Sapphistries: A Global History of Love between Women by Leila J. Rupp (Intersections: Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Genders and Sexualities Series: NYU Press) From the ancient poet Sappho to tombois in contemporary Indonesia, women throughout history and around the globe have desired, loved, and had sex with other women. In beautiful prose, Sapphistries tells their stories, capturing the multitude of ways that diverse societies have shaped female same-sex sexuality across time and place.
Leila J. Rupp reveals how, from the time of the very earliest societies, the possibility of love between women has been known, even when it is feared, ignored, or denied. We hear women in the sex-segregated spaces of convents and harems whispering words of love. We see women beginning to find each other on the streets of London and Amsterdam, in the aristocratic circles of Paris, in the factories of Shanghai. We find women’s desire and love for women meeting the light of day as Japanese schoolgirls fall in love, and lesbian bars and clubs spread from 1920s Berlin to 1950s Buffalo. And we encounter a world of difference in the twenty-first century, as transnational concepts and lesbian identities meet local understandings of how two women might love each other.
Giving voice to words from the mouths and pens of women, and from men’s prohibitions, reports, literature, art, imaginings, pornography, and court cases, Rupp also creatively employs fiction to imagine possibilities when there is no historical evidence. Sapphistries combines lyrical narrative with meticulous historical research, providing an eminently readable and uniquely sweeping story of desire, love, and sex between women around the globe from the beginning of time to the present.
Rupp’s audacious, wonderfully readable history combines thorough scholarship with astute perceptions, and perhaps births a new crossover genre as she enfolds imaginary scenes plus cuttings from fiction within factual findings. Sappho, lover of women and icon transcending history and geography, is the root term chosen not for the women, but for their “histories and stories.” To that end, Rupp uses literary texts “not as historical sources but as ways to help us imagine answers to questions that cannot be addressed with existing evidence.” So the first reference to Amazons is from Homer, as Rupp charts responses to love between women, from being celebrated in Ancient Greece to feared by the Ancient Romans, and on to denial and dismissal. Her discussion embraces tales true and imagined regarding twelfth-century monasteries and Mideastern harems to twenty-first-century transnational concepts of lesbian identities. With its copious endnotes and bibliography, Rupp’s unique chronicle is an essential addition to women’s and gender studies collections. --Whitney Scott
excerpt: Beginning with an imagined prehistory and moving around the globe, this book provides a uniquely sweeping and global view of female same-sex love and sexuality.' Chapter 2 deals with mythical prehistories of woman-only societies and theories of the origins of human societies, as well as creation stories and myths from diverse cultural contexts that engage with the possibilities of female same-sex love. Chapter 3 ranges across Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Inca, and Aztec civilizations, providing context for the better-known histories of Greek and Roman cultures, including Sappho of Lesbos. Then, in chapter 4, I move across a long stretch of time, considering the traditions of the great world religions and then exploring women's relationships in sex-segregated spaces such as monasteries and polygynous households, women mystics and witches, and women caught in the act of having sex with other women. Chapter 5 turns to institutionalized cross-gender or third-gender phenomena in Native American, Indian, and Balkan societies; "female husbands" who, as social males, married women in some African societies; and women who secretly crossed the gender line and married women in early modern European societies and later in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Chapter 6 explores the emergence of nascent communities: the beginnings of urban groups of women (the "roaring girls" of London, the "randy women" of Amsterdam, women in brothels and prisons), aristocratic European women accused of tribadism, marriage resistance movements in China, portrayals of love between women in Urdu poetry, and the emergence of romantic friendship among women across Europe and the United States. In chapter 7, I explore, in the context of different words applied to women who had sex with other women, the emergence of the concept of the lesbian, its spread from the European sexologists to China and Japan, and the complicated responses of women around the world, who sometimes acknowledged and sometimes rejected and sometimes ignored a potential new identity. Chapter 8 treats cultures and communities of women who, sometimes deliberately and sometimes not, made love between women public. Beginning with communities of schoolgirls in Europe, the United States, China, and Japan, I turn to feminist communities; the private-yet-public world of the Paris salon of Natalie Barney; the lesbian commercial establishments that emerged in New York, Paris, and Berlin in the 1920s and in other places in the 1950s; and the growth and spread of lesbian publications and organizations from the 1920s on. Chapter 9 considers the wide range of ways that women in the contemporary world have continued to love women, from finding one another in sex-segregated spaces to falling in love with co-wives to marrying one another legally to crossing the gender line to embracing masculine-feminine pairings to falling in love with their friends—in fact, every way that women in the past found to express their desire and love. The conclusion reviews this sprawling history and returns to the question of how a consideration of sapphistries revises our understanding of the global history of same-sex sexuality.
Another major goal of this book is to undermine a Western-dominated narrative of progress and to join the voices of scholars who have argued for a complex understanding of the ways that local and global identities interact in the contemporary world. The historical sources are much more numerous for Europe and the United States and for modern history, so there is no way to provide a balanced account with regard to coverage. But I have worked hard to locate scholarship on every part of the world and, more important, to avoid a narrative of triumphal progress based on the Western tradition. This is not to deny how much the successes of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer movements, where they have flourished, have changed the world for the better. But a global view makes clear, for example, that emergence into public, so important in the story of same-sex sexuality in the Western world, is not everywhere significant; that desire and love between women can flourish within heterosexual social arrangements; and that the emergence of a lesbian identity—the focus of so much of the scholarship on the history of female same-sex sexuality—is a minor part of the story of sapphistries. A global view also reveals the persistent inclination to blame others—people from other countries or class or racial others within a society—for sexual desires and behaviors denounced as deviant.
So Sapphistries is the story of goddesses and Amazons, Sappho and the Arab Sappho, nuns and witches, manly women and female husbands, roaring girls and aristocratic tribades, sworn sisters and sweet doganas, schoolgirls in love and Parisian salonnières, German girlfriends and butches and fems, mummies and babies, toms and dees, tombois and mati. But let us begin at the beginning by wondering whether sex between women might have existed in the earliest human societies.
Orgasm and the West: A History of Pleasure from the 16th Century to the Present by Robert Muchembled (Paperback) Does the orgasm have a history? An almost incommunicable individual emotion, yet also a cultural reality, the orgasm is part of our collective experience and also something separate from it. Its history is that of the hidden body, of forbidden desires, of flesh constrained by taboos and morality.
In this major new book, Robert Muchembled uncovers a fascinating history of sexual pleasure and the repression of pleasure that lies at the heart of Western civilization. Contrary to Foucault, he argues that a powerful repression of the carnal appetites was established at the very heart of our civilization around the middle of the sixteenth century, and that it only really lost ground in the 1960s. Producing a fundamental tension between the libido of each individual and collective ideals, it was a process that constantly promoted a powerful labour of sublimation throughout this long period, under the successive cultural covers of religion, philosophy and the laws of the capitalist market. The coercive system laid down in the seventeenth century formed the basis for alternate cycles of liberation and constraint, whose fluctuations were fundamental to the general dynamism of the West because they created the need to compensate for the mental disequilibrium they caused.
Today, argues Muchembled, the United States remains deeply marked by the old repressive system, while in Europe this has been shaken by the emergence of new forms of hedonism. Anchored in the dogma of shameful sensuality and the concealed body, the repressive system has been disrupted by the sudden irruption of the female orgasm onto the public stage. Whereas the United States continues to cultivate a nostalgia for the familial and sexual archetype bequeathed by the repressive tradition, Europe finds itself in uncharted territory facing new questions about sexual pleasure and the good life.
The idea of pleasure covers a multiform reality. From sensual gratification to the aesthetic delights or the bliss of the spiritual life, by way of the pleasures of the table and not forgetting the perverse thrills, the spectrum of human happiness is very varied. In ancient China, under the Han dynasty, scholars defined the term precisely by relating it to an action (to take or to seek pleasure), to a state (such as euphoria) or to feelings and needs. They distinguished three pos-sible forms of pleasure: the immediate satisfaction of the desires; the delight associated with pride of possession, of goods and of persons (palaces and gardens, fine horses, beautiful women, magnificent robes, good cooking, exquisite wines, etc.); and the pleasure derived from a philosophical reflection on the perception of joys experienced, which sometimes led to one of them being deferred in order ultimately to obtain a more extended and more intense rapture, even to its being spurned. The great sages advised the emperors to pursue a true politics of pleasure, so as to give to the expenditure of energy, time and wealth entailed in seeking it forms likely to strengthen the state, the family and the person, rather than corrupt them.' They believed that the virtue and the asceticism of the Confucian way crowned the edifice that led mankind towards what Westerners would call happiness.'
But let me not overreach myself. This book makes no claim to range so widely. I have chosen to confine it to sexuality, returning from this perspective to a subject that has been little studied in spite of the synthesizing work of Michel Foucault in 1976.3 Contrary to Foucault, I believe that a powerful repression of the carnal appetites was established at the very heart of our civilization around the middle of the sixteenth century, and that it only really lost ground in the
1960s. Producing a fundamental tension between the libido of each individual and the collective ideals, this process constantly promoted a powerful labour of sublimation throughout this long period, under the successive cultural covers of religion, Catholic or Protestant, of the ideal of moderation of the philosophes of the Enlightenment and the doctors of the nineteenth century, and of the laws of the capitalist market. On the coercive base laid down in the seventeenth century were then imposed alternate cycles of liberation and constraint, whose fluctuations I believe to be fundamental to an explanation of the general dynamism of Europe, because they persistently created the need to compensate for the mental disequilibrium they caused. On the one hand, the accumulation of unsatisfied desires during periods of intense frustration gave rise to a growing demand for emancipation, which eventually unleashed a libertine surge; on the other, many people subjected, willingly or not, to the tyrannies of moral rigour developed a behavioural structure which literally drove them forward, helping to develop their personal talents to the full in many fields of activity, such as religious proselytism, war and world conquest, artistic and intellectual activities and international trade.
Many of the classic explanations for the originality of the European experience revolve around the antagonistic pairing of spirituality and economics. It seems to me, however, that to refer primarily to Christianity or to capitalism is not wholly satisfactory, because these notions, while they describe objective realities, are also cultural products, the translation into discourse of the social and material facts whose contours they define. This is why I propose a broader interpretation which involves the totality of human relations, maintaining that the sublimation of the erotic impulses has been the basis of the originality of our continent since the Renaissance. It went well beyond the norms imposed by the theologians and governments,. permanently controlling the explosive and highly destabilizing potential of sexuality by constantly adapting to major changes. I believe that its apparent form, the repression of lust, is an essential element in the invention of Western modernity and provides the key to understanding the intimate relationship forged between the spiritual and the material, the body and the mind, one human being and others. Max Weber linked the birth and development of capitalism to the Calvinist ethic, a way of explaining the European genius by religious sociology.' Broadening his perspective, I consider that the fundamental originalities of our collective 'fabric' are the product of an intense effort to control and reorient carnal desire; however, I see this as something consistently distilled by all the life forces at work in the common matrix for nearly five centuries, not as a simple moral consequence of the Protestant spirit. Here, I agree with Norbert Elias, who described the dynamic of our culture in terms of personal sublimation put at the service of overall progress, through 'the civilizing process',5 but I wish to complement his work, primarily focused on the generic evolution of the phenomenon and the production of the social bond, in a way that will expose the functioning of the hidden mechanism that has allowed this evolution by taming the volcanic power of the sensual appetites. Since Freud, such an approach may appear banal. However, it remains to be explained how society, source of invisible powers, is able to channel our intimate desires so as to sublimate them and make them serve the group as a whole. My theme combines a history of sexual pleasure, a consideration of the body, both in scholarly theory and in its concrete perception, and an investigation of the human Subject, from the age of contempt and almost total taboo, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to the present triumph of narcissism.
For the purposes of this book, I have decided to restrict my study to the 500 years between the Renaissance and our own day, a period I see as possessing a profound unity, and to compare two great countries, France and England. Significantly different, according to well-established stereotypes, implacable rival possessors of the greatest world empires until recent decolonizations, both upholding prestigious traditions, they prove surprisingly similar in the matter of the perception and management of the orgasm. One Catholic, the other Protestant, their long parallel evolution encourages me to play down the importance of religion in the definition and the establishment of an identical self-control of the physical passions, culminating in the production of a 'libidinal economy' which has been the basis of the extraordinary European growth since the Great Discoveries. Rival capitals, Paris and London were its favoured laboratories. At the end of this period, the United States — both rebellious heir of proud Albion and fascinated by her French rival at the time of La Fayette — will serve as a third yardstick by which to measure both the ancient similarities with the hedonistic Old Continent and the recent increasing divergences from it.
My book is in four parts. In the first I present my thesis, through the main characteristics of the Western approach to carnal pleasure over the last five centuries and the way in which it has formed a particular pact with our civilization. Christianity tried from the beginning to confine the molten lava of the vital instinct under a carapace of interdicts and prohibitions, but it was only in the middle of the sixteenth century that the moral pressure intensified, among Catholics and Protestants alike, whose action was supported by strict new laws promulgated by the civil powers. Personal self-control and the guilt increasingly attached to immodest or obscene behaviour helped to impose a system of sexuality that was purely procreative, accept-able solely within the context of marriage, its pleasures even then to be enjoyed only in moderation. All other behaviour was condemned. Although such a glaciation of behaviour was more moralist's dream than true reflection of reality, it still contributed to the growth of an inner tension in those who tried to master or curtail their desires in obedience to the commandments of the Church and of monarchical legislation. The vital energy thus channelled was frequently reoriented to the benefit of the great collective ideals. In fact, the increasing surveillance of the body and the mind denounced by Michel Foucault had unintended positive consequences, because society benefited from the accumulation of energies that ensued.' It also helped to imprint deep in our culture, generation after generation, the indelible mark of the suffering at the heart of pleasure, accompanied in some people by a pronounced taste for transgression. The erotic unsayable was therefore transformed into a secret motor of human actions; it produced an instinctual personal imbalance that was more creative than destructive and it generated alternating phases of repression and liberation that enriched society. Vice and virtue succeeded one another, each in its turn putting its mark on a century, on a few decades or on a short space of time, until the 1960s, when women's sexual liberation and the unstoppable advance of the aspiration to instant happiness signalled major changes, even a revolution.
The three parts that follow describe the main stages in this evolution since the Renaissance.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, pleasure could be con-ceived of only in pain, sorrow or rebellion. This was not only due to the ancient Christian mentality which opposed the exaltation of the body the better to save the soul. The tradition now found a new consensus among decision-makers and men of power. States became increasingly concerned to ensure the obedience of their subjects, and the towns, thriving thanks to nascent capitalism and obsessed with economic efficiency, demanded more discipline on the part of their inhabitants. The individual emerged, because men and women were driven to affirm their existence and to experience their guilt more deeply before God, the king and the representatives of governments. Indelible imprints, the prohibitions linked pleasure closely to sin.
Strict enforcement of the laws made only too real the mortal danger threatening transgressors, as some were publicly burned for speaking too openly about the delights of physical love. Such memories would linger in the West for a long time to come, right up to the radical changes of the 1960s. Perhaps they have not entirely disappeared in our age of epicureanism?
Between 1700 and 1960, two great cycles succeeded one another, the first of moral laxity, the second of Puritanism. The Enlightenment showed eroticism in a new light and pornography flourished, but the Victorian veil came down with a vengeance, between 1800 and 1960, concealing breasts and other things that could not decently be contemplated. Nineteenth-century medicine seized control of sexual power, which it bestowed in its entirety on adult married men. By emphasizing the natural coldness, even frigidity, of their chaste spouses, it assured the triumph of the double standard of masculine behaviour, which allowed men to have no complexes about frequenting the prostitutes who alone were capable of offering them sexual satisfaction. It imposed a form of laicized sublimation, however, insisting on the absolute necessity of moderating the instincts, because it likened sexual excess to a sickness that might prove fatal, in particular for boys who indulged in masturbation. The insistent theme of pleasure in suffering thus continued on its course by draping itself in scientific certitudes.
Since the 1960s, the old rigorist model has persisted in the United States, but in Europe hedonism rules. The basic principles governing the sexual act seem to have been transformed in the Old Continent. The human sciences now openly describe notions and attitudes that caused deep embarrassment only a few decades ago, excitedly probing into the private life of one and all, uninhibitedly explaining what was for earlier centuries a mysterious and sacred paradigm. The traditional equilibrium, anchored in the dogma of shameful sensuality and the concealed body, is seriously threatened by the sudden irruption of the female orgasm onto the public and the private stage, an unprecedented innovation with major consequences in the short term and incalculable effects in the long term. The carnal pact, basis of the social contract in our world, because it produces the conjugal tie whose importance was until recently considered primordial, is now being renegotiated by the two halves of the human race; a third actor has meanwhile emerged, the homosexual Subject, who is openly demanding his or her rights.
The whole construction has been badly shaken, in an age when navel-gazing, even egoism, seems to prevail. This conclusion raises questions about the huge transformations which are pulling contemporary European societies towards the good life, while the United States cultivates a nostalgia for the familial and sexual archetype bequeathed by the repressive tradition, so is much more suspicious of the lure of pleasure.
The phenomenon merits particular attention at a time when major upheavals are looming on the world stage, which call for dynamic and inventive changes to the Western model. This requirement inter-sects with the process by which the couple is adapting to the challenges of modernity, because the concordant discourses promoted by many prescriptive authorities urge partners with increasing insistence to separate the sexual drive for pleasure from the desire for a child. I have tried in this book to formulate a broader form of the cultural history of societies, taking account of the contributions of different disciplines and of the anxieties and questions of our times. An exchange of views is necessary to an attempt to provide new answers to one of the oldest enigmas in the world: what is pleasure and what purpose does it serve?
Gendered Bodies: Feminist Perspectives by Lisa Jean Moore, Judith Lorber, Alexander M. Holsinger (Roxbury Publishing Company) The human body has been an object of fascination from the beginning of the human species, judging from the little prehistoric statues we see in museums. In this book, we explore feminist contributions to contemporary social studies of the human body. We present the ways bodies are constructed in Western society, which is ordered by gender.
Although our focus is on gendered social constructions of bodies and their consequences, we show how racial constructions, economic and class issues, and the influence of sexual orientations intersect with gender to make the human body a social body. White people are privileged in the United States, so members of other racial and ethnic groups are under the burden of having to look and act "White" to improve their chances for a good job, admission to an elite school, or entry into a popular social circle. Latinas with plumper figures may go on extreme diets, and some Asians use cosmetic surgery to make their eyes look bigger. Lighter-skinned African American media stars and politicians experience greater social acceptance, which can lead to rifts within African American communities. Similarly, because homosexuals are so devalued, gay men and women in the public eye may choose to look "straight" in their appearance, even when they are open about their sexuality. Working-class women and men, who can't afford expensive beauty and fitness services, can't compete in appearance with toned, slim, surgically altered middle- and upper-class people.
These are some of the ways that social norms and expectations shape bodies. Other ways are stigmatizing fat people, disrespecting old people, making people with disabilities invisible, and assuming that everyone is heterosexual. Although it is impossible to separate gender norms from those imposed by social class, racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual communities, in this book we will be foregrounding gender.
We live in a deeply gendered society, where work, family, and other major areas of life are organized by dividing people into two categories, "men" and "women," assigning them to different jobs and positions, and socializing them to do the work of their assigned category. The categorization of infants into "boys" and "girls" may originally be based on genitalia, but the systematic allocation of people into gendered positions is done through social processes.
Inequalities emerge through the distribution of privileges and rewards based on this allocation of social positions by gender, so that men's work is more prestigious and better paid than work done by women. Child care and domestic work are women's unpaid work for the family. Cultural and knowledge production reflects and legitimates gender divisions. The division of people by gender also permeates social relationships in friendships and other informal groups. In sum, we see ourselves and the world around us through the binary gender schema.
The division of society and our immediate social worlds by gender is so taken for granted that we rarely probe the processes that produce it. They are virtually invisible. Yet it is our actions and beliefs that construct the gendered social order. It is maintained by those who benefit from it, as well as those who are shortchanged by the resulting inequalities. Women and men, for the most part, go along with gendered norms for appropriate masculine and feminine behavior because their identities and self-esteem are built on meeting social expectations. A girl or woman who looks or acts masculine and a boy or man who looks or acts feminine are criticized, stigmatized, and sometimes ostracized.
In Western societies, most people are persuaded to accept gender inequalities by a belief that they emerge from the body. This belief claims that it is our "natural differences" that explain why men and women have different roles and positions in work organizations, politics, education systems, and the other main areas of society, and why men predominate in positions of power and authority. These "natural" explanations are reinforced by culture, the mass media, religions, and knowledge systems and erase the ways in which social processes produce gendered bodies and behavior.
Using feminist social construction theory, we argue that the differences between women and men are produced through social practices that encourage boys and girls to use their bodies and minds differently. Boys and men are expected to be assertive and rational; girls and women are expected to be compliant and nurturing. Gendered work organizations divide jobs into "women's work" and "men's work." Movies, television, and marketing focus women's lives on marriage and motherhood, men's lives on a wider range of physical and mental activities.
The socially produced gendered attributes and activities are differently valued and have different life outcomes. Boys' and men's bodies and behavior have a higher value in Western society and are intended to bring economic independence and political power. Girls' and women's bodies are often exploited sexually and maternally, and their behavior is intended to bring economic dependence and domestic harmony. These effects, we argue, are not natural to women and men but are socially produced through many of the processes described in this book.
Beliefs About Bodies
According to feminist theory, claims about bodies are part of the social arrangements and cultural beliefs that constitute the gendered social order. As a social institution, gender produces two categories of people, "men" and "women," with different characteristics, skills, personalities, and body types. These gendered attributes, which we call manliness" or "masculinity" and "womanliness" or "femininity," are designed to fit people into adult social roles, such as "mother," "father," nurse," or "construction worker."
Men's physical capabilities are, for the most part, considered superior to women's. Feminist theories have examined the contexts of this superiority in sports and physical labor. As bodies prone to illness and
early death, as well as higher infant mortality rates and lower pain thresholds, men's are actually more fragile than women's, and feminist analysis has tried to tease the physiological from the social, cultural, and environmental in illness and death rates.
As some feminists argue, domination requires that the subordinate group be marked as different from the superior group. Thus, claims that women and men are physically different become fodder for the development and perpetuation of a gender hierarchy or a dominance system favoring men over women. Through the disciplines of science and medicine, socially constructed gendered body differences are recast as natural, physical, universal, transhistorical, and permanent facts. The common belief is that men's and women's bodies are different because they were born that way. We argue that male and female bodies are indeed different, but they are, for the most part, made that way by social practices and expectations of how girls and boys, women and men, should look and act.
People experience their bodies, and these experiences produce different senses of self. Women's experiences of menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and breast cancer have been examined through critical feminist perspectives on science, medicine, and psychology, as have men's experiences of sexuality, impotence, and prostate cancer. In more specific contexts—sex selection, gene manipulation, ritual genital cutting, cosmetic surgery, rape, physical violence, sports, disabledness, and transgendering—feminist perspectives have grappled with cultural values and theories of power and control to analyze the complexities of these body-based phenomena.
The theme that runs through all of these topics is gendered bodies. Human bodies are not allowed to develop in all their diversity of shapes, sizes, and physical capabilities. Human bodies are not "natural"; they are socially produced under specific cultural circumstances. They are shaped by sociocultural ideals of what female and male bodies should look like and be capable of (and further shaped by national, racial ethnic, and social class ideals for each). Bodies are socially constructed for dominance and submission and are symbolic in different ways. Simple attributes, like height, become ways of signaling superiority and inferiority. We believe that men should be taller than women, and we make it so: If a woman in a heterosexual couple is taller than the man, she typically wears flat shoes and stands one step below him for photographs.
Feminism has increased awareness of how bodies are gendered by making visible the cultural and social dynamics that produce difference and dominance out of male and female bodies. Feminists have called into question many accepted "truths" about gender and bodies and have challenged the evidence on which dubious claims of men's physical superiority are based. In addition, the practice of feminism has the political aim of improving the status and treatment of women and girls by valuing women's bodies as much as men's bodies.
Feminists have tried to develop a precise vocabulary for referring to the body. We use the following terms in this book:
Sex: Biological criteria for classification as female or male: chromosomes (XX for female, XY for male), hormones (estrogen for female, testosterone for male), genitalia (clitoris, vagina, and uterus for female; penis and scrotum for male), procreative organs (ovaries and uterus for female, testes for male).
Secondary sex characteristics: At puberty, in males, testosterone increases muscle size and mass, deepens the voice, and accelerates growth of facial and body hair. In females, estrogen produces breasts and menstruation, widens the pelvis, and increases the amount of body fat in hips, thighs, and buttocks.
Sex category: Self-identification and self-display as a female or male; the assumption is that identity and self-presentation are congruent with the sex assigned at birth, but they may not be.
Gender: Legal status as a woman or man, usually based on sex assigned at birth, but may be legally changed. Gender status produces patterns of social expectations for bodies, behavior, emotions, family and work roles. Gendered expectations can change over time both on individual and social levels.
Gender display: Presentation of self as a gendered person through the use of markers and symbols, such as clothing, hairstyles, jewelry. Managing interaction with others using attitudes and physical activities considered appropriate for one's sex category.
Sexuality and sexual identity: Attraction to and desire for a sexual object choice of one or both of the same or opposite sex or gender. Common identity terms are homosexual or gay and lesbian (same sex or gender), heterosexual (other sex or gender), bisexual (both sexes or genders), queer sexuality (fluidity and variety).
Intersexual: A person born with procreative or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male—appearing genitally female but having mostly male-typical anatomy internally, or a girl (XX) born with a noticeably large clitoris or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy (XY) born with a notably small penis or with a divided scrotum resembling female labia. A person born with mosaic genetics, so that some cells have XX chromosomes and some have XY. Intersex characteristics may not show up until puberty, or at attempts to conceive. Some intersexuals are not identified until an autopsy is done after death.
Transgender: Identification as someone who is challenging, questioning, or changing gender from that assigned at birth to a chosen gender—male-to-female (MtF), female-to-male (FtM), transitioning (between genders), gender queer (transgressive, challenging gender norms).
Heteronormativity: A social environment that assumes that a "normal" boy or girl will inevitably fall in love with or have sex with a person of the other sex or gender. Heterosexuality is taken for granted as the natural, default state, and homosexuality is seen as a deviant, abnormal state. The social pressures for compulsory heterosexuality are invisible.
Patriarchy: Originally, a social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line. Now, a belief system that presupposes the dominance of certain groups of men, the priority of high-status men's agendas and interests, and the acceptability of men's acquisition of a disproportionately large share of social and political power.
The intent of this book is to cover a broad spectrum of topics relating to the body, as a way of foregrounding the body in feminist social science theory. Although we understand feminism to be a theoretical and political movement composed of eclectic perspectives, feminist theories and activism have always considered the body as imperative, and some postmodern scholarship is entirely about the body and its problematics. Radical feminism has focused on sexual and procreative aspects of the female body and on the politics of menstruation and menopause. Feminist studies of men and masculinities have incorporated body studies through examining sports, violence, and media representations of men. There have been many liberal and poststructuralist feminist critiques of Western culture's emphasis on thinness, Caucasian beauty, and cosmetic surgery. Theoretically, feminism has analyzed the interplay among the physiological body, the sexual body, and the social body. In this book, the focus is on gendered aspects of how bodies are shaped, used, and abused, with an emphasis on how gendered body practices perpetuate and reinforce hierarchies of power.
The book starts with a review of theories of the body and then presents eight themes with feminist readings. The readings were chosen to show some of the feminist work on the topic and to present a range of examples of what is discussed more conceptually in the text. Each chapter has an alphabetic list of key concepts that are covered in the text, three readings, recommended books and articles, and internet sources. At the end of the book, we offer class exercises and a list of movies with somatic themes.
There are other aspects of gendered bodies than those presented in this book that could be covered. We have tried to choose topics that would be of most interest to college students in the United States. Although we present examples from other cultures, our focus is North America.
Chapter 1. Neither Nature nor Nurture reviews feminist critiques of theories of the gendered body and brain: loop-back systems in producing sex/gender differences, hormonal influences on women's and men's behavior, prenatal and genetic "hardwiring" of brain structure, evolutionary development, and another look at a nature-versus-nurture accidental experiment.
Chapter 2. 'Are You My Mother? My Father?" shows how conception, procreation, pregnancy, and childbirth, assumed to be natural, are socially constructed as gendered. Particular issues covered are prenatal sex and genetic testing, new technologies, surrogacy, infertility, maternal responsibility and powerlessness in pregnancy and childbirth, the medicalization of "natural childbirth," the search for the male pill, and representations of the masculinity of sperm in children's facts-of-life books.
Chapter 3. Barbie and G.I. Joe focuses on how social expectations and self-regulatory behaviors lead to gendered body performances of children and to the production of masculinity, violence, and social empowerment in sports. Topics covered are the shape of the ideal body, gendered children's games, Title IX and gender equality in sports, steroids and sports, and sports and violence.
Chapter 4. Eve, Venus, and "Real Women" explores the combination of conformity, agency, and resistance evident in the social construction of women's bodies and examines the extent to which women can take control over the social definition of their bodies. The chapter discusses menstrual activism, the clitoris and female sexuality, ritual genital cutting, breast cancer and body image, eating disorders, and elective cosmetic surgeries.
Chapter 5. Adonis, Don Juan, and "Real Men" describes the social construction of the ideal Western male body and sexuality and also shows how, in different contexts, a variety of male bodies and sexualities are valorized. Particular issues covered are idealizations of male bodies; Black, gay, and urban variations; prostate cancer and men's gender identity; the quest for a male contraceptive pill; and the controversy over routine nonmedical circumcision of male infants.
Chapter 6 Ambiguous Bodies discusses the lives and politics of inter-sexed and transgendered people, whose "ambiguity" is constructed against a narrow view of "normality," and whose politics are organized around efforts to gain recognition and legitimacy. Topics covered are living on the boundaries of the sex/gender binaries, transgendering, intersexuality, and the politics of ambiguity.
Chapter 7. You Don't Need Arms and Legs to Sing discusses the continuum of physical functioning, the social construction of "disability," and the standpoint of those at the intersection of body function, gender, and sexual orientation. Topics covered are gendering and disabling, disability and gendered sexuality, community and isolation, and transcending the body.
Chapter 8. Political Bodies explores the gendered aspects of violence and violations of human bodies. Topics covered are men and women in the military and in prison, sexual torture, suicide bombers, sexual slavery, and prostitution.
Chapter 9. Social Bodies discusses how physical bodies become social bodies through community values and social status, the symbolic use of women's bodies by the three major world religions, and how knowledge of the body is determined by social contexts. Topics covered are the effect of disasters on bodies, body economics, religious bodies, and how Our Bodies, Ourselves, the groundbreaking North American women's health movement book, has been adapted to different cultural and national contexts.