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Gender and identity as theoritical concepts

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‘Gender and Identity as theoretical concepts’ “The term gender is part of the attempt by contemporary feminists to stake claim to certain definitional ground, to insist on the inadequacy of existing bodies of theory for explaining persistent inequalities between women and men”. (Joan W. Scott, Gender: A useful category of historical analysis)

Feminist politics has enabled the rethinking of the previously taken –for-granted understandings of gender and its place in the social and the symbolic world. The interventions in thinking about gender have overturned previous certainties about the fixed order and meanings of gender. But before that we need to ask some crucial questions to lay out the field which later in the paper will be questioned, challenged and expanded. What is gender? What is identity? What helps in its formation? How does gender contributes to the identity formation? Why do we need identity? Why do people see themselves in terms of gender identity? Why the idea of masculinity and femininity is central to the self? These are some important questions that the title of the paper encapsulates. The difficulties with the application of the concept ‘gender’ are theoretical and political at the same time. It creates a boundary that hinders in the way of its proper utilization. Theory posits certain beliefs including gender roles that not notify women and men, how they behave, but rather sets certain code of conduct that tells them how should the behave.

The foundation of the research paper (gender and identity as theoretical concepts) and the perception discussed is based on the pillars of Joan W. Scott’ essays ‘Gender: A useful category of Historical analysis’, Denise Riley’s, “Does sex have a history”, Susie Tharu and Tejaswini Niranjana’s, “problem for a contemporary theory of gender” and Judith Butler’s, ‘subjects of sex/gender/desire’. The premises laid by them are taken into consideration, in order to explore the ‘intersectionality of gender and identity’. These essays raise the argument of identity of ‘woman, which has often been accepted and rejected by feminist theorist. The rejection or sometimes even replacement of the term ‘woman’ creates the situation of identity crisis. However gender remains the centre of focus. Gender is a complex term as it simply does not mean masculinity and femininity. Certain difficulties in the application of the concept ‘gender’ in feminist politics create hindrances in its proper utilization. This paper tries to show the theoretical plurality and diversity of gender and also demonstrates the political thinking.

The paper attempts to focus the research on the theories that have developed around women and more recently gender as encompassing women and men in relation to each other. The paper starts with the arguments laid by Butler and further shows how these conceptions that Butler refuses is being used in feminist politics. She opens up with the claim stating that feminist theories, without posing any question have assumed that there is an already existing identity called ‘women’. We cannot consider ‘women’ as a ‘fixed homogenous category’ without taking into account the differences. The other argument that she raises is that, gender and sex are two different concepts. They should not be used as the synonym of each other. They need to be looked in a new way as opposed to masculine/feminine gender binary. Gender roles are maintained because of the regular performance. Deconstruction of gender will open up new possibilities. Gender is not the only identity but it is rather a performance i.e. how we perform our roles. She critiques the binary in every possible sense and opposes the idea of fitting individuals into the two categories of gender.

Scott in her essay takes forward her imposition of problem with the term ‘women’. She proposes the use of gender as a category of analysis. She suggest, it to be used by feminists to insist inadequacy of existing body of theory that lacks in explaining the inequalities between women and men. Scott invokes her definition of gender. Her article has emerged as a landmark in feminist history and gender theory . Scott examies the use of the analytical term ‘gender’ that is free of the limitations that she perceives are inherent in earlier definition and theories of gender. She tries to deconstruct the legitimacy of binaries, power relations and language that govern the modern world through different structures. She cites Carol Gilligan’s idea of binary opposition that provides a sharp contrast to her own perceptive of the binary. Gilligan defines woman/man as a self producing binary opposition-fixed always in the same way. However Scott proposes the need to refuse this fixed and permanent binary by reversing and displacing its hierarchical construction. The important thing to look in the Scott’s work is her analysis from the lens of gender.

The theorising of gender calls at the descriptive usages of the term gender that have become part of discourses of feminist historians. Scott problematizes the way gender has become a synonym for women.it is not important to look at women and men separately or to describe gender merely as a relationship between opposing identities of men and women. But what is important is to analyze that structure that constitutes our identities as gendered subjects. The essay poses arguments concerning the politics of language and shows that there is a connection between the studies of ‘gender’. This examination gives us the insight and a way to analyze how gender figures in the construction of social and political meaning, thereby provide us with a way to recast our understanding of the place of gender in history. She is concerned with building a separate theory of gender that will help feminist historians to undertake plausible analyses of history from the point of view of gender. She challenges the existing areas of knowledge. Her much importance to language is visible in the essay.

Language reflects a reality external to it. By language, she simply does not mean words only but the creation of meaning through differentiation. By gender she means not social roles for women and men but the articulation in specific contexts of social understandings of sexual difference. Gender is a system of power in that it privileges some men and disadvantages some women. It is constructed and maintained by both the dominants and the oppressed, because both ascribe to its values in personality and identity formulation (masculine and feminine behavior). Gender has lost its ability to provoke us. It has become an aspect of ordinary usage, offered as a synonym for women, for the difference between sexes, for sex i.e. male or female. The analyses provided by feminist offer us a predictable studies of women, or of differences in the status, condition, experiences and possibilities open to women and men. But they rarely examine the contractions inherent in the meanings of “women and men”. How the term ‘women’ itself excludes so many things. Sex/gender debate lays out the complexities of intersection of sex and gender, taking the debate beyond the fundamental assumption of the distinction between them.

It sometimes denotes the social obligations imposed on men and women, but it rarely interrogates to the knowledge that organizes our perception of ‘nature’. Feminism has denied the consolidation of women into a homogeneous fixed category. Feminist inquiry has troubled this secured fixed identity by replacing it with a term like ‘gender’. By uncovering new information and using gender as category of historical analysis, historians assume that they would, compensate the long years of neglect but the fact is these initiative might document the existence of women in the past, but they did not necessary change the lack of importance attributed to women. Indeed the separate treatment of women could serve to confirm their marginal and particularized relationship with the already established dominant subjects. Indeed feminist scholars use the term ‘gender’ so explicitly that they reject the premise that categories (men and women) are historically variable categories. This is the fallback of using gender as a synonym for women. It denies the ‘radical academic and political agency’ of the term ‘gender’.

It is the social organization of sexual differences that means, it not only reflects or implements fixed and natural physical difference between women and men; rather gender is the knowledge that establishes meanings for bodily differences. Post structuralists insist that meanings are not fixed but rather dynamic, always potentially flux. This approach calls for attention to the conflicting processes that establish meanings. Concept as gender acquire the appearance of fixity, poses challenges for normative social definitions. If the category “women” is to be investigated then gender- the multiple and contradictory meanings attributes to sexual differences-is an important analytical tool. The term ‘gender’ as a changeable variable suggests that relationship between male and female are a primary aspect of society. These identities are culturally determined; they are not produced or controlled by individuals, differences between them are constituted by hierarchical social structures. Riley poses certain problems with the term ‘women’. She says ‘women’ is a fluctuating identity.

There are too many invocations attached to ‘women’. She writes being a woman is a condition that is very unstable. It is not conditioned by an individual, rather played out historically. It is also an ‘unstable category’ because of the ‘historical foundation’. Women have been posed against nature, reason etc. and the binary of ‘women’ and ‘men’. She even finds gender as an ambiguous term that will put down the entire concept. By bringing in gender the identity will be questioned and women will have to again break the ‘gender designation’. The concern in the essay is the subject of feminism because the manner in which feminism has grappled with identity (of women) is in itself is problematic. She starts with ‘woman’ and transcends to ‘women’ because the subject of feminism could not only be one/ the other important point is the use of the term ‘woman’ which Riley questions. Using the term ‘woman’ looses the focus because of the generalization of the position of ‘women’ as the same. The heterogeneity dissolves with the use of the word ‘woman’ because of the category of ‘women’ the identity is fluctuating.

Woman cannot embody everything that ‘women’ can. The association of temporariness with the category is the one reason behind this. Another reason is the politics of language, the class difference; the race difference etc. that complicates the situation. No matter how far feminist’s theorists have refined the term ‘gender’, they have been unable to give a clear meaning of gender. The theoretical shift brings in new questions regarding the multiplicity of gender. There are two mistakes/problems here with the use of the word gender that I want to take into consideration/ first, ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are often used as synonyms rather than opposites. Sometimes it is used as a substitute for ‘sex’. Second, ‘gender’ and ‘woman’ used altogether. ‘Women’ is often replaced by the word gender and vice-versa. Gender was introduced to maintain the distinction between the physical (nature) and the social (culture). What lacks in both these usage is the lack of sharp distinction.

The two key components in maintaining the gender system which is being highlighted is the shared ‘hegemonic cultural beliefs’ about gender and its effects as ‘social relational contexts’ in which individuals sees themselves in relation to others or in other words ‘in order to perform her role’. Tharu and Niranjana’s work has attempted to understand the implications of invoking gender in feminism. The task of feminist theory is to establish ‘gender’ as a category that has been rendered invisible. But articulation of gender is very much like class, caste etc. in the social realm. The essay puts light on two important events, mandal and chunduru, and anti arrack movement that precipate the new possibilities of hegemonic multiple representation of the ‘feminist subject’. The dilemma for feminism arises from the visibility of active participation of women in women’s movement that problematises the term ‘women’, where women considers themselves as uparcaste(middle class) and all men as lower caste.

Women were nor gendered there. The category of ‘woman’ and therefore in a important field of feminism emerged in these events. Also the shift of feminist/feminism to gender relations is important to look at. This approach limits the domain of feminism/feminist politics because it is not only about relations or roles, it concerns itself to identity. Identity derive from the social dominant institutions and become identity only when the ‘social actors internalize it and construct their meaning around this internalization’. The essay raises the argument of the distinction of identity from the roles one performs. The replacement of the term ‘woman’ with ‘gender’ that poses and creates the situation of identity crisis questioning the politics of language. V.Geeta in theorizing feminism attempts to give an answer to this problem. She states norms and expectations define male and female natures.

They are essential components that rest on social and economic systems. By posing the question of norms about masculinity and femininity, a significant and necessary category of analysis has been formulated- gender. Gender as a commodity divides up things into various categories. It also has other meanings. It has associated itself with biological sex. It as a social construction considered to grant meanings to sex. Conclusion

Each of the above cited essays brings forth the arguments and challenges feminist are facing in contemporary times. They problematise the very relationship of women with feminism. ‘Gender’ as a word, has served as a point of conflict and contestation, in language. Under its aegis, feminists asked how and under what conditions different roles and functions had been defined for each sex; how the very meanings of the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’ varied according to time and place; how regularly norms of sexual deportment were created and enforced; how issues of power and rights played in masculinity and femininity; how symbolic structures affected the lives and practices of people; how sexual identities were forged within and against social prescriptions.

The talk about the problems posed in the use of gender instead of women. The approach of women that is invoked at times to construct a commonality of identity has been divided up with the introduction of gender in feminist subject (by taking into account the distinction between sex and gender) creating the condition of identity crisis. Social institutions in power to legitimize only selective identities that helps them to retain their domination (discourse of heterosexuality as the normative, useful for patriarchy). The masculine/feminine binary constitutes certain axis of power relations that constitute ‘identity’.

Work cited.
1.Butler, Judith. “Subjects of sex/gender/Desire.” n.d.
2. Geetha, V. “Gender, Introduction.” (n.d.).
3. Niranjana, Susuie Tharu and Tejaswini. “Problems for a Contemporary Theory Of gender.” Menon, Edited by Nivedita. Gender and politics in India. Oxford university press, 1999. 494-525. 4. Riley, Denise. “Does a sex have a History? ‘Women’ and Feminisn.” (n.d.). 5. Scott, Joan W. “Gender: A useful category of Historical Analysis.” The American Historical Review, vol.91, No. 5. (Dec.,1986): 1053-1075. 6. Scott, Joan Wallach. Gender and the politics if history. Columbia university press, 1999. —. Gender and the politics of History. Columbia University press, 1999.

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