For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange

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FOR-GIVING: A FEMINIST CRITICISM OF EXCHANGE

Gender is actually an economic identity," asserts Genevieve Vaughan, but to her, gender is also a linguistic identity and the two are intertwined.

In For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange, she writes, "What happens in the distinction of gender is that the aspects of language which involve giving and giving-way are identified as the behaviour 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."

Vaughan's basic thesis is that child caring and the teaching of language to children are the basis of women's gifts to the world. Just as mothers nourish their children, so women also give their time and effort to their communities without expecting reward. A world full of gift-givers would be a world which met everyone's basic needs, because gift-giving seeks to satisfy the receiver.

What we have instead, Vaughan says, is a world run by exchange: the gift must be matched by an equal gift in return. She suggests that exchange, `quid pro quo,' or enforced reciprocity of any kind (communism as well as capitalism) is a perversion of the natural human impulses to produce and to nurture. Men fall into exchange as a way to play `mine's bigger.' It's a form of competition which is not reciprocity, exactly. In a typical exchange, each party tries to get a little more in return than they actually give. …