Gender Studies Gay/Lesbian Studies, Queer Theory
Critical practices that consider instability and indeterminacy as characteristic of discourse and subjectivity. • Theories that problematizes “’normal’ heterosexuality” and valorise “a variable, contingent, and multiple sexuality whose mobility and potentiality is signalled by the worlds of possibility opened up by gays and lesbians”.
Thereis a close and natural affiliationbetweenthis and theprevioussection in thatfeminismpositsthesemioticor “pre-SymbolicImaginaryorder [as] a realm of bisexual/androgynous/polymorphoussexuality” prior tothesubject’sentryintothemale-centredSymbolicorderwhere, amongotherthings, sexualityundergoes a process of normativizationtowards‘normal heterosexuality’. • Theproblematization of sexualitycontained in suchtheories as thesemioticorécriturefémininesuggested a departurefrom a fixed, imposedbinaryheteronormativity (man/woman) in favor of thenotion of sexuality as somethingthatisconstructedbysuch variables as social norms and exigencies, ideology, culture, history.
Foucault’s declarations in The History of Sexuality (1976) that “Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy to a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. • The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a “species”, inspired much of gay theory.
This section will deconstruct and explore the masculine/feminine binary supporting patriarchal assumptions about sexuality, gender and sex. • And as Barbara Smith, makes clear, academic inquiry into the nature of feminism and sexual identity cannot be disengaged from other contingencies such as race.
Gender designates the dynamic that accommodates a provisional, fluid identity in which biological (or genital) identity and sociallyconstructed (or performed, according to leading theorist in gender studies, Judith Butler) masculinity or feminity need not concur (coincide) • “There is no guarantee that what one is identified as being (biologically or culturally male or female) will line up in a predictable and necessary way with a particular set of sexual behaviours or psychological dispositions or social practices”.
Studies that focus on gender also challenge essentializing feminist discourse and its proposition that (women’s) gendered identities are ‘real’ or ‘natural’ or occupy a pre-social or pre-civilizational realm which lies in close bond with nature. • Judith Butler proposes gender be considered as a signifying practice: we ‘do’ or ‘perform’ gender, relying on the repetition of words and acts.
Gay and lesbian studies have found common cause with the feminists as well as with gender theorists, gay and lesbian theory has trained its sights on gender formations as a whole, arguing that “heterosexuality can be understood as forming a continuum with homosexuality” since “the male bonding that sutures patriarchy is necessarily homophilic and forms a continuum with homosexuality”
Traditional gender or sexual binaries were unstable, variable and historically contingent (supeditado) (indeed, that everyone was potentially gay) pointed the way towards queer theory.
‘Queer’, a heterosexist term of abuse designating homosexuals, was reclaimed by gay and lesbian militants as a self-referential term or token of pride to describe their marginal positionality with regard to the dominant heterosexist culture. • By the 1990s queer theory was operating as an expression and exploration of “sexual plurality and gender ambivalence” in the field of cultural production.
Analytic inquiry was no longer –or not only- limited to gay and lesbian orthodoxies or fixed sexualities. • Broadened to consideralternative sexualities such as drag (queens) or camp, cross-dressing or transvestism which in turn, through their representational or performative nature, uphold the non-biological nature of gender construction. Camp: Exaggerated effeminate mannerisms exhibited especially by homosexuals.
Throughout, ‘queer’ scholars have pushed the argument that hetero- and homosexuality operate on the same continuum on which the point demarcating normativity from non-normativity is variable and contingent(dependiente). • The intersection among gender, gay/lesbian and queer theories, and that of these theories with New Historicism, cultural studies and feminist theories underline the interdisciplinary nature of poststructuralist critical theory.
In the late 1960s, gay and lesbian scholars silent regarding their sexuality or the presence of homosexual themes in literature began to speak. • Their work brings into being a new school of gender theory in the 1980s. • Gender critics, inspired by Foucault’s work on the history of sexuality, began to study gender and sexuality as discursive and historical institutions.
Gender Theory and Gay/Lesbian Studies,–Queer Theory- which linked gay/lesbian scholarship to such public concerns as HIV/AIDS. • Gender and gay/lesbian theorists are concerned with unearthing a hidden tradition of homosexual writing and with examining the gender dynamics of canonical literature.
The building of a counter-tradition is difficult. There have been many gay writers –from Sappho to Tennessee Williams- but few of them wrote openly about their lives and experiences. • Heterosexual culture was intolerant of gay perspectives; women were put in the attic for being “mad,” gays were put in jail for being “perverse.” • Wilde is the most famous example, but Elizabeth Bishop and Henry James who remained “in the closet” were more common.
Much gay/lesbian work is concerned with tradition building, but gay critics also interrogate the very notion of sexual identity and question the logic of gender categorization. • They question the relation of gender categories to sexuality and physiology. • The relation of such categories as masculine and feminine to such stable bodily and psychological identities as male and female or man and woman is contingent (depending) and historical.
The normative alignment of male and female with heterosexual masculinity or femininity in the dominant gender culture must be seen as a political rather than a biological fact. • They question the opposition between heterosexual and homosexual, interrogating the identity of each and the hierarchical relation (mainstream and margin) between the two; they are differentially connected moments of a continuum that includes numerous other possible variations.
Theyquestiontheoppositionbetweenheterosexual and homosexual: “a continuum” • Heterosexuality contains a moment of homosexuality, when the child identifies with the parent of the same sex, or when heterosexual men relate to each other while competing over women, and homosexuality comprises both masculinity and femininity, in mixed and variable amounts.
The dominant discourses assume that there are stable identities such as masculine and feminine or man and woman or heterosexual and homosexual, that give rise to the discourses that describe them. • But such identities are produced by discourse and by cultural representation.
The alignment of dominant discourse with stable identities –as in compulsory heterosexuality- is the result of a politically enforced naturalization of a particular form of sexuality that comes through constant repetition and rote learning (Memorización).
Normatively • Heterosexual men are masculine and heterosexual women are feminine because the reigning cultural discourses instruct them in behavior appropriate to the dominant gender representations and norms, stigmatizing non-normative behavior. • The identities of male or female and the norms of reproductive sexuality are effects of enforcement procedures that operate through cultural and legal discourse, privileging certain object choices and psychological dispositions while denigrating others.
Gender identities as “woman” are not pre-discursive foundations but normalizing injunctions (mandates)produced by discursive performances • Continuities between a variety of sexual practices across a variety of possible gender formulations (masculine lesbian, masculine heterosexual woman, feminine gay man, feminine heterosexual man, etc.) are erased and subsumed to enforced norms of oppositional identity (either masculine heterosexual or feminine heterosexual, either heterosexual or homosexual).
Connected, related terms are displaced in favor of essential, total identities. vs • They substitute an entire representation –lesbian- for a plurality of connected gender and sexual possibilities that might include lesbian as one moment but that are not fully reducible to such categorical singularity.
Lesbian is internally differentiated into a plurality of possibilities (varieties of feminine, varieties of masculine, etc.) and externally differentiated through its connection to or disconnection from a plurality of other possibilities. • It is not a singular totality that stands opposed to another singular totality –the normative heterosexual woman, for example, who in any event generally engages in relations that contain homosexual components, as do men with men.
GenderStudiesalso examines thestructures of male heterosexual oppression. • Both cultural and social, that have contributed to the marginalization and exclusion of homosexuality. • The more rigorous forms of heterosexual masculinity originate in sexual panic, a fear or anxiety in heterosexual men regarding their sexual identities.
The cultural and social violenceexercisedagainsthomosexualsoriginates • From the instability of heterosexual identity, a fear that such identity may be a contingent/dependant construct that serves as a defense against a potentially overwhelming reality of diverse sexual choices and identity possibilities that exist simultaneously in the self and in society.
GenderStudies has analyzedtherepressed “homosocial” strainsthatmotivatethe heterosexual tradition’sconstruction of compulsoryheterosexuality and normativemasculinity. • One of themostinteresting and subversiveapproachestodevelopout of gay/lesbian and gendertheory – QueerTheory- pushesthispointevenfurther. • Homosexuality is not an identity apart from heterosexuality. Everyone is potentially gay, and only the imprinting of heterosexual norms cuts away those potentials and manufactures heterosexuality as the dominant sexual format.
Suppressed homosexuality is queered into being in the various kinds of homophilia central to heterosexual culture, from football to film star identification. • Sexual transitivity is silenced for the sake of the labor of large-scale species reproduction, but in the realms of cultural play, the excess of desire and identification over norm and rule testify to more plural potentials.
Adrienne Rich (1929) • Poet, major voice in American feminist since the late 1960s. She has explored the ways in which patriarchal society oppresses women and the ways in which women have responded to that oppression. • Her analysis of “compulsory heterosexuality” is her most lasting contribution to literary and social theory, wide range of topics, from the silencing of women’s voices to the history of childbirth and motherhood.
Like Elaine Showalter and Susan Bordo, Rich links patriarchal oppression to power exerted directly (and often violently) on women’s bodies. • Her concern with the psychic and social supports of sexual identity also links her work to the queer theory of Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.
Increasingly identified with the women’s movement throughout the 1970s, composing poetry with feminist themes but also for the first time writing prose. • By the mid-1970s she was openly lesbian, and she was exploring all aspects of what she calls “lesbian experience”. • Her work in the 1980s and 1990s also included new attempts to connect to her Jewishness, her family and the poetic tradition.
“Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience” (1980) • Thisessay has beenwidelyinfluential. Itmarkedtheend of sisterhoodfeminism, theassumptionthatallwomenweresisters in theirsharedoppression. • Shehighlightsthepresence of bothlesbians and heterosexual women in thefeministmovementand callsonfeminismtoacknowledgeitsfear of lesbians. • As thosehostiletofeminismoftendismissit as thecomplaints of a smallgroup of lesbians.
Many 1970s feminists went out of their way to prove their heterosexuality. • Lesbians and lesbian experience became practically taboo within the movement (except in its more radical branches). • Her essay, along with the feminist work of women of color and of working-class women, challenged a feminism that claimed to speak for all women yet assumed the viewpoint of a heterosexual, middle-class white woman.
Much of the feminist work of the 1980s was devoted to considering the ramifications of these differences (of race, class, and sexual orientation) for the category “woman” and to attending to how such differences would strengthen or weaken feminist activism.
Rich’smainpurposeistoconsidertheextenttowhich heterosexual desire and identity are fundamental towomen’soppression. • Heterosexualityisnot natural butsocial, and itshouldbeanalyzed as any social institution. • Howisheterosexualityestablished and maintained? Whatgroupsresistit? Whatalternativesmustbesuppressedforittoprevail? Whobenefitsfrom and whoisharmedbythisinstitution’sdominance? Whatforms of enforcementunderwritethedominance?
Heterosexuality is compulsory because only partners of the opposite sex are deemed appropriate, all same-sex desire must be denied or indulged in secret, and various kinds of same-sex bonding (including friendships) are viewed with suspicion. • Compulsory heterosexuality ensures that women are sexually accessible to men, with consent or choice on the women’s part neither legally nor practically taken into account.
Compulsory heterosexuality is an institution that punishes those who are not heterosexual and systematically ensures the power of men over women.
In TheOrigin of theFamily, KathleenGoughlists 8 characteristics of malepower in archaic and contemporarysocieties • deny women their sexuality(clitoridectomy and infibulation) • force it upon them (rape, wife beating, father-daughter incest) • command and exploit their labour to control their produce (marriage and motherhood as unpaid production, male control of abortion, contraception, etc) • control or rob them of their children (seizure of children from lesbian mothers)
confine them physically and prevent their movement (rape as terrorism, purdah, foot binding, veil) • use of them as objects in male transactions (arranged marriages, call-girls, geisha) • cramp their creativeness (witch and female healersprosecutions, erasure of female tradition); • keep them from large areas of knowledge and culture (non-education of females).
CatharineMacKinnon in Sexual Harassment of WorkingWomen • argued that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination because the act reinforces the social inequality of women to men. • She said women are horizontally segregated by gender and occupy an inferior position in the workplace.
Kathleen Barry describes all the enforced conditions under which women live subject to men: • prostitution, marital rape, father-daughter and brother-sister incest, wife beating, pornography, bride price, selling of daughters, genital mutilation, and purdah. • Women are expendable as long as the sexual and emotional needs of the male can be satisfied. Women are sexual being whose responsibility is the sexual service of men.
As compulsory sexuality is central to preserving the inequality between men and women, Rich argues that the issue feminists have to address is not simple ‘gender inequality’ nor the domination of culture by males nor mere ‘taboos against homosexuality,’ but the enforcement of heterosexuality for women as a means of assuring male right of physical, economic, and emotional access. • Feminism cannot truly comprehend the sources and system of inequality if it does not analyze the institution of compulsory heterosexuality.
Three topics in Adrienne Rich “compulsory heterosexuality” essay have been especially important for feminist literary theory: 1- Sexualizedrelations of powerwithininstitutions: womenfacethetrialsexperiencedbyallsubordinates in hierarchicalinstitutions and theymustalsopresentthemselves as attractiveaccordingtodominantstandards of heterosexual desirability and beconcernedwithsexuality in theappropriateways (e.g., beflirtatiouswithintheproperbounds, besupportive of malesuperiors). • Suchexpectations, rarelyconscious, even more rarelyexplicit, permeatepublicmale-femalerelationships. Theyformpart of a largerunwritten set of rules abouttherelative positions of men and women in society.
2. Lesbianexperience: and thelesbian continuum- challengesthenotionthatwomenneedmenbycallingattentiontoalltheways in whichwomeninteractwithoneanother, alltheactivities central totheirlivesthat do notinvolveconnectionto a man. Shewantstohighlighthowhostileto and threatenedbywomen’sindependentactionpatriarchalsocietyisandtheprevalence of suchactiondespitethepricepaidforit. Thelesbian continuumincludes a variety of relationshipsbetween and amongwomen, rangingfromthesharing of a richinnerlife, thebondingagainstmaletyranny, [to] thegiving and receiving of practical and politicalsupport. Bydesexualizingthetermlesbian, Richcallsourattentiontothevariety of bondsformedbetweenwomen and tothevariousfunctionsthosebondsplay in women’slives. Lesbianexistencecomprisesboththebreaking of a taboo and of a compulsoryway of life.
Questions of sexual identity: Howis sexual identityformed? • Throughwhatprocesses of psychicidentificationdoes a selfform heterosexual and/or homosexual desires? • Richis more suspiciousifpsychoanalyticunderstandings of theseprocessesthan are manyqueertheoristsbutsherecognizesthatthelawofcompulsoryheterosexualityplays a crucial role in theformation of selves, even as she notes thattheearly bond of thegirlbabywithhermotherworksagainsttheinjunctiontobe heterosexual.
The notion of the lesbian continuum recognizes that sexuality comes in many forms and results in many different behaviors –a variety badly captured by the simple dichotomy homosexual/heterosexual. • Two lies sustain compulsory heterosexuality: women are inevitably drawn to men and women turn to women out of hatred for men.
“Desire is neither unitary nor fixed once for all. Women especially suffer in a heterosexual regime that ignores the fluidity of desire in favor of channeling that desire toward heterosexual unions in which the needs of the male are primary.” Adrienne Rich
Barbara Smith (1946) • A pioneer of black feminist and lesbian criticism. • Despite the achievements of the women’s liberation movement and the civil rights movement during the 1960s, the feminist movement seemed to speak primarily from the perspective of white, middle-class, heterosexual women, and the civil rights movement for black men.
In “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism” she says “All segments of the literary world do not know that Black women writers and Black lesbian writers exist,” • Smith assumed the task of establishing a tradition of black women’s writing and a specifically black feminist and lesbian criticism.
The 1970s were a rich time for black women’s writing, with the beginning of the careers of a generation of writers like Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, and June Jordan; the formation of organizations which provided an alternative to mainstream feminism; and the recovery of early writers.