Gender And Sexuality New Criticism: Term Paper

Length: 15 pages Sources: 15 Subject: Women's Issues - Sexuality Type: Term Paper Paper: #57931797 Related Topics: Marxist Criticism, Sappho, Gender Inequality, Sexuality
Excerpt from Term Paper :

Moreover, in addition to narrowing the purview of human sexuality to groups within the larger society, the sociocultural aspect examines social norm influences including the effects of external factors such as mass media or politics. These movements can assist in bring about significant and widespread changes in the social norm, such as the sexual revolution and the advent of feminism.

Overview of Theory and Practice

Theories regarding gender and sexuality date back to ancient Rome and Greece. Of those that are particularly interesting is the greater acceptance of same sex relations in ancient history and culture; between men, between women, and between men and boys.

One of the earliest 'feminist' from the same era is Sappho, who has been particularly influential because of her expression and lesbianism. She is one of the few if not only female voices from the literature that dates back to Ancient Rome and Greece.

In "Making Sex" Thomas Laqueur, examines how sexuality from the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans through the Renaissance period was structured especially differently than in the nineteenth century or in modern times. He specifically points to the influences of science prior to the mid eighteenth century and the propensity toward a perception of men and women as versions of a single sex: women were seen as lesser men with a uterus and clitoris that were inverted versions of the male scrotum and penis.

Given Laqueur's one sex model, the differences between men and women, then, would not be clear or even as important as they are made out to be in other theoretical constructs. For Laqueur, both men and women were seen as unequal parts of a larger cosmological order that posited sexuality not gender as being historically determined.

This book, then, is about the making not of gender, but of sex. I have no interest in denying the reality of sex or of sexual dimorphism as an evolutionary process. But I want to show on the basis of historical evidence that almost everything one wants to say about sex -- however sex is understood- already has in it a claim about gender. Sex, in both

the one-sex and the two-sex worlds, is situation; it is explicable only within the context of battles over gender and power.

In this way, Laqueur has aligned himself with the poststructuralist and Foucault who oppose even the most traditional notions of feminist distinction between one's bodily sex (nature) and one's acquired gender (nurture).

Many scholarly accounts posit the eighteenth century as a period of transition in the understanding of sexuality and gender. During this period, the foundation for the "naturalization" of gender categories was established, which became particularly important in the next century, and further would provide for the belief that gendered behavior was a biological matter; in essence, biology was destiny.

The strict binary system was made way for by eighteenth century medical science and the discovery of the incommensurable differences between female and male bodies. Laqueur laments, "Sometime in the eighteenth century, sex as we know it was invented."

For the first time, men and women were seen as opposites in most areas, in this new system of sexual dimorphism. Women were seen as passionless and passive, and men were regarded as sexually charged and aggressive, for instance. The evolution of binary gender was not an overnight or expedited process. Particularly relevant to this writing is the rise of Enlightenment in this period where values of fraternity, liberty and equality were introduced, which many women philosophers and thinkers argue needed to have been made applicable to all humanity including women.

Mary Wollstonecraft's book, "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" is an example of Enlightenment values and was instrumental in calling for women's own distinct inalienable rights.

The idea of "natural" gender distinctions purportedly dominated nineteenth century thought and theory. The conception of normative sexuality centered on the middle class family was birthed during this era. However, many non-normative forms of sexuality were also expressed including non-heterosexuality and non-procreation.

The public and private spheres were considered complementary but separate entities of middle class culture that resulted from industrialization,


These distinctive spheres were loosely commensurate with the binary gender distinctions; however, the public sphere was male dominated as it was the dimension of money making, politics, business, industry, empire building and struggle. And the private sphere was considered preserved for the feminine as it was the space of hearth and home, nurture, sympathy, childrearing and simple piety.

It goes without saying that in this "commensurate" system, women had minimal access to the public sphere.

The claim of the middle class to cultural authority was strongly connected and even hinged on the claim to moral superiority. The idea and ideal of the domestic that can under scrutiny near the end of the nineteenth century is credited with fueling the public debate about the role of women. Because of new laws and rulings in the late 1800's women were able to divorce their husband which increased and intensified the commensurate goal of regulating female sexuality. Moreover, the growing visibility and economic power of the working class and women moving into the workplace only intensified the manner in which women's roles were scrutinized.

The theoretical debate has continued into the 20th and 21st centuries with an increased demand for change played out in the political arena; particularly surrounding the issue of enfranchisement. From the suffragettes to the flappers through the equal rights movement, women finally began to realize the political implications and implementations of a number of issues most pertinent to them. Social awareness has continued to rise with regard to gender and sex as well as the focus on the differences between men and women.

Gender and Sexuality in Lysistrata

Lysistrata: Our country's fortunes depend on us -- it is with us to undo utterly the Peloponnesians.

Cleonice: That would be a noble deed truly!

Lysistrata: To exterminate the Boeotians to a man!

Cleonice: But surely you would spare the eels.

Lysistrata: For Athens' sake I will never threaten so fell a doom; trust me for that. However, if the Boeotian and Peloponnesian women join us, Greece is saved.

Cleonice: But how should women perform so wise and glorious an achievement, we women who dwell in the retirement of the household, clad in diaphanous garments of yellow silk and long flowing gowns, decked out with flowers and shod with dainty slippers?

Lysistrata: Ah, but those are the very sheet-anchors of our salvation -- those yellow tunics, those scents and slippers, those cosmetics and transparent robes.

As evidenced by the aforementioned exchange, Lysistrata exemplifies the use of the female gender and sexuality as a means to influence the outcome of the war and raise social awareness. The men have not been moved to reconsider their present course, not by the cost of the war in finances nor the cost of the war in the loss of human life. Lysistrata determines and begins to lay the foundation for the one thing the men may reconsider their position -- sexual encounter with the women in their lives. Cleonice bespeaks the status of the woman during the time in which the play was developed. She talks about the refined and dainty nature of a woman; adorned in such a manner to keep the men in their lives enchanted by their appearance. However, she also elucidates the station women held at the time; relegated to their homes and not engaging in 'business' outside the home. Where Cleonice sees the limitations of the woman's role, Lysistrata sees it as a tremendous opportunity to use the power of gender and the power of sex to raise awareness to the effects and implications of the fatal war.

The time period most relevant to Aristophanes' Lysistrata is of course that of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. That time in history is marked by male domination and female subordination as well as very 'lax social constructs' regarding sex between two individuals, whether same sex or opposite sex. However, some very strong parallels have been and can be drawn to other periods in history and the role of men and women, sex, and gender, and the utilization of these constructs in war and militarized times.

Judith Butler posits that, coitus can scarcely be said to take place in a vacuum; although of itself it appears a biological and physical activity, it is set so deeply within the larger context of human affairs that it serves as a charge microcosm of the variety of attitudes and values to which culture subscribes.

Butler goes on to argue that even a disinterested examination of our current system of relationships between the sexes indicates that for the sexes now and throughout history, it has been a case of a relationship based on dominance and subordinance. However, what is largely unexamined according to Butler, and often unacknowledged yet institutionalized in society's social order is the priority…

Sources Used in Documents:


Allen, Emily and Dino Felluga. "General Introduction to Theories of Gender & Sex,"

Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Available from Accessed 22 November 2011.

Applebaum, Stanley and Candace Ward (eds). A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

(U.S.: Dover Publications, 1996).

Cite this Document:

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