What is Gender?

Designing Women (and Men, and
Everyone in Between)
Why Studying Gender Matters
What is Gender?
• 1950s: biological
attributes, sexual
characteristics and social
roles that characterize a
person as male or female.
• 1960s: social movements
begin to locate identity in
systems of power;
feminism centers ideas of
oppression in sex itself
• “Women’s studies” and its
various permutations give
way to gender studies,
recognizing role of the
social, performance and
art itself in producing
gendered bodies.
Simone de Beauvoir, The
Second Sex (1948)
Men are human, women are “not
men;” they represent sex itself.
Women have no common past or
history, and thus no identity: it
becomes the task of feminism to
imagine all of these things.
Men argue that women’s
subordination is natural: but isn’t
the status of this truth a selfjustifying one? Relativism.
Men and women are united in
their mutual and unequal
dependence: “To decline to be the
Other, to refuse to be a party to
the deal – this would be for
women to renounce all the
advantages conferred upon them
by their alliance with the superior
Men profit from inequality, and
from controlling the terms of
Does visual art have a gender?
Women artists
Male artist
Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and
Narrative Cinema,” (1975), film and media
studies, Birkbeck College, University of
Psychoanalysis as a critical tool.
Scopophiia as a source of erotic pleasure that
is structured by gender.
Phallocentric society scripts women as the
passive, gazed-upon figure; men as active
lookers. Because of how cinema is
structured, the viewer always looks from a
male perspective
In modern film, there is a division of labor in
which men act and women inspire action.
Cinema structures the way women can be
looked at.
Three different ways of looking: the camera,
the audience, and the way the characters
look at each other within the frame.
Women’s images have been “stolen” by
traditional film, and only by destroying
traditional conventions can women regain
filmic agency.
Janet Leigh as Marion
Crane in “Psycho” (Alfred
Hitchcock, 1960
A woman
What is she looking at?
Where is she looking?
Her open mouth
Christian Dior’s “New Look” Vogue,
March 15 1947
Case Study: Judy Chicago
B. Judith Sylvia Cohen, 1939
Rejected from Chicago Art Institute
in 1956; attends UCLA
1970: begins teaching “feminist
art” at Fresno State, changes her
name to Judy Chicago
1971: goes to Cal Arts, establishes
Feminist Art Program.
With Miriam Schapiro, launches
Womanhouse as a women’s living
and studio space.
January 1972: Womanhouse opens
to the public
1974-1979: Creation of The Dinner
Party; tours 1979-1981
Empowering: makes feminism
Essentialist view of art that
doesn’t take on questions of
The Dinner Party: Eleanor of Aquitaine
The Dinner Party: Emily Dickinson
Judith Butler: Gender
Trouble: Feminism and the
Subversion of Identity (1990)
• Sex is not prior to or
independent of gender:
sex and gender depend on
each other.
• No gender can exist
without cultural acts that
make it visible
• Gender is unstable and
• Bodies have no identity
without the scripts,
rehearsals, performances
and acts of interpretation
that confer it.
Why does gender matter to you, and
what you study?
• Because space is gendered and gendering
Why does gender matter to you, and
what you study?
• Because everyone is understood through
gender and the relationships of power gender
signifies – and it’s complicated!
Why does gender matter to you, and
what you study?
• Because gender is a way to understand who
and what is being looked at – and who is
doing the looking.
What can you do about it?
There is a Gender Studies Course Book
Foundations of Gender Studies
Performativity and Powerlessness
History of American Advertising
And many courses taught in Parsons as well
that are listed here!

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