Monday, October 30, 2006

Let's Talk About Sex!

What is Sex?

Traditionally, the term 'sex' referred to the difference between males and females with regard to their reproductive organs, and the activity leading to reproduction.

Gender and Gender Role

Judith Butler argues that 'gender is performative' (Cavallaro, p108). Which means that the individual's 'gendered identity' is produced through performance and role-playing. Repetition also plays a major part in this process too; by performing certain acts repeatedly the individual acquires an apparently 'coherent identity'. Adding to this, repetition dictates dominant ideologies and ways of organizing sexual behaviour of what a particular culture expects of its members.

A gender role concurrently is built by 'various cultural discourses, and particularly by language'. Even statements, such as 'it's a boy' or 'it's a girl', contribute to the social construction of gendered identities 'and to the enforcement of performative acts associated with them' (Cavallaro, p109).

Sexual Morality

A field of ethical philosophy concerned with establishing the principles of moral behaviour in sexual matters: it seeks to define what sexual activities are permissible, and who is ethically or legally entitled to take part in them (Cavallaro, p110). Adding to this, cultures take different measures to control sexuality by addressing whom one may have morally sound relationships. And this erupts mainly from the view of sex an 'an unruly appetite hell-bent on loosening the social fabric' (Cavallaro, p111).


There are two apparent waves in the history of feminism. One that took place between 1830 and 1920, with its political campaign revolving around 'enfranchisement and the extension of civil rights'; and the second wave which emerged in the 1960's with connection to 'women's increasing access to the worlds of work and education, the availability of birth control, and the establishment of legislation on the right to abortion and on equal pay policies' (Cavallaro, p112).

Of the demises of both the First and Second wave is the fact that their agendas sought to embody prominently white, Western and middle-class values. Women tended to seek the opportunities available to men from their own ethnic and class background.

But since late 1980 though, there has been a new emergence: 'post-feminism'. Literally meant as the after of feminism, post-feminism sees that 'universal emancipation has not been achieved, and contends that many women across the globe are still fighting for their most basic rights' (Cavallaro, p113). Needless to say though, post-feminism doesn't point to the downfall of feminism but rather redirects feminist concerns.

Nevertheless, according to Germaine Greer in 'The Whole Woman', she argues that although women have come a long way in the past thirty years, the battle is not yet over and that there is a danger of women becoming complacent about what has been achieved and settling for false forms of equality.

There are two categories of feminist theories:

· Essentialist
· Anti-essentialist

Essentialist feminism contends that there is 'a natural essence at the core of femininity', and contains three approaches: Humanist, experiential and radical feminism. Humanist feminism sees that there is a 'deep self' common to all women universally. Experiential feminism expands on humanist feminism to include material experiences too, such as motherhood. Radical feminism argues that dominant ideologies hinge on inclusion and exclusion factors which lead to certain groups of people being labelled as outsiders, and that this is the fate of women in patriarchy.

On the other hand though, anti-essentialist feminism is 'the product of culture and politics' (Cavallaro, p115), whereby sexual difference is culturally constructed and with that 'people's biological and anatomical characteristics are invested with mythical meanings', for example attributing men with reason and science, and women with nature and emotions. These are, simply said 'contingent decisions laden with ideological connotations', for masculinity and femininity are not realities carved in natural laws, but on the contrary they are cultural concepts that change completely through time and space.

Pairing femininity and nature gave rise to yet another approach: Eco-feminism. Eco-feminism sees that the Earth is a living, nurturing and all embracing force decorated by female and maternal elements. For eco-feminists argue that nature is a feminist issue, even so, at times femininity is 'animalized' and nature is devalued through metaphorical description as 'a female body available for male consumption' (Cavallaro, p116), inscriptions such as 'virgin' land for example, or the association of women with 'chicks, bitches' further emphasise this.

Homosocial, Heterosexism and Homosexuality

Homosocial refers to feelings generated by single sex institutions such as armies, or schools which lead to the bonding of people from the same sex. Heterosexism is the term used to describe language and behaviour that translates explicit hostility towards lesbians and gay individuals; this can even extend to generate an obsessive loathing known as homophobia.

Largely defined as 'erotic intercourse involving people of the same sex' (Cavallaro, p117), homosexuality is still surrounded by ambiguities as to whether homosexual preferences should be attributed to innate dispositions or environmental causes. Although the noun 'homosexual' intended to refer to both men and women, it has come of age to refer to primarily men. Homosexual women have been designated at 'lesbians' (from Lesbos, origin place of sixth century BC poet Sappho, who wrote about erotic relations amongst women).

Micheal Foucalt who argues that 'homosexuality is a social construction used by dominant ideologies to differentiate between normality and abnormality' (Cavallaro, p117), brings us to the issue of Lesbian women and Gay men's politics. Un-identical in their aims and concerns, certain divisions of Lesbian feminism argue that both heterosexuality and male homosexuality value men above women, and that lesbian relationships are the only way of asserting women's rights.

Sexual Diversity

Central to the approach of sexual diversity is an assertion to protrude the pleasures of multiple sexualities, thus bringing us to 'trans-genderists'. A trans-genderist is neither transsexual nor transvestite: s/he is not defined by cross-dressing or by a literal change of sex affected by medical technology. Rather s/he is someone who moves across conventional gender boundaries, regardless of sexual preferences (Cavallaro, p118).

So, in conclusion we can say that desires and pleasures associated with any of the different forms of sexuality are pretty much 'inseparable from the cultural circumstances in which they are experienced' (Cavallaro, p119). On one hand, radical feminism presents heterosexuality as a unified phenomenon, and actually accuses it of exposing women to 'defenceless exploitation'. And on the other hand, in contrast, homosexuality has been presented as a 'liberating' option.

Nonetheless though, according to Belsey and Moore (1997), culture itself is a limit of acquired knowledge, for there is no truth available outside culture where injustice can be challenged. Culture in itself is contradictory, making it thus, unstable too. So in an attempt to respect and acknowledge these differences, and to prevent them from being carved into mere labels, we must learn to read cultural products as stories that more often than not, perpetuate the disabling of gender stereotypes. But at the same time, we must also question where stereotypes come from, whose interests they serve and under what circumstances.

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