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defining gender and race
by prateeksha bhatia
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Women have been exploited marginalized species. Gender has to do with the way in which woman has been perceived which gives a natural given.

Difference between Nature and Culture

Nature is something natural, happens by virtue of being view. Culture is social conditioning. It is about social graces, society, about acquiring socialization. Nature is biological and culture is acquired socially. Today we have finishing schools to look cultured. These words become important while talking of gender, feminism and women. Men and women are supposed to be the same except their physical features. But we see that they are constructed differently.

There is a beginning of a thought process as their natural biological creation comes into being. Mother becomes domesticated and father is the earner. The child registers the fear /control factor between his mother and father. As we grow up, certain toys are bought for boys and girls. There are certain codings and ways of functioning for us. For instance – it is so natural that boys do not play with the dolls. So the world of nature and culture are mixing up. But when the world follows them, it becomes natural. E.g. – career is necessary for men but not women. Men go for war and not women. So certain things started culturally and socially. This gives rise to the word GENDER.

FEMALE – It is a biological term. It is natural to be born as a female in biological terms.

FEMININE – Certain words are associated with women i.e. feminine. These characteristics are expected in women. But why are they not neutral? Society is making sure that these kind of feminine traits become innate in female. The word female is free of all these associations (tender, gentle, motherly, chaste) but the word feminine constitutes these. So feminine is a social construction. What is feminine is what is prescribed by society for women.

“One is not born a woman rather one becomes a woman.”
Becoming is a social process. Every woman constitutes what society wants her to be i.e. cultural rather than natural. So feminine is associated with culture.
Female → Nature
Feminine → Culture
Hence a whole baggage of feminine virtues gets tagged to every woman. E.g. – a woman always turn to a man’s shoulder to cry out her emotions. Women are expected to have their hearts on their sleeves and men are intellectual. So femininity is a problem here.

FEMINISM – is a political friction between female and feminine. Feminism is a political position which arises out of the charge between female and feminine. As long as every female adopts the feminine virtues it is okay. But when a distinction is drawn between female and feminine, it becomes political. You interrogate and become culturally aware. If all females decide to function within the parameters of domesticity, there is no problem. As she steps out of this framework, the difference is realized and acknowledged and feminism arises.

This sets the theme of Jane Austen novels also. In her times, women were occupied with going to malls, playing piano etc. They were supposed to be accomplished in a feminine way. In 1960’s, there was a strain that there should be women centered texts. To raise questions such as - Is there a woman in the text? Other questions like - is there a text in this woman were raised when she was given a role to play. The questions and answers were highly political. From 1960’s and 1970’s people began to reexamine the existing texts. Largely texts which existed were andocentric (man centric) this is again a canon against a man – centric texts.
These were replaced by Gynocentric texts i.e. texts by women and about women.
This was a term given by Elain Showalter.So we see women demanding to be represented and the change from Androcentric to Gynocentric.

Brief introduction to Anglo-American School and French Schools of Feminism
The following contexts have been explored to explain the concept of feminism.
1. The Role of Theory
2. Language
3. Psychoanalysis
In the western theory, there are two schools –
a) Anglo – American school of feminism
b) French Feminism

1. The Role of Theory

Anglo – American school
 Elain Showalter, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar are the main exponents of Anglo – American school. It says that women have not been treated culturally and we should have a female sub culture that would give rise to female literary tradition.

This school looks at a great deal of literary texts. They believe in textual representation. There is a desire for equality and demand in female literary texts. New kind of ideas generated in 1880’s due to this culture such as a desire to represent their inner domain, how they feel inertly. Feminism is not just about showing that they are like men but also showing that they are like men. This phase was aggressive. It was not only fighting shoulder to shoulder but also redefining something that was intrinsically woman.

In the next phase, they realized that feminism should be the celebration of womanliness. The idea of female intuition, the woman as earth, as Mother Earth.
They esentialised her and were opposed by another school. All national essentialisms are built around British presences in India. What keeps woman is patriarchy, exploitation by men. Every woman has instances to report.

The next wave is where gender identity clashes with the racial identity. Intersection of race and identities is the crux of this wave. In India this intersection takes place between Hindus and Muslims. Feminism now is sought with so many conflicting identities. Madonna for the time explored female sexuality. Feminism does not exist in one act – it is a state of so many conflicting complexities.


It emphasizes on more theory and less literary texts. This is involved in deconstruction and psychoanalysis. Freud, Foucault, Helen Cixous are the chief exponents of this school. This school largely talks about language and representation. They believe that the kind of ideology which controls the world issues from the laws of father. And this ideology is repression and it is so strong that it controls a woman’s thought, language, creativity and writing.
According to Cixous, French school is interested in female’s sexuality and the lack of it. They say that a woman’s creativity always remain hidden as her sexuality.

Patriarchal discourse can be studied by examining the language. We always use a man centric language. We always use “He” whenever we are talking about generalities. We use words like mankind, brotherhood, manhole, and layman etc. Women are not to be seen or heard in terms of language. There are different ways of addressing men and women. Negative attributes get attached to women. (Gossips, bitching, chatterbox, whining, nagging) aggressive is seen as something positive in men. But in women she is shrill and hysterical. So the language is extremely asymmetrical. It is not balanced.

Catherine Belsey in her book Critical Practice mentions the pairs in English grammar attached to men and women.

1. Governor – masculine
Governess - feminine
The meanings are quite different.

2. KNIGHTS – masculine
DAMES – feminine (often used as derogatory for women)

3. DOGS – masculine
BITCHES – feminine (dirty minded, wicked women)

4. WIZARDS – masculine
WITCHES – feminine

5. BUDDY – masculine (derivative of brother – means extremely dependable and faithful)
SISSY – feminine (derivative of sister – meek and dumb)

So language is not at all value neutral or value free. It does not favor women at all. It is inclined towards patriarchy. That is why women come up with their own language.

3. Through psychoanalysis

Certain critics believe that feminism is the result of certain representation of women through psychoanalysis.

According to Freud -
• Lack of physical strength makes a woman feel inferior. The only way in which this anxiety is replaced is when she experiences motherhood. Motherhood is always respected. It is all these things which a woman is not. This is the only time when a woman feels equal to man. Freud describes them as neurotic and hysterical if she chases a career.

• Men think, women feel.

• . Women have a reduced sense of justice.

• Women have less moral principles than men.
• Freud contributed to that system which exists even today.

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