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Gender studies

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.

The philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said: “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.” In Gender Studies the term "gender" is used to refer to the social and cultural constructions of masculinities and femininities. It does not refer to biological difference, but rather cultural difference. 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. Feminist theory of psychoanalysis, articulated mainly by Julia Kristeva (the "semiotic" and "abjection") and Bracha Ettinger (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

Studies of gender have been undertaken in many academic areas, 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"). On the other hand, feminist theorists such as Juliet Mitchell, Nancy Chodorow, Jessica Benjamin, Jane Gallop, Bracha Ettinger, Shoshana Felman, Griselda Pollock 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. Sexuation (sexual situation) — the development of gender-roles and role-play in childhood — breaks down concepts of gender identity as innate or biologically determined. Critics like Elizabeth Grosz accuse Jacques Lacan of maintaining a sexist tradition in psychoanalysis. Others, such as Judith Butler and Jane Gallop have used Lacanian work to develop gender theory.

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.

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". Griselda Pollock and other femininsts have articulated Myth and Poetry and literature,, from the point of view of gender.

Post-modern influence

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

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

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.

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. 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.

Criticism

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." 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.

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'.

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.

Theorists associated with gender studies

See also

References

Bibliography

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