Gender studies

From Susan's Place Transgender Resources
Jump to: navigation, search

Gender studies is a field of interdisciplinary study which analyzes the phenomenon of gender. Gender studies is sometimes related to studies of class, race, ethnicity, sexuality and location.[1]

The philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said: “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.”[2] In gender studies, the term "gender" is used to refer to the social and cultural constructions of masculinities and femininities, not to the state of being male or female in its entirety.[3] The field emerged from a number of different areas: the sociology of the 1950s and later (see Sociology of gender); the theories of the psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan; and the work of feminists such as Judith Butler. Each field came to regard "gender" as a practice, sometimes referred to as something that is performative.[4] Feminist theory of psychoanalysis, articulated mainly by Julia Kristeva[5] (the "semiotic" and "abjection") and Bracha Ettinger[6] (the "matrixial trans-subjectivity" and the "primal mother-phantasies"), and informed both by Freud, Lacan and the Object relations theory, is very influential in gender studies.

Studying gender

Gender is an important area of study in many disciplines, such as literary theory, drama studies, film theory, performance theory, contemporary art history, anthropology, sociology, psychology and psychoanalysis. These disciplines sometimes differ in their approaches to how and why they study gender. For instance in anthropology, sociology and psychology, gender is often studied as a practice, whereas in cultural studies representations of gender are more often examined. Gender studies is also a discipline in itself: an interdisciplinary area of study that incorporates methods and approaches from a wide range of disciplines.

Influences of gender studies

Gender studies and psychoanalytic theory

Sigmund Freud

Some feminist critics have dismissed the work of Sigmund Freud as sexist, because of his view that women are 'mutilated and must learn to accept their lack of a penis' (in Freud's terms a "deformity").[7] On the other hand, feminist theorists such as Juliet Mitchell, Nancy Chodorow, Jessica Benjamin, Jane Gallop, Bracha Ettinger, Shoshana Felman, Griselda Pollock[8] and Jane Flax have argued that psychoanalytic theory is vital to the feminist project and must, like other theoretical traditions, be adapted by women to free it from vestiges of sexism. Shulamith Firestone, in "Freudianism: The Misguided Feminism", discusses how Freudianism is almost completely accurate, with the exception of one crucial detail: everywhere that Freud writes "penis", the word should be replaced with "power".

Jacques Lacan

Lacan's theory of sexuation organizes femininity and masculinity according to different unconscious structures. Both male and female subjects participate in the "phallic" organization, and the feminine side of sexuation is "supplementary" and not opposite or complementary.[9] Sexuation (sexual situation) — the development of gender-roles and role-play in childhood — breaks down concepts of gender identity as innate or biologically determined. (clarify-refutes?challenges?)[10] Critics like Elizabeth Grosz accuse Jacques Lacan of maintaining a sexist tradition in psychoanalysis.[11] Others, such as Judith Butler, Bracha Ettinger and Jane Gallop have used Lacanian work, though in a critical way, to develop gender theory.[12][13][14]

Julia Kristeva

Julia Kristeva has significantly developed the field of semiotics. In her work on abjection, she structures subjectivity upon the abjection of the mother and argues that the way in which an individual excludes (or abjects) their mother as means of forming an identity is similar to the way in which societies are constructed. She contends that patriarchal cultures, like individuals, have had to exclude the maternal and the feminine so that they can come into being.[15]

Mark Blechner

Mark Blechner expanded psychoanalytic views of sex and gender, calling psychoanalysis "the once and future queer science."[16] He has argued that there is a "gender fetish" in western society, in which the gender of sexual partners is given enormously disproportionate attention over other factors involved in sexual attraction, such as age and social class. He proposes that the words "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality" be given prefixes, depending on the dimension that is the same or different between partners.[17] "Age heterosexuality" would indicate an attraction between people of different ages, for example. What is conventionally called "heterosexuality" (attraction between a man and a woman) would be called "gender heterosexuality."

Cultures can have very different norms of maleness and masculinity. Blechner identifies the terror, in Western males, of penetration. Yet in many societies, being gay is defined only by being a male who lets himself be penetrated. Males who penetrate other males are considered masculine and not gay and are not the targets of prejudice.[18] In other cultures, however, receptive fellatio is the norm for early adolescence and seen as a requirement for developing normal manliness.[19]

Literary theory

Psychoanalytically oriented French feminism focused on visual and literary theory all along. Virginia Woolf's legacy as well as "Adrienne Rich's call for women's revisions of literary texts, and history as well, has galvanized a generation of feminist authors to reply with texts of their own".[20] Griselda Pollock and other femininsts have articulated Myth and Poetry[21] and literature[22],[23],[21] from the point of view of gender.

Post-modern influence

The emergence of post-feminism affected gender studies,[10] causing a movement in theories identity away from the concept of fixed or essentialist gender identity, to post-modern[24] fluid or multiple identities .[25]

See Donna Haraway, The Cyborg Manifesto, as an example of post-identity feminism.

More recently, the relation between post-modernism or post-structuralism and masculinity has been considered. Masculinity can be taken as always in movement and never fixed or stable. See Reeser, Masculinities in Theory (2010) for a comprehensive overview of this approach.

Visual theory

The development of gender theory

History of gender studies

Women's studies

Women's studies is an interdisciplinary academic field devoted to topics concerning women, feminism, gender, and politics. It often includes feminist theory, women's history (e.g. a history of women's suffrage) and social history, women's fiction, women's health, feminist psychoanalysis and the feminist and gender studies-influenced practice of most of the humanities and social sciences.

Men's studies

Men's studies is an interdisciplinary academic field devoted to topics concerning men, masculism, gender, and politics. It often includes masculist theory, men's history and social history, men's fiction, men's health, masculist psychoanalysis and the masculist and gender studies-influenced practice of most of the humanities and social sciences. Key theoretical contributions reconciling the relationship between masculist/feminist interpretation of gender studies include Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men[26] by Dr Warren Farrell and James Sterba, and Gendering, Courtship and Pay Equality by Dr Rory Ridley-Duff [27].

Judith Butler

The concept of gender performativity is at the core of Butler's work, notably in Gender Trouble. In Butler’s terms the performance of gender, sex, and sexuality is about power in society. [4] She locates the construction of the "gendered, sexed, desiring subject" in "regulative discourses." A part of Butler's argument concerns the role of sex in the construction of "natural" or coherent gender and sexuality. In her account, gender and heterosexuality are constructed as natural because the opposition of the male and female sexes is constructed as natural.[4]


Gender studies is criticized by Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young for being a discipline that "philosophizes, theorizes and politicizes on the nature of the female gender" as a social construct, to the point of excluding the male gender from analysis. They also claim that the 'gender' in gender studies is "routinely used as a synonym for 'women'.[28]

Historian and theorist Bryan Palmer argues that the current reliance on poststructuralism — with its reification of discourse and avoidance of the structures of oppression and struggles of resistance — obscures the origins, meanings, and consequences of historical events and processes, and he seeks to counter the current "gender studies" with an argument for the necessity to analyze lived experience and the structures of subordination and power.[29]

Pope Benedict XVI has denounced some of the gender theories, warning that they blur the distinction between male and female and could thus lead to the "self-destruction" of the human race. [30] He warned against the manipulation that takes place in national and international forums when the term "gender" is altered. "What is often expressed and understood by the term 'gender,' is definitively resolved in the self-emancipation of the human being from creation and the Creator," he warned. "Man wants to create himself, and to decide always and exclusively on his own about what concerns him." The Pontiff said this is man living "against truth, against the creating Spirit."[31]

Rosi Braidotti has criticized gender studies as: "the take-over of the feminist agenda by studies on masculinity, which results in transferring funding from feminist faculty positions to other kinds of positions. There have been cases...of positions advertised as 'gender studies' being given away to the 'bright boys'. Some of the competitive take-over has to do with gay studies. Of special significance in this discussion is the role of the mainstream publisher Routledge who, in our opinion, is responsible for promoting gender as a way of deradicalizing the feminist agenda, re-marketing masculinity and gay male identity instead."[citation needed]

Calvin Thomas counters that, "as Joseph Allen Boone points out, 'many of the men in the academy who are feminism's most supportive 'allies' are gay,'" and that it is "disingenuous" to ignore the ways in which mainstream publishers such as Routledge have promoted feminist theorists.[citation needed]

Theorists associated with gender studies

  • Kate Bornstein
  • Christine Delphy
  • Marie-Helene Bourcier
  • Chantal Nadeau
  • Rory Ridley-Duff

See also


  1. Healey, J. F. (2003). "Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Class : the Sociology of Group Conflict and Change".
  2. de Beauvoir, S. (1949, 1989). "The Second Sex".
  3. Garrett, S. (1992). "Gender", p. vii.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Butler, J. (1999). "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity", 9.
  5. Anne-Marie Smith, Julia Kristeva: Speaking the Unspeakable (Pluto Press, 1988)
  6. Griselda Pollock, "Inscriptions in the Feminine" and "Introduction" to "The With-In-Visible Screen", in: Inside the Visible edited by Catherine de Zegher. MIT Press, 1996.
  7. Karen Horney was one of the first to question the theory of penis envy. She argues that it is "the actual social subordination of women" that shapes their development: not the lack of the organ, but of the privilege that goes with it. Karen Horney (1922). "On the Genesis of the Castration Complex in Women." Psychoanalysis and Women. Ed. J.B. Miller. New York: Bruner/Mazel, 1973.
  8. Griselda Pollock, Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum: Time, Space and the Archive. Routledge. 2007.
  9. Lacan, J. (1973). Encore. Paris: Seuil, 1975.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Wright, E. (2003). "Lacan and Postfeminism (Postmodern Encounters)"
  11. Grosz, E. (1990). "Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction", London: Routledge
  12. Butler, J. (1999). "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity".
  13. Ettinger, B. (Collected Essays from 1994-1999). "The Matrixial Borderspace", University of Minnesota Press, 2006
  14. Gallop, J. (1993). "The Daughter's Seduction: Feminism and Psychoanalysi", Cornell University Press
  15. Kristeva, J. (1982). "Powers of Horror."
  16. Blechner, M. J. (2009) 'Sex Changes: Transformations in Society and Psychoanalysis.' New York and London: Taylor & Francis.
  17. Blechner, M. J. (1995) The shaping of psychoanalytic theory and practice by cultural and personal biases about sexuality. In T. Domenici and R. Lesser, (eds.) 'Disorienting Sexuality.' New York: Routledge, pp. 265-288.
  18. Blechner, M. J. (1998) Maleness and masculinity. 'Contemporary Psychoanalysis,' 34:597-613.
  19. Herdt, G. (1981) 'Guardians of the Flute.' New York: McGraw-Hill.
  20. Mica Howe & Sarah A. Aguier (eds.). He said, She Says. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Vanda Zajko & Miriam Leonard (eds.). Laughing with Medusa. Oxford University Press, 2006.
  22. Humm, Maggie, Modernist Women and Visual Cultures. Rutgers University Press, 2003. ISBN 0813532663
  23. Nina Cornietz, Dangerous Women, Deadly Words. Stanford University Press, 1999.
  24. Grebowicz, M. (2007). Gender After Lyotard. NY: Suny Press, 2007.
  25. Benhabib, S. (1995). "Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange." and Butler, J. (1995) "Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange.".
  26. Farrell, W. & Sterba, J. (2008) Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men, New York: Oxford University Press
  27. Ridley-Duff, R. J. (2008) "Gendering, Courtship and Pay Equity: Developing Attraction Theory to Understand Work-Life Balance and Entrepreneurial Behaviour", paper to the 31st ISBE Conference, 5th-7th November, Belfast
  28. Nathanson, P. and K. K. Young (2006). "Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture." Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press
  29. Bryan Palmer, "Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History", Trent University (Peterborough, Canada)


  • Armstrong, Carol and de Zegher, Catherine (eds) (2006). Women Artists as the Millennium. Cambridge Massachusetts: October Books, MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01226-3 . OCLC 62766150. 
  • Boone, Joseph Allen and Michael Cadden, eds., 1990. Engendering Men, New York: Routledge. ISBN 04159-0255-X . OCLC 20992567. 
  • Butler, Judith, 1993. "Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of 'Sex", New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415-90366-1 . OCLC 27897792. 
  • Butler, Judith, "Feminism by Any Other Name", in differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies June, 1994. ISSN 1040-7391
  • Butler, Judith, 1999. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. ISBN 04159-2499-5 . OCLC 41326734. 
  • Cante, Richard C. (March 2008). Gay Men and the Forms of Contemporary US Culture. London: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0 7546 7230 1. OCLC 173218594. 
  • Cranny-Francis, Anne, Joan Kirkby, Pam Stavropoulos, Wendy Waring, eds., 2003. "Gender studies : terms and debates", Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0333-77612-7 . OCLC 50645644. 
  • De Beauvoir, Simone, 1989. The Second Sex. New York: random House Inc. ISBN 06797-2451-6 . OCLC 20905133. 
  • Ettinger, Bracha L., 2001. "The Red Cow Effect." Reprinted in: Mica Howe & Sarah A. Aguiar (eds.), He Said, She Says. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001. 57-88. ISBN 0-8386-3915-1 . OCLC 46472137. 
  • Farrell, W., 1994. The Myth of Male Power: Why Men are the Disposable Sex, New York: Berkley Books.
  • Ettinger, Bracha L., 2006 (Essays 1994-1999). The Matrixial Borderspace, University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-3587-0 . OCLC 62177997. 
  • Ettinger, Bracha L., 2006. "From Proto-ethical Compassion to Responsibility: Besidedness, and the three Primal Mother-Phantasies of Not-enoughness, Devouring and Abandonment". Athena: Philosophical Studies. Vol. 2. ISSN 1822-5047.
  • Foucault, Michel, 1988. "Care of the Self the History of Sexuality", Random House Inc. ISBN 0394-74155-2 . OCLC 20521501. 
  • Foucault, Michel, 1990. "History of Sexuality: An Introduction", London: Random House Inc. ISBN 06797-2469-9 . OCLC 5102034. 
  • Foucault, Michel, 1990. "Use of Pleasure: The History of Sexuality", London: Random House Inc. ISBN 0394-75122-1 . OCLC 5102034. 
  • Foucault, Michel, 1995. "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison", translated by Allen Sheridan, London: Random House ISBN 0679-75255-2 . OCLC 32367111. 
  • Fraser, Nancy, Judith Butler, Seyla Benhabib, and Drucilla Cornell, 1995. "Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange." New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415-91086-2 . OCLC 30623637. 
  • Frug, Mary Joe. "A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto (An Unfinished Draft)," in "Harvard Law Review", Vol. 105, No. 5, March, 1992, pp. 1045 - 1075. ISSN: 0017-811X
  • Grebowicz, Margaret, (2007). Gender After Lyotard. NY: Suny Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-6956-9 . OCLC 63472631. 
  • Healey, Joseph F., 2003. Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Class: the Sociology of Group Conflict and Change. London: Pine Forge. ISBN 07619-8763-0 . OCLC 50604843. 
  • Kristeva, Julia, 1982. "Powers of Horror. Trans. Leon Roudiez." New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 02310-5347-9 . OCLC 8430152. 
  • Farrell, W., Sterba, J. "Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men? A Debate", New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Palmer, Bryan D., "Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History", Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999, ISBN 08772-2720-9 . OCLC 233030494. 
  • Pinker, Susan, 2008. The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women and the Real Gender Gap. Random. ISBN 0679314156 . OCLC 181078409. 
  • Pollock, Griselda, 2001. "Looking Back to the Future". G&B Arts. ISBN 90-5701-132-8 . OCLC 42875273. 
  • Pollock, Griselda, 2007. Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum: Time, Space and the Archive. Routledge. ISBN 0415413745 . OCLC 129952714. 
  • Ridley-Duff, R. J., 2005. Interpersonal Dynamics: A Communitarian Perspective, paper to MCA-ENROAC Conference, Antwerp. 7th-9th April. [1]
  • Ridley-Duff, R. J., 2007. Emotion, Seduction and Intimacy: Alternative Perspectives on Organisation Behaviour, Bracknell: Men's Hour Books, ISBN 978-0975430019, [2]
  • Wright, Elizabeth, 2000. Lacan and Postfeminism. London: Icon Books Ltd. ISBN 18404-6182-9 . OCLC 44484099. 
  • McElroy, Wendy, 2001. Sexual Correctness: The Gender-Feminist Attack on Women, Jefferson: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786402261 . OCLC 34839792. 
  • Oyewumi, Oyeronke, ed., 2005. African Gender Studies: A Reader, London: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 1403-96283-9 . 
  • Reeser, Todd W. Masculinities in Theory (Malden: Wylie-Blackwell, 2010).
  • Scott, Joan W. "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," in Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).
  • Spector, Judith A, ed., 1986. Gender Studies: New Directions in Feminist Criticism, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0879-72351-3 . 
  • Thomas, Calvin, ed., 2000. "Introduction: Identification, Appropriation, Proliferation", in Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252-06813-0 . 
  • Zajko, Vanda and Leonard, Miriam, 2006. "Laughing with Medusa". Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-927438-X . 
  • de Zegher, Catherine (ed.) (1996). Inside the Visible. MIT Press, Boston. . ISBN 0262540819. OCLC 33863951. 

External links


*Some information provided in whole or in part by