Culture Problems and Culture Change

There’s a frustrating tendency in gender studies to point out problems—label them as cultural, perhaps—and leave it there. It’s a bit ironic, considering women’s/gender studies emerged as the academic attempt to legitimize change-based political movements. But, somehow, discussions of how to effect actual change are lost in the academic arena.

Judith Butler or Christine Delphy can write that gender, and even sex, are culturally constructed, but there is no effort to imagine the process of overhauling the oppressions of the false binary. bell hooks can write about the harmful nature of dick-thing masculinity and the pervasive rape culture, but there is no real effort to discuss how to change the cultural construction of sexual desire. When solutions are proposed, as in Firestone’s piece, the totalistic iconoclasm is laughably absurd. Practical culture change, I would argue, must happen within the existing system.

In Bennhold’s article about Swedish paternal leave policy, political change functions as a catalyst for social change. Swedish parents have reimagined gender roles as a result of the leave policies. Mona Sahlin notes: “Sometimes politicians have to be ahead of public opinion.” While this may work in Sweden, it seems impossible in (21st Century) America, where our political climate is inherently reactionary*. Here, change must happen socially before politically. The political change follows years or decades later.

The question, then, must be how to effect social change. How do we change attitudes and desires that many people consider intrinsic? I have no idea. The danger, of course, is in viewing those attitudes/desires as intrinsic, without ever questioning. Education in issues and critical thinking is clearly essential to any progressive culture change project, but that change is slow, generational. There have to be other options; I just don’t know what they are.


Bennhold, Katrin. “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All.”

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble.

Delphy, Christine. “Rethinking Sex and Gender.”

Firestone, Shulamith. The Dialectic of Sex.

hooks, bell. “Seduced by Violence No More.”

*Examples abound: The ERA still has not been passed. The Supreme Court only officially decriminalized sodomy in 2003.

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