Day Fourteen: March 7


I am posting these notes early to help you with your "gender" concept assignment.


This week, we are discussing the concept of gender. While we have touched upon it throughout the semester, this week we are focusing explicitly on gender and its role within the ordering of sex/gender/desire. Your readings include two excerpts from Kate Bornstein, one from My Gender Workbook and one from Gender Outlaw, and "Doing Gender" from Candace West and Don Zimmerman. 

We have discussed Kate Bornstein's work before--remember the power pyramid? A few weeks ago, someone in class asked what pronouns to use for Bornstein. Here's what she says in an interview

DIW: Which gender pronouns do you prefer? Are they consistent?? 

Kate: It depends on how much trouble I want to make! If I'm feeling cranky, I might request "ze", "hir" or "they." But, most of the time, I just prefer she and her.

GENDER is not sex, although the words are frequently conflated. We need to pull these terms apart in order to make sense of them (Bornstein 26). Pulling apart these terms is one key thing that we have been doing for this unit on CONCEPTS. We have already talked about "sex" in terms of bodies and how medical/scientific discourses describe/prescribe how we classify bodies (male/female, normal/deviant). We have discussed sexuality in terms of identities (heterosexual/homosexual) and desires (feelings and practices). Now it's time to discuss Gender. 

Gender is about categorization.

  • ordering
  • classifying
  • dividing up into masculine and feminine
DOING GENDER involves a complex of socially guided perceptual, interactional, and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of masculine and feminine 'natures' (West/Zimmerman, 126). 


Rule One: There are two, and only two, genders (female and male). 
Rule Two: One's gender is invariant (If you are female/male, you always were female/male and you always will be female/male.)
Rule Three: Genitals are the essential sign of gender (male = penis, female = vagina.)
Rule Four: Any exceptions to two genders are not to be taken seriously (jokes/pathologies.)
Rule Five: There are no transfers from one gender to another except ceremonial ones.
Rule Six: Everyone must be classified as a member of one gender or another. 
Rule Seven: The male/female dichotomy is a "natural" one. 
Rule Eight: Membership in one gender or another is "natural" and doesn't depend on anyone's deciding who you are.

Gender Assignment: 
What do the authorities say I am?
authorities: doctors, ultrasound technicians
How/when/where/why are we assigned our gender?
Screen shot 2011-03-04 at 12.39.15 PM.png

Why pink? Why blue? And Why does it matter so much? How does the way we are assigned at birth (and even before birth, thanks to ultrasounds) get read through particular understandings of gender and what boys and girls are supposed to be? How does it shape who we are supposed to be/who we become? 

Gender Role
What does the culture think I should do with my life?


Preschool children and a social model of recruitment into normally gendered identities (141). 

...LITTLE BOYS appropriate the gender ideal of "efficaciousness," that is, being able to affect the physical and social environment through the exercise of PHYSICAL STRENGTH or APPROPRIATE SKILLS. In contrast, LITTLE GIRLS learn to value "APPEARANCE," that is, managing themselves as ORNAMENTAL OBJECTS (West/Zimmerman, 141). 

Boys Book of Greatness was published in 2009. The Girls Book of Glamour was published in 2009 as well. 

Note the differences in the table of contents for each book. Can you tell which one is for which gender/book?
Here are the back covers. What do they tell us about gender? About masculinity? Femininity?



Gender Identity: 
Am I a man or a woman or something else entirely?
"It's what we feel our gender to be at any given moment" (Bornstein, 28). 

Gender Attribution:
What are you...a boy or a girl? 
What physical, behavioral, textual cues do we draw upon to determine gender?
Why do we need to know?

Doing gender means creating differences between girls and boys and women and men, differences that are not natural, essential, or biological. Once the differences have been constructed, they are used to reinforce the "essentialness" of gender (West/Zimmerman, 137). 


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