Gender studies

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Gender studies is a field of interdisciplinary study and academic field devoted to gender identity and gendered representation as central categories of analysis. This field includes women's studies (concerning women, feminism, gender, and politics), men's studies, and LGBT studies.[1] Sometimes, gender studies is offered together with study of sexuality. These disciplines study gender and sexuality in the fields of literature, language, history, political science, sociology, anthropology, cinema, media studies, human development, law, and medicine.[2] It also analyzes race, ethnicity, location, nationality, and disability.[3][4]

Gender study has many different forms. One view espoused by the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said: "One is not born a woman, one becomes one".[5] This view proposes that in gender studies, the term "gender" should be 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.[6] However, this view is not held by all gender theorists. Other areas[which?] of gender study closely examine the role that the biological states of being male or female (anatomical, physiological, and genetical explanations of male and female body parts, structure and nature of functions of body organs, genetic carriers etc.) have on social constructs of gender. Specifically, in what way gender roles are defined by biology and how they are defined by cultural trends. 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 Jacques Lacan; and the work of feminists such as Judith Butler.

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, sociolinguistics and psychology. 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. In politics, gender can be viewed as a foundational discourse that political actors employ in order to position themselves on a variety of issues.[7] Gender studies is also a discipline in itself: an interdisciplinary area of study that incorporates methods and approaches from a wide range of disciplines.[8]

Each field came to regard "gender" as a practice, sometimes referred to as something that is performative.[9] Feminist theory of psychoanalysis, articulated mainly by Julia Kristeva[10] (the "semiotic" and "abjection") and Bracha Ettinger[11] (the feminine-prematernal-maternal matrixial Eros of borderlinking and com-passion,[12] "matrixial trans-subjectivity" and the "primal mother-phantasies"),[13] and informed both by Freud, Lacan and the object relations theory, is very influential in gender studies.

Influences of gender studies[edit]

Gender studies and psychoanalytic theory[edit]

Sigmund Freud[edit]

Some feminist critics[who?] 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").[14]

On the other hand, feminist theorists such as Juliet Mitchell, Nancy Chodorow, Jessica Benjamin, Jane Gallop, Bracha Ettinger, Shoshana Felman, Griselda Pollock,[15] Luce Irigaray and Jane Flax have developed a Feminist psychoanalysis and argued that psychoanalytic theory is vital to the feminist project and must, like other theoretical traditions, be criticized by women as well as transformed to free it from vestiges of sexism (i.e. being censored). Shulamith Firestone, in "The Dialectic of Sex" calls Freudianism the misguided feminism and 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[edit]

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.[16] 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?)[17] Critics like Elizabeth Grosz accuse Jacques Lacan of maintaining a sexist tradition in psychoanalysis.[18] Others, such as Judith Butler, Bracha Ettinger and Jane Gallop have used Lacanian work, though in a critical way, to develop gender theory.[19][20][21]

Julia Kristeva[edit]

Main article: 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 to exclude the maternal and the feminine so that they can come into being.[22]

Bracha Ettinger[edit]

Main article: Bracha Ettinger

Bracha Ettinger transformed subjectivity in contemporary psychoanalysis since the early 1990s with the Matrixial[23] feminine-maternal and prematernal Eros[12] of borderlinking (bordureliance), borderspacing (bordurespacement) and co-emergence. The matrixial feminine difference defines a particular gaze[24] and it is a source for trans-subjectivity and transjectivity[25] in both males and females. Ettinger rethinks the human subject as informed by the archaic connectivity to the maternal and proposes the idea of a Demeter-Persephone Complexity.[26]

Mark Blechner[edit]

Main article: Mark Blechner

Mark Blechner expanded psychoanalytic views of sex and gender, calling psychoanalysis "the once and future queer science".[27] 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.[28] "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.[29] In other cultures, however, receptive fellatio is the norm for early adolescence and seen as a requirement for developing normal manliness.[30]

Literary theory[edit]

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".[31] Griselda Pollock and other feminists have articulated Myth and Poetry[32] and literature,[32][33][34] from the point of view of gender.

Post-modern influence[edit]

The emergence of post-modernism theories affected gender studies,[17] causing a movement in theories identity away from the concept of fixed or essentialist gender identity, to post-modern[35] fluid[36] or multiple identities.[37]

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, whereby masculinity too can be taken as always in movement and never fixed or stable.[38]

The development of gender theory[edit]

History of gender studies[edit]

After the revolution of the universal suffrage of the twentieth century and the women's liberation movement of the 1970s promoted a revision from the feminists to "actively interrogate" the usual and accepted versions of the History as it was known at the time. New way of looking at history came out of the analysis. This gave birth to the Gender History studies.[39]

Women's studies[edit]

Main article: 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[edit]

Main article: Men's studies

Men's studies is an interdisciplinary academic field devoted to topics concerning men, masculism, gender, and politics. It often includes feminist theory, men's history and social history, men's fiction, men's health, feminist psychoanalysis and the feminist and gender studies-influenced practice of most of the humanities and social sciences.

Judith Butler[edit]

Main article: 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.[9] 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 perceived as natural in the social imaginary.[9]


Historian and theorist Bryan Palmer argues that gender studies' current reliance on post-structuralism – 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.[40]

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 countered 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]

Other people whose work is associated with gender studies[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gender Studies". Whitman College. Retrieved May 1, 2012. 
  2. ^ "About - Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality (CSGS)". The University of Chicago. Retrieved May 1, 2012. 
  3. ^ Healey, J. F. (2003). "Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Class: the Sociology of Group Conflict and Change".
  4. ^ "Department of Gender Studies". Indiana University (IU Bloomington). Retrieved May 1, 2012. 
  5. ^ de Beauvoir, S. (1949, 1989). "The Second Sex".
  6. ^ Garrett, S. (1992). "Gender", p. vii.
  7. ^ Salime, Zakia. Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  8. ^ Essed, Philomena; Goldberg, David Theo; Kobayashi, Audrey (2009). A Companion to Gender Studies. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-8808-1. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c Butler, J. (1999). "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity", 9.
  10. ^ Anne-Marie Smith, Julia Kristeva: Speaking the Unspeakable (Pluto Press, 1988)
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b Bracha L. Ettinger, "Diotima and the Matrixial Transference: Psychoanalytical Encounter-Event as Pregnancy in Beauty." In: Van der Merwe, Chris N., and Viljoen, Hein, eds. Across the Threshold. NY: Peter Lang, 2007
  13. ^
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Griselda Pollock, Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum: Time, Space and the Archive. Routledge. 2007.
  16. ^ Lacan, J. (1973). Encore. Paris: Seuil, 1975.
  17. ^ a b Wright, E. (2003). "Lacan and Postfeminism (Postmodern Encounters)"
  18. ^ Grosz, E. (1990). "Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction", London: Routledge
  19. ^ Butler, J. (1999). "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity".
  20. ^ Ettinger, B. (Collected Essays from 1994–1999). "The Matrixial Borderspace", University of Minnesota Press, 2006
  21. ^ Gallop, J. (1993). "The Daughter's Seduction: Feminism and Psychoanalysi", Cornell University Press
  22. ^ Kristeva, J. (1982). "Powers of Horror"
  23. ^ Bracha L. Ettinger, "Matrix and Metramorphosis." In: Differences. Vol. 4, nº 3: 176–208, 1992
  24. ^ Bracha L. Ettinger, The Matrixial Borderspace. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006 (articles from 1994–1999). ISBN 0-8166-3587-0
  25. ^ Bracha L. Ettinger, "Matrixial Trans-subjectivity" in: Problematizing Global Knowledge. Theory, Culture & Society, Volume 23, Numbers 2–3, 2006. ISSN 0263-2764
  26. ^ public lecture at EGS (2012) on YouTube
  27. ^ Blechner, M. J. (2009) 'Sex Changes: Transformations in Society and Psychoanalysis.' New York and London: Taylor & Francis.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Blechner, M. J. (1998) Maleness and masculinity. 'Contemporary Psychoanalysis,' 34:597–613.
  30. ^ Herdt, G. (1981) 'Guardians of the Flute.' New York: McGraw-Hill.
  31. ^ Mica Howe & Sarah A. Aguier (eds.). He said, She Says. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001.
  32. ^ a b Vanda Zajko & Miriam Leonard (eds.). Laughing with Medusa. Oxford University Press, 2006.
  33. ^ Humm, Maggie, Modernist Women and Visual Cultures. Rutgers University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8135-3266-3
  34. ^ Nina Cornietz, Dangerous Women, Deadly Words. Stanford University Press, 1999.
  35. ^ Grebowicz, M. (2007). Gender After Lyotard. NY: SUNY Press, 2007.
  36. ^ Zohar, Ayelet (ed.), PostGender. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.
  37. ^ Benhabib, S. (1995). "Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange" and Butler, J. (1995) "Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange".
  38. ^ Reeser,Masculinities in Theory, 2010)
  39. ^ Liddington, Jill. "HISTORY, FEMINISM AND GENDER STUDIES". University of Leeds Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies: Working Paper 1 Feminist Scholarship: within/across/between/beyond the disciplines. 
  40. ^ Bryan Palmer, "Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History", Trent University (Peterborough, Canada)


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