The following were from December. I have since carried out research and have a better understanding of where my project will be going.
Masculine, Feminine or Human: The Representation of Gender
Gender non-conforming individuals or those who are considered transgender/intersex often express more overtly their gender and sex. Having to portray and prove not only to themselves but also to others their ‘inner’ gender. They often follow the ‘norms’ of what is masculine or feminine, often more so than individuals who were biologically born that way. However, because these individuals’ sex and gender are not biological, rather ‘unnatural’ and constructed, they are represented and perceived differently. This can also be applied to those who are intersex. I will be investigating how gender is represented and perceived relating them to nature v nurture debates. Is biological sex the only factor that influences the way gender is perceived and represented? Should it be the ‘performance’ the individual conveys to the world? Why do we feel the need to follow gender ‘norms’?
The main issue within my project is whether gender is represented and perceived by either nature (biology, genitalia) or nurture (conditioning, society, self-perception, role). Biological sex (nature) has been assumed to be a basic category that influences perceptions people have of others gender. It also impacts one’s own self-identification and membership to one side or the other side of the gender binary. But what if a person becomes different to their biological sex? What if a person’s biological sex isn’t essential to their gender? What if gender is a performance? Is a person’s gender less valid or represented differently if it’s not ‘natural’? The important ingredient in representing gender concerns exactly what we believe individuals are-human organisms, social individuals or persons?
Nature v Nurture/Biology v Culture/Society/Mind
Representation of Gender
Natural, Unnatural or Human?
These key ideas will lead from the works of authors Judith Butler, Charlotte Witt, J.S Chafetz and Sandra Lipsitz Bem, whose works have focused on gender studies.
Method of Presentation
I want to create a DVD presentation as I get nervous speaking in public and feel it would be more effective in conveying my topic. I am; however, concerned by how I should illustrate this topic without falling into cliché’s or perhaps that could be the point (gender stereotypes). I hope to use the works of photographers such as Bettina Reims and Leland Bobbe.
Sources to be utilised/Methods to be used in acquiring sources
Academic articles and books based on issues surrounding gender: gender identity, social/gender roles, gender representation, masculinity and femininity and other gender studies. I will source these materials by using research tools available at Coventry University such as locate and the library.
First hand data and research will be upcoming from my discussions and interviews with individuals who are transgender, transsexual, male and female.
Both of my current subjects who are transsexual are friends of the family. I’ve conducted interviews in person, over Skype and had other correspondence over email. However, I hope to find more subjects who I do not know. Being transgender is a diverse and deeply personal experience. Therefore, I feel the wider range of people I meet, the more neutral and fair my overall research will be. Having been inspired by photographer Bettina Rheims, whose works have focused on gender and sexuality, I hope to contact people online using social networks.
In terms of those who are ‘naturally’ male and female, I want to investigate how they feel about those who are transgender and how they feel gender is represented. I also want to ask the question: if your sex changed would you be the same person?
Methods of Interpretation/Analysis to be used with the information and sources
I will organize my findings (books, articles, written/online content) into groups, the same groups outlined in my key ideas. In terms of the first hand research, I have ready-made questions to ask my subjects to inform their response and ensure I get the relevant information for my project.
Plan/Schedule of Work
This month I hope to get into contact with more subjects for my first hand research and continue my correspondence with them thereafter. I hope to contact and reach as many people as possible by using social networks.
Once I’ve built a rapport and trust worthiness with my subjects I hope to conduct interviews over Skype and perhaps in person if possible and collect their stories and opinions on the issue. This will help inform my other research and validate it. I will conduct these interviews by January.
In relation to sourcing books and articles, I’m already in the process of doing so. I hope to have the main books, authors, influential thinkers and articles completed by January.
Cohen-Kettenis, P.T and Gooren, L.J.G . (1999). Transsexualism: A review of etiology, diagnosis and treatment . Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Volume 46 (Issue 4), p315-333.
MacKinnon, C A.. (Jan 1989). Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: Pleasure under Patriarchy. Chicago Journal. Vol. 99, No. 2 (2), 314-346.
Chafetz, J.S. (1974). Masculine/Feminine or Human? London: F.E.Peocock Publishers, Inc. . p1-
Eagly, A H. (1987). Sex Differences: In Social Behaviour: a Social Role Interpretation. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. p1-.
Lipsitz Bem, S. (1993). Chapter 4 Gender Polarization . In: Lipsitz Bem, S The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexually Inequality. Yale University: Yale University. pg 80-132
Lipsitz Bem, S. (1993). Chapter 5 The Construction of Gender. In: Lipsitz Bem, S The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexually Inequality. Yale University: Yale University. pg 133-175
Witt, C (2011). The Metaphysics of Gender. USA: OUP USA. P5-168.
Butler, J (2006). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge. p1-.
Butler, J (2004). Undoing Gender. London: Routledge . p1-.
Three good things
1. You gave a very clear account of the field you wish to explore and what you are concerned to argue – as is your sense of the clear differentiation between sex and gender
2. You gave a confident account of the issues, ideas and the material
3. Your also gave quite a good account of some of the reading and some of the materials you have begun to explore (although I think you could have given more sense of that)
Three things to improve
The way you presented today was quiet essayistic – you presented an argument/narrative more than you outlined question and then the project you would undertake in order to answer the question.
Again as a result of the above – your project came across more as an ethico-political or philosophical-sociological one , when it needs to be one of visual culture
I think the Nature Vs Nurture is not the primary question – the real question for your project is more how are nature and nurture each represented – how do we know that what we are looking at is a natural body and what is one that is a cultivated body (ie “normal” people aren’t photographed visually represented in that same way as those whose identities are obviously constructed (ie transgendered bodies) – this approach will be a more interesting one and one YOU can do
Three further suggestions
1. You need to make more of your reading of the works of people like Judith Butler – note she says all identities are performed (by which she means actively produced through culturally defined and performed visual languages
2. You should start from the representation of gender ambiguous bodies (transgendered ones ) because in many ways they utilize more overtly the visual languages which define ‘ normal’ gender identities than ‘normal’ people do. Who looks more “female” than a drag queen (hence Butler says we are all drag artists)
3. Situate your project firmly as one which explores visual culture and the representation of gender identity – not a socio-politcal project