Introduction to Sex, Gender and Sexuality's
September 14, 2011
Important Terms - postmodernism, essentialism, constructionism/social
construction, sex, gender, sexuality, cultural genitals, archetype, stereotype
Cultural Texts and Essentialism
Cultural texts are not necessarily just words on a page. They may refer to events,
objects, rooms ect
We never “just” read, we always read “from somewhere”
Essentialism - the belief that categories or individuals and groups of human
beings have innate, defining features exclusive to their category.
Example - all women think the same things, all men think the same things ect.
A positive use of essentialism is that people identify with a group and may seek
out equality or rights for that group (ex. legalize gay marriage)
A negative consequence of essentialism is stereotypes, which is essentialist
Strategic essentialism is the use of essentialism in a positive way (rule out the
This refers to a movement in Western history (which coincides with the
information revolution, as well as changes in social, economic and cultural life),
where people started to move away from old fashioned and essentialistic
Modernism came before postmodernism and happened between 1850 and 1950.
Changes in Economics
One of the main changes that helped to bring this about was an economic
change. Tourism, healthcare and services were provided to the people.
Economics began to shape culture, and the economy depended greatly on
culture. Shifts in Culture
Decolonization - a departure from living under a colonial power
Civil Rights - rights that are bestowed by the nation to those who live in a given
Feminism and LGBT activism/theory started to become a part of modern culture.
Shift in Knowledge
Postmodernism gives us a critique of ideas that were believed to be natural and
the “grand truth”
Progress and power became to be challenged. The idea of destiny and a higher
power, mans control over nature and what the grand truth of life is.
Any single explanation for why society is a certain way, and the “absolute truth”
Absolute truth - the idea that people who are considered to be experts in their
field or have “divine knowledge” are 100% right and there is no need to question
them. This is usually attained by people who are in positions of power.
Style and Movements in the Arts
The use of irony and parody is very prominent in postmodernism.
Sampling and mixing is also popular. This is when newer forms of media make
references to older forms of media.
Example - the Simpson on TV doing an episode about an older movie.
Definition: how we are constructed through various social processes that cultural,
political and historical. It can be both implicit and explicit. This is very easy to
prove compared to essentialism, which is nearly impossible to prove.
Certain characteristics are rewarded or punished for in certain genders. This is
how people explain that gender is actually a learned behavior as opposed to an
innate behavior. Example - girls from a young age are given dolls, dressed up in pink, taught that
emotional care was important ect. Boys are commended for athleticism, taught
Taught us to ask: “whose truth”?
Essentialism was questioned in the 1980s women's movement. Even in this
movement, it was the heterosexual white females who decided what “the needs
of feminists” were. Literary theory became cultural theory.
Stereotype: a simplified conception or idea that gets invested with a special
meaning by a certain group of people. Essentially it is a box.
Archetype: a model or ideal from which duplicates are made. It is like putting
someone up on a pedestal. May apply to what is the accepted view of what is
normal, beautiful, perfect ect
Taking apart a text, understanding the context of which they were based on,
analyzing the deeper meanings
The body is initially created by nature, but is worked over by culture. It becomes
harder and harder to determine where one ends and the next one begins. It can
also be considered to be a cultural text.
Although the body is natural thing, the way we experience it is affected by
Sex: a social status usually based on genital appearance. Persons may be mal