Feminism and Gender Theory
Butler, J. (1990). Subjects of sex/gender/desire in Gender trouble (pp. 1-34). New York: Routledge.
Bartky, S. L. Foucault, femininity, and the modernization of patriarchal power. In R. Weitz (Ed.), The politics of women’s bodies: Sexuality, appearance, and behavior (pp. 25-45). New York: Oxford University Press.
Hammonds, E. (1994). Black (w)holes and the geometry of Black female sexuality. differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies.
Connell, R. W. & Messerschmidt, J.W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & Society, 19, 829-859.
It could just be that its been a very long week and I'm extra agreeable at this point, but I enjoyed all the articles and had no qualms or disagreements anywhere! This was an interesting collection of work from authors who approached the idea of gender identification from a different angle in each article.
In her very dense article: “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire”, Judith Butler is responding in large part to the notion of feminism put forth during the second wave. She is responding to the idea that feminism is supposed to be extending the representation of “women” in politics and language, but has largely missed how the category of “woman” is “produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought.”(2) Her critique questions how effective the feminist movement is if it seeks greater political representation for the notion of “woman” as a subject when it is a category constructed by politics itself. Butler argues that politics and language have constructed the idea of gender categories in a system of compulsory heterosexuality, which naturalizes the position of the male and creates the subjecthood of “woman” in relation to man. To Butler, the “being” of a gender is an effect which is a product of a binary heterosexual hegemony, which if disrupted, according to Foucault, would dissipate the category of sex and therefore gender too.
Next up Sandra Lee Bartky presents a Foucaultian argument of how feminine gender roles are created and maintained today. Her argument stems from Foucault’s work on Bentham’s panopticon which we looked at earlier this year. The disciplinary state of “conscious and permanent visibility” of the panopticon which induces self discipline is applied to the body. Bartky examines the Foucaultian self-disciplinary practices that construct and maintain visible femininity in three ways. First are the practices that produce a body of a small effeminate proportions by means of dieting and exercise to meet the requirements of femininity. She supplements this with a discussion of women’s exercise being relegated to aerobics and calisthenics; not lifting weights like men do because women are working out with a different purpose than men.
Women’s requirement to remain petite and not gain muscle mass is related to Bartky’s second practice of self-discipline regarding the spatiality in which women feel socially constrained to carry themselves in a far more closed and spatially restricted manner than men. Lastly, women ornament their bodies through a variety of “feminine” practices such as makeup, fashion selection, hair dressing, shaving and waxing. Always under the patriarchal panopticon which imposes these feminine standards, women undergo much self-discipline to fit into society’s institutionalized heterosexual masculine-feminine binary.
In Black (W)holes and the geometry of Black female sexuality. (More Gender Trouble: Feminism Meets Queer Theory), Evelynn Hammonds engages with the silenced subject of Black female sexuality. Struggling with the White normative state of existence, and the seeming need to identify as a Black lesbian rather than just a lesbian (which on its own would connote a White lesbian), Hammonds wants to revisit feminism with a new look from Queer theory. Part of the problem Hammond argues, is “a question of knowing about the production of black female queer sexualities.”(4) Yet since black female sexuality has been largely a product of silence, erasure and invisibility in dominant discourse, Hammonds asks: “are black lesbian sexualities doubly silenced?”(4) In other words, the visible White female sexuality inadvertently shapes the invisible Black female sexualities which are inseparable.
Hammond is looking for Black feminist theorists to reclaim their sexuality through a counternarrative and power analysis that positions the black female as the subject. Her goal is not only to make black females more visible, this would not undo the history of erasure or challenge the power structures that created that invisibility; Hammond wants to create a “politics of articulation” whose focus would be black female agency to interrogate the power constraints that created the “politics of silence” from which their sexualities have been produced.
In the final article of our diverse collection of gender theories, RW Connell maps the recent history of hegemonic masculinities. Having got its start as a generalized “male sex role” theory in social psychology, the concept came under criticism with increased recognition of varying levels of masculinity and oppression between men, especially between straight men and gay men. These themes of power and differences were coupled with Gramsci’s idea of hegemony in the context of masculinity, which helped understand masculinity as a practice of dominance over women as well as other men. This hegemonic masculinity was not enacted by many men, nor was it violent in nature; the hierarchy was constructed through culture, institutions and persuasion.
Approximately twenty years after the term was coined, Connell, as one of the founding scholars, sought to review the concept and suggest several reformulations. The most interesting of these reformulations concerns gender hierarchy, and the need for more focus on gender relations rather than on the sole activities of men because “gender is always relational, and patterns of masculinity are socially defined in contradistinction from some model…of femininity.”(848) Most feminist research would contextualize femininity as only subordinate to masculinity in gender relations under patriarchy, but Connell reminds us that women are central in helping to construct masculinities as well; women are the mothers, schoolmates, girlfriends, sexual partners and wives.(848) In other words to better understand hegemonic masculinity we need to understand the holistic relationship of gender relations, and to recognize “the agency of subordinated groups as much as the power of dominant groups in the mutual conditioning of gender dynamics…”(848)
What do you think Hammond would have to say about this suggestion of Connell's? Hammond is looking for counternarratives and politics of articulation to better define the marginalized subjecthood of Black female lesbians, and here Connell is suggesting that you cannot separately analyze genders, they are always relational and must be looked at in terms of their dynamics.
Can a gender be considered exclusively from others, can a gender be independently defined as theorists like Hammonds seem to advocate for, or are gender relations inextricable and formulated completely in relation to each other? Where would each of these theorists sit on the subject?
Could the Foucaultian self-discipline model presented by Bartky work in terms of keeping various masculinities in gendered roles in a way similar to her femininity argument?