Sociology of Femininity Research Paper

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Outline

I. Introduction

II. The Resilience of Stereotyped Femininity

III. Language and Discourse

IV. Femininity and the Life Course

V. Femininity and the Body

A. Beauty Standards

B. Medicalization and Reproduction

C. Resistance to Hegemonic Femininity

VI. Femininity in the Workplace

VII. Intersectional and Cross-Cultural Femininities

VIII. Interdisciplinary Scholarship on Femininity

IX. Future Directions for Scholarship on Femininity

I. Introduction

The sociology of femininity’s contemporary terrain is rooted in the eighteenth-century writings of the radical thinker, Mary Wollstonecraft (1792). Her Vindication of the Rights of Woman criticized the sacrifice of women’s potential to “libertine notions of beauty,” the acquisition of power through charm and weakness, and perpetual dependence in marriage. Two hundred years later, things were much the same when Simone de Beauvoir (1953) published The Second Sex again drawing attention to oppressive feminine beauty standards that were an integral part of the subordination of women. In 1963, Betty Friedan addressed similar worrisome themes in The Feminine Mystique, an analysis of a “problem with no name,” or the expectation that women “could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity” and that happiness came with devoting oneself to finding a husband and having children (Friedan [1963] 2001:15). A few years later, Jessie Bernard, a sociologist and the first woman professor at Princeton University, would take a more dynamic view of femininity as a set of traits that overlap with masculinity and that vary in time and place (Bernard 1971). In the last three decades, femininity has become a widely researched topic of sociological inquiry that draws primarily on Jessie Bernard’s early insights into the flexible and changing nature of femininity but also weaves in contemporary issues of gender, race, and class.

The definition of femininity is an elusive one. Dorothy Smith (1988) puts it well: “the concept itself is implicated in the social construction of the phenomena it appears to describe” (p. 37). She proposes that femininity is best defined as a set of socially organized relationships between women and between women and men that are mediated by texts. We embrace that definition of femininity in this research paper.

Femininity is closely related to conceptualizations of gender relations and gender roles. Scholarship on gender relations usually examines the unequal power relations between women and men (as well as among different groups of women and men based on other axes of inequality such as race, class, sexuality, nationality), at the macrolevel of social institutions, as well as on the micro-level of social interaction. Gender scholars define gender roles more narrowly than overall gender relations. Gender roles are the gendered behaviors and actions that are expected of women and men; for example, one “acts feminine” playing the “role” of bride in the United States. Femininity is embedded in gender relations; it is socially constructed, reproduced, and negotiated within the broader context of gender relations and gender roles.

Sociologists examine the construction of femininity as a process of gender role socialization and the ways femininity informs and is informed by social institutions such as the media, sports, medicine, marriage, family, the military, the economy, and the welfare state. Sociologists evaluate the extent to which societal institutions define standards of femininity to which women are expected to conform, as well as the various ways in which individuals and groups of women (and men) resist, challenge, reproduce, and reinforce those standards. Emphasizing the socially constructed nature of femininity, sociologists continue the line of thinking that began in the 1970s in arguing that femininity is not a static characteristic but a dynamic process. Attention is drawn to the importance of recognizing that an individual’s location in time and place, as well as one’s race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality, intersect in the production of multiple femininities (Collins 2004).

To cover the breadth of the scholarship on femininity, we have organized this research paper into eight sections. We begin with a discussion of the resilience of stereotyped femininity in society. Language and discourse are then presented as crucial sites of the production, negotiation, and resistance to femininity norms. We then examine femininity and the life course, with an emphasis on gender socialization in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and among older women. The relationship between femininity and the body is discussed next, with a focus on beauty standards, medicalization and reproduction, and bodily resistance to femininity. Next, we discuss femininity in the workplace and intersectional and cross-cultural femininities. We end with a discussion of the interdisciplinary nature of the current work in femininity and the directions for fruitful future research.

II. The Resilience of Stereotyped Femininity

Some research has found that attitudes about femininity and gender roles have changed over the past 40 years in the U.S. society and are moving away from traditional stereotypes (Mason, Czajka, and Arber 1976; Mason and Lu 1988; Holt and Ellis 1998). For example, there has been considerable change in women’s sex role attitudes between 1964 and 1974, with a decline in traditional sex role stereotyping and an increase in profeminist views among both women and men (Mason et al. 1976:593). The term gender role is used in most of the research paper; however, the term sex role is used here because it is the term that was used in the articles being cited. The term sex role has largely been replaced by gender role to draw attention to the fact that these roles are socially constructed. Most sociological research indicates that sex role attitudes and gender stereotypes based on traditional norms of femininity and masculinity have remained relatively stable over the past 40 years. Many studies find that traditional notions of femininity are not only resistant to change but also prevalent in contemporary society (Werner and LaRussa 1985; Bergen and Williams 1991; Street, Kimmel, and Kromrey 1995; Lueptow, Garovich-Szabo, and Lueptow 2001). For example, employing lists of characteristics that represent traits adhered to by contemporary women (such as affectionate, submissive, emotional, sympathetic, and gentle) and men (such as competitive, aggressive, dominant, independent, and ambitious), a recent study that compared people’s femininity and masculinity ratings of themselves and others concluded that no change in sex role ratings had occurred from 1974 to 1997 (Lueptow et al. 2001:23). Another study focusing on university students’ gender role perceptions found that both men and women still rely on sex-typed perceptions based on societal norms of femininity and masculinity. While seemingly counterintuitive in light of the social changes that have taken place since the 1970s, these findings indicate the remarkable resiliency of traditional notions of femininity and masculinity.

III. Language and Discourse

Language plays a critical role in the construction of femininity, the resilience of feminine stereotypes, and the potential for change. We become gendered through our language and our talk with others. In the arena of linguistic behavior, femininity is constructed through the internalization of sexist language, the normative regulation of speech (such as the adoption of a special ladylike language in girlhood, not swearing and using tag-questions (e.g., I am a good girl, aren’t I? The answer is true, right?), learning to be responsive and supportive in cross-sex conversations, and “in matters that really count (learning) to remain relatively quiet” (Schur 1984:58–59).

Language is also significant in challenging and negotiating traditional representations of femininity. Language can be viewed as a collection of discourses, and different discourses allow access to different femininities (some mainstream and some radical), with the meaning of femininity depending on the kind of discourse that engages the word (Coates 1998:301, 318–319). In arguing that “our work begins and ends with language,” Dorothy Smith (1993) considers women active participants in the process of creating femininity through “textually-mediated discourse” (p. 91). As a social organization of relationships mediated by printed and visual texts, femininity is a discursive phenomenon that involves the talk women do in relation to texts and the work they do to realize the textual images, such as the deploying of skills needed for shopping, choosing clothes, and making decisions about styles and makeup (p. 163).

IV. Femininity and the Life Course

The myriad ways that femininity is constructed, manifested, and altered throughout the life course has been the focus of much sociological research. Sociologists have been particularly interested in the construction of femininity in girlhood and adolescence. With a focus on gender socialization, this area of study examines how feminine identities are produced and reproduced in the family, school, and peer group. Parents, siblings, and close family and friends participate in an ongoing process of socializing young people into the family during which the roles and expectations associated with femininity are learned and gender becomes part of one’s self-identity (Stockard 1999:215). The production of femininity has also been examined in school settings and peer groups. Standards of masculinity and femininity develop early in childhood peer groups (Kessler et al. 1985), and research has shown that girls achieve popularity based on their physical appearance, social skills, and academic success (Adler, Kless, and Adler 1992). That research also demonstrated that the valued qualities of femininity are not ahistorical but rather reflect changes in society at large.

Not all the research on gender socialization in girlhood and adolescence focus on the unproblematic acquisition of socially acceptable femininity. Some sociological scholarship examines resistance to traditional standards of femininity, focusing on how agency is involved in the process of learning gender (Acker 1992; Lorber 1994; Connell 1995; West and Fenstermaker 1995). For example, some women report that as children they had a keen awareness of the disadvantages of femininity and the privileges of masculinity that encouraged them to self-identify as “tomboys” (Carr 1998:548). Indeed, a large number of U.S. women (possibly even a slight majority) recall being tomboys as children (Rekers 1992).

The media plays a critical role in the gender socialization of women throughout the life course. The role of media is significant in the life course perspective. Thus, much sociological research has focused on the influential role of media images of femininity conveyed to young women through the electronic and print media, particularly television and magazines. Scholars have amassed a large body of literature documenting the content of the messages about femininity that are conveyed by the media (e.g., Ferguson 1983; Roman and Christian-Smith 1988; Ballaster et al. 1991; Douglas 1994; Peril 2002). Others have studied the media consumer’s interpretation of the messages and have found that media messages have multiple meanings for the audience, and interpretations reflect normative expectations for femininity and masculinity. Viewers of music television, for example, interpret gendered messages based not only on connections they make between the text and their personal experiences but also on the ideological meaning of femininity, sexuality, and power (Kalof 1993:647). Young women’s interpretations of magazine advertisements are also selective, with meanings negotiated and compared to lived experiences (Currie 1997:465). But the dominant ideas about gender roles informs much of the interpretations that young people have of popular culture images of femininity, such as perceiving beautiful and desirable women as in control of men and relationships (Kalof 1993) and making harsh negative judgments of women who do not conform to standard norms of femininity (Currie 1997). Muriel Cantor, a pioneering sociologist of popular culture, concluded that all genres portray women as essentially traditional in their desire for romance and marriage and that happiness depends on having a heterosexual relationship (1987:210).

Since most women become involved in long term relationships with men and typically marry in their twenties and thirties, scholarship on femininity and adult women has often focused on femininity in the context of marriage, such as the division of household labor (e.g., Brines 1994), the relationship between femininity and male spousal aggression (e.g., Boye-Beaman, Leonard, and Senchak 1993), and the relationship between femininity and decision making in marital relationships (e.g., Komter 1989). Norms of femininity and masculinity play a crucial role in the negotiation of household labor. For example, young boys learn early in their gender identity development that the primary definition of masculinity is that which is not feminine or involved with women, and this has important consequences for later division of household labor (Brines 1994: 683). While breadwinning women have less “compensatory” work to do to maintain their femininity, dependent husbands must work hard to maintain their masculinity, explaining why, despite the increasing numbers of women in the workforce, the division of household labor still leans toward more work for women (Brines 1994).

Sociologists have also examined the role of femininity in mediating male spousal aggression. In studying the relationship between gender identity and aggression in marital relationships, Boye-Beaman et al. (1993) measured femininity levels (primarily expressiveness and concern for interpersonal relationships) of both husbands and wives. They found that higher levels of femininity among white husbands tempered husbands’ aggression. But for black couples, higher levels of femininity and/or masculinity among wives tempered husbands’ aggression (Boye-Beaman et al. 1993:312). Other family role intricacies in the domain of femininity and masculinity have been studied by sociologists. For example, Komter (1989) found that while in most couples both partners claimed that decisions were made jointly, egalitarian relations were in fact very rare, and stereotypical feminine and masculine roles played out by husbands and wives perpetuated gendered inequality in marital decision-making processes.

Femininity in later life has also been of some interest to scholars, with most of the research focused on body image among older women. Older women have been found to internalize ageist beauty norms (Hurd 2000). Furthermore, some research reports a double standard of aging in which women view aging negatively in terms of its impact on appearance, while men are either neutral or positive about the impact of aging on appearance (Halliwell and Dittmar 2003). In one of the few ethnographic studies of femininity in older women, Frida Furman (1997) studied beauty shop culture. She found that older women were committed to traditional femininity and beauty standards and sought attractive appearances to achieve social status and acceptability. However, older women’s experiences in beauty shops were also marked by resistance to sexist and ageist norms, providing a place for reaffirmation and social support in the struggle against the larger society’s devaluation of aging women’s bodies.

V. Femininity and the Body

The social construction of the female body is a crucial site of femininity and is situated primarily in standards of beauty, the medicalization of the female body, and women’s reproductive processes.

A. Beauty Standards

As we noted in the introductory remarks, femininity has long been associated with physical beauty and what specific cultures consider to be ideal female characteristics. From a sociological standpoint, beauty standards are critical areas of inquiry, and sociologists in the 1970s and 1980s challenged strict beauty standards and the social emphasis on women’s beauty to the exclusion of other attributes. Sociologists have argued that feminine beauty standards, often referred to as the “beauty mystique,” were unnecessary, time consuming, unhealthy, degrading, futile and made women feel badly about themselves (Greer 1971; Baker 1984; Brownmiller 1984; Lakoff and Scherr 1984).

Scholarship on beauty standards not only describes the exemplars themselves but also how they influence women, men and relationships. In the early 1990s, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth ([1991] 2002) and Susan Bordo’s Unbearable Weight (1993) reinvigorated interest in the myriad ways that beauty standards and femininity norms harm women with their compelling arguments about the resilience of beauty standards among even the most successful U.S. women and the pernicious nature of the ideal of slenderness in the cultural construction of femininity.

There is substantial ethnic and racial diversity in the perception of body image. For example, Caucasian and Hispanic American college students have been found to be more concerned about weight-related body image than African Americans or Asian Americans (Altabe 1996). A study of a national sample of women found that while Latinas and white women were similar in their concerns about embodied femininity and weight, black women were significantly less concerned about body weight than the other women in the sample (Bay-Cheng et al. 2002). Some of the explanations offered for black women’s uniqueness in perceptions of the ideal feminine body include the argument that black women have a more realistic perception of what men consider attractive in women, while Caucasian women had the most distorted views (Demarest and Allen 2000) and that black women’s satisfaction with their overall appearance had more to do with skin color than body weight or shape (Bond and Cash 1992). Bond and Cash’s findings suggest that due to a racialized hierarchy of beauty standards in the United States and in many other societies, black women may be more concerned with their skin color in terms of “the lighter the better” than with issues of weight or shape. Weight/shape issues might preoccupy white women more because they see their own skin color reconfirmed as the standard image of beauty.

B. Medicalization and Reproduction

Much of the sociological scholarship on the medicalization of the female body is based on the work of Michel Foucault (1977) whose theory of the body is particularly relevant to viewing femininity as an oppressive cultural expectation for women. According to Foucault (1977), the body is

involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs . . . it is largely as a force of production that the body is invested with relations of power and domination. (Pp. 25–26)

Indeed, as Judith Butler (1993) reminds us, the link between femininity and materiality, or the physical body, comes from the association of matter with the womb and thus with reproduction (p. 31). Thus, within the mind/body duality that permeates Western societies, masculinity has been equated with abstract thought (a detachment from the material), and femininity has been associated with the materiality and the body. A cultural analysis of biological reproduction, what Donna Haraway (1989) has called “reproductive politics” (p. 352), has been an area of intense scholarly inquiry. Nancy Chodorow examined how female mothering and child care reproduce feminine and masculine personality and roles in The Reproduction of Mothering (1978) and in A Difference Voice (1982). Carol Gilligan described how society’s public affirmation of the right to birth control and abortion brings women who exercise fertility control choices into conflict with conventions of femininity. Emily Martin analyzed how women’s reproduction is culturally constructed through the language of medicine in The Woman in the Body (1992), and Terri Kapsalis (1997) in Public Privates described the performance of femininity during gynecological examinations and how femininity, pathology, and performance are linked to women’s reproduction through the concept of hysteria, a word derived from the Latin hysterus, or uterus (pp. 16–17).

Building on these insights, sociologists have studied the interaction between cultural norms of femininity and the definition and treatment of medical illnesses, such as eating disorders, cosmetic surgery, and hormonal and psychotherapeutic drug treatments. A number of scholars have challenged the gendered construction of illness that reflects and reiterates societal notions of femininity (Bordo 1993; Van Den Wijngaard 1997; Weitz 1998; Lorber and Moore 2002). In his work on gender and stigma, Edwin Schur (1984) argues that medical definitions of mental illness often label women deviant because they do not live up to cultural norms of femininity. For example, in analyzing the social construction of premenstruation, menstruation, and menopause, Lorber and Moore (2002) conclude that when defined as illnesses, these normal (in the sense that almost all women experience them) stages of womanhood are turned into syndromes that lead to hormonal treatments and psychiatric drugs that are used to rationalize the subordinate status of women due to their “feminine troubles” (p. 89). Furthermore, the omnipresent treatment of women’s bodily cycles as illnesses encourages the labeling of all women as potentially incapacitated and emotionally uncontrolled (p. 90), stereotypes that reinforce the cultural construction of women as emotional, fragile, incapacitated, and dangerous. Van Den Wijngaard’s (1997) Reinventing the Sexes demonstrates how dominant scientific explanations of sex differences from the 1960s through the 1980s were based on prevailing notions of femininity and masculinity. For example, the argument that the presence of male hormones in men leads to sexual aggression and action-orientation and the absence of male hormones in women leads to sexual receptiveness, passivity, and the desire for motherhood is evidence that medical science draws on binary images of masculinity and femininity.

C. Resistance to Hegemonic Femininity

The sociology of sport is one of the primary areas in which the body is examined as a site of resistance to feminine body standards. Challenging the dominant male model of sport, scholars have examined the ways in which female athletes have negotiated the traditional standards of femininity, particularly in developing their bodies in ways that are decidedly active, strong, and controlled (Cole 1993; Hall 1993; Loy, Andrews, and Rinehart 1993; Hargreaves 1994; Mikosza and Phillips 1999). However, the “sportswoman” is often portrayed as a paradox because women live in two cultures with conflicting ideals, the sport culture and the larger social culture (Krane et al. 2004:1).

Some sportswomen bring issues of beauty norms and body standards to the forefront, with research documenting that the female athletes have better body images, eating habits, and self-esteems than do women who do not participate in sports (Miller et al. 1999). Alternatively, other studies report that the competitive sports environment and the contradictory messages from sports norms and social norms promote unhealthy body image, eating disorders, and excessive exercising (Johns 1996; Krane 1997). Sociologists have also examined women’s resistance to and negotiation of femininity through purposeful alterations to their bodies in “body projects,” such as tattooing (Shilling 1993; Woodward 1997; Williams and Bendelow 1998; Featherstone 2000; Atkinson 2002). The sociological literature on tattooing and other nonconformist body projects argues that these activities are undertaken by women precisely because they resist hegemonic femininity and beauty norms (Butler 1990; Mifflin 1997; DeMello 2000).

Finally, while femininity is traditionally examined in terms of its inscription on female bodies, some scholars examine men who purposely perform femininity. This scholarship emphasizes Simone de Beauvoir’s argument that one is not born a woman, but rather, one becomes a woman (1953:301). For example, scholars have focused on the ways that men construct femininity through nontraditional gender performances, arguing that feminine men not only resist and negotiate gender norms (Butler 1990; Tyler 2003) but also racism and homophobia (Barrett 1999). On the other hand, it is argued that in their performances some black men are obsessed with a fetishized version of femininity that is white, privileging the femininity of ruling-class white women (hooks 1992).

VI. Femininity in the Workplace

In addition to the scholarship on the construction of the feminine body, sociologists have also examined the role of femininity in a broad range of social institutions, such as education (e.g., Adler et al. 1992), the military (e.g., Cock 1994), the welfare state (e.g., Orloff 1996), family and marriage (e.g., Boye-Beaman et al. 1993), and the media (e.g., Hollows 2000). Since much of our discussion thus far has been engaged with the construction of femininity in the media, the family and in education, we will focus here on femininity norms in relation to the military and the welfare state.

The military and the welfare state are similar in their incorporation and reproduction of cultural norms of femininity through the processes of exclusion, entitlement, and stigma. Militarization in a society is gendered in a way that reflects broader societal norms of femininity and masculinity. In the process of mobilizing resources for war, a distinction between the defended and the defenders shapes both militarism and sexism, with women largely excluded from the role of protector and always cast in the role of the protected (Cock 1994:152). Militarization and war are institutionalized ways in which men reaffirm their masculine role as protector and defender, and the exclusion of women from combat is absolutely necessary to maintain the “ideological structure of patriarchy” based on dichotomous notions of femininity and masculinity (p. 168). Much like the military, the welfare state is also an institution that is informed by and in turn informs norms of femininity (and masculinity), embodying traditional gender ideologies and creating gendered citizenship (Gordon and Fraser 1994; Knijn 1994; Orloff 1996). The welfare system not only treats men and women differently, rendering men independent as wage earners and women dependent as family members that need support, the programs targeted to women tend to carry more negative social stigmas than those targeted to men (Orloff 1996).

VII. Intersectional and Cross-Cultural Femininities

Studying the ways that femininity intersects with race, class, and gender has been particularly important sociological work (Collins 2004; Lovejoy 2001; Pyle 1996; Thompson and Keith 2001). Scholars have emphasized race as a fundamental organizing principle that interacts with other inequalities in the shaping of gendered individuals (Baca Zinn and Thornton Dill 1996). For example, in her intersectional analysis of working-class and middle-class notions of femininity for black women, Patricia Hill Collins (2004) argues that the dominant media images depict black femininity negatively, representing working-class African American women as “bitches” and “circulating images of black women’s promiscuity” (p. 137). For middle-class black women, the media conveys messages about their potential for not becoming working class, and the message of femininity for middle-class African American women is that “they must somehow figure out a way to become Black ‘ladies’ by avoiding these working-class traps. . . . Doing so means negotiating the complicated politics that accompany this triad of bitchiness, promiscuity, and fertility” (p. 139).

Another important development in the sociology of femininity is the cross-cultural scholarship that examines femininity in a wide range of international contexts, such as Indonesia (Sears 1996), Puerto Rico (Crespo 1991), Southern India (Niranjana 2001), and South Africa (Mindry 1999). Scholars have also focused on the construction of femininity in multiethnic contexts, such as Chinese schoolgirls in Great Britain (Archer and Francis 2005) and Asian women in America (Creef 2004). Crosscultural scholarship emphasizes the notion of femininities that not only depends on gender, race, class, and sexuality differences but are also geographically, spatially, and culturally specific. Scholars have examined the construction of femininities in a global context as reflections of local gender inequalities (Laurie et al. 1999), in terms of the psychological dimensions of cross-cultural femininities (Hofstede et al. 1998), and in connection with the culturally and geographically specific constructions of femininity in space and on the body (Niranjana 2001). Much of this scholarship focuses on how femininity has been constructed in contexts of colonialism, imperialism, and globalization. For example, Sears (1996) discusses the role of colonialism and imperialism in the production of Indonesian femininities. In a postcolonial, postmodern world, Westerners often perceive Indonesian women as exotically feminine, particularly in representations of popular tourist spots such as Bali (p. 3). The idealized Western romantic stereotype of women from exotic lands has been linked to colonialism by scholars from a wide range of disciplines, including performance studies and anthropology (e.g., Lutz and Collins 1993; Desmond 1999).

VIII. Interdisciplinary Scholarship on Femininity

As noted above, femininity has been studied in a wide range of interdisciplinary arenas. Art historians have examined how visual images depict women watching themselves being looked at by men (Berger 1972), and English scholars have studied the objectification of women in representations of the beautiful feminine corpse (Bronfen 1992). Philosophers have written on the role of femininity in aesthetics and fashion and the ways that gender, race, and sexual orientation inform the concept of beauty (Brand 2000). Ethnographers of girlhood educational processes have examined the influence of peer group reinforcement of femininity in an anthropological framework (Holland and Eisenhart 1990) and the discourses that define female sexuality and embodiment from the view of communications and women’s studies (Gonick 2003). Psychologists have worked on the measurement of femininity, masculinity, and androgyny (Bem 1974) and the identification of women’s symbolic images of femininity and sex (Ussher 1997). Cultural historians have studied many aspects of the changing constructions of femininity over time, such as the image of the beautiful woman over 200 years in America (Banner 1983).

IX. Future Directions for Scholarship on Femininity

There is great potential for the future directions of scholarship on femininity both within the discipline of sociology and through interdisciplinary scholarship. There is a need for more research on femininities cross-culturally. Issues of the body and health, particularly diseases that affect women’s reproductive health such as breast, cervical, and ovarian cancers, are areas that need more examination in terms of their relation to norms of femininity. For example, the popular media discourse about breast cancer revolves around femininity and standards of beauty, sexuality, and motherhood. The increasing normalization of cosmetic surgery in many Western countries is also an area that requires more scholarship with regard to its role in amplifying feminine beauty standards among women of all ages.

In terms of resistance to and renegotiation of the sociocultural norms of femininity, scholarship on men performing femininity and women performing femininity in nontraditional ways is also crucial. Rupp and Taylor’s (2003) recent publication, Drag Queens at the 801 Cabaret, is an example of the type of work that expands our understanding of femininity and masculinity as cultural performances and uncouples the performance of femininity with women and of masculinity with men.

Constructions of femininity continue to change. Donna Haraway (1989) has written that images of woman and the feminine body as linked to reproduction, motherhood, and domesticity are in decline in “nearly every discursive arena, from popular culture to legal doctrine” (p. 352). She argues that there is nothing about being female that is true for all women and that the discursive nature of womanness and femininity leads to the recognition of the importance of creating coalitions among women who are not afraid of “partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (Haraway 1991:154–155). Not surprised that the concept of woman becomes elusive just as the networks between people on the planet have become multiple and complex, Haraway envisions a cyborg form that transforms femininity and women’s experiences, a “creature in a postgender world” (pp. 149, 150, 160). For example, women of color have a cyborg identity, a subjectivity constructed from the merger of multiple “outsider identities” (p. 174). Audre Lorde (1984), an early champion of forging a community of differences, wrote that survival depends on making connections with others identified as outside and different to refashion “a world in which we can all flourish . . . learning how to take our differences and make them strengths” (p. 112). Gender, femininity and masculinity are at the center of classifications of difference, but what is needed is a theory of difference that is not binary since usthem discourses justify oppression and domination (Haraway 1991).

See also:

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