Popular Culture Review 29.1 (Spring 2018) - Page 69

ordinarily reducible to biology. The essential traits of gender are not difficult to capture in Aristotle’s Athenian culture. As Thomas Cahill described: “For the strutting aristoi of the symposia, the nature of life was obvious: you gave it or you got it. […] It was a militarized society that saw everything in terms of active and passive, swords and wounds, phalloi and gashes.” As we will see, one of UnREAL’s most central characters, Rachel, is “both a weapon and a wound,” and this plays a part in the show’s efforts to undermine gender essentialism, if not the hierarchical norms of patriarchy. Opponents of this essentialist view of gender hold that gender is socially constructed, such that conventional gender categories are in fact “culturally mediated assumptions about gender.” For instance, a constructionist does not equate the conventional notion of ‘care-giver’ or the conventional description of women as ‘relational beings’ with biological femaleness. Rather, these categories are outcomes of conventional habits of practice and social customs, which change over time and place. The constructionist, however, is not necessarily an anti-realist. A constructionist can hold that there are real differences in the world, but we cut up nature, not at its ontological joints, but according to conceptual categories of our own making, that is, the making of our social contexts and practices. If social institutions and practices, such as those of reality TV and the entertainment industry are sufficiently patriarchal, then the power dynamics of domination and subordination will be inscribed onto gender roles that are interpreted as natural and inevitable by the essentialist. An example from jurisprudence may be helpful. Catherine MacKinnon argued that the legal concept of equality derived from Aristotle’s notion that like things needed to be treated alike and different things differently. But Aristotle’s understanding of sameness and difference tacitly relied on something being self- same, that is, men, (male, Athenian citizens) were centered and taken as the norm by which others could be compared as same or different. Thus, women, if not sufficiently the same as the self- same male standard, could not achieve equality.  As MacKinnon put it, women “have to first have [equality] before [they] can get it.”  Rather, she suggested that the opposite of equality was hierarchy—her “dominance theory.” What we see in Season 2 is not so much MacKinnon’s hopes for a new theory of equality but the realization that women can embrace the dominant role and perform the culturally mediated functions of maleness, including autonomy, stoicism, independence, dominance, and hedonism, even if this means battling the gender roles that others try to force upon them and that they want to be free to embrace when it suits them. 69