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Gender Theory

jeremy | Thursday December 09, 2010

Categories: Key Concepts, Representation & Stereotyping, Theory, Gender Theory

Gender is a sociological / cultural concept that arose out of the feminist movement and is concerned with ideas of both femininity and masculinity.

David Gauntlett in Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction argues that:

‘Femininity is not typically a core value for women today. Instead, being ‘feminine’ is just one of the performances that women choose to employ in everyday life – perhaps for pleasure, or to achieve a particular goal.’

It is this aspect of performance which is most interesting to Media Studies students.

Judith Butler’s work on gender is set out in Gender Trouble (1990). In Butler’s terms the performance of gender, sex, and sexuality is about power in society.

She critiques notions of identity and gender by challenging assumptions about the distinction often made between sex and gender in which sex is biological while gender is culturally constructed.  Butler argues that sexed bodies cannot signify without gender, and the apparent existence of sex prior to discourse and cultural imposition is merely an effect of the functioning of gender. That is, both sex and gender are constructed.

Butler argues that gender is performative. She says that no identity exists behind the acts or performance that express gender, and these acts constitute the illusion of the stable gender identity.

So the appearance of “being? a gender is thus an effect of culturally influenced acts so the gender woman and the gender man remains contingent and open to interpretation.

She theorises that there is no gendered subject position that exists prior to the performance of gender. So gender is in this sense a contingent event because the gendered subject is something to be accomplished that changes according to context. This challenges traditional feminism which relies on the premise that there is a political subject that requires agency. She argues in Gender Trouble:

‘Clearly the category of women is internally...


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