The Representation and Perception of Gender
What is natural? What is unnatural? How can we tell? Biological sex has been assumed to be a basic category that influences perceptions people have of others gender. It also influences one’s own self-identification and membership to one side or the other side of the gender binary and how we present ourselves to the world. We learn from a young age that there are two sexes: male and female. We categorize others and ourselves into these two categories as soon as the question, “Is it a boy or a girl?” is answered which is based on physical genitalia and chromosomes. This categorization generates a framework for individuals’ gender to operate in thereafter, which is often perceived as ‘natural’, the result of our biology.
For example, a biological male shall grow to be a man, be masculine, have heterosexual desire, become a father and pursue masculine pursuits such as sport or engineering. This is a gender ‘norm’, which is represented and perceived as ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ within culture and society. But what if a person’s gender conflicts with their biological sex? What if an individuals’ sex is ‘constructed’ or ‘unnatural’? What if a biological male appears feminine? How are these ‘ambiguous’, ‘abnormal’, ‘unnatural’ individuals represented and perceived? Can gender only be the outcome of nature? Or rather nurture, conditioning, culture and society? How would these different opinions affect the way we perceive these people?
Gender non-conforming bodies: transgendered, intersex, drag queens, female body builders often express more overtly the visual aesthetics and gestures that define ‘normal’ gender identities, more so than those individuals considered ‘normal’ and ‘natural’. However, as these bodies are ‘unnatural’ and ‘constructed’, they are represented and perceived differently, but why? If they follow the gender ‘norms’ sufficiently why should their biology make a difference? How can we even know what is natural and unnatural upon first glance? I will be investigating how gender is represented and perceived relating them to nature v nurture debates and how these different views impact individuals’ gender.
- Nature v Nurture/Biology v Culture/Society/Mind
- Gender Roles/’Norms’
- Gender Performativity
- Representation of Gender
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 and ‘norms’). I hope to use the works of photographers such as Bettina Reims and perhaps use my own illustrations.
Sources to be utilized/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. I will ask them what they believe define gender: nature or nurture?
Methods of Interpretation/Analysis to be used with the information and sources
I will organize my findings (books, articles, written/online content) into groups each group will be one of my key idea such as ‘perception’. 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 and forums.
Once I’ve built a rapport and trust worthiness with my subjects I hope to conduct interviews over Skype/email 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 throughout 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 mid-January. I want to complete all my research for each key idea by January 25th. This will give me 4 weeks to create my final presentation and bring my topic to life.
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-.