Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

Sex Differences: Inherited or Acquired? Mutable or Immutable? - A Meeting by Chance between Zhang Kangkang and Evolutionary Feminism

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

Sex Differences: Inherited or Acquired? Mutable or Immutable? - A Meeting by Chance between Zhang Kangkang and Evolutionary Feminism

Article excerpt


The nationwide attempt at reforming human nature by tiying to erase sex differences and driving men and women to conformity and homology during the Cultural Revolution in China engendered several consequences, one of which is one decade's myth of gender equality. In this "sexless" decade, gender equality was maintained by tacitly designating male standard as the norm to which women should aspire. Women were treated unequally in the name of equality, feeling guilty of their sex-typical appearances and behavior, and having to shed off their femininity and specificities. Equality became "a vacuous, or rather, a formal concept" in one decade of de-sexualization and de-individualization, since "difference cannot be readily accommodated in a system that reduces all difference to distinction and all identity to sameness," as Elizabeth Grosz (1995, pp. 50-54) analyzes the "serious drawbacks" the political agenda of egalitarian feminism entailed. Egalitarian feminists, Grosz writes, claimed that women should be as able as men to do what men do, and that gender inequality resulted from culture not nature, from social construction not biological determinants. If social roles were readjusted or restructured and the two sexes re-socialized, men and women could be rendered equal and all behavioral sex differences be eliminated. In this sense, the ambition to remake humanity and eradicate sex differences during the Cultural Revolution represents a strong version of egalitarian feminism and social constructionism. All these three - the Cultural Revolution, egalitarian feminism and social constructionism - have tried, but failed to, theorize and realize sexual and reproductive equality.

The explanation of sex differences - the lingering puzzle within feminism - is at the core of evolutionary feminist theory. Evolutionary feminism (also called Darwinian feminism) refers to the study of gender issues from an evolutionary perspective, and comprises the works by Anne Campbell, Patricia Gowaty, Sarah BlafferHrdy, Janet Radcliffe Richards, Barbara Smuts, GrietVandermassen, Marlene Zuk, and others (both female and male scholars). They brought feminist concerns into the fields of evolutionary biology and sociobiology, and illuminated and rectified the androcentric biases in these fields. Though speaking from different disciplines such as evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, and philosophy, they share the belief that "it is only through taking into account our evolved human nature that it will be possible/w//y to understand the sources of women's oppression" (Vandermassen, 2004, p. 22, italics in original).

Zhang Kangkang (1950- ) is a prolific Chinese woman writer. This paper aims to reveal that scattered in her essays, the novel Women on the Edge (2006), and other writings, Zhang's views on sex differences often echo with evolutionary feminism at a distance. Lying at the intersection of literature, feminist criticism and evolutionary studies, this paper will address the following questions: Are sex differences congenital or learned? Is their existence a transient event or immutable? Will the recognition of biological underpinning of sex differences from an evolutionary perspective be biologically reductive and essentialistic, and lead to biological determinism and reassert patriarchal containment of women? How does Zhang fit in with (and diverge from) evolutionary feminism on this issue of sex differences? Why and how have they been criticized? How can I present their counterarguments? And what is the future of sex differences from an evolutionary perspective?


The belief that sex differences are, by and large, socially imposed and culturally structured is rather appealing, as it allows us to see the injustice and empowers us to challenge the injustice, and it can create an illusion of control and (fast) change (Hurley, 2002). Defenders of the patriarchal system, as well as many early evolutionists, considered that women were by nature, passive, compliant, nurturing, and less intelligent. …

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