Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Oyo Yoruba Religion

Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Oyo Yoruba Religion

Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Oyo Yoruba Religion

Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Oyo Yoruba Religion

Excerpt

Sex is not natural. It changes historically, subject to contentious reinterpretation and, above all, to retooling as a metaphor of just about every other human activity.

For better or worse, clear reasoning about the matter requires us to speak indelicately. Anglophone North Americans generally define a person’s sex according to the presence or absence of a penis. However, there is much sexual variation among the people with penises, as there is among people without them. For example, those with penises vary tremendously with respect to the size of their penises and testicles, testosterone levels, body shape, degree of hairiness, breadth of hips, muscularity, voice pitch, ability to produce sperm or achieve erections, and so forth. People without penises vary in most of these ways and more; they also vary in their ability to produce ova.

Despite my everyday, culturally induced habits of perception, not a week passes when I fail to see someone on the street whose place in a binary scheme of sexual anatomy is unclear to me. Such people incite lively discussion among my American countrymen, and our choice to deny them their permanent indeterminacy, even when they demand it, is evidence that our conventionally dichotomous thinking about sex is more conditioned by culture than by our senses. The visceralness of our intolerance for their indeterminacy results not from nature but from the depth of our cultural training in the importance of the dichotomy. Our reaction is akin to the Lele’s reaction to the pangolin and to the Hebrews’ reaction to the pig—a cloven-hoofed but non-cud-chewing animal that defied the Hebrews’ dichotomous classification of legitimate animal species (Douglas 1966). Recent developments both highlight and upset dichotomous thinking about sex: some university administrations . . .

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