Sex Subjectivity and Representation

Sex Subjectivity and Representation - SITES OF CULTURAL...

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Unformatted text preview: SITES OF CULTURAL STUDIES t e if IO Sex, Subjectivity and Representation Key Concepts Discourse Masculinity Femininity Patriarchy Feminism Performativity Gender Representation Identification Subject position This chapter is concerned with sex and gender, that is, with the character of men and women in contemporary societies. We will explore the social con- struction of sexed subjects with particular reference to questions of cultural representation. The focus is on work influenced by feminism, poststructuralism and psychoanalysis since these are the prevailing streams of thought within cultural studies on these questions. We will also explore the tensions between these constructionist paradigms and the findings of biochemistry. To discuss questions of sex and gender is necessary to engage with a large body of feminist theory. It is impossible to conceive of a cultural studies that did not do so. However, while feminist thinking permeates cultural studies, not all forms of feminism are to be thought of as cultural studies. Nor are all zones of cultural studies concerned with questions of gender (though many feminists would argue that contemporary Cultural studies is hindered by its production of ungendered understandings of culture). Consequently, this chapter does not purport to be a history, classification or analysis of the 279 280 WW numb Wrmwn’s movement per 56. Rather, it is an exploration of those streams of thought within cultural studies that are concerned with sex, gender and feminism. Franklin et al. (1991) have pointed to a number of similarities of concern between cultural studies and feminism. They draw attention to: . the aspirations of feminism and cultural studies to connect with social and political movements outside of the academy; ~ a critical stance vis-arvis more established disciplines such as sociology and English literature; - a mutual suspicion of and challenge to established ideas of ’certain knowledge’; - a wish to produce ’knowledges’ of and by ’marginalized' and oppressed groups with the avowed intention of making a political intervention, \/ Cultural studies anal feminism have shared a substantive interest in issues of power, rep— resentatian, popular culture, subjectivity, identities and consumption. However, the relationship between feminism and cultural studies has not always been comfortable. Hall has described feminism as ‘A thief in the night, it broke in; interrupted, made an unseemly noise, seized the time, crapped on the table of cultural studies’ (Hall, 1992a: 282). That is, feminism was not always warmly welcomed, but had to ‘shout’ loudly to make itself be heard (Women’s Study Group, 1978). Thus did feminists put questions of sexuality, gender, subjectivity and power at the heart of cultural studies. ln doing so they displaced but did not abandon what had been the central issue of class. Patriarchy, equality and difference Feminism is a plural field of theory and politics that has competing perspec- tives and prescriptions for action. In general terms feminism asserts that sex is a fundamental and irreducible axis of social organization which, to date, has subordinated women to men. Thus, feminism is centrally concerned with sex as an organizing principle of social life and one that is thoroughly satu- rated with power relations. Feminists have argued that the subordination of women occurs across a whole range of social institutions and practices. That is, the subjection of women is understood to be a structural condition. This structural subordination of women has been described by feminists as patri- archy, a concept that has connotations of male-headed family, mastery and superiority. As a movement, feminism is concerned to construct political strategies by which to intervene in social life in pursuit of the interests of women. It has adopted a range of analyses and strategies of action that have been broadly categorized as: liberal feminism; difference feminism; socialistfeminism; .. . ucturalist feminism, O - poststr black feminism; . . . nial feminism. . postcolo gories are n ect un do poin These cate in so far as they er tory devices they. about what consti nist thought regar ’equality’ wit‘ women lies With difference from men. They stress the nee This is a goal . ' ‘ 51 achievable in . tag. Mackinn the interconnection place of gender inequ nation of women t eration' o . . social relations. It 1 duction of the w0 cultu respec and fl when required. (domestic labour a (Oakley, 1974). works t for authority, Thu Liberal and sociali ‘ ‘ m asse These fund and women. interpreted as cul tutes the intere ds women’s int h men. How the creative e minists regard al cons d for equality that, within the tie the bro on, 19 s between clas alities in the r . . ' 1c to ca . i as 1mm“ of capitalis 5 domestic labour 1 lly (feeding, clothing, r such as time rally (learning a exible labour for ca rid paid 1 ot set in stone an helpful and infle t to variations 5, core Difference f st fe rts that total, psyc ad structures of 87, 1991). 1 amenta erests as lying in t ever, another stra nablement and re s and s argued that women’ rkforce both physica behavi minists stress equ there are l and intra hic and d indee xible divisions, n contrast, socr gender, incl ' f c roductron o . ep pitalism, so 0“ eminism ality and essential / or biologica d do a disservice t However, 28f 0 feminism as explana— basis ' he fundamental apitalis samene distinct ctable differ l. in an —l<eeping, 'd to form a supply of cheap m. The subordi- that the full ’lib’ t organization and 5 core to the repro- care, etc.) and discipline, 55. However, differ- ions between men ences are variously y case, difference is 282 SIYES 0F CULTURAL STUDIES celebrated as representing the creative power of women and the superiority of their values over those of men (Daly, 1987; Rich, 1986). As such, difference feminism has developed a tendency towards separatism. One criticism of difference feminism, and indeed the concept of patriarchy, is that the category of woman is treated in an undifferentiated way. ‘The trou— ble with patriarchy', as Rowbotham (1981) argued, is that it obscures the dif— ferences between individual women and their particularities in favour of an all—embracing universal form of oppression. Not only do all women appear to be oppressed in the same way, but also there is a tendency to represent them as helpless and powerless. These are assumptions challenged by black femi— nists, who have argued that a white middle—class movement has overlooked the centrality of race and colonialism. Black and postcolonial feminism Black feminists have pointed to the differences between black and white women’s experiences, cultural representations and interests (Carby, 1984; hooks, 1992). They have argued that colonialism and racism have structured power relationships between black and white women, defining women as white. Gender intersects with race, ethnicity and nationality to produce dif» ferent experiences of what it is to be a woman. In a postcolonial context, women carry the double burden of being colonized by imperial powers and subordinated by colonial and native men. Thus, Spivak (1993) holds that the ’subaltern cannot speak’. She is suggesting that for poor women there are no subject positions within the discourse of colonialism which allow them to speak. Poststructuralist feminism Feminists influenced by poststructuralist and postmodern thought (Nicholson, 1990; Weedon, 1997) have argued that sex and gender are social and cultural constructions that are not to be explained in terms of biology or to be reduced to functions of capitalism. This anti—essentialist stance suggests that femininity and masculinity are not universal and eternal categories but discursive constructions. That is, femininity and masculinity are ways of describing and disciplining human subjects. As such, poststructuralist femi- nism is concerned with the cultural construction of subjectivity per se, includ— ing a range of possible masculinities and femininities. Femininity and masculinity, which are a matter of how men and women are represented, are held to be sites of continual political struggle over meaning. / Given its stress on culture, representation, language, power ana’ conflict, poststructuralist feminism laas become a major influence witlain cultural stualies. UBJECTIVITY AND REPRESENTATION sex, 5 Post-feminism ‘ ‘ ed and The fundamental argument of feminism is that women are oppress ‘ ' men are subjugated by men as a consequence of being1 women.t Thati x1156, gllayytoies in the ‘ ’ ointe to struc ura ressed b all men. Thus, feminism p. ‘t S“ _ Oggnomy mild in the institutions of social and cultural power. Further, (:18an eested that certain forms of male attitudes and behaViour (congengfiés of fami, fexual harassment) could oppress women. l—lowever, despite hi: Chang“; (0; nist action many continue to argue that little or nothing n even within western culture. . . - I em wclirgiever Rosalind Coward (1999) has described feminism as a govern blind to its own effectiveness’. She lists the followmg achievemen . 283 onomy; ' ‘ ' ‘ ' c . Significant gains for women in the e , e cultural sphere, 0 an increased visibility for women in th ' a transformation of knowledge in academia; changes in sexual attitudes and behaviour; - the reform of pay and divorce laws; . ' . the recognition of male loss and vulnerability; o the understanding that women can Wield sexual power. ‘ ’ d injustice are t s heres of gender inequality. an Rgther, what is being argued is that the central bsorbed in to the culture and surpassed. d by dint of being women. Not all men are gender relations in terms of ‘women tural change It is not being suggested tha not still in evidence —- they are. tenets of feminism have been a Women are not necessarily oppresse lpful to understand quired is constructive dialogue and struc oppressors. It is unhe vs men’. What is re where required. foundation stone of a self- e the outcome of particular bodies and their mpasses a form of biological reductionism etic structures of human beings n quite definite and speCific d to be more ‘naturally’ domineering, hierarchically Identification of oneself as male or female is a identity that is widely held to b attributes. Common sense enco suggesting that the biochemical and gen ' determine the behaviour of men and women 1 ways. Men are commonly hel 284 SITES OF CULTURAL STUDIES oriented and power-hungry, while women are seen as nurturing, child rearing and domestically inclined. By contrast, many writers in cultural studies and other humanities have argued for the complete plasticity of sex and gender. That is, the influence of biology has been rejected in favour of understanding masculinity and femininity as cultural constructions. These apparently opposite ways of understanding are commonly grasped as a question of nature vs nurture. However, to set up the issues relating to nature and culture as opposed binaries is not a useful way to approach the subject. \/ Arguments for tlye cultural construction ofgendered identity and the evidence fora genetic core to sexual difference are not necessarily contradictory stances. Biochemical similarity amongst women (and difference from men) is able to co-exrst With cross—cultural divergence. This is so because: - Cultural difference operates ’on top of’ genetic similarity. . Biological predispositions have different outcomes in divergent contexts. 0 Human culture and human biology have co-evolved and are indivisible (see Chapter 2). o The language of biology and the language of culture have different purposes and achieve different outcomes. The language of biology enables us to make behavioural and bodily predictions. At the same time, What it means to be gendered remains a cultural question. The language of culture helps to re-cast the way we talk about and perform ’sex’ with consequences that we deem to be good, that is, acceptance of a wider range of sexualities. We may say that sex as biology and sex as the discursive—performa— tive are different languages for different purposes. The problems felt by men trapped in women's bodies may be usefully approached using the predictions made available to us through the language of biochemistry and drug therapy. They may also be advanced through therapeutic talk and the re-description of self in the symbolic domain (including dress and bodily movement). On the one hand, there is evidence that points to the predictability of a range of male and female capabilities and behaviour that derives from genetics. On the other hand, there are also clear indications that masculinity and femi- ninity are changeable. We can make a distinction between identity as a social construction, a representation with which we emotionally identify, and those human capacities and behaviours that correlate highly with certain biochemical structures of the brain. The science of sex There is a considerable body of evidence to suggest genetic and biochemical difference between men and women. This is so in relation to language ability spatial judgement, aggression, sex drive, ability to focus on tasks or to make connections across the hemispheres of the brain (Hoyenga and Hovenga, ! : SEX, SUBJECTIVITY AND REPRESENTATION 1993; Moir and Moir, 1998). ’Feminist’ psychologist Diane Halpern begin her review of the literature holding the opinion that socialization practices were solely responsible for apparent sex differences in thinking patterns. However: After reviewing a pile of journal articles that stood several feet high and numerous books and book chapters that dwarfed the stack of journal articles, I changed my mind there are real, and in some cases sizeable, sex differences with respect to some cog- nitive abilities. Socialization practices are undoubtedly important, there is also good evidence that biological sex differences play a role in establishing and maintaining cognitive sex differences, a conclusion i wasn’t prepared to make when I began review- ing the relevant literature. (Halpern, 1992: xi) Genetic science and biochemistry suggest that there are material, i.e. chemical, limits to behavioural possibilities. Today, few scientists dispute the influence of hormones on the formation of the foetus as male or female. Hormones are the switches that activate the genes which ‘instruct’ our brains and bodies as to its reproductive organs, testosterone levels, body fat, muscle development, bone structure, etc. It is also thought that those same hormones shape our brain structure so that men and women have different patterns of brain activ- ity. Indeed, the core of the argument that biochemistry determines male and female behaviour lies in the evidence for differential male and female brain structures and capabilities (Christen, 1991; Moir and Jesse], 1991; Moir and Moir, 1998). There is also considerable evidence that: . Women are more verbal, co-operative and organized then men. . Men show greater spatial, mathematical and motor skills than women. These tendencies have been repeatedly demonstrated amongst both humans and animals. As Doreen Kimura argues, Scientific evidence for consistent sex differences in cognitive function between men and women has accumulated for well over fifty years. A solid body of research, carried out primarily in North America and Western Europe, has established that men, on aver— age, excel on spatial tasks (particularly those tapping ability to imaginably rotate a figure), perception of the vertical and horizontal, mathematical reasoning and spatio- motor targeting ability. Women, on average, excel on tasks of verbal fluency (where words must be generated with constraints on the letters they contain), perceptual speed (in which rapid pattern—identity matched are made) verbal and item memory, and some fine motor skills. (Kimura, 1996: 259) It is argued that the brains of the two sexes are organized in distinct ways. This gives rise to differences in a range of abilities. Thus, women have more of their brain dedicated to verbal matters (e.g. the larger corpus callosum region of the brain in women). Men and women also use their brains in different ways. Men specialize their key brain functions on one side of their cerebral matter (e.g. verbal performance on the left and spatial skills on the 285 286 SITES OF CULTURAL STUDIES Tight). Women the brain. For $2;T§;Se£:sli]:0 szmunicate across the two hemispheres 0f . e a vanta e of tasks but th g concentrated foc ' ‘ By Contrast eviésxidvantage‘of lower levels of integration and 0081::ng Specific of the mind. Mug: Ziiim connecting the emotional and reasoninerifslcmg' that locate the actiVe part1: :rglprrgent is confirmed by Functional MgRl 3:5]: . , , 0 e rain wh’l ' Screntific e\' 1e Subjects can out ’ ' than women ’l‘dvelrgce also suggests that men have lower ZmUSSFifirficgaSks} more swiftlv than “9:; 2:12;:an greater focused attention to evefistsorfi; IObe i.e_ 1‘ ' er, 5%" 5 WOUld appear to hav Who Enoreratronlal) control over their “fight or flight’ response: lilieater frontal The pred 2111c ly become unsettled, distracted and aggressive an do boy; mman ‘ . ZatiOn are the resul::?;1::lr(rjr:rlice mggests that different kinds 0f brain oroani . . 8 ex osure in th 0 ‘ trainm . 0 « . p e Womb rather congengita] Zgrrethllny World-wide studies show that girls whot 1:: 3f cmtu.ml levels of r male hgimhoyperllllafla (CAH) as a consequence of exposure? :1; lvrv 1th Seen amongst boys 1131:: 51115:]; worlnb exhibit styles of Play more commoilgl}; . ~ ir s hav _ Skgls than the ayerage girl, does 8 6 better Spatial and mathematical reater levels of testoste . , Ione and low . . to unpin the evidence that: er levels 0f SEIOtonm m men appear - Men are greater risk»takers. 0 Me ' ' . Me: have a higher propensrty to find multiple partners . M are more disposed to anger and less to empathy . en are less Inclined to verballze emotions I Biochemical evid ence suggests that Conse uent we are “Gt blank 5 . aspect;] of blzthe cannot remake ourselves into anything Went/3:1: tat birth. Wisdom lies in Eriiixbe changed and some cannot. As the 01d Sa is 50me should not be usedualf 21116 difference. Nevertheless, biochemical Lgugmggrftss . x t . possrble. e Cuse net to teSt the 11mm Of the Culturally ‘/ f I A remflnq of 9” r I p )fwayweynunderstand) 563C and MBSUDMS C I. a { Mg . (2 l) M 1478 I) a wage C I. a SgVI Mg At Stake at h q . S IONS W0 3 31 IS a a 7 man et €(llllllral [[61 Wllal sa nd Wh m n nowm;rmrrram,.~f‘i"-' ' (2' “terrific- {'8 H)" “8459””? I; , {1.535 SEX, SUBIECTIVITY AND REPRESENTATION Women‘s difference is a woman?’ takes the category An essentialist answer to the question ’what dentity based on either biology 281 ’ to be a reflection of an underlying i or culture. Thus, Collard and Contrucci’s (1988) ecofeminist Rape of the Wild relies on biological essentialism. They argue that all women are linked by childbearing bodies and innate ties to the natural earth that support egalitarian, nurturance-based values. Likewise Rich (1986), who celebrates women’s difference from men, locating its source in motherhood. This is condemned in its historical modes of oppression but celebrated for its female power and potentialities. Most of the arguments rural rather than biological. female body. For example, Daly’s (_ stresses the material and psychological oppress -culture. Much of her argumen n and its power over them. difference comes from Gilli cultures are linguistic and cul— are based on signifiers of the 1987) Gym/Ecology links women to nature, ion of women and celebrates a t revolves around the language A clearly culturally founded gan (1982). In her study of t while men are concerned with an ’ethic of iustice’, 'ethics of care’. Women, it is argued, develop for ice that stresses context—specific ct thinking of men. that celebrate women- Nevertheless, they argument for women’s mo...
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