soon, there were too many variables, and doing it alone was not terribly effective.

On the other hand, it didn't hurt her either. Possession is not as basic as gender, and anyway, the fabric of life absorbed any negativity that might have been involved. Avoiding gender terms at an early age, however, could really have a far-reaching effect in children's self-concepts, at least if it was done in their most sensitive language-learning periods.

We could also use androgynous terms in nursery schools. We could talk to children about gender terms from a meta level on Sesame Street and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. We could give TV examples of mothers and children (boys and girls) using genderless terms to define their categories as part of a common humanity. I believe that here, too, the fabric of life would correct any unknown negatives that might be involved in the experiment.

Women have made such a difference in language in the last decades, eliminating sexist terminology. Surely we could devise new ways of talking to and about our children which would let them continue to identify with us in an ongoing way outside of stereotypical gender concepts. Then perhaps all of us could recognize and acknowledge our kinship to each other, to our mothers and to Mother Earth, returning to the giftgiving norm.

1For Saussure, ibid, Chapter IV, langue is a system of purely differential oppositional units. Each word is related to all the others by mutual exclusion. Each is identified as itself by not being the others. When signifier and signified are considered together, other associations and oppositions also apply, such as binary oppositions and regular paradigmatic variations.

2Joseph Greenberg, Language Universals, The Hague, Mouton, 1966.

3Op. cit., On Language, Roman Jakobson, "The Concept of 'Mark,'" Chapter 8.

4Though communism may be seen as an attempt to satisfy needs, it has been undermined, like capitalism, by patriarchal structures. Marx, and other male economists up to the present day, did not understand women's free labor as value-producing work. If women's work were counted (See Marilyn Waring, If Women Counted, A New Feminist Economics, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1988), we would have to add on at least 40% to the GNP of most Western countries, more to Third World countries. Economists who leave aside such macroscopic elements must be skewing their analyses, as if a student of the solar system were to leave aside 40% of the planets. S/he would have to find other explanations for their effectsirregularities in orbits, for example, and would not be able to map an itinerary for successful space travel. Feminism is a more complete analysis, deeper and farther reaching, and a better basis for social planning than communism or capitalism, because unlike them it gives value to free labor.

5Distinguishing sexes according to the color of their clothes is like distinguishing (and privileging) races according to the color of their skin.

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