Gender (MIR2)

Gender is the one thing everyone thinks they understand but most dont. Like inception, gender isn’t binary. It’s not either/or. In many cases it is both/and. A bit of this, a dash of that sort of idea. (Genderbread person – shown below)

genderbread person


First Wave Feminism

  • Retrospective name for suffrage movement.
  • Right to vote.
  • Women as autonomous, not just extensions of husbands/fathers etc

Second Wave Feminism

  • Women’s sexual and reproductive rights
  • Employment rights
  • Challenging patriarchal norms and institutional/systemic inequalities

Third Wave Feminism

  • Allied with other identity politics
  • ‘Queer Theory’
  • Anti-porn and ‘sexualisation’ (*mostly)
  • Greater discussion of issues faced by men

Fourth Wave Feminism

  • Importance of global spread and global issues
  • Recognises plurality of genders and sexualities
  • More liberal than third-wave? (E.g. less critical of porn, ‘sexualisation’ etc – more nuanced/inclusive)
  • Campaigning – often through the internet
  • Alignment with other identity politics
  • Emphasised call for men to act (eg heforshe)

Gender Politics


Attempts by groups to reclaim words and ideas – often reclaiming ‘negative’ terminology

  • ‘Reverse discourse’ (Foucault 1978)
  • Concerned with how power operates
  • Who has the right to reclaim a word?
  • Are there words that are beyond ‘rescue’?

Reclamation and queer identities:

  • Inspired by Butler: gender and identity as a ‘performance’. Gender not innate (different from biological sex), but something we ‘do’.
  • Key ideas: performance, challenge, ‘skewing norms’
  • Queer ‘reclaimed’ – used as an inclusive word, a word to describe ‘difference’, a subversive word. ‘Queering the norm’
  • However, has also been used by/about gay men (e.g. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; Queer as Folk) – is this a problem?
  • From LGB to LGBT to LGBTQ… QUILTBAG… and more

Queer Theory: Judith Butler on Gender:

«As a result, gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/cultural means by which “sexed nature” or “a natural sex” is produced and established as “prediscursive,” prior to culture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts”  (1990, p.11)

«If gender is a kind of doing, an incessant activity performed, in part without one’sknowing and without one’s willing, it is not for that reason automatic or mechanical. On the contrary, it is a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint. Moreover, one does not «do» one’s gender alone. One is always «doing» with or for another, even if the other is imaginary.» (2004, p.1)

‘Gender proves to be performative – that is, constituting the identity it is purporting to be.  In this sense, gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist the deed… There is no gender identity beyond the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results… Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being’ (Butler, 1990: 34, 45)

Donna Haraway and the ‘cyborg’

There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices. Gender, race, or class-consciousness is an achievement forced on us by the terrible historical experience of the contradictory social realities of patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism. [P.154]

“It is not just that science and technology are possible means of great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia. It is an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the supersavers of the new right. It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories.

Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess”. (p. 181)

Non-binary gender and Facebook…

‘Many people are able to pick the exact label that matches their experience of gender, rather than feeling forced into a box which doesn’t fit them. It may well also give many people a sense of greater validity, and encourage policy-makers, schools, workplaces and practitioners to move towards similar acceptance of multiple genders (and using the appropriate terminology)…. As somebody who identifies outside the gender binary myself, I can feel this shift. Of course I shouldn’t need a big social networking service to tell me that I’m legitimate, but it does make a palpable difference to how I feel right now writing this post…  [however] having any kind of gender option, by its very existence, implies that gender is relevant. Indeed, it implies that it is perhaps the most important feature of your identity given that it is the first thing that comes up on Facebook’s ‘basic information’… a person’s gender status (whether they are cis, trans* or otherwise) is rarely relevant’ (Barker 2014)


‘Drag threatens people because it exposes and mocks identity. Because most people believe that they are what it says they are on their driver’s license. But the truth is we are all born naked, and the rest is drag. (RuPaul 2014)’

‘This is to say that the performance of drag, by breaking the taken for granted notions of gender, challenges the dominant ideology and the heteronormative binaries of the presentation of gender.’ (Gonzales and Cavazos 2016: 660)

“I’m able to bring out my femininity as Zoe and my masculinity in Richard. Getting dressed in drag is something that’s addictive and you want more of it.’ (Zoe Wild in Holden 2015)

Rupaul Drag Race and Drag U

As well as acting as a beacon of drag pride, RPDR delivers gay- and drag-powerful messages to the queens and the audience at home. Moreover, beyond the linguistic messages of pride and empowerment, RPDR often links challenges to LGBTQ charities and foundations that benefit the LGBTQ community’ (Gonzales and Cavazos 2016: 663)

As RuPaul puts it in a bonus clip from, a drag transformation allows someone to realize a superhero version of herself. And because the final makeover is so visually over-the-top and ridiculous, the lesson that shines through for the contestants has more to do with confidence and self-worth than about shallow appearances. (Brabham 2013)

‘From the beginning of RPDR, the audience is presented with a formal position that fishiness is valued over butchness with regards to the presentation of gender among the drag queen contestants. In the drag community, fishiness refers to the presentation of hyper-femininity and a consistent portrayal of physiological femaleness. On RPDR, queens are expected to reinforce the valorization of fishiness as well as heteronormative binaries of gender and sexuality.’ (Gonzales and Cavazos 2016: 663)

‘Since season two, the queens were introduced to the week’s challenge with a recording of RuPaul saying, ‘Ooooh girl, you’ve got She-Mail!’ In the spring of 2014, the trans community reacted to this recording and argued that the term ‘She-Mail’, even as a play on words, was offensive to the trans community)… RPDR no longer uses the terms that caused controversy.’ (Gonzales and Cavazos 666-67)

Film, TV and trans/non-binary characters

Hayley was originally only supposed to be a comedy character, alongside Roy, but it was the popularity of the couple with the public, that took everyone, including the soap’s writers, by surprise.

Reflecting on the couple, the 45-year-old said: “Corrie had a transgender character before it had a gay one.  “We played it for real and not for laughs. The most amazing thing happened when the public got behind it.  There was a quick re-write and it turned into a real love story. What happened was telly magic and there was real chemistry between Hayley and Roy and me and David (Neilson) always got on so well.  That was the beginning of social and political change, when a little woman in Accrington ASDA says “Never mind that” to me when I’d said Hayley and Roy couldn’t get married because of the law. Hayley did that, she helped people change their prejudices. ” (Julie Hesmondhalgh in Evans 2015)

‘So, what can filmmakers and television producers do moving forward to better represent trans individuals? For starters, invite trans actors to audition for trans roles. I know the automatic argument, which Leto himself offered when a pair of trans activists critiqued the role for its trans-misogyny at a California awards ceremony: If we give trans roles to trans actors, are we then saying straight actors shouldn’t be allowed to play gay parts?

That question is disingenuous. Of course that’s not what I’m arguing for. If we lived in a world where gay actors were virtually disqualified from portraying straight characters, of course I’d support them getting first shot at gay roles. Luckily, we live in a world where gay actors play straight characters (Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother) and straight actors can play gay roles (Eric Stonestreet on Modern Family).  By contrast, can you name a single instance where a transgender actor has been placed in a cisgender role?

For trans actors, these are the only available parts, and given that this is actually a representation of their own lives, they would probably excel in the role, as long as their acting skills are at least par. So, until we live in a world where trans actors are offered cis roles, the comparison to straight actors playing gay roles falls flat.

And dear casting director, if you feel compelled to cast a cisgender actor in a trans role, please at least have the courtesy to cast someone of the correct gender. If you’re casting for the role of a transgender woman, cast a cisgender woman.

The insistence on having cis men play trans women reinforces “man in a dress” stereotypes, and feels as though Hollywood is saying, “trans women are more man than they are woman.” The only possible exception to this recommendation would be in the case of a character who is just coming out, or who isn’t socially and medically transitioning. This is why Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent may very well work, and still manage to provide a respectful portrayal.’

(Molloy 2014)



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