Sex and Gender Fall 05 Papers Forum on Serendip


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Full Name:  A Dixon
Username:  webmaster@serendip.brynmawr.edu
Title:  Testing
Date:  2005-09-06 13:39:07
Message Id:  16010
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip



Testing

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Full Name:  Em Madsen
Username:  emadsen@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Under the Covers with Foucault, Ozick, and Fuss: The Nightmare of a Common Language
Date:  2005-10-06 10:13:12
Message Id:  16479
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip



A young woman sits cross-legged on the floor of her room. She faces her bed, which is covered with a batik blanket. On the bed sit three figures: a bald man with his hands over his eyes, an older woman with her hands over her ears, and a woman with short dark hair, hands covering her mouth. A dictionary lies open on the young woman's lap.

As I define these terms: man, woman, heterosexual, homosexual, I claim power. Does it give me pleasure to name these terms? To categorize and pigeonhole? No. I undertake this task with a growing sense of confusion: Foucault sneers into my ear that "Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species" (Foucault 43). If I subscribe to Foucault's viewpoint that this transposition was a negative one which moves against the truth that human bodies have no inherent interiority, I must effectively rewrite the way I think about my own body and sexuality. What of the markers of my femaleness, the delicate genitalia covered by the arching pages of the very dictionary in which I seek refuge? Ozick arches an eyebrow at me and undercuts her address with all kinds of irony: "Dazzlingly influential hole!...From this hole everything follows logically; first the baby, then the placenta, then, for years and years and years until death, a way of life" (Ozick 252). According to Cynthia, as much as I identify as a heterosexual woman because of my hole and my hole's attraction to rods, this hole dictates nothing about me other than my ability to give birth at some point in my life. Could it be that Ozick and Foucault support each other? I imagine them exchanging knowing looks as Fuss lifts a hand from her mouth to advise me further: "Sexual identity may be less a function of knowledge than performance..." (Fuss 238). There is the gauntlet, thrown down before me: how does my performance of my gender and sexuality reflect my own assumed interiorities? And how can my examination of this performance influence my future efforts in definition and power?

One of the assumptions which contributes to the way in which we humans define ourselves is our assumption about the contents of the dictionary. As an English major, there always comes a certain point in dealing with a text where I say, "well, let's see what the OED says." The dictionary is given a kind of primary status: I have even heard of it referred to as the English major's bible. The signs and symbols in the dictionary, the definitions which it provides, are taken as gospel: "If it's in the dictionary, it must be so." However, this ignores the fact that when we define words, we are drawing on subjective and highly personal sets of references. These sets of references are created by the "disciplines" Foucault speaks of, the network of our experiences within society. Words are very flexible, changeable things, and when we use a word, we are not actually equating that word to an exact object, we are equating it with an abstract idea that we hold about the object. The same is true for definitions. The dictionary actually attempts to show this flexibility in examining the roots of words, and how the definitions have changed over time. If we can allow for this evolution and allow our reflections on it to give us further freedoms in definition, then we can use Foucault's observations for our benefit.

What does this look like? Well, as Anne's favorite Foucault quote says, "Thought is freedom in relation to what one does, the motion by which one detaches oneself from it, establishes it as an object, and reflects on it as a problem." So, to follow this logic, we must look through the definitions we hold in the metaphorical dictionaries of our minds, detach ourselves from these definitions, and examine them with all their frictions and issues. Diana Fuss moves towards this act when she writes "our notion of sexual difference all too often subsumes sexual differences" (Fuss 237), resorting to binaries that imprison everyone, not just homosexuals. Her advice is that we move towards "nothing less than an insistent and intrepid disorganization of the very structures which produce this inescapable logic" (Fuss 238). Foucault posits that this can be accomplished through a new set of "objectives and vocabulary," but Fuss believes that this "dream of either a common language or no language at all is just that" (Fuss 239). So where does a person who is interested in this dream turn to for help and guidance?

While neither Foucault nor Fuss offer any concrete examples, I'd like to think that Cynthia Ozick makes a good start. In The Hole/Birth Catalogue, she challenges the viewpoint that women must be anything because of their anatomy. Through the use of the pared-down word "hole," she exposes the hole in the logic of essentialism. This works extremely well, as I said before, with Foucault's thinking about the body: just because a body has a hole does not indicate anything innate or interior about the body. So Ozick's advice is to begin looking at our bodies themselves, for it is the structure of our bodies and how we think of them that creates "this inescapable logic" Fuss writes about. Ozick presents a helpful point for those looking at female as opposed to male definitions. But what of the homo to hetero which Fuss is mainly concerned with?

Foucault writes about the origins of the definition of homosexuals: this contemporary identity began as a label slapped on by an increasingly medical-minded society in the mid-nineteenth century. Before a certain point, it didn't matter who you slept with or when, you were just a sexual human. But after that point, not only did it matter who you slept with, this fact had serious ramifications for how you were viewed and labeled in society.

Foucault uses an example from 1867 of the French peasant Jouy, which causes real problems for me. He would probably point out that I was mired in contemporary thought patterns about pedophiles, but I cannot accept the flippant way in which he dismisses the "caresses" this man apparently shared with young village girls. Foucault's point is that in an earlier context, this sort of behavior happened frequently, and was not labeled in any way. Once it was labeled, "sex became something to say, and to say exhaustively..." (Foucault 32). However, I believe that the point where labeling occurs is the point where sexual behavior begins to have an effect on other's ways of self-identifying. The parents of one of Jouy's victims (I would say, Foucault might say "willing accomplices") complained to the authorities. There was some reason this did not feel right to them, and as self-defined "parents" (because of his rod and her hole and the results of an encounter between those body parts) they stepped in and sought to label Jouy's behavior as transgressive, inappropriate, and dangerous to their daughter.

This is an act of "other-imposed definition," but in contemporary society, people have begun to define themselves. Is this an act that is forced upon them by society? Where was the turning point when this societally-imposed "naming" became internalized? Did those who defined reach for their dictionaries and realize that defining others meant there was a need to define the self? Many times the names which are claimed are names which complicate identity and make existence difficult. However, in "outing" oneself, or claiming a transgressive or subversive sexual identity, there is a distinct power. As Fuss points out, homosexuality and heterosexuality each haunt each other. We cannot have straight sex without gay sex, or transgressive without run-of-the-mill. And how did this act of definition move from one of lack of power to one of power?

t's all in the words we use, say Fuss, Foucault, and Ozick. Once we create terms and use them to define ourselves and others, society can then police these terms and the people who use them. Fuss says we should "use [the terms] up, exhaust them, transform them into the historical concepts they are and always have been" (Fuss 239), and I believe we have this responsibility for we have created them! We are the police, and we are those who suffer beneath our own definitions. We talk and talk and talk, but we don't do. The only thing we do is gender performances.

Ozick and Fuss are going through my closet as I type, fingering my pink raincoat, the sweaters made for me by my grandmothers, my one pair of heels. Foucault is looking at my bedside table: lotion, earrings, and in the drawer, the diaphragm in its pink plastic case. This is the paraphernalia of 21 years as a female. I have accumulated this stuff as part of my costume in my grand performance of myself, a heterosexual female. When I spoke with Paul Grobstein earlier in the year about how things accumulate, he remarked that if humans kept cluttering their living spaces, there would be no more room, and room is essential if we are to grow and evolve. I believe this is the room Foucault is referring to when he speaks of using thought as freedom: the room to step back and examine the thought-artifacts that litter this dorm room, this campus, the highways and drawing rooms of America. This flotsam and jetsam is always shifting and piling up and draining away. How can we ever presume to name what is constantly changing? It reminds me of the play by Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding: the main character, Frankie Addams, is a twelve-year-old tomboy. Halfway through the play she puts on a pink dress and starts calling herself F. Jasmine. Her changing names reflect her changing sense of self. Like Frankie, we can start thinking about the dictionaries in our heads, and we can think about creating multiplicities of definitions for these dictionaries, too many to police. With an examination of new and varied definitions (like Paul's 16+ genders), we can work together to create the birthing expansions and contractions that will mark our shift into a new and awe-ful vocabulary.

Foucalt, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Random House, New York, NY. 1980.

Fuss, Diane. Inside/Out. Routledge, NY. 1991.

Ozick, Cynthia. "The Hole/Birth Catalogue". Ms. October 1972.



Full Name:  alex heilbronner
Username:  aheilbro@brynmawr.edu
Title:  paper #2
Date:  2005-10-06 19:56:02
Message Id:  16486
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip



There is an oppositional polarity to all things in life. That is, something can be defined as the opposite of what it is not. Consider the popular childhood game (or is it a holiday?) "opposite day"--if I were to say, "I like your sweater," on opposite day, when everything is opposite, this means that in fact I don't like your sweater. But even when I was an observer/player of this holiday/game, something always bothered me: what constitutes "opposite"? in my over literal, over analytical 7 year old head, I would say to myself, "I like your sweater; not-I doesn't like not-your not-sweater," proving to myself that opposite day, much like opposites themselves, are more complicated than they seem; what is a "not-sweater"? More interestingly, what is "not-you"? Some could say that "not-you" is "me", but then what is "not-he"? "She"? And then we look at Jeffery Eugenides' intersex character Cal(liope) Stephanides from his novel Middlesex... not-he, not-she: what is the opposite of Cal?

Diana Fuss discusses this concept of binaries in her paper Inside/Out. She agrees that a thing is easily definable as the antithesis of what it is not when it is "turned inside out to expose its critical operations and interior machinery (233)." She gives the example of the heterosexual/homosexual dichotomy, saying that homosexuality is defined "in critical opposition to that which it is not (233)," that critically opposed thing being heterosexuality. Yet this "rigid polar logic (234)" clearly excludes alternatives to a dichotomy. Looking at something as simple and seemingly concrete as night versus day, we see that such things as evening, afternoon, and twilight are pushed to one side or the other of this oppositional split.

The world is wrought with binaries, which seem to be opposing weights on the scale of reality, trying to balance it out. But is there really any balance at all? I am experiencing a growing difficulty coming to terms with the binary way of life this society has established for me. Though I am not overly troubled by the exclusion of twilight from the night/day dichotomy, there are other more socially significant dichotomies whose exclusion of interpolar alternatives suggests an inadequacy about these alternatives.

Getting back to Middlesex, the biological male/female dichotomy is challenged when Cal is biologically neither male nor female, having neither a complete penis nor complete vagina. There is clearly a stigma in our society about hermaphrodites, who don't fit into either end of the gender dichotomy, since infant genital reconfiguration surgery is fairly common among intersex babies. Doctors attempt to "fix" hermaphrodites, claiming to want to give them a shot at a "normal" life. Cal says, "the first step...is to convince the worldand pediatric endocrinologists in particular-- that hermaphroditic genitals are not diseased (106)." Not fitting into a gender box because of biology is rare (Cal says on page 106 that the probability of being born a hermaphrodite is 1 in 2000), rare enough that most people seem to simply ignore the predicament of not having a biological gender.

This is the main problem with the gender dichotomythe population that fits into neither category is a severe minority, and as the saying goes, there is power in numbers. Having a polarized gender system suggests that there is something wrong with people that cannot fit into either category. Cal's genitals were not reconfigured at birth, because everyone failed to notice their irregularity, yet he always knew he was "different" from other girls, saying,

from the beginning I was aware that there was something improper about the way I felt... something I shouldn't tell my mother, but I wouldn't have been able to articulate it. I didn't connect this feeling to sex. I didn't know sex existed (265).

Cal was raised as a female, but chooses to live his adult life as a male, even though his genitals are still ambiguous. Many intersex people who received reconfiguration surgery switch genders after learning of what happened to them, but are confined aesthetically to the gender of their genitals. Even people with fully formed male or female genitals can choose to live as the other gender. So although people can move from one gender to the other, they can not choose to stop in between the two, or move past either one. But if there is such a fluidity in gender, how can a person be defined as a member of either one of the polar genders? What does it "take" to be a member of a gender? Biology doesn't seem to have a lot to do with it anymore. Perhaps the definition of "female" as "not-male" is inadequate and in need of serious reevaluation.

Scholars have attempted to specify what exactly it is about men and women that is so oppositional. In her paper The Use and Abuse of Anthropology: Reflections on Feminism and Cross-Cultural Understanding, M. Rosaldo uses the words "public" and "domestic" to concretize the rather vague notion of man simply being the opposite of woman. She suggests that women are of the domestic realm, whereas men are of the public sphere.
Sherry Ortner suggests another seemingly opposing set of words to explain the difference between men and women in her paper Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture? As the title of her paper suggests, she associates women with nature and men with culture. Though her goal in this paper is to explain woman's cross cultural "oppression," a subject I will not be discussing in this paper, the implication of her using this polar pair of words (assuming that the words "nature" and "culture" truly are in opposition) remains. The association of women and men with opposing words retains the suggestion that you can be one or the other: man or woman; natural or cultural; public or domestic, but not both and nothing in between.

Interestingly enough, the nature/culture dichotomy could not exist were there no culture to create the nature. That is, everything is "natural" until culture arrives to define it. Ortner says, "culture [is] minimally defined as the transcendence... of the natural givens of existence (38)." In this way, one "opposite" is formed of the other; could one sex then be formed out of the other?

In Of Language and the Flesh, Thomas Laqueur discusses the now retired opinion that a woman's genitals are just that of a man turned outside in (an opposition reminiscent of Fuss's inside/outside dichotomy used in her discussion of sexuality). From this perspective, Cal's genitals are those of a man's who did not fully exit their inside position. Dr. Luce says in the novel, "we're going to do an operation to finish your genitalia. They're not quite finished yet and we want to finish them (433)." So we now have two opposing theories: the penis is the opposite of the vagina, or, the penis and vagina form each other either through moving inside or extending outside. Though it is now considered bunk to assume that male and female genitalia are the same things just put in opposing places, there comes a point in fetal development when a male child and a female child diverge and form different genitalia. So when Luce wants to "finish" Cal's genitals, he wants to complete this biological step that Cal's chromosomes prevented him from completing. There is just one small problem-- Luce can only "finish" the aesthetics of Cal's genitalia, which is really only a small part of forming gender identity. Consider the people who are born with fully formed male or female genitals but identify with the other gender, or even consider how in the end of the novel Cal chose to forgo surgery and live as a man rather than continue as a woman.

The more I study concepts of sex and gender, the less I understand-- if sex and gender cannot/should not be defined as a pair of opposites, why have Ortner (nature vs. culture) and Rosaldo (domestic vs. public) suggested more concrete binary opposites for men and women? Using these words, man is no longer not-woman, and woman is no longer not-man; man is "culture" opposing the womanly "nature," and woman is "domestic," opposing "public," that which defines man.

And what about Cal? He was socialized as a woman, but made the switch to man. Other hermaphrodites are genetically reconfigured and socialized in one gender. If parents chose against genital reconfiguration, how would they raise a hermaphroditic child in a world with such polar sex categories? How would an intersex child deal with the knowledge that his/her parts were not like other children's? In order to remove the stigma surrounding hermaphrodites, we would need to remove the dichotomous and oppositional discourse from the conversation of sex and gender. We would need to create a whole new list of pronouns and reeducate generations of people on what used to be a fairly simple question,
"are you a girl or a boy?"



Full Name:  Orah Minder
Username:  ominder@brynmawr.edu
Title:  "The Revolt of the Body"
Date:  2005-10-06 21:12:53
Message Id:  16488
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip



The economic success of a society, according to Foucault, hinges on its ability to control the bodies of its citizens. The individual's experience of his own body is different from his experience of all else; one, therefore, experiences the body as separate from society. There is tension between the individual's experience of the body and society's systematic use of the body. This tension, however, springs from a common desire to control the body. Full control over the body is not thwarted by the tension between the individual and society, but rather, by the unstable nature of the body. While domination over the body seems to be a point of constant struggle between society and the individual, the inevitable decay of the body works against both the goal of the individual in relation to his body and society's use of the body. For both the individual and society, therefore, the body represents that which cannot be controlled.


The imprint of the individual's attempt to possess the body comes, Foucault says, in the form of fitness. In an interview called Body/Power he says, "Mastery and awareness of one's own body can be acquired only through the effect of an investment of power in the body: gymnastics, exercises, muscle-building, nudism, glorification of the body beautiful. All of this belongs to the pathway leading to the desire of one's own body" (Power/Knowledge, 56). This display of power over the body is not something that is achieved and maintained, but rather, depends on a constant act of articulation on the body. The individual's constant enactment upon the body does not lead to a declaration of possession over the body. The act of possession demands a separation between that which possesses and that which is possessed. The individual cannot possess the body, because he is attached to the body through a constant process of recreating the body. He cannot declare ultimate ownership of the body, because he must constantly reassert his dominance over the body.


Foucault separates the individual even farther from control of the body by saying that these imprints of power only lead "to the desire of one's own body." Just as the act of possession demands an objectification, the act of desiring requires a level of detachment. To desire is to want something that is lacking. The constant act of imprinting power onto the body attaches the individual to the body and disables him from viewing the body as a separate object. Through these expressions of power over the body, the individual hopes to be on a path that will lead to a static relation with the body. Since the body cannot be brought to stasis, however, the individual plays the constant role of creating the body into an object that can be desired.


While the creative act marks the individual's relation with his own body as active, desire for a body is a still communication. The moment before the object is physically acted upon is the moment of desire. The object and subject are connected in the still space of a gaze. Since the individual is in the constant act of creating his body, he can never participate in the act of gazing at his own body. In relation to his own body he is in constant movement. The detachment enacted in gazing at another's body admits to a lack of possession over that body: an inability to create that body: a witnessing of another's creative action.


Foucault studies the evolution of the way in which society gazes upon the body. Society's colonization of the body must take a detached form, lest a connection be made between the body and the colonizer that renders the body something other than a detached object. Fullness of possession depends on the maintenance of the body's desirability as another's creation. The goal of the colonizer is to affect the individual's creative act through stillness.


Foucault's theory of modern discipline marks a shift in society's method of colonizing of the individual's body. Before the eighteenth century, power was acted upon the body in a repressive form. If a body strayed from a certain code of laws it was tortured. Society declared possession over the body through a demonstrated destruction of the body. The pre-modern attempt to possess the body, destroyed the body.


The focused gaze of the sovereign, however, was not upon the body that was destroyed, but rather, on those who witnessed the destruction of the body. In the act of witnessing the destruction of the condemned body, the citizens were taught certain body movements that were permitted and those that were not permitted. The sovereign's active role in the torture spectacle, therefore, was an attempt to influence the way in which the citizens moved their bodies. While the destruction of the condemned's body was unlimited, the sovereign's communication with the citizens was meticulously detached. The communication was mediated through the tortured body. This mediation enabled the sovereign to possess the bodies of his citizens.


The demonstrated restriction on the body in pre-modern times was meant to influence the citizen's creation of the body. This form of possession, however, was limited to the attention that the citizens gave to the torture spectacle, and the will of the citizens to create and recreate themselves in respect to the demonstration of the sovereign. The extent to which the body of the condemned was destroyed, therefore, determined the extent to which the sovereign was able to influence the witnesses' creation of their own bodies.


While the sovereign's possession of the body was, therefore, a primarily destructive act, the shift to modern body-relations is marked by a manifestation of power in a primarily creative form. Control over the body does not come only in the form of threat, but also in positive encouragement to create the body into a specific form. By idealizing certain body-form and movement, society creates a goal for which the individual strives. The pre-modern control of the individual's body was attainable because it allowed for a body freedom within the set parameters. In modern society, the unattainable nature of the body-goal perpetuates a body-economy. The goal that society sets is the creation of a body-form that fits within a set of mechanized movements. The ideal body is the body that is imprisoned into unchanging form.


Foucault says in the Body/Power interview, "An economic (and perhaps also ideological) exploitation of eroticization, from sun-tan products to pornographic films. Responding precisely to the revolt of the body, we find a new mode of investment which presents itself no longer in the form of control by repression but that of control by stimulation" (Power/Knowledge, 57). Society's influence of the body is through a 'stimulation' that opens new options of ways in which the individual can create his body. While in pre-modern times, society demonstrated the ways in which the individual was disallowed from using his body, modern society colonizes the body by expanding the horizon of body-creation. This difference marks a heightened level of detachment between modern society and the individual body.


The unachievable nature of this body-goal insights, according to Foucault, positive action. While the individual strives for an achievement of the body-form, society thrives from the quest for this form. This difference in relation to the body-goal is a point of tension between the individual and society. The changing nature of the body perpetuates this body-economy by preventing the individual from possessing and desiring the body.


For the same reason that the individual is unable to control the body, however, society's efforts to control the body are thwarted by its constant decay. Foucault writes in Discipline and Punish,


By the late eighteenth century, the soldier has become something that can be made; out of a formless clay, an inapt body, the machine required can be constructed; posture is gradually corrected; a calculated constraint runs slowly through each part of the body, mastering it, making it pliable, ready at all times, turning silently into the automatism of habit (Discipline and Punish, 135).


While the body-economy is perpetuated by the fact that the body cannot be molded into permanent form, other societal economies strive, like the individual, to create the body into an unachievable form. The mechanization described in Discipline and Punish refers not as much to the physical body, but to the habituation of the individual. The "calculated constraint" refers not to a new ability of the body, but rather, to a new way in which the individual uses the body. Society teaches the individual to use the body as a machine. The body, however, unlike a machine, will wither and the soldier's posture will sag.


While the body-economy thrives because the body decays, other economies thrive because of the individual's creation of the body as an unchanging machine. The body-economy is used to feed unchanging bodies to other economies. The unreality of the unchanging body dooms these economies to failure. While the body-economy watches the creative acts of the individual to form the ideal body, other economies use the mechanized body. In these economies the body looses its objectiveness. There is movement in the space between object and gazer. He who is defined by his eyes reaches with his hands. The body lives, speaks its non-mechanized nature, withers, and dies in his grasp. In the economies that depend on the use of the mechanized body, the body is acted upon and, therefore, no longer detached. The stillness of possession is ruptured by the revolt of the body. The body is free.


Foucault, Michel Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison trans. Alan Sheridan Vintage Books, Random House, inc. New York, 1977

Foucault, Michel The History of Sexuality: An Introduction Volume 1 trans. Robert Hurley Vintage Books, Random House, inc. New York, 1978

Foucault, Michel Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 edit. Colin Gordon trans. Colin Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham, Kate Soper Panteheon Books New York, 1972



Full Name:  Sarah Halter
Username:  shalter@brynmawr.edu
Title:  What’s In A Label?
Date:  2005-10-06 23:21:47
Message Id:  16490
Paper Text:
<mytitle> Sex and Gender
2005 Second Web Papers
On Serendip

I like the word “dyke.” I like its history and its meaning: in four letters, it allows me to proclaim myself as woman, gay, and powerful at the same time. But my love for this label is problematic. As convenient as “dyke” is " it allows me to put my feelings and urges into two little sounds " I can’t ignore the problems that arise when I try to define with language traits that are as complex as gender, sex, and sexuality. Looking at recently published gender theory, I see that labels have become anathema. In her essay “Inside/Out,” Diana Fuss warns, “Where exactly, in this borderline sexual economy, does the one identity leave off and the other begin? And what gets left out of the inside/outside, heterosexual/homosexual opposition…?” (234). Thomas Laqueur, in his essay “On Language of the Flesh,” says, “Woman alone seems to have ‘gender’ since the category itself is defined as that aspect of social relations based on difference between sexes in which the standard has always been man” (22) " in other words, woman is defined by what man is not. And in his book The History of Sexuality, Michael Foucault warns against the transformation of thoughts to words, saying, “the Counter Reformation … attributed more and more importance in penance … to all the insulations of the flesh; thoughts, desires, voluptuous imaginings, delectations, combined movements of the body and soul; henceforth all this had to enter, in detail, into the process of confession and guidance” (19). All three of these theorists would warn that my word is not an expression of freedom, a proclamation, but a word with agency that can be confining and exclusive. I understand what they mean, but still this troubles me. Isn’t there a way I can reclaim “dyke”?

If I am to argue that we can reclaim labels, first I think it’s necessary for me to illustrate the repressive power of words. I will start with a counter-argument: I can’t deny that words confine, especially in a climate as politically charged as today’s United States. Fuss, speaking almost as a prophet from the early ‘90s, says in her article,

The language and law that regulates the establishment of heterosexuality as both an identity and an institution, both a practice and a system, is the language and law of defense and protection: heterosexuality secures its self-identity and shores up its ontological boundaries by protecting itself from what it sees as the continual predatory encroachment of its contaminated other, homosexuality” (234).
Fuss argues that words can be used in defensive ways to protect a system - a system that may need revising. Those in power (much like those in the Counter Reformation that Foucault mentioned) possess the ability to control with words. For example, today “pro-family” means “anti-gay;” Focus on Family, American Family Association, and Family Research Council are all powerful organizations that praise “traditional family values” while remaining stringently anti-gay and anti-feminist. The wars over “pro-choice,” “pro-life,” “anti-choice,” and “anti-life” provide another example for power play in words. Here, it’s not the battle for or against abortion that’s important, but the way that those fighting the battle choose words to represent their side. “Anti-choice” and “pro-life” both imply that a person is against abortion, but these two words could not be more different. (Who uses these words, how are they used, what do they imply, etc?) Words should never be dismissed; language is an important commodity in power.

From Fuss to Focus on Family, we see that words and agenda are intrinsically tied. This is the danger in labels. In The History of Sexuality, Foucault, using the example of confession, demonstrates the danger in words: “An imperative was established: not only will you confess to acts contravening the law, but you will seek to transform your desires, your every desire, into discourse” (21). The danger with putting feelings, thoughts, and desires into discourse is it allows for the “policing of statements” (Foucault 18). So when I label myself as a woman or a feminist or a Christian or " to return to the beginning of my paper " a dyke, I give a word to the thoughts that swirl in my mind. And words, unlike thoughts, can be policed. A friend can hush me if I say, “Dyke,” too loudly in an area with children. When I call myself a feminist at a lunchtime discussion, my mind may wander to women like Adrienne Rich or Dorothy Allison, but the person I’m talking to may think with distaste of feminazis or man-hating bra-burners.

In introducing the purpose of his book, Laqueur tries to address this problem with discourse and exclusion:

My goal is to show how biology of hierarchy in which there is only one sex, a biology of incommensurability between two sexes, and the claim that there is no publicly relevant sexual difference at all, or no sex, have constrained the interpretation of bodies and the strategies of sexual politics for some two thousand years” (23).
Laqueur warns against the ways we use language to describe sex or gender: no matter how we try to put our thoughts on gender, sexuality, or sex into words, we constrain our thoughts by making up rules. Laqueur probably believes that ideas of sex and gender are best left without words: rather than calling a man a man, let him/her be. Similarly, the words “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality,” at their most basic definition, only allow for two sexual orientations, and leave out hundreds that float around the border. Also, these words leave little room for communication or a movement between them.

I now feel that I have properly expressed the danger with words " after all, Fuss, Foucault, and Laqueur have all made compelling cases against labels. But I still like the word “dyke,” so I will turn to the end of Fuss’s article for support. She admits here that while breaking from language and the rules of language sounds attractive, “It would be difficult, not to say delusionary, to forget the words “inside” and “outside,” “heterosexual” and “homosexual,” without also losing in this act of willed amnesia the crucial sense of alterity necessary for constituting any sexed subject, any subject as sexed” (239). Fuss says that even without words, the sense of being “Other” remains. This is why I like the word “dyke.” I like what it means to me. I like the history of activism and feminism that has allowed me to use positively a word that was once disgusting and derogatory. In “We ‘Other’ Victorians,” Foucault says that he understands this: he says, “we are conscious of defying established power”(6), and later, “Something that smacks of revolt, of promised freedom, of the coming age of a different law, slips easily into this discourse on sexual oppression” (7). Foucault acknowledges that there is a siren’s call that leads us to desire to “reclaim” the word dyke (or lezbo, or queer, or fag, or bitch, even). But, he argues, the problem exists not because I, a twenty-two year old college student, want to reclaim this word, but because of the history of sexuality - a history that has put words like this (that has put sex, something that shouldn’t be in words) into discourse. And yet, I’m not convinced. I still like the word “dyke,” I whisper to myself. Is this just stubbornness?

A classmate of mine once said that when we have a discussion in class, not only the visible students are present, but hundreds of unseen people are also floating around the edges. Whether these people are boy/girlfriends, old roommates or teachers, they are those who have shaped our thoughts, our opinions, and the ways we interpret words. When someone says “pro-choice,” a well-groomed liberal arts woman may (or may not) think positive thoughts of a feminist who owns her body, but the girl sitting right beside this young woman may think about killing babies. I return to the idea I mentioned earlier: feminism to me is Adrienne Rich, but to others it is feminazis. This is because when I speak, I will always my ghosts, my history, my nationality, and my family around me, and these personal experiences will also shape how I hear words. But isn’t that the point of being human? Even if we don’t speak, even if we just grunt and motion to each other like Neanderthals, we will always bring our feelings and desires into any human interaction. And even if I didn’t know the word for “other,” a feeling of being different can remain.

I believe that when I say the word dyke, I make a statement of power. I express my feelings in words. I don’t believe this word does anything but express how I feel. Others, like Foucault, will inevitably argue that I am playing into the hands of those who want to use the words against me. Foucault says, “As if in order to gain mastery over [sex] in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, expunge it from the things that were said, and extinguish the words the rendered it too visibly present” (17). But if I shouldn’t let people put my thoughts into discourse and then police me, why should I let Foucault control my thoughts and words? I don’t want Foucault’s laws, arguments, or philosophies to control me any more than I want to be controlled by the state senator who thinks homosexuals shouldn’t adopt children. I feel just as constrained by the President who’s against gay marriage as the classmate who says that I shouldn’t call myself a lesbian because that “labels” me.

Furthermore, when we put thoughts into words, we create existence " by saying the word “dyke,” a dyke can exist. Foucault’s argument is that you couldn’t police the homosexual until you called him, her or it the homosexual. But would things really be so much better if this desire wasn’t transformed into a label? Labels give us existence. Before the word “homosexual” came into existence, the Texas law against sodomy could not have existed. But organizations that fight AIDS for gay men would not have existed, and neither could groups like the HRC, PFLAG, NOW, or the Intersex Society of North America. Gay Pride Festivals " parades that celebrate sexuality in any and all forms " are now yearly experiences for cities. How many generations of lesbians had to marry men because there was no word to describe what they felt and no public acknowledgement of their existence?

In an ideal world, we could move away from labels. There would be no “norm” and no policing of thoughts, and people could simply exist as they are. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and as Fuss says, “The dream of either a common language or no language at all is just that " a dream, a fantasy that ultimately can do little to acknowledge and to legitimate the hitherto repressed differences between and within sexual identities” (239). Perhaps I fight on “their terms” when I refuse to fight for the abolishment of all labels, perhaps I use words that senators and presidents can use against me, but I’m willing to do that because words can give existence. Words are difficult because they can be used to leave people out or deny freedom, but I’m not comfortable throwing these words - and their histories - away because of a few problems. I don’t want to forget suffragists or gay rights activists so I can let go of their words.

I have spent this entire paper trying to illustrate why words are important, and perhaps this was my mistake. Maybe it’s not my acceptance of labels that’s the problem, but my view that words are all-important. If I dare to contradict myself (didn’t I say in the beginning of this essay, “words should not ever be dismissed”?), perhaps I arrive at a new idea: words aren’t as important as they seem. Labels are not perfect, but it’s the implication behind these labels that cause the danger. There, behind the meaning of words, is where people are left out and insides and outsides are created. There is where policing begins. What if I could say that I’m a dyke, but suggest that’s not all I am and not every woman who loves women has to call herself a dyke? What if I didn’t give the word that much power? At the risk of sounding glib, perhaps we need to worry less about words and more about how we use them. And maybe we can move toward a world in which we use labels without letting them define us.



Full Name:  Kelsey Gaynier
Username:  kgaynier@haverford.edu
Title:  Paper # 2
Date:  2005-10-07 11:02:38
Message Id:  16491
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip



Kelsey Lee Gaynier
Gender and Sexualities Paper #2
10/05/05

In presenting a biologically intersexed character in his novel, who also articulates very "intersexed" or mixed emotions concerning both sexual attraction and gender identity, Eugenides constructively complicates his reader's pre-conceptions of "Man vs. Woman" and "Feminine vs. Masculine," but more specifically, "Sex vs. Gender." However, Calliope's language remains consciously gendered as either female or male depending on which gender this character chooses to be. As the creator of Calliope's fluctuating gendered language, Eugenides complicates the dichotomy both between and within "being gendered" and "self-gendering." Michelle Rosaldo and Diana Fuss analyze the density behind creating gendered language, and how this in turn, affects both people's personal gender identification and the gendered image they choose present to others. Drawing upon their analysis of gender construction, I believe that Calliope both self-defines, and allows himself to be placed into, a gender category that others create for him based on their assumption of his biological identity; and thus, does not fully transcend male and female categorizations because he still communicates within them. By analyzing the language that Eugenides creates for Calliope, I hope to use Middlesex as a tool for exposing the complexity behind both presenting and being an intersexed person.
Calliope Stephananides is not just male or female, neither is this character strictly masculine or feminine; instead, as an embodiment all of these categorizations, Calliope physically and mentally is presented to transcend these categorical simplifications. However, as a biologically intersexed person, does Calliope really transcend both of them? Or, does he transcend from to gender to another? Eugenides introduces Calliope's gender crossing as both a physical and mental re-birth:

"I was born twice: First as a baby girl...and then again as a teenage boy. Like Tiresias, I was first one thing and then another. I've left my body in order to occupy othersand all this happened before I turned sixteen."

The fact that Eugenides articulated through Calliope the need to be re-born from a girl to a boy indicates that Cal's social environment did not allow him to be both. Also, since he personally felt the need to "occupy" other bodies (male) in order to experience being male , it may be inferred that this social pressure to be either male or female creates a conscious need for him to self-gender his actions, behavior, and aesthetic appearance when identifying as either a man or a girl.

As a child, Calliope seems to embrace his femininity:

"Still pretty, Calliope soon finds herself the shortest girls in the room. She drops her eraser. No boy brings it back...and Calliope feels gypped, cheated. Remember me? I'm waiting? She says to nature. I'm waiting. I'm still here."

It isn't until puberty that Calliope beings to question his gender:

"Until I reached puberty and androngens flooded my bloodstream, the ways in which I differed from girls were hard to detect."

Thus, it is only after puberty, when he physically appears more male and is defined a hermaphrodite , that Calliope decides to become "Cal," but still accepts a "once female" identity:

"A word on penises. What was Cal's official position on penises? Among them, surrounded by them, his feelings were the same as they had been as a girl: by equal measures fascinated and horrified. Penises have never really done that much for me."

Although Cal is conscious of his intersexed identity, he does not seem to be comfortable with it. Calliope allows himself to be either placed into a female or male gender, but yet, does not allow himself to be intersexed.

What is the main indicator to a person's gender? It is their perceived biological sex, which is usually assumed to be either male or female. In her article "The Use and Abuse of Anthropology," Michelle Rosaldo clearly states this universal fact:

"Every social system used facts of biological sex to organize and explain the roles and opportunities men and women may enjoy, just as all known human social groups appeal to biologically based ties in the construction of "familiar" groups and social bonds."

However, she also believes that this "universal fact" of male and female gender division is also self-defining:

"My alternative is to insist that sexual asymmetry is a political and social fact, much less concerned with individual resources and skills than with relationships and claims that guide the ways that people act and shape their understandings"

Although Rosaldo addresses the complexity behind placing biological men and women into sexual preference categories, and not the complexity behind gendering biologically intersexed people as male or female, her argument is still productive to Calliope's predicament. By gendering people, we assume them to be something that perhaps they are not. However, since we can not seem to get past this simplified perception of biology and its constructs, we should work within it to see how and why gender is so often created by a male or female biological image.

Eugenides hints in an interview with Bram van Moorheim that both he and his character are working within Rolsaldo's "universal" fact and its biological limitations; however, he contradicts Calliope's self-proclaimed gender male identity by referring to him as female:

"...My narrator is determined by her genes, she has this genetic mutation there's no escaping of. But the mutation does not make her who she is, does not determine everything about her life, and that's one of the things the book is strongly determine in."

In defending the Calliope against being gendered, Eugenides himself chooses to define his character as a female. This is problematic because Calliope does not wish to be seen as a female:

"Its amazing what you can get used to. After I returned to San Francisco and started living as a male, my family found that, contrary to popular opinion, gender was not all that important. My change from girl to boy was far less dramatic than the distance anybody travels from infancy to adulthood. In most ways I remained the person I'd always been. Even now, though I live as a man, I remain in essential ways Tessie's daughter."

Calliope presents a consciously gendered narrative within his complex biological identity. However, in creating an intersexed character free from a concrete "male" or "female" gender, Eugenides himself does not address Calliope without a gendered bias. Calliope concludes his story by embracing a male gender identity ; yet, his creator identifies him as female.

In her article "Inside/Out," Diana Fuss urges a deconstruction of homosexual and heterosexual boundaries. Since Calliope is a hermaphrodite, he can not be defined as either homosexual or heterosexual because he is biologically intersexed. However, Fuss' critique of the "sexing" of homosexuals and heterosexuals is applicable to perhaps why Eugenides "sexes" his male character female:

"The issue is the old standoff between confrontation and assimilation: Does one compromise oneself by working on the inside, or does one shortchange oneself by holding tenaciously to the outside?"

In same interview with Moorheim, Eugenides claims his purpose to presenting a female inter sexed character is to humanize and make rational the identity of hermaphrodites:

"I use the hermaphrodite in this book not to soley talk about intersex conditions, but more. The hermaphrodite is a correlative to adolescence, to illustrate a period where everyone goes through. Adolescence implies being confused about identity and being confused about sexuality to a certain extent. When people read it, they find that they're sympathizing with Callie as she goes through the metamorphosis far more than they expect, because many of the things that take up the occupations and the anxieties are what one shares and what one has."

The majority of academia prefers to define gender in biological terms limited to male and female. Although we embrace variations of sexuality that include bisexuality, homosexuality, and transexuality, our intuition remains focused on constructing gender on either a male or female biological platform. Although Eugenides presents the complexity behind assembling gender and sexuality identities based on one's aesthetic biological sex, his intersexed character remains read as either "female" or "male" although he is physically neither one. Calliope is aware that his gender and sexual desire differences oppose conventional heterosexual biological women; however, this person's gender is still defined in terms of his biological appearance. Calliope interprets himself as female when he looks "female," and "male" when he looks "male." All human beings are biologically gendered within the context of their social environment, so to focus on whether or not sex and gender categories are a biological or cultural phenomenon is irrelevant. What is more important is to look at how we categorize people based on our own ingrained assumptions, and then, seek to delineate these innate preconceptions. It is only when we complicate the ideas that we automatically contain concerning both sex and gender that we become more open to alternative constructions of human gender identity; and thus, grow to accept people as "people" and not gendered biological beings.

Bibliography

1. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middle Sex. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002

2. Michelle Rosaldo. "The Use and Abuse of Anthropology: Reflections of Feminism and Cross-Cultural Understanding." 389-417.

3. Diana Fuss. "Inside/Out." Critical Encounters: Reference and Responsibility in Deconstructive Writing. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 233-240.

4. 3 A.M. Magazine, and interview with Jeffrey Eugenides by Bram van Morrison 2003



Full Name:  Patricia Flaherty
Username:  Pflahert@haverford.edu
Title:  Breaking Down Dichotomies
Date:  2005-10-07 12:25:09
Message Id:  16492
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip


Domestic sphere, public sphere, and gender; oh my! The discussions that we've had so far have only led to more questions about categories. Is there any way to escape being categorized? That question I'm still unsure of. I have come to one answer though. Through creating one specific, over-arching category to place every human being in, can lead to a better and hopefully more fluid situation of sub-categorization. This category is the materiality of the body in that all bodies get old and seemingly disabled in some regard with the aging. Everyone ages, and by putting everyone into a category that embodies the essential human characteristic helps to place them in other categories. The ideas of nature/female as asserted by Ortner and predominantly the domestic/public spheres as articulated by Rosaldo are the ideas that have been leading me on the path to find the most answers at the moment. In addition, the notion of disability feminist theory as it specifically relates to Rosaldo's theory, and what that added perspective does to the overall meaning of feminism and gender is of extreme interest and helps highlight some important foundational groundwork for my own perception of gender.

Beginning with Ortner, I feel that she has an interesting idea. The idea that women are closer with nature because of their child-rearing activities they partake in is an interesting assertion, but one I personally found problematic. If we are defining women on characteristics of child-rearing, how will the women that are incapable to rear children feel? Will that make them feel less like a woman? Ortner says, "Woman's body, like that of all female mammals, generates milk during and after pregnancy for feeding of the newborn baby...Since the mother's body goes through its lactation processes in direct relation to a pregnancy with a particular child, the relationship of nursing between mother and child is seen as a natural bond..." Although this is Ortner's first work, I still found it resonating very deeply as a theoretical piece and has helped me identify how one's categorization of a seemingly "same" can actually trigger an exclusion of some sectors of that supposedly unifying characteristic of woman.

I found myself identifying with Rosaldo's arguments as a means to answering questions about categories. I liked how she asserts that by linking gender to the domestic sphere assumes that we know the "core" of what different gender systems share. She insists that the self is made up of other things aside from genderi.e. cultural identity and social classand that one's sexual identity do not necessarily come first. She says, "We think too readily of sexual identities as primordial acquisitions, bound up with the dynamics of the home, forgetting that the "selves" children become include a sense, not just of gender, but of cultural identity and social class." This is an interesting piece of theory because it allows for the dichotomy of the domestic and public sphere to become convoluted. By doing so, this skews the binary of domestic/public and thereby places less pressure on women to be so confined in set roles. I think that the recognition of other categories outside of the gender sense allows for a healthier perspective on gender itself. Things other than gender matter and that's important to recognize.

Rosaldo also asserts that a woman's place in society is not any direct sense a product of the things she does, or what she biologically is, but rather the meaning her activities acquire through concrete social interactions. This is also an idea that I am intrigued by since it allows for a less definitive and standard mold for women. It allows for the diversity among women and a notion of originality for all women. She goes on to say,
And the significances women assign to the activities of their lives are things that we can only grasp through an analysis of the relationships that women forge, the social contexts they createand within which they are defined. Gender in all human group must, then, be understood in political and social terms, with reference not to biological constraints but instead to local and specific forms of social relationship and, in particular, of social inequality.

This is speaking of how necessary it is to take off the all-encompassing "gender goggles" and allowing for a broader perspective of gender that incorporates social relationships and inequalities. This perspective places emphasis on the construction of gender and allows for a lack of interest and emphasis on the biological aspect of gender.

Rosaldo writes,
The most serious deficiency of a model based upon two opposed spheres appears...dichotomies which teach that women must be understood not in terms of relationshipwith other women and with menbut of difference and apartness. "Tied down" by functions we imagine to belong to mothers and the home, our sisters are conceptualized as beings who presently are, and have all times been, the same, not actors but mere subjects of male action and female biology.

This quotation only strengthens her argument about the ineffectiveness of the domestic/public dichotomies. The emphasis on specific social interactions and relationships as a way to find women's place in society plays into the idea here as well. If the relationships between men and women foster, each situation is going to be different, and thereby preventing a defining characteristic about women to be made by men.

Women should not be biology's subject. The domestic/public sphere is very problematic because of the "tied down" issue that surfaces. The issues that are tying women down exist because of holding themselves accountable for the domestic because of their biology. Rosaldo does not think that is right. She says,
Thus, without denying that biological facts like reproduction leave their mark on women's lives, I would insist that facts of this sort do not themselves explain or help us to describe sexual hierarchies in relation to either domestic or public life. To claim that family shapes women is, ultimately, to forget that families themselves are things then men and women actively create and that these vary with particulars of social context....just as families are far more various than most scholars have assumed, so gender inequalities are hardly universal in their implications or their contents.

Continuing her ideas about the originality and unique experience of every woman, that connects into Rosaldo's ideas about how each woman's family life is different too. Each woman's family life shapes them in a different way, or does not at all, and it is not right to assume in which and what way that will happen. Rosaldo doesn't deny the biological connection to women, but doesn't feel that it is fair to create a whole theory for all different women based on it.

Through Rosaldo's breaking down of the domestic and public spheres, it creates space for some ideas for how to fit in women that are seen as "other"specifically, women with disabilities. My interest in disability studies stems from my interest in feminist studies because I find the two having a lot of overlap. By placing less emphasis on the representation of what a woman should be and look like, as Rosaldo claims, then women with bodies that are not the "norm" can establish relationships by which to be defined which will allow for less stigmatization.

Feminist disability theory transforms feminist theory in certain ways. Some strands of feminism recognize that no woman is ever only a womanthat she claims several cultural categories. According to Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, "Disability is one such identity vector that disrupts the unity of the classification woman and challenges the primacy of gender as monolithic category." This challenge to the primacy of gender is what Rosaldo is trying to get rid of as well. Rosaldo tries to emphasize the whole package that make up one's self, and how one's identity is not always so defined. She tries to portray that one's identity is always in transition. This plays into the idea that with disability, the body is in a perpetual state of transformation. This allows for a connection to be made between disability and the essential identifying characteristic of being human. Garland-Thomson says, "I would argue that disability is perhaps the essential characteristic of being human...We evolve into disability. Our bodies need care; we all need assistance to live." This idea that we are all essentially in one overriding category is something that I've learned to be very helpful. By allowing for every human to be placed in the human being categorybased on the fact that everyone's bodies devolves into somethinghelps prevent the emergence of more restricting categories.

Grasping the workings of categories is a daunting issue. That being said, however, Rosaldo specifically has shed light on the necessary break-down of the limiting dichotomies and hierarchies that help the construction of categories in which women feel "tied down". I know that with more exposure to new theories I will be able to acquire more answersbut one is just fine for right now.

Works Cited


Michelle Rosaldo. "The Use and Abuse of Anthropology: Reflections of Feminism and Cross-Cultural Understanding." Signs 5, 3: 389-417.

Ortner, Sherry. "Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?" 1974; rpt. Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996. 21-42.

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. "Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory." Gendering Disability. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2004. 73-106.



Full Name:  Samantha Martinez
Username:  smartine#bmc
Title:  Categorization: Biology, Society, or Something Else?
Date:  2005-10-07 16:20:00
Message Id:  16493
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip


We are at an interesting point in our ongoing discussion about gender and sex in our class. Reading and dissecting Eugenides' Middlesex has been most illuminating for many reasons, specifically because his character Cal is a conundrum of biology and society, gender roles and gender identity that remains as complicated to me as it has been since the start of our class. I believe Eugenides' intentions were to make us think about categories and how limiting they can be for those who in some way cannot be categorized male or female, but has failed to convince me that there is a way to have anything but these limited categories. Much like Foucault who believes the problems we have in society are because our categorizations are too tied to societal rules, he is unable to provide a solution to living in the world where our gender is not somehow defined, constructed, and an inevitable role we must play. Deviation is not the norm.

Many in class have praised this book as a wonderful read, one that lyrically imagines the life of an intersexed person coming to terms with their gender misidentification. Eugenides could have taken Cal's character on a journey to self-acceptance as an intersexed person, where Cal would not have had to choose a life and gender identity from the binary of male and female but to bring to light a "third sex" if you will, one that was just as viable as male and female. There is an underlying assumption throughout this book that presumes choices are being made, that the chaos of the world somehow helps people sort themselves out. I do not find this a convincing strain, since Cal's "choice" was not mediated through any free will or act of agency, but from a piece of paper, a statement using "biology" that defined Cal as part male. I firmly believe the individual in a society in interaction with others and through a social process are socialized into gender roles and gender identities, and that Cal's case does not seem feasible because society did not play a role in Cal's choice to become a boy. My main question is, why would Cal, who stated at several points after the discovery of Cal's "intersexed" status that she believed herself to be a girl and felt comfortable in this category, she would so easily choose to change her appearance to the world into a male persona?

Many of the authors we have discussed until this point have questioned where gender is formed, whether it was Ortner's discussion of nature and culture or Foucault's insistence that these categories manifested themselves during the Victorian era, the question has yet to be answered in a way that makes sense to me. Eugenides strings together his ideas on the role of biology and society throughout and seems to contradict or to confuse the point he wants to make. For example, the doctor, Luce, makes statements such as "Gender was like a native tongue; it didn't exist before birth but was imprinted in the brain during childhood, never disappearing. (Middlesex, Pg. 411)" Yet this is the same doctor that wants to fix the "mistake" of biology and make Cal who has been socialized and raised as a girl and who has constructed a self as female, to have "male" parts. I am not sure which is the most important point Eugenides wants us to leave with. It seems to me that he is advocating for people to stick with the biological and he made the choice for Cal to live as a man, even though Cal's biology was both male and female. Cal on the other hand never "felt" herself to be male except for some external signs that were unlike other females she compared herself to. I do not think, as Talya questions, that biology affects a person greater than the categories and labels placed on us by our cultures and society.

I think these are the problems that Foucault alludes to in his introduction to The Order of Things, the problem being categorizations, and how they come about in society. He speaks of an isomorphism that occurs when a "network of analysis...ignores the extreme diversity of the objects under consideration. (Foucault, xi)" Eugenides has taken on something that is beyond his capabilities to explain, to redefine or deconstruct what we in the Western world define as the "right" sexes, the only ones in which we can use to discuss human beings, in a work of fiction.

Cal's position is perplexing because it lies somewhere in a question I asked in my last paper, that being where do people who decide to bend gender roles learn this? What happens in a person's life that gives them the agency for this? Cal did not make the decision to bend the gender rules/roles imposed upon her but to reject them all together, and yet people do make a choice to live on the borders as Fuss speaks about. I wish we could talk more about these borderlands, the ones that straddle hetero and homo, woman, man, other, everything else. I had hoped that Cal was going to return to her life with some modification and that Eugenides had figured out a way to talk about this "grey space." I agree with Fuss when she ascertains, "[we need] a theory of marginality, subversion, dissidence, and othering. (Fuss, 237)"

I also wonder if Cal found it more feasible to have the excuse of a biological mistake then to deal with her feelings and attraction to girls. How could this be so easily overlooked as being of significance to Cal's decision? We were led to the point of accepting the initial discussion of incest but homosexuality was just too taboo? Or perhaps I am falling into what Foucault keeps warning us about, that we have an obsession with naming things and that it does not really tell us about our interiors. Maybe I would like to talk more about our interiors. I have often mentioned this in class, this need to talk more about how our selves come to be and how this influences the (societal and cultural) gender roles we follow and our sexual identities.
* * * *

At this point, I want to change the conversation a bit to talk about the questions I have about the making and unmaking of categories of sex and gender. Mainly, I am concerned that it is not possible to think about not using categories to describe ourselves in this world because I do not think we can help but make up categories so that we can make sense of the world. To follow a discourse like Foucault's to me would seem like transcending life on earth. I think the questions we have not asked or not have found answers to are how we are going to reconstruct ideas of gender roles in our society, how to live in a society that accepts that there are perhaps 16 sexes, as Paul Grobstein would have us believe, and others I am sure I have missed. I also want to consider other points of view regarding the making and un-making of gender that is not so entrenched in the ideas of a dominant [read: white, privileged, educated] ideology. I think there is a discourse out there that could talk about the borderlands that Cal walked through that would explain some of the reasons why he chose to become male. Gloria Anzaldua has spoken at length about being on the border of gender, sex, culture, etc.

In addition, we spent a considerable time asking each other about Foucault's idea of a table and what we thought this meant in our conversations about gender. I think in our class, the table is all of our conceptions of gender and sexuality. It is the grid by which we consider the options to make new categories or not, and the location of our reluctance to change.

Can we unmake cultural and societal definitions of gender and sex? I do not think it is something we can do just yet, because doing so would mean reaching beyond the confines of our minds, our classrooms, theorizing, and confronting people who would react strongly against anything that is considered radical. How do people live on the borders, or go against gender roles? I do not think the answer lies in our genes, or in our minds, but in that part of us that is un-nameable and is influenced by society, our family, and our desires.

Works Cited:

Eugenides, Jeffrey, Middlesex. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002

Foucault, Michel. Foreword and Preface to The Order of Things. New York: Vintage Books, 1966

Fuss, Diana. "Inside/Out." Critical Encounters: Reference and Responsibility in Deconstructive Writing. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 233-240.



Full Name:  Talya Gates-Monasch
Username:  tgatesmo@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Sexual Differences Versus Sex and Gender
Date:  2005-10-07 16:38:18
Message Id:  16494
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip


One of the biggest debates throughout history is over the idea of creation versus evolution. Most likely, it will remain one of the most fought over issues in the future. The people who believe one or the other lead their lives based on this fundamental aspect of their life: where do we come from? What is our identity? Are we different? Or are we the same?

Despite the fact that sex, sexuality, and gender are some of my favorite topics to discuss and learn about it is difficult to go to the same class four times a week rather than only twice. Granted, the classes are actually two separate classes, even separate departments, and the background is not technically the same but the execution is remarkably similar.

As these topics pertain to my desired future career, I wanted and got different perspectives so that I could learn as much as possible. Looking at sex and gender from a humanistic perspective in "Playing with Categories: Re-doing the Politics of Sex and Gender" is a startling contrast to the scientific and biological view that my "Psychobiology of Sex Differences" class takes. There is an emphasis on the humanistic factor in comparison to the developmental biology and the cognitive factors in sex and gender.

A majority of the discussions and readings in Sex and Gender encompass the need to break the boundaries, categories, and labels or at least to question their necessity and use. How can we, as individuals in the core class for Gender and Sexuality, push the limits and exceed in changing the world into a more accepting place for all people regardless of sexuality and gender. In Psychobiology, there is an aspect of recognizing the categories and limits but the emphasis is on the psychology and biology behind the differences.

I never thought of myself as a person who preferred science to the humanities; however, taking these classes (Sex and Gender and Psychobiology) simultaneously has shown me that one does not exist without the other. New scientific understandings of gender and sexuality argue that sexuality is innate; using this evidence, the humanistic movement has attempted a unilateral move to increase acceptance of all genders and sexualities which increases the desire for more research.

Throughout the Sex and Gender class' first day of reflection on Eugenides' Middlesex, the conversation's focus was how to refer to Calliope/Callie/Cal throughout the book. There was discontentment through the non-uniformity of the classes pronoun use. Since the majority of Middlesex is about Cal's life as a child and young adult, at which point he was still Callie, I will refer to the main character as Callie or she.

The following class there was another heated discussion about the choice that a parent has about whether or not to surgically alter a child's sex/genitals at birth. The main argument against surgery was that it was deciding for the child, taking away their choice and therefore assigning them a gender. Surprisingly enough, or maybe not at all surprising, the next day, during Psychobiology, the same conversation was debated. Not all children are born with "boy parts" OR "girl parts," there can be a cross due to a period of development while a fetus. There were slides illustrating how one could alter the genitalia (primary sex characteristics) despite the chromosomes while the fetus was developing.

I took the following slide from the in-class lecture on Tuesday, September 27, 2005. This slide describes the effects of Jost's experiments on rabbits. The rabbits were in a sexually indifferent stage in utero and Jost altered their sex characteristics and managed to keep them alive. Over a period of three days during development, the primary characteristics are created. A removal of the primary sex characteristics can often entirely alter the structures of the rabbit at birth. When a male, based on chromosomes, has his testis removed on day 21 of development there are no male structures evident at birth, only female structures. However, when the testis is removed just three days later, on the 24th day, the male structures were present and the female structures were absent. Contrary to that, when the ovaries were removed from the female rabbit on either the 21st or 24th day only female structures appeared at birth. However, when the testis of a 24th day male rabbit was grafted into a 20th day female, the female characteristics were absent and the male structures developed. The analysis of this experiment lead to the conclusion that female structures and development is the fallback; the theory behind the reasons for claiming the female as the default is that while an embryo is developing, it is bathed in female hormones.

There were also slides illustrating how deficiencies in certain hormones could alter the primary sex characteristics of an individual despite the male and female chromosomes. One type of deficiency that can alter the sex characteristics of a fetus is Steroid 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency. This is the deficiency that Callie had in Middlesex.
Callie spent her time growing up unsure of who she was and feeling awkward; she had "different" feelings toward other girls and she had not begun menstruating which led her and her mother to a state of anxiety. She fit into the category of girl but did not, and could not, conform, physically or mentally, to that desired gender: she was different. She was treated unfairly by her peers because there is always a need and desire to pick on someone even more vulnerable than oneself.

One of the results of 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency is incomplete masculinization. Callie was born with an "oversized clitoris" but neither her parents nor her doctor noticed. When she began puberty her hormones surged which led to the metamorphosis from "oversized clitoris" to fully visible primary male sex characteristics.

The main argument in Psychobiology over surgery on intersex children was focused on the biological approach to the discussion on intersex children was focused on the science behind the deficiency and what the results would be with and without the surgery.
I am not sure what I would do if I was put in a situation where I had to make the choice. I appreciate all the information and I know that I would not be able to make the decision unless I had as much information as possible. Both the scientific and humanistic views would be important in helping me make an incredibly difficult decision.

Works Cited

Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002.
Nelson, R.J. (2005) An Introduction to Behavioral Endocrinology 3rd ed. Sunderland, MA. Sinauer Associates, Inc.
Slides from "Psychobiology of Sex Differences". Peggy Hollyday and Anjali Thapar. 2005.



Full Name:  Kathryn Corbin
Username:  kcorbin@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Check One M__ F__
Date:  2005-10-07 16:48:33
Message Id:  16496
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip


Is anyone entirely male or female? Initially, this question might appear a bit ridiculous given that science tells us people can always be put into a category of gender based solely on their sexual organs. Since gender is considered both by science and by society as the most basic way of identifying people, it always enters into the conversation, oftentimes subconsciously. Gender is a dimension of social relations that is constantly coming into focus due to its inherent importance in our world. In the most basic terms, if someone has a vagina, then they are considered female, just as someone who has a penis is considered male. Since these appear to be the only gender qualifications, then there should be no difficulty in determining gender, unless someone is a hermaphrodite. The problem arises when societal influences enter into the picture and create visual representations of how males and females should look and act. We then use said representations to either assert what we are or classify what others are. It is human nature to put people into categories because it is essential to our ability to decode our surroundings. Without categories for things, it would be impossible to describe anything and the world would be either an incredibly dull or incredibly chaotic place. However, we do possess these man-made categories and therefore innately feel that putting men and women into these black and white gender boxes will make it easier. But easier to what?

Modern society is supposedly more liberal than society that existed a hundred years ago. Women are allowed to wear pants, play sports and have shorter hair. Men can wear designer clothes, cook and shower more than twice a week. Unfortunately, however modern our society has become, we still swiftly pass judgment when these allegedly liberal lines are crossed. If someone walks in a manner that is typically associated with the opposite sex, their sexuality is questioned no matter what their true affiliation. Using homosexuality as an insult is not an uncommon occurrence. Often, straight girls who are too sporty are said to be tomboys or lesbians and straight men who are more into theatre and art are told they are "gay" or "sissies" because society equates athletic ability with strength and masculinity and creativity with femininity. Possessing qualities that should belong to the opposite gender is seen as unnatural. But according to whom? What group or group of individuals get to decide what is appropriate for women and what is appropriate for men? Society, as a whole, decides that women who cut their hair too short must be lesbians and men who move their hips when they walk must be gay. Because short hair is considered a male characteristic and more overtly sexual walking is considered a female characteristic, outdated stereotypes reinforce these gender classifications. Why is it so much of a stretch to believe that a straight woman might not want to be beauty pageant ready at any given moment? Or that a straight man might not want to shuffle when he walks? In Inside/Out, Diana Fuss examines the relationship between what is and what is not. She argues that because someone is a man, they are therefore not a woman and takes it one step further with a discussion of sexuality. She says, "Homosexuality, in a word, becomes the excluded; it stands for, paradoxically, that which stands without. But the binary structure of sexual orientation, fundamentally a structure of exclusion and exteriorization, nonetheless constructs that exclusion by prominently including the contaminated other in its oppositional logic" (235). If what is not is only not because we have created a thing or group of things that is/are, then the question is this: are certain people considered men because they have a penis or because they do not have a vagina? Or is it even deeper than a discussion of sexual organst? Should there be innate qualities that automatically equate with having testosterone or estrogen? Since women who act unfeminine are called manly and men who act unmasculine are called womanly, should they then be considered that alleged gender, even despite a lack of sex change? Going by Fuss' argument, men who do not possess the stereotypical qualities of males belong in the not male category. The opposite of man is generally considered woman (although there are varying problems with this binary as well) so it would follow that feminine men are really women. In the same vein, masculine women would really be men.

That our bodies destine us for basic gender categorization is not a fact to be ignored. Usually, it is easy to determine whether someone has a penis or a vagina (rather, whether they are male or female in the typical sense) just by looking at them. While there are those who appear androgynous at first glance, further inspection normally proves otherwise. Our innate need to categorize often overtakes us and we get so caught up in societal influences that it is difficult not to. However, if we want to define what a male is and what a female is, then it is ultimately necessary to have some solid guidelines to work with. The scientific definition of gender goes solely by what sexual organs a human being possesses, which directly conflicts with Fuss' argument of what is vs. what is not. Science goes by the most basic and therefore most culturally popular explanation, even though it is not perhaps the most logical. The societal definition is more complicated but possibly more rational in the sense that black and white categories do not and cannot always apply.

Alice Lesnick's On the job: performing gender and inequality at work, home, and school notes that "feminist inquiry...has shifted over time from a view of gender as a birth attribute of the individual to an understanding of gender as a social construction in everyday life". If the way we view gender is based more on social constructions and less on the scientific definition, then perhaps a new word should be developed for what we currently call gender so that we can follow our innate instinct to categorize. Since gender is now a combination of genetics, actions and appearances, it should then follow that no one is either entirely male or entirely female. People have the free will to act however they deem necessary and appropriate. In her essay Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? Sherry Ortner notes that human beings are given life and then it is their job to define their essence. Additionally, she says that gender roles are a strict construct of culture rather than the feedback of nature. She gives examples of "a woman's place is in the home" (31) and "men are the "natural" proprietors of religion, ritual, politics, and other realms of cultural thought and action" (33). Ortner seems surprisingly content to remain in this socially constructed world, no matter what it means for her specifically. If she is correct in her pronouncement that culture constructs specific roles/places/boxes for everyone, is it even possible to break out of them? Furthermore, if society functions in a way that is so embedded with grouping and ungrouping individuals is it really all that bad to continue with the status quo? Should we all just live with the categories that have been created for us and learn to love them?

Common wisdom would suggest that superficial characteristics such as clothing, hair style and makeup (or lack thereof) do not make a person. Nevertheless, they often provide instantaneous clues as to the way to identify someone, to put them into an acknowledged category that makes them much "easier to deal with". This idea of knowing what to do with someone based on their categorization returns back to the earlier question of what is easier about placing people in boxes. Human nature moves us to go along with people, thoughts, actions that are familiar and comfortable to us. Since the dawn of time, it has been an accepted fact that straying too far from the median is dangerous, so then it would make sense for people to conform and place everything, and thus everyone, around them in a category, or multiple categories simply as an instinct. Despite free will and the control humans have over their own minds and bodies, society has created such deeply entrenched gender roles and identities that it is nearly impossible to get away from them.

While I believe it is necessary to have categories to a certain degree, I feel that it is even more necessary to recognize times when categorizing people becomes inappropriate and even limiting. Categories exist because humans need to break things down in order to survive. Communication, safety and other basic elements of life revolve around being able to classify the like and unlike; those things that belong or do not belong with something or someone else. People can be grouped by gender, by related interests or abilities, by family, region, hair color, sexual orientation and a million other ways. And there isn't really a problem with noting these different aspects of people except when it becomes so restrictive that we are confined to certain definitions and are unable to open ourselves up to different ideas. Reverting to the original question of whether anyone is entirely male or female, a concrete answer will never be found. Depending on one's definition of gender, be it scientific or societal or some other type of construct, there are varying responses. Ultimately, a man will be a man if he has a penis no matter what his characteristics, qualities, interests, clothing choices, etc may be just as a woman will always be a woman if she has a vagina despite all of the previously mentioned types of categorization. I'm not sure what my interpretation of gender is at this point. My quandary most likely exists because the possession of sexual organs and what it means to have them has been so deeply ingrained into me and at the same time, society has surrounded me with social constructs of which characteristics are masculine and which are feminine. I am not in a position to proclaim one way or the other what makes gender and it is unlikely that this particular dichotomy between science and society will ever be solved.



Full Name:  Amy Pennington
Username:  apenning@haverford.edu
Title:  An Argument against Transcendence
Date:  2005-10-07 16:58:57
Message Id:  16497
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip


As we have discussed sex and gender in the past weeks, I have found myself frustrated with the desire many members of the class have voiced to go 'beyond' the concepts of embodiedness and enculturation. Many of my peers seem to want to dismiss theories like Foucault's because they leave no room for inherent inner 'essence' or 'transcendence.' The main question this course has left me with thus far has been: why must we think of the embodiedness and enculturation of our selves as limiting, imprisoning, or problematic, either in regards to concepts of sex and gender or in general? What is this constant desire we have to get 'beyond' our cultured understandings, our embodied experiences, as though behind them lay some hidden, absolute truth?

The understanding of our cultures and bodies as base obstacles to be overcome on our path to the 'truth' about sex and gender is a notion I find highly problematic. In this essay I argue that by delving into our cultures, our bodies, and thus exploring the place of sex and gender within them, we can follow a more productive path. Through this argument, I hope to demonstrate what I have learned so far about the making and un-making of the categories of sex and gender in this course: that the inevitable human process of making categorizations occurs within an embodied mind which was formed and is continually re-formed by, as well as reforming, the culture which surrounds it. The categories we make and alter form parts of our identities and our understandings of the world, which form parts of our selves. Our selves are formed by their interactions with the bodies they inhabit, and with the culture that surrounds those bodies. In turn, that culture is formed by the embodied selves which are constantly interacting to create and recreate it. Transcending our bodies and cultures, then, is beside the point, for we are formed of them, and they of us. We, as the 'selves' Grobstein describes, function necessarily within discourses, and communicate necessarily through language, but our predicament need not be viewed as oppressive. Rather, we ought to embrace our embeddedness in the structures of language, discourse, and culture, while continuing to recognize that such structures are completely constructed by the interactions of our embodied selves. Such recognition provides us with as much freedom as might the imagined transcendence we seek, for if the sex and gender categorizations espoused by our current culture are based not upon some immutable truth but upon our own interactions, they can thus be seen as infinitely alterable. I seek through this essay to suggest an alternative and perhaps more useful 'story' than the one of transcendence which we have followed thus far in class. Referencing our readings of Lakoff, Foucault, and Lacqueur, as well as Paul Grobstein's lecture, I seek to provide evidence for my claims that we are embodied creatures who inevitably categorize, that we are also encultured beings who function within discourses, and thus present the argument that perhaps we as students ought to regard culture and biological bodies not as false constructions to be discarded or overcome, but as incredible constructions within which we must examine the making and un-making of sex and gender.

Lakoff and Johnson assert the claim that 'we,' as humans, are embodied minds whose reason "arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experience" (4). If we accept Grobstein's story of the self and the body, we can then easily understand Lakoff and Johnson's argument that "the same neural and cognitive mechanisms that allow us to perceive and move around also create our conceptual systems and modes of reason" (4). Thus, it is only through our bodies and brains that we can think and experience. Further, the ways in which we think about the information we receive through our bodies is determined largely by the ways in which our brains function. As beings with limited consciousness in an immensely complicated world, we are confronted with more information than we can think about at any given moment. In order to cope with all this information, our brains process information in a number of ways, one of which is through categorization (Lakoff 18). While much of this categorization is done without our conscious control, some of it occurs as we use our minds to reason. At the same time, part of how we experience the world is through categories which make the information our minds receive intelligible (19). Thus, we must consider ourselves as embodied, and thus inherently category-making, beings.

Of course, our experiences as humans are not only mediated by our embodiment, but also by our enculturation. Grobstein's diagram of the culture outside the body transposed on the self within the brain explains my argument here quite well, in a visual sense. Our minds are formed around the information we receive from outside of our selves, either from our bodies or from the interactions of that body with the bodies (and thus embodied minds) of others. The ways in which we think about subjects, the choice of subjects to think about, and the categorizations made within that subject: all are influenced by and inseparably tied to the culture in which we exist. Foucault provides convincing evidence for the inevitable enculturedness of our minds in his theory of the 'archaeology' of science and its history, which "is not that of its growing perfection, but rather that of its conditions of possibility" (xxii). In other words, the history of science is not a history of the slow discovery of unadulterated 'truth,' but instead a history of the different ways in which scientists choose to present and frame the information they have about the world so as to create 'new' truths, according to their own will and innumerable other social tensions present at that point in history. But not only the history of science is a history of shifting discourses; all human social practice, and thus all human thought, is performed within discourses (Hall). The impulse to transcend discourse by refraining from speech thus falls in line with our other hopes of transcendence, for we cannot escape the structures around which form our very minds. Thus, we can understand that our minds are not only embodied, but encultured, that we form our inevitable categories within and around the discourses in which we participate through thought and speech.

All of our entanglement, however, need not leave us feeling trapped. Instead, we can view our bodies and our culture as tools with which our minds make sense of the world, as filters through which the most important information is distilled to purity, as molds which we can use to give shape to the shifting sands of our thoughts. For all of our fear of being 'limited' by our bodies and cultures, we still are unable to imagine thinking without them. Our minds are able to focus on certain categories and minute subjects precisely because they are unburdened by the weight of unimportant neural information, yet they can still access a seemingly infinite amount of information and reason through endlessly various problems. As for our enculturation and thus our inevitable participation in discourse, Laqueur articulates a point Foucault also makes in his work: "difference and sameness are everywhere; but which ones count and for what ends is determined outside the bounds of empirical investigation" (10). Data is present everywhere, in larger amounts than our consciousness can even deal with, but the choice of what data to emphasize and how to portray it's 'consequences' is up to the person who puts the data together to form a theory. Our inability to escape discourse need not be seen as a form of entrapment, for we can change the ways in which the discourse functions through our own participation in it. Thus, we are granted the freedom to create our own truths through the manipulation of the discourses within which we function.

I have presented here an alternative story about enculturation and embodiment, one which portrays these ideas as not constricting of thought but freeing. Its usefulness in my mind exceeds that of the story of culture and body as shells to be cast aside or prisons from which to escape. Instead, in our class' tradition of metaphorization, I would like to think of the culture, discourse, body, and brain within which my mind and self exist as a home. I propose that, instead of searching for a space outside the web in which we both entangled and a part, we use our understanding of these structures to which we are inevitably tied in order to play with and rearrange them according to our will. Instead of escaping categorization of sex and gender, I believe that we ought to study it, embrace it, and play with it, because this is the only way in which we can change these categories for the better.



Full Name:  Lindsay Updegrove
Username:  lupdegro@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Overlap
Date:  2005-10-08 13:29:54
Message Id:  16501
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip


This is the most powerful act I will ever do as a human being. I could have children, I could become a world leader, I could join the army and end the life of another human. Writing this paper would be more powerful than any of those other things, because I am exerting more freedom of choice in doing it than in any other act. I don't have a choice over which of my chromosomes fuse with someone else's and make an entirely new person. I have written ninety-one words so far: for every word, a choice. But I could name that person, I could label that amalgamation of mine and another's DNA: I could call it boy or girl, John or Sarah. I could call it Blair or Lee and then I might have caused you for a moment to wonder about the sex of my baby. That's power, too, but it's just one small choice.

The climax of Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex is reached when one girl, Callie is given the power to rename herself. By doing so, she does not subvert a system of gender categorization, but places herself in another (the other) one. Speaking on categories in the preface to his essay The Order of Things, Foucault writes, "Where else could they be juxtaposed except in the non-place of language? Yet, though language can spread them before us, it can do so only in an unthinkable space" (xvii). So what are the frontiers of this unthinkable space? The word 'interior' is defined (among other things) as "the part furthest from the edge." In Middlesex, Cal is the edge. So why isn't she falling off? What is he clinging to?

To chivy out some answers, it is helpful to look at the moment of metamorphosis in the novel, a juncture where many dynamics overlap. The transformation for Callie comes when she is given, or more precisely, takes for herself the knowledge that her chromosomes read 'XY' instead of the 'XX' one might expect after being raised a girl. Following her discovery Callie runs away from her family, leaving a note which reads: "I am not a girl. I'm a boy. That's what I found out today" (439). Although she has felt for some time that she exhibits masculinity, it is not until she is given information from an outside source in reading the doctor's research notes that she actually transforms. The new image of self she puts on is thus created through an interpellation; the doctor has recognized her maleness and she therefore becomes, for herself and everyone around her, male. It is not from something interior to Callie that gender is determined, nor does she choose to take on a masculine appearance based on intuition.

Callie's note, "I am not a girl. I'm a boy," communicates that because she is not one sex, she is automatically the other, despite her possession of ambiguous genitalia. This leads one to think there must be something problematic with her assertion of one or the other; Callie is proof that there is an overlap which it may not be possible to account for in words. "The problem, of course, with the inside/outside rhetoric, if it remains undeconstructed, is that such polemics disguise the fact that most of us are both inside and outside at the same time" (Fuss 237). In language, we tend to emphasize the points of difference, placing categories in opposition. In doing this, we deny the reality that a person like Callie might extend beyond the limits of categories. For Callie to exist there must be a common ground between 'boy' and 'girl', perhaps not on the overemphasized plumb line of gender, but instead the loci where that line might intersect with other aspects of life.

There is a worse kind of disorder than that of the incongruous, the linking together of things that are inappropriate; I mean the disorder in which fragments of a large number of possible orders glitter separately in the dimension, without law or geometry, of the heteroclite; and that word should be taken in its most literal, etymological sense: in such a state, things are 'laid', 'placed', 'arranged' in sites so very different from one another that it is impossible to find a place of residence for them, to define a common locus beneath them all (Foucault xvii).

At some level, depending on the conditions, any combination of things might be inappropriate. For example, every person on earth can be grouped together under the heading "humans," but no two can ever occupy a common locus in a real sense, only with the use of language. Creating these groups through language gives the creator power, but as Fuss points out, such categories are unstable (233) and their legacy is an illusion. As Foucault demonstrates, the "sick" mind is unable to maintain categories for more than a moment. Perhaps this type of mind is incapable of buying into the system of representing categories as real, because in reality any grouping is transitory.

No sooner have they been adumbrated than all these groupings dissolve again, for the field of identity that sustains them, however limited it may be, is still too wide not to be unstable; and so the sick mind continues to infinity, creating groups then dispersing them again, heaping up diverse similarities, destroying those that seem clearest, splitting up things that are identical, superimposing different criteria, frenziedly beginning all over again, becoming more and more disturbed, and teetering finally on the brink of anxiety (Foucault xviii).

It is clear from this passage that the Big Bang is still happening...over and over. What causes Callie's transformation, like any transformation, is a combination of all the right ingredients at the right time. Eugenides frames the creation of her character as the result of a series of collisions: the moment when her grandparents leave Greece and siblinghood for America and marriage, or when her father turns suddenly from the brink of certain death and goes, instead, to school. Each individual is at the intersection of all these external circumstances which are beyond their control. Better yet, I would say that every human being is the "unthinkable space" where time, matter, ideology, biology, and everything else overlap.

Fuss uses the term "perpetual reinvention" (238) to describe the workings of sexual identity; I would extend that phrase to every turn of human life. When we talk about gender, we often become frustrated by its bipolarity, by its rigid dimensions and unrelenting call to labels. Our control over this construction is limited: there is no breaking from it outside the mind. There is only the guarantee that as we traverse the lines of life, there is always a new connection, a rebirth.


Works Cited

Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002.

Foucault, Michel. Foreword and Preface to The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books,

Fuss, Diana. "Inside/Out." Critical Encounters: Reference and Responsibility in Deconstructive Writing. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 233-240.



Full Name:  Kathryn Corbin
Username:  kcorbin@brynmawr.edu
Title:  this is a test
Date:  2005-10-10 11:39:51
Message Id:  16504
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip



testing...sorry for he inconvenience


Full Name:  Sarah Halter
Username:  shalter@brynmawr.edu
Title:  What's In A Label?
Date:  2005-10-16 01:01:15
Message Id:  16512
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip


This is a repost, as a mistake occured in the formatting before. I really hope this one works.

I like the word "dyke." I like its history and its meaning: in four letters, it allows me to proclaim myself as woman, gay, and powerful at the same time. But my love for this label is problematic. As convenient as "dyke" is it allows me to put my feelings and urges into two little sounds I can't ignore the problems that arise when I try to define with language traits that are as complex as gender, sex, and sexuality. Looking at recently published gender theory, I see that labels have become anathema. In her essay "Inside/Out," Diana Fuss warns, "Where exactly, in this borderline sexual economy, does the one identity leave off and the other begin? And what gets left out of the inside/outside, heterosexual/homosexual opposition...?" (234). Thomas Laqueur, in his essay "On Language of the Flesh," says, "Woman alone seems to have 'gender' since the category itself is defined as that aspect of social relations based on difference between sexes in which the standard has always been man" (22) in other words, woman is defined by what man is not. And in his book The History of Sexuality, Michael Foucault warns against the transformation of thoughts to words, saying, "the Counter Reformation ... attributed more and more importance in penance ... to all the insulations of the flesh; thoughts, desires, voluptuous imaginings, delectations, combined movements of the body and soul; henceforth all this had to enter, in detail, into the process of confession and guidance" (19). All three of these theorists would warn that my word is not an expression of freedom, a proclamation, but a word with agency that can be confining and exclusive. I understand what they mean, but still this troubles me. Isn't there a way I can reclaim "dyke"?

If I am to argue that we can reclaim labels, first I think it's necessary for me to illustrate the repressive power of words. I will start with a counter-argument: I can't deny that words confine, especially in a climate as politically charged as today's United States. Fuss, speaking almost as a prophet from the early '90s, says in her article,

The language and law that regulates the establishment of heterosexuality as both an identity and an institution, both a practice and a system, is the language and law of defense and protection: heterosexuality secures its self-identity and shores up its ontological boundaries by protecting itself from what it sees as the continual predatory encroachment of its contaminated other, homosexuality" (234).

Fuss argues that words can be used in defensive ways to protect a system - a system that may need revising. Those in power (much like those in the Counter Reformation that Foucault mentioned) possess the ability to control with words. For example, today "pro-family" means "anti-gay;" Focus on Family, American Family Association, and Family Research Council are all powerful organizations that praise "traditional family values" while remaining stringently anti-gay and anti-feminist. The wars over "pro-choice," "pro-life," "anti-choice," and "anti-life" provide another example for power play in words. Here, it's not the battle for or against abortion that's important, but the way that those fighting the battle choose words to represent their side. "Anti-choice" and "pro-life" both imply that a person is against abortion, but these two words could not be more different. (Who uses these words, how are they used, what do they imply, etc?) Words should never be dismissed; language is an important commodity in power.

From Fuss to Focus on Family, we see that words and agenda are intrinsically tied. This is the danger in labels. In The History of Sexuality, Foucault, using the example of confession, demonstrates the danger in words: "An imperative was established: not only will you confess to acts contravening the law, but you will seek to transform your desires, your every desire, into discourse" (21). The danger with putting feelings, thoughts, and desires into discourse is it allows for the "policing of statements" (Foucault 18). So when I label myself as a woman or a feminist or a Christian or to return to the beginning of my paper a dyke, I give a word to the thoughts that swirl in my mind. And words, unlike thoughts, can be policed. A friend can hush me if I say, "Dyke," too loudly in an area with children. When I call myself a feminist at a lunchtime discussion, my mind may wander to women like Adrienne Rich or Dorothy Allison, but the person I'm talking to may think with distaste of feminazis or man-hating bra-burners.

In introducing the purpose of his book, Laqueur tries to address this problem with discourse and exclusion:

My goal is to show how biology of hierarchy in which there is only one sex, a biology of incommensurability between two sexes, and the claim that there is no publicly relevant sexual difference at all, or no sex, have constrained the interpretation of bodies and the strategies of sexual politics for some two thousand years" (23).

Laqueur warns against the ways we use language to describe sex or gender: no matter how we try to put our thoughts on gender, sexuality, or sex into words, we constrain our thoughts by making up rules. Laqueur probably believes that ideas of sex and gender are best left without words: rather than calling a man a man, let him/her be. Similarly, the words "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality," at their most basic definition, only allow for two sexual orientations, and leave out hundreds that float around the border. Also, these words leave little room for communication or a movement between them.

I now feel that I have properly expressed the danger with words after all, Fuss, Foucault, and Laqueur have all made compelling cases against labels. But I still like the word "dyke," so I will turn to the end of Fuss's article for support. She admits here that while breaking from language and the rules of language sounds attractive, "It would be difficult, not to say delusionary, to forget the words "inside" and "outside," "heterosexual" and "homosexual," without also losing in this act of willed amnesia the crucial sense of alterity necessary for constituting any sexed subject, any subject as sexed" (239). Fuss says that even without words, the sense of being "Other" remains. This is why I like the word "dyke." I like what it means to me. I like the history of activism and feminism that has allowed me to use positively a word that was once disgusting and derogatory. In "We 'Other' Victorians," Foucault says that he understands this: he says, "we are conscious of defying established power"(6), and later, "Something that smacks of revolt, of promised freedom, of the coming age of a different law, slips easily into this discourse on sexual oppression" (7). Foucault acknowledges that there is a siren's call that leads us to desire to "reclaim" the word dyke (or lezbo, or queer, or fag, or bitch, even). But, he argues, the problem exists not because I, a twenty-two year old college student, want to reclaim this word, but because of the history of sexuality - a history that has put words like this (that has put sex, something that shouldn't be in words) into discourse. And yet, I'm not convinced. I still like the word "dyke," I whisper to myself. Is this just stubbornness?

A classmate of mine once said that when we have a discussion in class, not only the visible students are present, but hundreds of unseen people are also floating around the edges. Whether these people are boy/girlfriends, old roommates or teachers, they are those who have shaped our thoughts, our opinions, and the ways we interpret words. When someone says "pro-choice," a well-groomed liberal arts woman may (or may not) think positive thoughts of a feminist who owns her body, but the girl sitting right beside this young woman may think about killing babies. I return to the idea I mentioned earlier: feminism to me is Adrienne Rich, but to others it is feminazis. This is because when I speak, I will always my ghosts, my history, my nationality, and my family around me, and these personal experiences will also shape how I hear words. But isn't that the point of being human? Even if we don't speak, even if we just grunt and motion to each other like Neanderthals, we will always bring our feelings and desires into any human interaction. And even if I didn't know the word for "other," a feeling of being different can remain.

I believe that when I say the word dyke, I make a statement of power. I express my feelings in words. I don't believe this word does anything but express how I feel. Others, like Foucault, will inevitably argue that I am playing into the hands of those who want to use the words against me. Foucault says, "As if in order to gain mastery over [sex] in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, expunge it from the things that were said, and extinguish the words the rendered it too visibly present" (17). But if I shouldn't let people put my thoughts into discourse and then police me, why should I let Foucault control my thoughts and words? I don't want Foucault's laws, arguments, or philosophies to control me any more than I want to be controlled by the state senator who thinks homosexuals shouldn't adopt children. I feel just as constrained by the President who's against gay marriage as the classmate who says that I shouldn't call myself a lesbian because that "labels" me.

Furthermore, when we put thoughts into words, we create existence by saying the word "dyke," a dyke can exist. Foucault's argument is that you couldn't police the homosexual until you called him, her or it the homosexual. But would things really be so much better if this desire wasn't transformed into a label? Labels give us existence. Before the word "homosexual" came into existence, the Texas law against sodomy could not have existed. But organizations that fight AIDS for gay men would not have existed, and neither could groups like the HRC, PFLAG, NOW, or the Intersex Society of North America. Gay Pride Festivals parades that celebrate sexuality in any and all forms are now yearly experiences for cities. How many generations of lesbians had to marry men because there was no word to describe what they felt and no public acknowledgement of their existence?

In an ideal world, we could move away from labels. There would be no "norm" and no policing of thoughts, and people could simply exist as they are. But we don't live in an ideal world, and as Fuss says, "The dream of either a common language or no language at all is just that a dream, a fantasy that ultimately can do little to acknowledge and to legitimate the hitherto repressed differences between and within sexual identities" (239). Perhaps I fight on "their terms" when I refuse to fight for the abolishment of all labels, perhaps I use words that senators and presidents can use against me, but I'm willing to do that because words can give existence. Words are difficult because they can be used to leave people out or deny freedom, but I'm not comfortable throwing these words - and their histories - away because of a few problems. I don't want to forget suffragists or gay rights activists so I can let go of their words.

I have spent this entire paper trying to illustrate why words are important, and perhaps this was my mistake. Maybe it's not my acceptance of labels that's the problem, but my view that words are all-important. If I dare to contradict myself (didn't I say in the beginning of this essay, "words should not ever be dismissed"?), perhaps I arrive at a new idea: words aren't as important as they seem. Labels are not perfect, but it's the implication behind these labels that cause the danger. There, behind the meaning of words, is where people are left out and insides and outsides are created. There is where policing begins. What if I could say that I'm a dyke, but suggest that's not all I am and not every woman who loves women has to call herself a dyke? What if I didn't give the word that much power? At the risk of sounding glib, perhaps we need to worry less about words and more about how we use them. And maybe we can move toward a world in which we use labels without letting them define us.



Full Name:  Samantha Martinez
Username:  smartine@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Categorization: Biology, Society, or Something Else?
Date:  2005-10-17 21:44:13
Message Id:  16530
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip


We are at an interesting point in our ongoing discussion about gender and sex in our class. Reading and dissecting Eugenides' Middlesex has been most illuminating for many reasons, specifically because his character Cal is a conundrum of biology and society, gender roles and gender identity that remains as complicated to me as it has been since the start of our class. I believe Eugenides' intentions were to make us think about categories and how limiting they can be for those who in some way cannot be categorized male or female, but has failed to convince me that there is a way to ever have anything but these limited categories. Much like Foucault who believes the problems we have in society are because our categorizations are too tied to societal rules, he is unable to provide a solution to living in the world where our gender is not somehow defined, constructed, and an inevitable role we must play.

Many in class have praised this book as a wonderful read, one that lyrically imagines the life of an intersexed person coming to terms with their gender misidentification. Eugenides could have taken Cal's character on a journey to self-acceptance as an intersexed person, where Cal would not have had to choose a life and gender identity from the binary of male and female but to bring to light a "third sex" if you will, one that was just as viable as male and female. There is an underlying assumption throughout this book that presumes choices are being made, that the chaos of the world somehow helps people sort themselves out. I do not find this a convincing strain throughout, since Cal's "choice" was not mediated through any free will or act of agency, but from a piece of paper, a statement using "biology" that defined Cal as part male. I firmly believe the individual in a society in interaction with others and through a social process are socialized into gender roles and gender identities, and that Cal's case does not seem feasible because society did not play a role in Cal's choice to become a boy. My main question is, why would Cal, who stated at several points after the discovery of Cal's "intersexed" status that she believed herself to be a girl and felt comfortable in this category, she would so easily choose to change her appearance to the world into a male persona?

Many of the authors we have discussed until this point have questioned where gender is formed, whether it was Ortner's discussion of nature and culture or Foucault's insistence that these categories manifested themselves during the Victorian era, the question has yet to be answered in a way that makes sense to me. Eugenides strings together his ideas on the role of biology and society throughout and seems to contradict or to confuse the point he wants to make. For example, the doctor, Luce, makes statements such as "Gender was like a native tongue; it didn't exist before birth but was imprinted in the brain during childhood, never disappearing. (Middlesex, Pg. 411)" Yet this is the same doctor that wants to fix the "mistake" of biology and make Cal who has been socialized and raised as a girl and who has constructed a self as a female, to have "male" parts. I am not sure which is the most important point Eugenides wants us to leave with. It seems to me that he is advocating for people to stick with the biological and he made the choice for Cal to live as a man, even though Cal's biology was both male and female. Cal on the other hand never "felt" herself to be male except for some external signs that were unlike other females she compared herself to. I do not think, as Talya questions, that biology affects a person greater than the categories and labels placed on us by our cultures and society.

I think these are the problems that Foucault alludes to in his introduction to The Order of Things, the problem being categorizations, and how they come about in society. He speaks of an isomorphism that occurs when a "network of analysis...ignores the extreme diversity of the objects under consideration. (Foucault, xi)" Eugenides has taken on something that is beyond his capabilities to explain, to redefine or deconstruct what we in the Western world define as the "right" sexes, the only ones in which we can use to discuss human beings, in a work of fiction.

Cal's position is perplexing because it lies somewhere in a question I asked in my last paper, that being where do people who decide to bend gender roles learn this? What happens in a person's life that gives them the agency for this? Cal did not make the decision to bend the gender rules/roles imposed upon her but to reject them all together, and yet people do make a choice to live on the borders as Fuss speaks about. I wish we could talk more about these borderlands, the ones that straddle hetero and homo, woman, man, other, everything else. I had hoped that Cal was going to return to her life with some modification and that Eugenides had figured out a way to talk about this "grey space." I agree with Fuss when she ascertains, "[we need] a theory of marginality, subversion, dissidence, and othering. (Fuss, 237)"

I also wonder if Cal found it more feasible to have the excuse of a biological mistake then to deal with her feelings and attraction to girls. How could this be so easily overlooked as being of significance to Cal's decision? We were led to the point of accepting the initial discussion of incest but homosexuality was just too taboo? Or perhaps I am falling into what Foucault keeps warning us about, that we have an obsession with naming things and that it does not really tell us about our interiors. Maybe I would like to talk more about our interiors. I have often mentioned this in class, this need to talk more about how our selves come to be and how this influences the (societal and cultural) gender roles we follow and our sexual identities.

* * * *

At this point, I want to change the conversation a bit to talk about the questions I have about the making and unmaking of categories of sex and gender. Mainly, I am concerned that it is not possible to think about not using categories to describe ourselves in this world because I do not think we can help but make up categories so that we can make sense of the world. To follow a discourse like Foucault's to me would seem like transcending life on earth. I think the questions we have not asked are how we are going to reconstruct ideas of gender roles in our society, how to live in a society that accepts that there are perhaps 16 sexes, as Paul Grobstein would have us believe, and others I am sure I have missed. I also want to consider other points of view regarding the making and un-making of gender that is not so entrenched in the ideas of a dominant [read, white, privileged, educated] ideology. I think there is a discourse out there that could talk about the borderlands that Cal walked through that would explain some of the reasons why he chose to become male. Gloria Anzaldua has spoken at length about being on the border of gender, sex, culture, etc.

In addition, we spent a considerable time asking each other about Foucault's idea of a table and what we thought this meant in our conversations about gender. I think in our class, the table is all of our conceptions of gender and sexuality. It is the grid by which we consider the options to make new categories or not, and the location of our reluctance to change.

Can we unmake cultural and societal definitions of gender and sex? I do not think it is something we can do just yet, because doing so would mean reaching beyond the confines of our minds, our classrooms, theorizing, and confronting people who would react strongly against anything that is considered radical. How do people live on the borders, or go against gender roles? I do not think the answer lies in our genes, or in our minds, but in that part of us that is un-nameable and is influenced by society, our family, and our desires.



Full Name:  Sarah Halter
Username:  shalter@brynmawr.edu
Title:  What's In A Label?
Date:  2005-10-17 23:52:21
Message Id:  16531
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip


I like the word "dyke." I like its history and its meaning: in four letters, it allows me to proclaim myself as woman, gay, and powerful at the same time. But my love for this label is problematic. As convenient as "dyke" is it allows me to put my feelings and urges into two little sounds I can't ignore the problems that arise when I try to define with language traits that are as complex as gender, sex, and sexuality. Looking at recently published gender theory, I see that labels have become anathema. In her essay "Inside/Out," Diana Fuss warns, "Where exactly, in this borderline sexual economy, does the one identity leave off and the other begin? And what gets left out of the inside/outside, heterosexual/homosexual opposition...?" (234). Thomas Laqueur, in his essay "On Language of the Flesh," says, "Woman alone seems to have 'gender' since the category itself is defined as that aspect of social relations based on difference between sexes in which the standard has always been man" (22) in other words, woman is defined by what man is not. And in his book The History of Sexuality, Michael Foucault warns against the transformation of thoughts to words, saying, "the Counter Reformation ... attributed more and more importance in penance ... to all the insulations of the flesh; thoughts, desires, voluptuous imaginings, delectations, combined movements of the body and soul; henceforth all this had to enter, in detail, into the process of confession and guidance" (19). All three of these theorists would warn that my word is not an expression of freedom, a proclamation, but a word with agency that can be confining and exclusive. I understand what they mean, but still this troubles me. Isn't there a way I can reclaim "dyke"?

If I am to argue that we can reclaim labels, first I think it's necessary for me to illustrate the repressive power of words. I will start with a counter-argument: I can't deny that words confine, especially in a climate as politically charged as today's United States. Fuss, speaking almost as a prophet from the early '90s, says in her article,

The language and law that regulates the establishment of heterosexuality as both an identity and an institution, both a practice and a system, is the language and law of defense and protection: heterosexuality secures its self-identity and shores up its ontological boundaries by protecting itself from what it sees as the continual predatory encroachment of its contaminated other, homosexuality" (234).

Fuss argues that words can be used in defensive ways to protect a system - a system that may need revising. Those in power (much like those in the Counter Reformation that Foucault mentioned) possess the ability to control with words. For example, today "pro-family" means "anti-gay;" Focus on Family, American Family Association, and Family Research Council are all powerful organizations that praise "traditional family values" while remaining stringently anti-gay and anti-feminist. The wars over "pro-choice," "pro-life," "anti-choice," and "anti-life" provide another example for power play in words. Here, it's not the battle for or against abortion that's important, but the way that those fighting the battle choose words to represent their side. "Anti-choice" and "pro-life" both imply that a person is against abortion, but these two words could not be more different. (Who uses these words, how are they used, what do they imply, etc?) Words should never be dismissed; language is an important commodity in power.

From Fuss to Focus on Family, we see that words and agenda are intrinsically tied. This is the danger in labels. In The History of Sexuality, Foucault, using the example of confession, demonstrates the danger in words: "An imperative was established: not only will you confess to acts contravening the law, but you will seek to transform your desires, your every desire, into discourse" (21). The danger with putting feelings, thoughts, and desires into discourse is it allows for the "policing of statements" (Foucault 18). So when I label myself as a woman or a feminist or a Christian or to return to the beginning of my paper a dyke, I give a word to the thoughts that swirl in my mind. And words, unlike thoughts, can be policed. A friend can hush me if I say, "Dyke," too loudly in an area with children. When I call myself a feminist at a lunchtime discussion, my mind may wander to women like Adrienne Rich or Dorothy Allison, but the person I'm talking to may think with distaste of feminazis or man-hating bra-burners.

In introducing the purpose of his book, Laqueur tries to address this problem with discourse and exclusion:

My goal is to show how biology of hierarchy in which there is only one sex, a biology of incommensurability between two sexes, and the claim that there is no publicly relevant sexual difference at all, or no sex, have constrained the interpretation of bodies and the strategies of sexual politics for some two thousand years" (23).

Laqueur warns against the ways we use language to describe sex or gender: no matter how we try to put our thoughts on gender, sexuality, or sex into words, we constrain our thoughts by making up rules. Laqueur probably believes that ideas of sex and gender are best left without words: rather than calling a man a man, let him/her be. Similarly, the words "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality," at their most basic definition, only allow for two sexual orientations, and leave out hundreds that float around the border. Also, these words leave little room for communication or a movement between them.

I now feel that I have properly expressed the danger with words after all, Fuss, Foucault, and Laqueur have all made compelling cases against labels. But I still like the word "dyke," so I will turn to the end of Fuss's article for support. She admits here that while breaking from language and the rules of language sounds attractive, "It would be difficult, not to say delusionary, to forget the words "inside" and "outside," "heterosexual" and "homosexual," without also losing in this act of willed amnesia the crucial sense of alterity necessary for constituting any sexed subject, any subject as sexed" (239). Fuss says that even without words, the sense of being "Other" remains. This is why I like the word "dyke." I like what it means to me. I like the history of activism and feminism that has allowed me to use positively a word that was once disgusting and derogatory. In "We 'Other' Victorians," Foucault says that he understands this: he says, "we are conscious of defying established power"(6), and later, "Something that smacks of revolt, of promised freedom, of the coming age of a different law, slips easily into this discourse on sexual oppression" (7). Foucault acknowledges that there is a siren's call that leads us to desire to "reclaim" the word dyke (or lezbo, or queer, or fag, or bitch, even). But, he argues, the problem exists not because I, a twenty-two year old college student, want to reclaim this word, but because of the history of sexuality - a history that has put words like this (that has put sex, something that shouldn't be in words) into discourse. And yet, I'm not convinced. I still like the word "dyke," I whisper to myself. Is this just stubbornness?

A classmate of mine once said that when we have a discussion in class, not only the visible students are present, but hundreds of unseen people are also floating around the edges. Whether these people are boy/girlfriends, old roommates or teachers, they are those who have shaped our thoughts, our opinions, and the ways we interpret words. When someone says "pro-choice," a well-groomed liberal arts woman may (or may not) think positive thoughts of a feminist who owns her body, but the girl sitting right beside this young woman may think about killing babies. I return to the idea I mentioned earlier: feminism to me is Adrienne Rich, but to others it is feminazis. This is because when I speak, I will always my ghosts, my history, my nationality, and my family around me, and these personal experiences will also shape how I hear words. But isn't that the point of being human? Even if we don't speak, even if we just grunt and motion to each other like Neanderthals, we will always bring our feelings and desires into any human interaction. And even if I didn't know the word for "other," a feeling of being different can remain.

I believe that when I say the word dyke, I make a statement of power. I express my feelings in words. I don't believe this word does anything but express how I feel. Others, like Foucault, will inevitably argue that I am playing into the hands of those who want to use the words against me. Foucault says, "As if in order to gain mastery over [sex] in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, expunge it from the things that were said, and extinguish the words the rendered it too visibly present" (17). But if I shouldn't let people put my thoughts into discourse and then police me, why should I let Foucault control my thoughts and words? I don't want Foucault's laws, arguments, or philosophies to control me any more than I want to be controlled by the state senator who thinks homosexuals shouldn't adopt children. I feel just as constrained by the President who's against gay marriage as the classmate who says that I shouldn't call myself a lesbian because that "labels" me.

Furthermore, when we put thoughts into words, we create existence by saying the word "dyke," a dyke can exist. Foucault's argument is that you couldn't police the homosexual until you called him, her or it the homosexual. But would things really be so much better if this desire wasn't transformed into a label? Labels give us existence. Before the word "homosexual" came into existence, the Texas law against sodomy could not have existed. But organizations that fight AIDS for gay men would not have existed, and neither could groups like the HRC, PFLAG, NOW, or the Intersex Society of North America. Gay Pride Festivals parades that celebrate sexuality in any and all forms are now yearly experiences for cities. How many generations of lesbians had to marry men because there was no word to describe what they felt and no public acknowledgement of their existence?

In an ideal world, we could move away from labels. There would be no "norm" and no policing of thoughts, and people could simply exist as they are. But we don't live in an ideal world, and as Fuss says, "The dream of either a common language or no language at all is just that a dream, a fantasy that ultimately can do little to acknowledge and to legitimate the hitherto repressed differences between and within sexual identities" (239). Perhaps I fight on "their terms" when I refuse to fight for the abolishment of all labels, perhaps I use words that senators and presidents can use against me, but I'm willing to do that because words can give existence. Words are difficult because they can be used to leave people out or deny freedom, but I'm not comfortable throwing these words - and their histories - away because of a few problems. I don't want to forget suffragists or gay rights activists so I can let go of their words.

I have spent this entire paper trying to illustrate why words are important, and perhaps this was my mistake. Maybe it's not my acceptance of labels that's the problem, but my view that words are all-important. If I dare to contradict myself (didn't I say in the beginning of this essay, "words should not ever be dismissed"?), perhaps I arrive at a new idea: words aren't as important as they seem. Labels are not perfect, but it's the implication behind these labels that cause the danger. There, behind the meaning of words, is where people are left out and insides and outsides are created. There is where policing begins. What if I could say that I'm a dyke, but suggest that's not all I am and not every woman who loves women has to call herself a dyke? What if I didn't give the word that much power? At the risk of sounding glib, perhaps we need to worry less about words and more about how we use them. And maybe we can move toward a world in which we use labels without letting them define us.



Full Name:  Kathryn Corbin
Username:  kcorbin@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Check One: Male__ Female__
Date:  2005-10-23 16:16:18
Message Id:  16594
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip



Is anyone entirely male or female? Initially, this question might appear a bit ridiculous given that science tells us people can always be put into a category of gender based solely on their sexual organs. Since gender is considered both by science and by society as the most basic way of identifying people, it always enters into the conversation, oftentimes subconsciously. Gender is a dimension of social relations that is constantly coming into focus due to its inherent importance in our world. In the most basic terms, if someone has a vagina, then they are considered female, just as someone who has a penis is considered male. Since these appear to be the only gender qualifications, then there should be no difficulty in determining gender, unless someone is a hermaphrodite. The problem arises when societal influences enter into the picture and create visual representations of how males and females should look and act. We then use said representations to either assert what we are or classify what others are. It is human nature to put people into categories because it is essential to our ability to decode our surroundings. Without categories for things, it would be impossible to describe anything and the world would be either an incredibly dull or incredibly chaotic place. However, we do possess these man-made categories and therefore innately feel that putting men and women into these black and white gender boxes will make it easier. But easier to what?

Modern society is supposedly more liberal than society that existed a hundred years ago. Women are allowed to wear pants, play sports and have shorter hair. Men can wear designer clothes, cook and shower more than twice a week. Unfortunately, however modern our society has become, we still swiftly pass judgment when these allegedly liberal lines are crossed. If someone walks in a manner that is typically associated with the opposite sex, their sexuality is questioned no matter what their true affiliation. Using homosexuality as an insult is not an uncommon occurrence. Often, straight girls who are too sporty are said to be tomboys or lesbians and straight men who are more into theatre and art are told they are "gay" or "sissies" because society equates athletic ability with strength and masculinity and creativity with femininity. Possessing qualities that should belong to the opposite gender is seen as unnatural. But according to whom? What group or group of individuals get to decide what is appropriate for women and what is appropriate for men? Society, as a whole, decides that women who cut their hair too short must be lesbians and men who move their hips when they walk must be gay. Because short hair is considered a male characteristic and more overtly sexual walking is considered a female characteristic, outdated stereotypes reinforce these gender classifications. Why is it so much of a stretch to believe that a straight woman might not want to be beauty pageant ready at any given moment? Or that a straight man might not want to shuffle when he walks? In Inside/Out, Diana Fuss examines the relationship between what is and what is not. She argues that because someone is a man, they are therefore not a woman and takes it one step further with a discussion of sexuality. She says, "Homosexuality, in a word, becomes the excluded; it stands for, paradoxically, that which stands without. But the binary structure of sexual orientation, fundamentally a structure of exclusion and exteriorization, nonetheless constructs that exclusion by prominently including the contaminated other in its oppositional logic" (235). If what is not is only not because we have created a thing or group of things that is/are, then the question is this: are certain people considered men because they have a penis or because they do not have a vagina? Or is it even deeper than a discussion of sexual organst? Should there be innate qualities that automatically equate with having testosterone or estrogen? Since women who act unfeminine are called manly and men who act unmasculine are called womanly, should they then be considered that alleged gender, even despite a lack of sex change? Going by Fuss' argument, men who do not possess the stereotypical qualities of males belong in the not male category. The opposite of man is generally considered woman (although there are varying problems with this binary as well) so it would follow that feminine men are really women. In the same vein, masculine women would really be men.

That our bodies destine us for basic gender categorization is not a fact to be ignored. Usually, it is easy to determine whether someone has a penis or a vagina (rather, whether they are male or female in the typical sense) just by looking at them. While there are those who appear androgynous at first glance, further inspection normally proves otherwise. Our innate need to categorize often overtakes us and we get so caught up in societal influences that it is difficult not to. However, if we want to define what a male is and what a female is, then it is ultimately necessary to have some solid guidelines to work with. The scientific definition of gender goes solely by what sexual organs a human being possesses, which directly conflicts with Fuss' argument of what is vs. what is not. Science goes by the most basic and therefore most culturally popular explanation, even though it is not perhaps the most logical. The societal definition is more complicated but possibly more rational in the sense that black and white categories do not and cannot always apply.

Alice Lesnick's On the job: performing gender and inequality at work, home, and school notes that "feminist inquiry...has shifted over time from a view of gender as a birth attribute of the individual to an understanding of gender as a social construction in everyday life". If the way we view gender is based more on social constructions and less on the scientific definition, then perhaps a new word should be developed for what we currently call gender so that we can follow our innate instinct to categorize. Since gender is now a combination of genetics, actions and appearances, it should then follow that no one is either entirely male or entirely female. People have the free will to act however they deem necessary and appropriate. In her essay Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? Sherry Ortner notes that human beings are given life and then it is their job to define their essence. Additionally, she says that gender roles are a strict construct of culture rather than the feedback of nature. She gives examples of "a woman's place is in the home" (31) and "men are the "natural" proprietors of religion, ritual, politics, and other realms of cultural thought and action" (33). Ortner seems surprisingly content to remain in this socially constructed world, no matter what it means for her specifically. If she is correct in her pronouncement that culture constructs specific roles/places/boxes for everyone, is it even possible to break out of them? Furthermore, if society functions in a way that is so embedded with grouping and ungrouping individuals is it really all that bad to continue with the status quo? Should we all just live with the categories that have been created for us and learn to love them?

Common wisdom would suggest that superficial characteristics such as clothing, hair style and makeup (or lack thereof) do not make a person. Nevertheless, they often provide instantaneous clues as to the way to identify someone, to put them into an acknowledged category that makes them much "easier to deal with". This idea of knowing what to do with someone based on their categorization returns back to the earlier question of what is easier about placing people in boxes. Human nature moves us to go along with people, thoughts, actions that are familiar and comfortable to us. Since the dawn of time, it has been an accepted fact that straying too far from the median is dangerous, so then it would make sense for people to conform and place everything, and thus everyone, around them in a category, or multiple categories simply as an instinct. Despite free will and the control humans have over their own minds and bodies, society has created such deeply entrenched gender roles and identities that it is nearly impossible to get away from them.

While I believe it is necessary to have categories to a certain degree, I feel that it is even more necessary to recognize times when categorizing people becomes inappropriate and even limiting. Categories exist because humans need to break things down in order to survive. Communication, safety and other basic elements of life revolve around being able to classify the like and unlike; those things that belong or do not belong with something or someone else. People can be grouped by gender, by related interests or abilities, by family, region, hair color, sexual orientation and a million other ways. And there isn't really a problem with noting these different aspects of people except when it becomes so restrictive that we are confined to certain definitions and are unable to open ourselves up to different ideas. Reverting to the original question of whether anyone is entirely male or female, a concrete answer will never be found. Depending on one's definition of gender, be it scientific or societal or some other type of construct, there are varying responses. Ultimately, a man will be a man if he has a penis no matter what his characteristics, qualities, interests, clothing choices, etc may be just as a woman will always be a woman if she has a vagina despite all of the previously mentioned types of categorization. I'm not sure what my interpretation of gender is at this point. My quandary most likely exists because the possession of sexual organs and what it means to have them has been so deeply ingrained into me and at the same time, society has surrounded me with social constructs of which characteristics are masculine and which are feminine. I am not in a position to proclaim one way or the other what makes gender and it is unlikely that this particular dichotomy between science and society will ever be solved.



Full Name:  Flora Shepherd
Username:  fshepher@brynmawr.edu
Title:  In Foucault's "Age of the Critical Analysis of Repression", the realist is king:
Why we need rules to play with gender.
Date:  2005-10-23 23:26:59
Message Id:  16605
Paper Text:

<mytitle>

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip


Flora Shepherd
Seminar on Gender and Sexuality
Fall 2005

In Foucault's "Age of the Critical Analysis of Repression", the realist is king:
Why we need rules to play with gender.

My earliest memory: a shaft of sun on my face. I am in the kitchen at the old house. Mom is showing me how to grate the zest off an orange. The sharp scent bites my nostrils. I am giddy, grinding fruit against metal. But I grate my hand! My palm is bleeding, the citrus burning the wound. I was having fun. How did this happen? Sobbing, I jump off the stool and run to my room. My bedroom door looms in front of me (white boxy molding) and the memory is over.

Seventh grade: retreating from the soccer field sun, I join the girls in the middle school courtyard. We throw tennis balls against the wall and try to catch them. Whoever misses has to run across the wall and without getting hit by a ball. But it is boring to throw and catch. Everyone throws harder at the girls running across the wall. Screaming and giggling, I do not mind when a ball pelts me in the thigh. I run back out and throw the ball as hard as I can. It hits Amanda's head; her glasses break; her face is bleeding. Coach blows her whistle and wallball is over.

And now I am listening to the discussion in my college Gender and Sexuality Class. I try to flesh out my ideas, play with categories. Barrie Thorne wrote that, "... children's collective activities should weigh more fully in our overall understanding of gender and social life. One of my goals is to help bring children from the margins and into the center of sociological and feminist thought"(4). I will take up her challenge. I recall my childhood experiences: my bleeding hand, Amanda's face and other memories. How do these lessons apply to my understanding of the gender and sexuality studies discipline?

Childhood games are closely connected with the body. One can see and feel the consequences of these games. But while discussing gender, we play with invisible ideas. No one can see casts over broken ideologies, braces for twisted perspectives or the bandages wrapped around the gash where faith was torn away. Since ideological and emotional wounds can be just as real and painful as physical ailments, it is important to find a way to draw the line between discomfort and pain, between useful and destructive discussion. How can we prevent the severe damage that can come from discussing categories? Thorne offers guidance on children's play in the following passage, but the content is just as applicable to discussions of feminist and gender studies.
The 'play' frame, like the related frame of 'humor,' brackets an encounter, setting it apart from ongoing, more "serious" life. Situations of play and humor have a loosened relationship to consequences; if pressed to take responsibility for their actions, participants can say, "we're only playing" or "this is just a joke." Thorne, 79
If the words spoken in the "bracketed" discussion are protected by virtue of their being uttered in a setting "apart from ongoing...life", how can we regulate discussions at all? I am not satisfied by this explanation. Social responsibility for another does not go away in a classroom setting. If anything, emotions and ideas are magnified. This discussion bracket is an explanation of a certain phenomena, not a solution.

It is especially difficult to create rules for human gender and sexuality discussions because we are discussing more than just ideas. By definition, we are discussing ourselves. Thorne explains that "...children, like adults, live in present, concretely historical, and open-ended time...Children's interactions are not preparations for life, they are life itself" (3). Since students and "... children act, resist, rework and create..." it is difficult to separate abstract theory from concrete experience (3). If theory is shaped by experience and experience is tied to identity, then it may be impossible to discuss theory without encroaching on identity. And since identities are so diverse, safety rules may have to be abandoned in favor of trust in the other members of the discussion: trust that everyone acts in pursuit of the goal of the game. But what is that?

Rules are necessary as more than just a safety measure. In all sports, especially nonphysical ones, rules shape the game and define the goal. The exact goal of gender and sexuality is unique for each scholar. But I would venture to assume Barrie Thorne describes the general goal best:
As adults, we can help kids, as well as ourselves, imagine and realize different futures, alter institutions, craft new life stories. A more complex understanding of the dynamics of gender, of tensions and contradictions, and of the hopeful moments that lie within present arrangements, can help broaden our sense of the possible. 173
And how can one "broaden our sense of the possible?"

Foucault and Laquer argue that the most important rule in gender and sexuality studies is not to take any facts for granted. Foucault primarily discusses the history of discourse on sexuality. Not only is the discipline itself complex, he argues, but our relation to it is extremely complex also.
...for decades now, we have found it difficult to speak on the subject without striking a different pose: we are conscious of defying established power, our town of voice shows that we know we are being subversive, and we ardently conjure away the present and appeal to the future, whose day will be hastened by the contribution we believe we are making. 6-7
The question I would like to pose is not Why are we repressed? But rather Why do we say, with so much passion so much resentment...that we are repressed?"8-9
This passage suggests to me that the study of gender and sexuality and the study of the study of gender and sexuality could each be its own discipline, each more complex than the other. How can we focus on the subject without acknowledging the subjectivity we have when studying it? What's more, Foucault writes that "The statement of the oppression and the form of the sermon refer back to one another; they are mutually reinforcing" (8). How does he propose to elude this catch-22? Are we destined to discuss sex without gaining any ground on our understanding or broadening our sense of the possible? I think his solution lies here, "All these negative elements,--defense, censorship, denial...are doubtless only component parts that have a local and tactical role to play in a transformation into discourse, a technology of repression ..." (12). The key rule then, is to remain aware of the presence of this "technology." We must acknowledge that our thoughts may not be revolutionary or useful. By remaining aware of this continual, obtrusive presence of societal technology in our thought processes and society, we will ask more relevant questions and, hopefully, obtain a better understanding of gender and sexuality.

One find Foucault's "technology" even in the writings of Thomas Laquer He critiques those who rely heavily on modern science and biology to explain gender and sexuality. According to biology, relying on modern science alone to understand sexuality and gender will not give anyone a broader understanding of the subject, "there is no "correct" representation of women in relation to men and that the whole science of difference is thus misconceived..." (21). However, if one studies the history and context of modern moedicine, more knowledge may be gained. He notes that "In terms of the millennial traditions of western medicine, genitals came to matter as the marks of sexual opposition only last week.. .(22) So, what can one trust in science? Laquer states that "The record on which I have relied bears witness to the fundamental incoherence of stable, fixed categories of sexual dimorphism, or male and an/or female."(22) The one thing that science can teach us, unequiviacobly, is that the study of gender and sexuality can sometimes be incoherent. The situation is not as simple as it may appear.


Foucault explains that is not enough to base inquiry solely on our own personal experiences and Laquer says not to rely on instantaneous science alone. So? What can we rely on? What rules are we left with for this game? Both emphasize the importance of context. I've only been able to find three rules.
1. Gender is hard to study.
2. Remain aware of your bias, "the technology of repression" inside of you as much as possible. It pervades theory, science and your discussions.
3. Trust that your colleagues want to help despite how much their experiences or thoughts may hurt or disagree with your own.
Now let's play!

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. 1966;
rpt. and trans. New York: Vintage, 1973.
Laqueur, Thomas. "Of Language and the Flesh." Making Sex: Body and Gender from the
Greeks to Freud. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990.
Thorne, Barrie. Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. New Brunswick, Rutgers
University Press, 1994.


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