Introduction

Introduction

What is "gender"? When was the word and the category invented? What kinds of definitions have been advanced or implied for this perplexing term? How have thinkers -- in fields as diverse as anthropology, film studies, history, literature, medicine, philosophy, popular culture and the mass media, psychology, science studies, and sociology -- helped to shape the meaning of this concept, and how have their disciplines both aided and limited their use of the term? How have these definitions changed the ways we think? What kinds of problems have these definitions created?

Pursuing such questions, this module is therefore concerned with the history of the word, and the concept of, "gender." But our job is not simply to parrot these complex definitions; we will also need to think about the enabling possibilities these definitions opened up, as well as the disabling problems they created. We will begin with a short and contextualizing introduction to the idea of "subjectivity," and look at the early appearances of the word "gender" in scholarly writing. We will then survey four important moments in the conceptualization of gender, ranging from (1) landmark efforts to conceive of a "sex/gender system" that therefore first sketched out the difference between the two terms, and related attempts to think about "sexuality"; to theories that variously imagine gender as (2) masquerade and mimicry, (3) performance, and (4) embodiment. Some of the case studies we will look at include intersex infants, transgenderism and transsexualism, sissies and tomboys, exaggerated masculinity and femininity, drag kings and queens, and body issues.

Consequently, this module is fairly theoretical or philosophical in nature: it is as much a class about gender studies as it is a class in gender studies. Although we will be examining several case studies that shed light on the meaning of "gender" (chiefly films, and medical and psychological cases), and you will be encouraged and expected to bring in various examples, the class will mainly focus on the knotty task of defining gender. This module is thus especially suitable for students who are interested in working out such definitional problems in order to lay the groundwork for further independent work on gender-related issues.

For USP students matriculating before AY 2012-13, this module is an advanced Course-Based Module (CBM). For USP students matriculating in or after AY 2012-13, this is a level 3000 Inquiry-tier module (and therefore cannot be taken on an S/U basis). It can also be read for FASS’s Gender Studies Minor.