Dichotomy of Our Gender System Term Paper

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Following on the heels of Michel Foucault, Butler situates the dichotomous conceptualization of gender as a product of discourse, just as Foucault (1990) realized that homo- and heterosexuality were both discursive products. The maintenance of coherent norms in the realm of gender through cultural discourse is intertwined with the positing of heterosexuality as the norm. This is why, for example, when a young boy "dresses up" as a girl and/or plays with dolls, his parents frequently express concern that this is a sign of burgeoning homosexuality and punish the child.

Butler would interpret the child's act as a "performance" and the parents' intervention as a means of correcting that performance in order to condition the child towards "acting the right way" - that is, enacting the role of maleness as it is rigidly codified by the heterosexual norms upon which our society is based:

The notion that there might a "truth" of sex, as Foucault ironically terms it, is produced precisely through the regulatory practices that generate coherent identities through the matrix of coherent gender norms. The heterosexualization of desire requires and institutes the production of discrete and asymmetrical oppositions between "feminine" and "masculine," where these are understood as expressive attributes of "male" and "female." number of writers have challenged the gender dichotomy by attempting to explore the question in relation to other axes of cultural differentiation, such as class, religion, and race. Such analyses effectively de-simplify the question of gender, showing how gender's social construction is in fact contingent on a variety of cultural factors. Indeed, the work of authors such as bell hooks (1999) has clearly demonstrated that it is nearly impossible to discuss gender without regards to its intersection with race, class, sexuality, and other cultural constructs.

The work of Gil and Vazquez (1997) addresses the stereotypical roles that Latin American women often fall into, arguing that such roles are often culturally determined - and thus difficult to evade. The solution, they suggest, is to forge a balance between the traditions of the "old world" while simultaneously taking cues from the "new world" - in particular the North American feminist movement - as a means of evading the more rigidly codified gendering inherent to many Latin cultures. In their analysis, marianismo is just as dangerous to women as machismo; the performance of such a role must be overcome in order for women to reach a true state of empowerment and vitality.

Finally, first-hand narratives of women's own experience in dealing with the gender issue form a significant part of the literature on the challenges imposed by the gender dichotomy. In that they stem from authors' personal experiences, they often serve as a powerful challenge to the dominant system of values. Screane (1998) has discussed the challenges of choosing to retain her virginity as an African-American female and a Christian. The work of writers such as Lorde (1983) show us in painful detail the multiple forms of oppression that the author encountered in her lifetime as an African-American lesbian feminist from an impoverished background. Bornstein (1995) details her struggles through a number of gender and sexual identities as a transsexual, while the work of Clausen (1999), a lesbian feminist who fell in love with a man and was thus ostracized from her former community, shows us just how relevant such theoretically complex arguments as Butler's are in the real world.


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Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.

Clausen, J. (1999). Apples and Oranges: My Journey to Sexual Identity. New York: Houghton


Fausto-Sterling, a. (2000). The Five Sexes, Revisited. The Sciences, July/August 2000, 18-23.

Foucault, M. (1990). The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. New York: Vintage.

Gil, R.M., & Vazquez C.I. (1997). The Maria Paradox. New York: Perigee Press.

A hooks, b. (1999). Ain't IA Woman: Black Women & Feminism. Cambridge, MA: South End


Lorde, Audre (1983). Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press.

Lucal, B. (1999). What it Means to be Gendered Me: Life on the Boundaries of a Dichotomous

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Women Write About Body Image and Identity. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press.

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Yoshino, K. (2006). The Pressure to Cover. New York Times Magazine.

Spelman (1982), 110.

Fausto-Sterling (2000), 22.

For more on gender, sexuality, and legal issues, see Yoshino (2006).

Fausto-Sterling (2000), 23.

For more on gender as performance, see Butler (1999).

Sedgwick (1991), 47.

A number of other writers have argued that homosexuality and…

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