Women as Difference
The Greek desire for univocity motivates the canonical account of the origin of gender, the eighth-century B.C. poems of Hesiod. As Froma Zeitlin has stated:
The particularities too of Hesiod's extreme negativity towards woman, while open to compromise and mitigation in other texts and other spheres of interest, still remain the touchstone of an underlying attitude concerning this intrusive and ambivalent “other” who is brought into another man's household and forever remains under suspicion as introducing a dangerous mixture into the desired purity and univocity of male identity, whether in sexual relations or in the production of children. (Zeitlin 1990)
This desire for univocity of male identity which Zeitlin marks in the archaic Greek text becomes inscribed as a philosophical principle in Greek philosophy, and male becomes univocity as female becomes difference. As a long line of feminist thinkers beginning with Beauvoir has shown, western thought is dependent on the identification of the putative universal spirit with the male and the body of difference with the female (Lloyd 1984, 26). This dichotomy or opposition inscribes the opposition man / woman in a whole series of culturally charged binary oppositions, already in Pythagoras, although the actual list has changed (Lloyd 1984, 3). Thus man is to woman as
active: passive substance: accident form: matter soul: body univocity: division and difference meaning: language signified: signifier
These analogical sets of oppositions often seem to be so deeply grounded in western culture that they elude accounts of origins as well as attempts at transcendence. They seem to just be there. Even Jacques Derrida seems to imagine often enough that we can only “deconstruct” these oppositions from within them and never truly escape them (Derrida 1976, 24).
My hypothesis is that the discourse of gender in much of European culture has its sources in a particular metatextual combination of platonic philosophy and Hebrew myth, produced in the biblical hermeneutics of the first century, and that perhaps only this particular cultural combination could have produced the precise set of pernicious practices which mark western gender theory. In other words, the same desire for univocity that Zeitlin has claimed for the Greek (Hesiodic) reign of the phallus is that which produces the reign of the logos as well. A series of very specific exegetical moves on the Genesis story proved to be the genesis as well of a certain type of allegory in western discourse, and that same allegory, in turn, thematized the supplementarity of woman in the culture.