Gayle Rubin

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Gayle S. Rubin (born 1949) is a cultural anthropologist best known as an activist and influential theorist of sex and gender politics. She has written on a range of subjects including feminism, sadomasochism, prostitution, pedophilia, pornography and lesbian literature, as well as anthropological studies and histories of sexual subcultures, especially focused in urban contexts.

Biography

Rubin first rose to prominence through her 1975 essay "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex", in which she attempts to discover historical social mechanisms by which gender and compulsory heterosexuality are produced, and women are consigned to a secondary position in human relations. In this essay, Rubin coined the phrase "sex/gender system", which she defines as "the set of arrangements by which a society transforms biological sexuality into products of human activity, and in which these transformed sexual needs are satisfied". She takes as a starting point writers who have previously discussed gender and sexual relations as an economic institution (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) which serves a conventional social function (Claude Lévi-Strauss) and is reproduced in the psychology of children (Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan). She argues that these writers fail to adequately explain women's oppression, and offers a reinterpretation of their ideas. Rubin addresses Marxist thought by identifying women’s role within a capitalist...
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