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Is there such a thing as a woman or a man?

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1 Is there such a thing as a woman or a man?
lecture 7

2 lecture overview 1. ‘cultural turn’: shift from ‘things to words’
2. is language masculine?: Luce Irigaray 3. semiotics: Ferdinand Saussure 4. poststructuralists and meaning 5. decentered subject

3 lecture overview 6. discourse: Michel Foucault
7. gender as ‘performative’: Judith Butler 8. criticisms of Judith Butler 9. summary

4 ‘cultural/linguistic turn’
1. shift from ‘things’ to ‘words’ (Barrett 1997) 2. things (material) – e.g. housework; inequalities in the labour market; male violence 3. words (symbolic) – e.g. focus on discourse representation and language

5 gender and the linguistic turn
1. feminists influenced by postuctructuralism/postmodernism 2. language does not simply reflect but actively constructs reality 3. misrecognise - take as ‘natural’ what is linguistically constructed? 4. gender is shaped by social structures and by dominant discourses 5. claim: language constructs what it means to be a man or a woman

6 e.g. identity (Hall cited in Abbott et al 2005: 358)
‘…instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, which cultural practices then represent, we should think, instead, of identity as a ‘production’, which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside representation’.

7 is language masculine? e.g. Luce Irigaray
1. New French feminist 2. current language is patriarchal – contains masculinist assumptions 3. need to develop truly feminine language 4. so women can express themselves in non-patriarchal ways 5. how possible is this? 6. how plausible is it as a strategy? 7. is it essentialist?

8 semiotics: basic points
1. a culture invests things with certain meanings 2. meanings are arbitrary 3. semiotics reveals the arbitrary nature of meanings 4. semiotics reveals the power relations - disguised by meanings - reproduced in meanings

9 semiotics: Ferdinand Saussure (1)
1. ‘father of modern linguistics’ 2. linguistic structuralist 3. culture is structured like a language and language is also structured in a particular way. e.g. meanings of masculinity and femininity differ – culturally, linguistically and historically 4. langue – system of language; the whole language e.g. German, English 5. parole – individual’s speech; individual’s use of langue

10 semiotics: Ferdinand Saussure (2)
langue is a system of signs sign – word (letters, noise) signified – the representation or meaning of a particular thing (but NOT the ‘real’ thing itself) signifier – points to the signified (e.g. word ‘sheep’ indicates the idea of an ovine farm animal)

11 words are not always translatable
1. e.g. in the English language ‘sheep’ just refers to the idea of the sheep as an animal 2. In the French language the word ‘mouton’ refers to the idea of the sheep as an animal and meat (‘mutton’)

12 ‘woman’ THE SIGN signified signifier – idea of ‘woman’
– no such thing as ‘woman’ purely linguistic construct varies between languages ‘woman’ signifier THE SIGN

13 semiotics: Ferdinand Saussure (3)
1. arbitrary nature of the sign – no natural or obvious link between the signifier and signified. 2. signs do not have a fixed or essential meaning 3. through social convention come to learn which signifier refers to which signifier 4. meaning of signs is relational - constructed through difference: e.g. ‘whore’ – other signifiers of womanhood (‘virgin’ or ‘mother’)

14 poststructuralists and meaning
1. e.g. Jacques Derrida - claims that meaning is never fixed but is in constant flux 2. so the meaning of the signifier ‘woman’ (and ‘man’?) – ‘always on the move’ 3. keen to explore how meanings become fixed and consider the effects of fixity 4. power fixes meanings deconstruction refers to the process of releasing and keeping meanings in flux e.g. category of ‘woman’ (see also debate: Riley /Stanley 1997 in Kemp & Squires)

15 decentered subject self is constructed
self is constructed by different language each language creates its own particular sense of self a particular subject can be shaped by multiple languages multiple selves – contradictory self

16 discourse: Michel Foucault
different professional groups (e.g. sexologists; psychiatrists; doctors) distinctive knowledge – claims to truth categorises or labels people (e.g. sane/insane; hysterical woman/normal man) ‘panoptic effect’ – shapes thinking and actions (self- regulate in light of norms) produces the subject - idea of the ‘hysterical woman’ - and in practice person acts accordingly

17 gender as performative: Butler (1) representation
like Saussure – language creates reality ‘woman’ is not a biological category ‘sex’ is socially constructed ‘sex’ is a linguistic category – no such thing as biological sex sexuality – cultural resource to resist patriarchal oppression and heterosexual hegemony?

18 gender as performative: (2) using language: doing words
J.L. Austin (Speech Act Theory) – when you use language it constitutes reality when use the term ‘woman’ it creates woman e.g. ‘it’s a girl’

19 gender as performative: (3) everyday performances
language regulates thought and actions labelled a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ – perform according to norms (heterosexual matrix) gender is an ongoing everyday achievement misrecognise: doing being a woman or a man as actually being a ‘real’ woman or ‘man’

20 gender as performative (4)
“gender is an act that brings into being what it names: a ‘masculine’ man or ‘feminine’ woman” (Salih, 2002:64) language constitutes gendered identities no doer or ‘I’ outside language – gendered subjects are the effects of language ‘gender trouble’ – attempts to reveal or upset the fictional fixity of gender – e.g. Drag

21 some criticisms of Butler
universalising tendencies – e.g. heterosexual hegemony replaces patriarchy? ‘girling’ seems like a socialisation thesis fail to keep ‘gender’ open as promised? does feminism need a stable subject?

22 summary no truth out there waiting to be discovered
we construct theories and reality through representation power/knowledge produces ‘material’ effects – e.g. produces gendered subjects, disciplines bodies no power without resistance can we trouble gendered power regimes by resisting binary classifications?

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