Thursday, January 17, 2008

Theorizing Gender: Homogenizing Women and Men

It seems that I'm writing quite a lot about gender these days. Probably because the topic is on my mind, given my new research interest in the negotiations between on/offline constructions of gender.

Reading Rachel Aslop, Annette Fitzsimons and Kathleen Lennon's
Theorizing Gender (2002, Polity) is a good start for anyone like me, not really immersed in gender studies literature but with some interest in the topic.

A specific section on "Debates about Difference" seemed suitable for this blog. The main idea was to point out that even noble attempts, such as feminist ideas, may have the unintended consequences of further stabilizing the binary women/men as 'natural'. This happens mainly because putting all women in the same category - just like doing it for men - ignores not only the everyday diversity of women's experience, but it is also blind to the different power structures in which women around the world live.

To give an example: the task of taking care of the household may disempower women in Western societies, placing them in a dependency relation to the man, the main breadwinner. But this might not be the case in some African communities, where men are not breadwinners and where taking care of the household becomes empowering for women on a certain level. Which isn't to say that women and men are considered as equal, but only to point out that what empowers a white, middle-class woman might not necessarily empower a rural, non-white one.

"The institution was marriage - write the authors - was positioning women in a different way when, for example, Palestinian families were scattered without travel documents, the men removed from women and children and shipped out from Lebanon. The family, which was viewed as a structure for exploiting women's labour and sexuality on men's behalf, constitutes its subjects differently when it is the site for organizing resistance to racism" (2002: 76)

The way in which we conceive difference cannot be detached from homogenizing processes. Each time we draw a boundary between categories, we are forced to put diversity aside and to constrain all cases within the label, erasing their own distinctiveness.

Photo credits: Polity Press

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