Gender studies

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Multiple gender identity

Gender studies is a politicized field for interdisciplinary study devoted to gender identity and gendered representation as central categories of analysis. Almost always operating from a left-wing perspective, 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, geography, history, political science, sociology, anthropology, cinema, media studies,[2] human development, law, and medicine.[3] It also analyzes how race, ethnicity, location, class, nationality, and disability intersect with the categories of gender and sexuality.[4][5]

Regarding gender, Simone de Beauvoir wrote: "One is not born a woman, one becomes one".[6] However, this is a dubious and confused assertion. Who or what can become a woman? We are born babies of the male or female sex, and in fact our sex is fixed at conception by the presence of either an XX (female) or an XY (male) chromosome. This chromosome is in every cell of our body, including our brain, and even removing our reproductive organs does not alter that. Only girl babies grow up to be women. It is not true that anybody or anything can grow up to be a woman, and the experiments of Dr John Money, which were intended to prove that any child can grow up to be a woman with the correct social conditioning, ended in failure and disaster.[7]

Appropriate skepticism should therefore be used for the claim that "gender" meaning the social and cultural constructions of masculinities and femininities , can be somehow dislocated from the reality of biological sex that it relates to and indicates. .[8] However, this view is not held by all gender theorists. Beauvoir's is a view that many sociologists support (see Sociology of gender), though there are many other contributors to the field of gender studies with different backgrounds and opposing views, such as psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and feminists such as Judith Butler.

Gender is pertinent to many disciplines, such as literary theory, drama studies, film theory, performance theory, contemporary art history, anthropology, sociology, sociolinguistics and psychology. However, these disciplines sometimes differ in their approaches to how and why gender is studied. 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.[9] Gender studies is also a discipline in itself, incorporating methods and approaches from a wide range of disciplines.[10]

Each field came to regard "gender" as a practice, sometimes referred to as something that is performative.[11] Feminist theory of psychoanalysis, articulated mainly by Julia Kristeva[12] (the "semiotic" and "abjection") and Bracha Ettinger[13] (the feminine-prematernal-maternal matrixial Eros of borderlinking and com-passion,[14] "matrixial trans-subjectivity" and the "primal mother-phantasies"),[15] and informed both by Freud, Lacan and the object relations theory, is very influential in gender studies.

Gender can also be broken into three categories, gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex, as Sam Killermann explains in his Ted X Talk at the University of Chicago.[16] Favored by the political left, these three categories are another way of breaking down gender into the different social, biological, and cultural constructions. These constructions focus on how femininity and masculinity are allegedly "fluid" entities, and how their meaning is able to fluctuate depending on the various constraints surrounding them.

Influences of gender studies

New developments

In the twenty-first century, the field of gender studies has sought to avoid or deny the trend of the increasing male surplus in most Western countries. Instead, gender theorists have tended to blame white men for any resulting increases in social tensions. Other cultural developments are also considered taboo: under the partial influence of women's liberation and other types of feminism, long-term dysgenic trends included an increase in genetic diseases, and worldwide declines in average intelligence among most populations. In the pursuit of sexual relations for pleasure, women generally reject boring "beta males" for a relatively small percentage of more aggressive "alpha males", who make poor or indifferent providers for the resulting offspring. This has caused a massive increase in single mothers, sometimes supported by welfare. Changing gender roles enforced by political correctness increasingly criminalize the behavior of lower-status men pursuing women who are not interested in them.

Gender studies are affected in complex ways by the rise of Transsexuals. These have increasingly been accused of "contaminating" or "polluting" the dating or marriage pool of prospective partners, by concealing their identity as transsexuals to gain sexual partners. Man-to-woman transsexuals often attempt to date men while pretending to be biological women,[17][18] a major cause of the violence perpetrated against them.[19] This criticism applies even more strongly to the dating pools of dating sites. The social effects are thought to be out of proportion to the low percentage of transsexuals. Most transsexuals are still believed to be relatively open about their reassignment, however, and both gender theorists and their critics acknowledge transsexuals' sincerity to appear as members of the opposite sex.

Gender studies and psychoanalytic theory

A number of theorists have influenced the field of gender studies significantly, specifically in terms of psychoanalytic theory. Among these are Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Bracha Ettinger, and Mark Blechner.

Gender studied under the lens of each of these theorists looks somewhat different. In a Freudian system, women are 'mutilated and must learn to accept their lack of a penis' (in Freud's terms a "deformity").[20] Lacan, however, 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.[21] The concept of sexuation (sexual situation), which posits the development of gender-roles and role-play in childhood, is useful in countering the idea that gender identity is innate or biologically determined. In other words, the sexuation of an individual has as much, if not more, to do with their development of a gender identity as being genetically sexed male or female.[22]

Other influences include Julia Kristeva and Mark Blechner. Kristeva has significantly developed the field of semiotics. She contends that patriarchal cultures, like individuals, have to exclude the maternal and the feminine so that they can come into being.[23] Mark Blechner expanded psychoanalytic views of sex and gender.[24] 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.[25]

Bracha Ettinger transformed subjectivity in contemporary psychoanalysis since the early 1990s with the Matrixial[26] feminine-maternal and prematernal Eros[14] of borderlinking (bordureliance), borderspacing (bordurespacement) and co-emergence. The matrixial feminine difference defines a particular gaze[27] and it is a source for trans-subjectivity and transjectivity[28] 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.[29]

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.[30] In other cultures, however, receptive fellatio is the norm for early adolescence and seen as a requirement for developing normal manliness.[31]

Feminist psychoanalytic theory

Feminist theorists such as Juliet Mitchell, Nancy Chodorow, Jessica Benjamin, Jane Gallop, Bracha Ettinger, Shoshana Felman, Griselda Pollock,[32] 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".

Critics like Elizabeth Grosz accuse Jacques Lacan of maintaining a sexist tradition in psychoanalysis.[33] Others, such as Judith Butler, Bracha Ettinger and Jane Gallop have used Lacanian work, though in a critical way, to develop gender theory.[34][35][36]

According J.B Marchand, "The gender studies and queer theory are rather reluctant, hostile to see the psychoanalytic approach. ".[37]

For Jean-Claude Guillebaud, the gender-studies (and activists of sexual minorities) "besieged" and consider psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts as "the new priests, the last defenders of the genital normality, morality, moralism or even obscurantism."[38]

Judith Butler's worries about the outlook psychoanalytic under which sexual difference is "undeniable" and pathologizing any effort to suggest that it is not so paramount and unambiguous ...".[39] According to Daniel Beaune and Caterina Rea, the gender-studies "often criticized psychoanalysis to perpetuate a family and social model of patriarchal, based on a rigid and timeless version of the parental order".[40]

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".[41] Griselda Pollock and other feminists have articulated Myth and Poetry[42] and literature,[42][43][44] from the point of view of gender.

Post-modern influence

The emergence of post-modernism theories affected gender studies,[22] causing a movement in identity theories away from the concept of fixed or essentialist gender identity, to post-modern[45] fluid[46] or multiple identities.[47] The impact of post-structuralism, and its literary theory aspect post-modernism, on gender studies was most prominent in its challenging of grand narratives. Post-structuralism paved the way for the emergence of queer theory in gender studies, which necessitated the field expanding its purview to sexuality.[48]

In addition to the expansion to include sexuality studies, under the influence of post-modernism gender studies has also turned its lens toward masculinity studies, due to the work of sociologists and theorists such as, R.W. Connell, Michael Kimmel, and E. Anthony Rotundo.[49][50]

These changes and expansions have led to some contentions within the field, such as the one between second wave feminists and queer theorists.[51] The line drawn between these two camps lies in the problem as feminists see it of queer theorists arguing that everything is fragmented and there are not only no grand narratives but also no trends or categories. Feminists argue that this erases the categories of gender altogether but does nothing to antagonize the power dynamics reified by gender. In other words, the fact that gender is socially constructed does not undo the fact that there are strata of oppression between genders.

The development of gender theory

History of gender studies

The history of gender studies looks at the different perspectives of gender. This discipline examines the ways in which historical, cultural, and social events shape the role of gender in different societies. The field of gender studies, while focusing on the differences between men and women, also looks at sexual differences and less binary definitions of gender categorization.[52]

After the revolution of the universal suffrage of the twentieth century and the women's liberation movement of the 1960 and 1970s promoted a revision from the feminists to "actively interrogate" the usual and accepted versions of history as it was known at the time. It was the goal of many feminist scholars to question original assumptions regarding women’s and men’s attributes, to actually measure them, and to report observed differences between women and men.[53] Initially, these programs were essentially feminist, designed to recognize contributions made by women as well as by men. Soon, men began to look at masculinity the same way that women were looking at femininity, and developed an area of study called "men’s studies." [54] It was not until the late 1980s and 1990s that scholars recognized a need for study in the field of sexuality. This was due to the increasing interest in lesbian and gay rights, and scholars found that most individuals will associate sexuality and gender together, rather than as separate entities.[54][55]

A study of drivers' propensity to use traffic information system showed that income and car ownership play an important role in travel behavior for men, while education and occupation were identified significant in the women's behavior.[56]

In 2015 at Kabul University the first master's degree course in gender and women’s studies in Afghanistan began.[57]

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 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. Timothy Laurie and Anna Hickey-Moody suggest that there 'have always been dangers present in the institutionalisation of "masculinity studies" as a semi-gated community', and note that 'a certain triumphalism vis-à-vis feminist philosophy haunts much masculinities research'.[58]

Gender in East Asia

Certain issues associated with gender in Eastern Asia and the Pacific Region are more complex and depend on location and context. For example, in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia, a heavy importance of what defines a woman comes from the workforce. In these countries, "gender related challenges tend to be related to economic empowerment, employment, and workplace issues, for example related to informal sector workers, feminization of migration flows, work place conditions, and long term social security."[59] However, in countries who are less economically stable, such as Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, Laos, Cambodia, and some provinces in more remote locations, "women tend to bear the cost of social and domestic conflicts and natural disasters."[59]

One issue that remains consistent throughout all provinces in different stages of development is women having a weak voice when it comes to decision-making. One of the reasons for this is the "growing trend to decentralization [which] has moved decision-making down to levels at which women’s voice is often weakest and where even the women’s civil society movement, which has been a powerful advocate at national level, struggles to organize and be heard."[60]

East Asia Pacific’s approach to help mainstream these issues of gender relies on a three-pillar method [1]. Pillar one is partnering with middle-income countries and emerging middle-income countries to sustain and share gains in growth and prosperity. Pillar two supports the developmental underpinnings for peace, renewed growth and poverty reduction in the poorest and most fragile areas. The final pillar provides a stage for knowledge management, exchange and dissemination on gender responsive development within the region to begin. These programs have already been established, and successful in, Vietnam, Thailand, China, as well as the Philippines, and efforts are starting to be made in Laos, Papua New Guinea, and Timor Leste as well. These pillars speak to the importance of showcasing gender studies.[59]

See also Gender Equality and Discrimination in Asia and the Pacific Asian Development Bank.

Judith Butler

The concept of gender performativity is at the core of philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler's work, notably in Gender Trouble. In Butler’s terms the performance of gender, sex, and sexuality is about power in society.[11][61] 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.[11]


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 current trends in gender studies with an argument for the necessity to analyze lived experiences and the structures of subordination and power.[62] Authors Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge propose in the book 'Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women's Studies' that the attempt to make Women's Studies serve a political agenda has led to problematic results such as dubious scholarship and pedagogical practices that resemble indoctrination more than education.

Rosi Braidotti (1994) 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."[63] 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.[64]

Importance of gender studies

The field of gender studies explores the ways that femininity and masculinity affect an individual’s thought process. This is relevant in a variety of realms, such as social organizations and institutions, interpersonal relationships, and understandings of identity and sexuality.[54] Gender studies is a discipline created originally by activists,[53] and those who study it today see it as their mission to identify, analyze, and correct social inequities both locally and globally.[54]

Gender Studies explores power as it relates to gender and other forms of identity, including sexuality, race, class, religion, and nationality. Gender Studies encompasses interdisciplinary fields, which include exploration of the histories and experiences of diverse women and men as well as studies of sexualities, masculinities, femininities, and gender systems in society.[65] It also analyzes how gender plays out in politics, intimate life, culture, the workplace, athletics, technology, health, science, and in the very production of knowledge itself. College courses emphasize critical thinking and analysis along with social justice activism.[66] These courses teach interdisciplinary methods, relate debates in the field to key intellectual and social movements, explore intersections of feminist studies, masculinity studies, and queer studies, and assist students with professional development. Gender Studies emphasize the relationships between gender and society historically and cross-culturally, and the changes now occurring in the roles of women and men, the participation of women in the major institutions of society, and women themselves. Gender is then understood as not a freestanding category, but rather one that takes shape through its intersection with other relations of power, including sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, nationality, and religion.[67] It offers historical, contemporary, and transnational analyses of how gender and sexual formations arise in different contexts such as colonialism, nationalism, and globalization. Globalization describes the ways that gender operates in different national and cultural contexts. Through this understanding, many graduates get advanced degrees in a profession such as law or business. Graduates report working in a range of areas including communications and media, arts and education, business, politics and government, the law, health, and non-profit sector. In addition to its focus on the history and achievements of women, gender scholarship has inspired research and curricula that address men’s lives, masculinity, and the lives of people who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender.[68]

Other people whose work is associated with gender studies

See also



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