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Gender as Performance

Judith Lorber identifies in “The Social Construction of Gender? that as people we ‘do gender.’ We perform what it means to be a man or woman by the way one dresses or acts. Beyond the biological differences of males and females, we learn the various ‘gender signs’ in our youth and later fail to identify them as constructed. Lorber asks her readers why it remains important to mark someone a boy or girl.

Anne Fausto-Sterling gives a voice to intersex people in her article “The Five Sexes, Revisited.? Intersex, or holding characteristics of a typical male and typical female such as ambiguous genitalia, presents many issues around ethical practices in gender assignment surgeries. She states that four percent of all live births are intersexual. Given the need for our society to perform gender roles of either male or female, intersexual people are assigned a gender as an infant. Fausto-Sterling points out psychologist John Money’s 1950’s view that gender is flexible for over a year after birth. Therefore if a decision needs to be made about what someone’s gender will be, the child can be raised according to the signs of that gender and avoid distress.

Fausto-Sterling also points out the many cases where it simply is not that easy. Many patients of these surgeries grow up to transgress the roles and biological assignments they were given as an infant. She suggests it would be better to turn the focus away from the role of the genitals and open up to different ideas about what gender really means. An additional video resource is available here from the Intersex Society of North America. It offers interviews with intersex people and their experiences with the genital surgery.

Michael Kimmel identifies and theorizes origins within hegemonic masculinity in his article “Masculinity and Homophobia.? He uses the ideas of Freud and suggests that men perform manhood for other men’s approval. He believes that homophobia is a fear that other men will emasculate those who are fearful and tell everyone else that they aren’t ‘true’ men. Kimmel often refers to the people who inherit or hold the traits of hegemonic masculinity by using the word “we.? For example, he writes “we are afraid to let other men see that fear. Fear makes us ashamed, because the recognition of fear in ourselves is proof to ourselves that we are not as manly as we pretend…? (141). This is problematic for me, as he not only excludes readers who identify as a women, but also assumes that anyone who identifies as a man experiences these same feelings.

1. Society depends on the division of man and woman gender roles. What are the consequences of eliminating this division? What happens if we stop identifying our gender as a means of identification (passport, driver’s license, etc.) and stopped dressing little girls in pink and starting dressing them in blue?

2. Do you feel that gender assignment surgery for intersex infants is necessary for a child to grow up well adjusted to society, or is it miss-treatment of their rights as humans?


Just want to say that the video was very interesting and thanks for posting it. I've been thinking alot about the way our society has constructed two genders and sexes and how much they play a part in our every day lives. It really does rule the way we behave and relate to the opposite and the same sex, and how much our society depends on those two roles. Every day I see an example of how intersex or transgender does not fit into our society. My eyes have been opened.