Monday, October 22, 2012

Discuss the ways in which gender studies and gay and queer studies have enabled critics to see texts afresh.

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For the purpose of my essay I will focus on the topics Gender studies and Gay and Queer Studies as forms of critical interpretation.

The idea of Gender Studies and Gay and Queer Studies allows critics to see texts afresh as they are relatively new concepts. Up until the late 160’s heterosexual culture was intolerant of gay culture in literature, it was seen as perverse. But then gay and lesbien scholars who had up till then remained silent regarding their sexuality or the presence of homosexuality themes in literature began to speak. Their work along with feminism helped bring into being a new school of gender theory in the 180’s. Gender critics began to study gender and sexuality as discursive and historical institutions.

While Gender Studies and Gay and Lesbien studies is a fresh and exciting new perspective it is not an easy one to work with. Gender and gay and lesbien theorists are concerned with unearthing a hidden tradition of homosexual culture in literature and it is not always easy to recover. Homosexual writers including Tennesse Williams and Henry James didn’t write openly about their life’s experiences as they feared imprisonment.

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The notion of sexual identity and the logic behind gender categorisation are other concepts with which critics can use to enable them to see texts afresh. They question the relation of gender categories to sexuality and physiology they can use the ideas that what is culturally accepted as masculine or feminine may not line up with certain sexual behaviours, psychological ideas or sexual practices, that the idea of male or female is merely political and not biological.

When analyzing a text, theorists can question the opposition between homosexuality and heterosexuality, interrogating the identity of each and the relations apparent between the two. “ Heterosexuality contains a moment of homosexuality when the child identifies with a parent of the same sex or when heterosexuality men relate to each other while competing over women, and homosexuality comprises both masculinity and femininity supposedly heterosexual qualities, in highly mixed and variable amounts”(Michael Ryan, Literary Theory A Practical Introduction)

Critics can also examine the texts with the ideas of what different societies portray as “the norm”. Normatively heterosexual males are masculine and heterosexual females are feminine because “politics” and “culture” instruct them in behaviour appropriate to the dominant gender representations. Alternative sexual practices to “normal” heterosexual practices in some cultures and places is strictly banned. From this it is apparent that, the supposed identities of male and female and the norms of reproductive sexuality are thus effects of enforcement procedures that operate through cultural and legal discussion, priviledging certain sexual choices while denigrating others.

“ Such gender identities as “women” are not pre-discursive foundations but rather normalizing injunctions produced by discursive performances” ( Michael Ryan, Literary Theory A Practical Introduction)

Gender critics can also examine text using the idea male heterosexuality oppression has contributed to the marginalization of homosexuality. It is noted that heterosexual masculinity is at a its most fierce in a moment of sexual panic. The violence and abuse exercised against homosexuals originates in part from the instability of heterosexual identity. “ Gender studies has thus given rise to analyses of the repressed “ homosocial” strains that motivate the heterosexual tradition’s construction of compulsory heterosexuality and normative sexuality and normative masculinity” ( Michael Ryan Literary Theory A Practical Introduction)

One of the most interesting theorys a critic can use in their interpretations of a text is that homosexuality is not an identity apart from another identity called heterosexuality. Rather, everyone is potentially gay and it is only society imprinting heterosexual norms that cuts away those potentials and makes heterosexuality as the dominant social format.

When exploring the idea of gender, critics could also use the concept of feminism to help look at texts in a fresh way. “ Feminism asks why women have played subordinate role to men in human societies. It is concerned with how women’s lives have changed throughout history, and it asks what about women’s experience is different from men’s either as a result of an essential biological or psychological difference or as a result of historical imprinting and social construction” (Michael Ryan, Literary Theory A Practical Introduction)

According to feminist theory, women are seen as an object of value exchanged between families. Men hold almost all positions of political and economic power in our world. It is accepted in most cultures and societies that the place of the woman in the family is in charge of the domestic chores and childbearing. According to some feminist theorists, continued male domination is the consequence of male violence against women. Men take advantage of the physical strength to place themselves in positions of social, economic and political power.

When critics want to use feminism to help analyze a text, they should take note of how society has portrayed women, so that full understanding of females writers can be established. Luce Irigaray, a French feminist stated “ Women represents all that exists outside that subject and its truth. She is material, improper, indeterminate, incapable of conscious mastery without self-identity, in-different, formless and multiple, as matter, she is the mirror, the specular scene upon which reason operates, providing reason with material for its concepts while yet remaining outside rational ideality. Male reason is therefore necessarily predicted in the subordination of the feminine, understood as the principle of connection in and to matter, which is associated with the mother’s reproductive body. Men have always appropriated women’s reproductive powers to their own self-idealizing ends. Women’s powers of reproduction have been exchanged between men to assume male alliances. There is a strong link, therefore, between the philosophical elevation of the male mind over the female body, and the social institution of patriarchy, which traditionally abstracts from women’s bodies in order to equate them as exchangeable commodities in the status and marriage markets.”

From the evidence presented here it is apparent that both Gender Studies and Gay and Queer Studies offer critics many ways in which to look at texts in a new, exciting and fresh way. Using these theories in critical interpretations of texts will allow the reader or critic to experience a different “ feel” for the text in question thus enhancing enjoyment.

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