Gender studies

Gender studies is a field of interdisciplinary study which analyzes the phenomenon of gender. It examines both cultural representations of gender and people's lived experience. Gender Studies is sometimes related to studies of class, race, ethnicity 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.

Bracha Ettinger

Bracha Ettinger worked from the late Lacanian theory to expose Freudian and Lacanian blind spots concerning the feminine, the maternal, and the female specisicities in the bodily Real, and developed their potential for thinking subjectivity and transforming the Symbolic. She articulated a feminine, pre-maternal and maternal "matrixial" sexual difference. Ettinger articulated the matrixial borderspace unconscious sphere of "subjectivity as encounter" where "I" and "non-I" emerge in jointmess without rejection and without symbiosis, starting from the infant's primordial contact with female body, phantasy and trauma. The matrixial is a feminine difference that informs gender and has particular relevance to mother-daughter relations. Ettinger structures subjectivity with a "trans-subjective" dimension where reattunement of jointness-in-differentiation structures sujectivity and suggests that primary access to the maternal occurs via aesthetic proto-ethical affects of "fascinance" and "primary compassion" arises before and also beside "abjection", and argues that blindness to these processes, as well as the therapist's production of "ready-made mother-monster" harm women by destroying the transformational potentiality of mother/daughter relations and the mother-daughter transmission.

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.

The development of gender theory

Women's studies

Women's studies is an interdisciplinary academic field concerning women, feminism, gender, and politics. It can include feminist theory, women's history, women's fiction and women's health.

Men's studies

Men's Studies is an interdisciplinary academic field that includes discussions of men's rights,Men's health, feminist theory, queer theory, patriarchy, as well, social, historical, and cultural representations of men and masculinity.

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.


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 assert that the 'gender' in gender studies is "routinely used as a synonym for 'women'. Such criticism is irrelevant both to Butler and to contemporary psychoanalytically informed Gender studies since Kristeva and Ettinger contribute different insights concerning sexual difference and the maternal in terms of pre-Oedipal and "abjection" (Kristeva), and "trans-subjective coemergence" and psychic "pregnance" (Ettinger), concepts and processes that inform gender and identity before and beyond social constructs.

Theorists associated with gender studies

See also


External links

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