Archives for posts with tag: Constructivism

Before I started reading Refiguring Bodies by Elizabeth Grosz, I was watching CNN. One of the top stories was entitled “Slutwalk.” I found that to be very intriguing since the term did not seem to be politically correct.  An organizer for the protest against sexual violence proclaimed “Its not about the name, its about the message.” The first paragraph of Grosz reminded me of the Slutwalk protest.  “The body has remained a conceptual blind spot in both mainstream Western philosophical though and contemporary feminist theory. Feminism has uncritically adopted many philosophical assumptions regarding the role of the body in social, political, cultural, psychical, and sexual life and, in this sense at least, can be regarded as complicit in the misogyny that characterizes Western reason.”

The global movement was sparked by a comment made by a Canadian police officer to a group of college women after a rash of sexual assaults on their campus that in order to not be victimized they should stop dressing like sluts. A diverse group of women marched down the streets of New York chanting “Stand up! Fight back! Stop the violence!” in solidarity. Many protesters wore “provocative clothing” or lingerie during their march. A protester declared that rape has been used as a form of torture and genocide and that clothing is not an excuse to rape an individual. You don’t have to look like Pamela Anderson to be a victim of rape. An organizer’s reply to the officer’s ignorant comment was as follows, “Not only was this a ridiculous and inaccurate statement (women wearing trousers get raped. So do women wearing tracksuits, t-shirts, jeans, jumpers, skiing jackets and burqas), it was incredibly damaging to women around the world, painting them as perpetrators — rather than victims — of a disgusting, violent crime.” Another protestor said that she was “marching because her best friend still thinks that her rape was her fault, because the authorities never looked into it, and because it will always haunt her. And that is not OK.” And another remarked: “We live in a society that ranges from publicly shaming the victim of an honor-rape to insinuating that a rape victim may have somehow ‘led her attacker on’ through her clothing or demeanor.” There is much truth in these statements and that is disgusting to say the least.


The amount of rapes that go unreported are astounding. As stated in class, IU has a very low conviction rate in rape cases. According to the annual Security Report with Crime Statistics by IUPD, there were less than 30 sex offenses both forcible and non-forcible reported to IUPD or BPD in 2010. It would be hard to convict offenders if the offenses go unreported.  However the judicial system also brings difficulty when trying to convict rapist. Only recently, did the law change in favor of women.  Before 1974, the law required corroboration. Many men (who were also law makers) thought that it was abhorrent that a man could be convicted solely on the unsupported testimony of a woman. The law upheld the man and the man’s honor. Unlike robbery or burglary, when a woman has been raped they may never get over it. Women are entitled to special considerations by the judicial system.

A rape case that was close to my hometown as well as extremely disturbing was the case of Katie Autry. She  was raped, sodomized, beaten, stabbed and left to burn in her dorm room at Western Kentucky University by two men, Lucas Goodrum and Stephen Soules. Both were indicted on several charges but only Soules was convicted.(He was a minority!) Lucas Goodrum, the son of a very wealthy man, was acquitted of all charges. If it weren’t for the extremities of this case and the resulting death of Katie, I do not believe that this case would have made it to trial since she was supposedly drunk and knew the two men.

Other cases that I found to be upsetting were the cases of Marguax- an IU student, Jeanne Clery and Laura Dunn. According to NPR, their stories are far too common for many women who are sexually assaulted on their college campuses. Another far too common  story is the failure of universities to investigate a criminal matter such as rape and then punish it. The Center for Public Integrity and NPR News Investigation found that colleges almost never expel men who are found responsible for sexual assault- only 10 to 25% of perpetrators are expelled. The U.S Department of Education has failed to aggressively monitor and regulate campus response to sexual assault. They have the power to fine universities and to find that a school has violated a law that prevents discrimination against women. Colleges are also ill-equipped to handle cases of sexual assault. In most cases alcohol is involved and prosecutors are reluctant to take on these cases causing the cases to fall to campus judicial systems to sort through conflicting claims of whether the sex was consensual or forced. Campus discipline systems do not enforce criminal laws and lack the ability to collect evidence, interview suspects and call witnesses.

IU Rape Case:

Dunn Rape Case:

Moreover,  both cases involved alcohol and acquaintances. Both women were raped in their dorm rooms. The victims were in and out of consciousness thus “discrediting” their accounts without physical evidence or witnesses. It then becomes a case of he said she said where the man’s word is worth more. Both women were reluctant to report the assault and were discouraged from further prosecution by local police. Both women were embarrassed. Both did not get the justice or protection they deserved. Not only should the men who assault women feel deeply ashamed but the men and women who uphold our judicial system that fails to protect women from violent crimes. These cases further prove the need to further the women’s rights movement as well as the feminist movement.

Melissa Brake

I hate being told that I chose to be gay. Absolutely hate it. It doesn’t help that the majority of people who claim this are clutching to a Bible and never question their logic. Infuriating. As far back as I can recall, I’ve never made a conscious decision to find attraction to men. Of course I remember labeling my feelings as gay, but these feelings go further back than accepting that sexual identity.

This has also been a consistent peeve with a lot of gender studies classes I’ve taken. Of course I believe that gender roles, sexual identities, and meanings ascribed to the sexed body are socially constructed, but I never understood how we can talk about strict constructivism and not once question it. For example, strict constructivism would say my sexuality is totally molded by society and gender norms. But I’ve always known these feelings and I certainly wasn’t raised in an environment that endorsed it.

When Lady Gaga’s cd Born This Way came out, I remember a good chunk of my gender studies friends having a tizzy because it’s an essentialist claim and no one is born a said way but society creates it. I agree to an extent that the social meanings, labels, and even dichotomous understandings of gender are all socially constructed, and in that context my fury echos theirs. But I always think back to when I was growing up, knowing nothing about sexuality and attraction, and having the same feelings that I do today. I wasn’t born labeling myself gay or knowing the meanings and connotations behind queer attractions, but I knew there was something about the other boys that interested me.

This being the case, I dislike the essentialist/constructivism binary I’m presented with to explain gender and sexuality. It seems like we’ve left the problematic claims by essentialism in favor of constructivism without considering the potential limits it presents. How does constructivism explain these feelings? How do they validate the trans experience?

The relief I felt reading about Julia Serano’s intrinsic inclinations to explain human gender and sexual variation was great. It was the acknowledgement from a scholarly source that my feelings weren’t a result of ignorance or lack of understanding. Finally, there’s a way out of the the essential/construction binary that seems to suit me. Though the intrinsic inclinations can seem relatively simple and applicable to everything, at least it’s a start and I can sleep better tonight.


-Lucas Zigler

After reflecting on the “safe places” exercise (referencing Rubin) we did in class, it seems to me that we have the largest potential to experience the most comfort when we’re by ourselves. Perhaps this position sounds cynical, but look at it this way…

1: Society spends a good deal of time discouraging attitudes and behaviors that make sense and encouraging flawed and narrow logic. (See Butler)

2: Society discourages internal reflection and getting to oneself on an intimate level. (This happens in several ways, including objectifying women, tabooing masturbation, medicalizing EVERYTHING so we’re ignorant of our bodies, etc)

3. Social conventions and expectations permeate every facet of society, even if a group is deliberately rejecting those conventions.

4. So basically, if society tells us NOT to spend time alone and learning about ourselves, we should probably stop whatever we’re doing and do just that.

This, of course, is not to say that basic human interaction isn’t necessary and fulfilling, but regardless of with whom we’re spending out time, we are constantly shifting and shaping our identities, even if we’re unaware of doing so.

To illustrate this point, it is beneficial to examine some of the most obvious “safe places.” A few of these include: spending time in a group of like-minded/identified people, using anonymous avenues to express ourselves (i.e. Post Secret), and sharing things with family and close friends. While each of these provides innumerable benefits, each has its shortcomings as well.

It should be said that feminism’s internal critique is one of its greatest strengths in the “big picture,” but that very critical eye cane sometimes be turned on the individual. Thus, even if certain parts of one’s identity are in a “safe space,” other parts (or the ways in which one expresses them) are clearly not.

One of the best examples of this discomfort around the people with whom we’re closest is illustrated in this card sent to “Post Secret.” The postcard read, “She sent me this 3 weeks after she told me I couldn’t come to her wedding because I’m a lesbian and my family doesn’t want ‘to see me use their wedding as a giant “coming out” affair. Thanks sis, YOU save us the date.” The other side reads…

We’re supposed to be close and comfortable with our families,but obviously that’s not how it works for this woman.

I guess the point is that at the end of the day, the only person you have is you. So, ya better start defying those social conventions and deciding that you (whoever you are) are just fine.

-Mika Baugh

Judith Butler refers to the concept of “institutionalized heterosexuality” on page 34 of Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire. Now, one of the primary things that has always fascinated me about the subject of “Gender Studies” is that it is so interdisciplinary. That’s almost one of those Gender catch-phrases, isn’t it? Anyway, that off-handed mention of heterosexuality as something that is institutionalized made me think about how exactly sexuality is formed or how categories of sexuality are formed. With education, religion, and governmental institutions, there are physical institutions that correspond to each abstract institution. And, these physical spaces–schools, churches, the Pentagon, and so on–all serve as a primary site for passing on the values of these institutions. What if there were an actual physical structure in which sexuality were taught, preached, and regulated? What would that look like?

Yeah, I’m just picturing walking into a giant penis-shaped tower right now… Maybe through doors that look like labia… Man, I am going to have some weird dreams tonight. Or, great ones, I guess, depending on your point of view…

The humor in imagining sexuality in such blatant terms is that lessons about sexuality, gender, and desire are supposed to be innate and natural, when really these categories of identity are socially constructed to such a degree that it become easy for us men on the ground to even recognize this. These categories are formed by many, many institutions, including those already mentioned and many others that are also maybe a bit harder to pin down–family, media, and so on. And, more than that, they are formed by human agency, the choices individuals make, day in and day out.

On one hand, I can see how it may be sort of… tempting–from a socialist’s sort of perspective, maybe–to essentialize a person or group of people. But, when you think about how incredibly complex people are and how much the institutions in our lives shape who we are, I actually find it hard to believe that it happens. Although, seeing ourselves as being only socially constructed totally ignores free will…

Like the free will to take this test! “This test will determine if you are gay or strait…”

You better hope you pass, so you can make it into Hetero School. So, you can be more like this…

Night ya’ll! Have a good week!

Lynn Beavin

What exactly is the essence of female?

Is it some sort of natural inherited behavior? Or having female genitals?

When discussing gender and sex differences outside class you are often confronted with various thoughts on what the concepts of gender and sex really are. Most of the time, at least in my experience, a consensus can be reached that gender is constructed, and gender performance is something personal. However, more often is the answer to these questions: You can do whatever you want, but sex is biological!

The idea of the biological sex as the essence that everything comes down to sex is in line with Plato’s Theory of Forms. Plato thought that everything we see in the material world is not real but only a replica of the real object in the real world. The real object is the Form, which is the essence of every object in the material world. So according to Plato, an ideal must exist, since we can only make sense of our reality through this ideal. Back to the discussion on sex and gender; does this mean that an ideal of male and female exist?

Gender essentialism argues that the way you were born is your destiny. This way of approaching gender and sex is often also referred to as biological reductionism. Biological reductionism makes the agenda clear: everything is reduced to nature, and through that essence becomes the telos, an end in itself. It sees distinct destinies for men and women and limits the range of action, since, in the end, it is true that only women can be pregnant.

So, according to this, is it safe to say that everything is relative except for my biological sex then?

Every answer that comes to mind turns out to be problematic. Especially after reading Angier, Foucault and Lorde, who argue that every norm has nothing essential to it, but provides a meaning of the essence which is only in so far real as it means something in a society. Not even biology can give the right answer, for example if we consider AIS: females with female genitals, but a y-chromosome, who would rebut all kinds of claims of not being female solely based on a tiny chromosome.

This is where Butler ties in taking the discussion to the next level. In her book Gender Troubles, Judith Butler addresses the issue of gender essentialism in pointing out that “women” is as much a constructed category as every other constructed normality. The term “women” is not self-evident, since not even biology can provide one definite answer. Not every biological “pure” female can become pregnant due to various reasons, or even wants to have children. “Women” asks for boundaries and a definition like any other term, too.But how can I define such boundaries when no essence exists?

The answer is you can’t, but people do, and that’s the problem.


– franziska krause