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gender and geography

  The study of the various ways that genders and geographies are mutually constituted. Haraway (1991) provides a thorough discussion of the history and meaning of the term \'gender\' within feminist theory through to the mid-1980s. The term has a broadly similar history within geography, with a movement away from theories of gender roles to gender relations and towards a fuller exploration of how gender relations are constructed in all spheres of life (see feminist geographies).

\'Gender\' is often contrasted to \'sex\' in an effort to remove women from nature and place them within culture as constructed and self-constituting social subjects. The treatment of gender within geography is slightly unusual in this regard as it has not been \'quarantined from the infections of biological sex\' (Haraway, 1991, p. 134) to the same extent as in other disciplines. In an effort to theorize patriarchy, Foord and Gregson (1986) identified necessary relations that constitute gender relations. Following the analytical procedures of realism, they reasoned that two genders, male and female, are the basic characteristics of gender relations. In order to theorize the necessary relations between these basic characteristics, they ask: \'Under what conditions do men and women require each other\'s existence?\', to which they answer, \'for biological reproduction and the practice of heterosexuality\'. Foord\'s and Gregson\'s analysis was quickly criticized, because it made it difficult to theorize how capitalism structures gender relations (McDowell, 1986) and for its biologism, especially in terms of its portrayal of heterosexuality as biologically or psychologically fixed (Knopp and Lauria, 1987).

The latter criticism signalled important new ways of thinking about the relations between sex and gender. The feminist distinction between sex and gender may save gender from essentialist or naturalizing versions of femininity (see essentialism), but it repeats the problems of the nature/culture dualism insofar as it posits gender as the (active) social that acts upon the (passive) surface of sex. It is itself thus vulnerable to the charge of masculinism: \'Is sex to gender as feminine to masculine [as nature to culture]?\' (Butler, 1993, p. 4). A further problem is that within the terms of the sex/gender dualism sex seems to disappear once it is gendered: gender absorbs and displaces sex (these tendencies within geography are discussed by Nast, 1998). Haraway tackles these criticisms by arguing, through the metaphor of coyote, for the agency of bounded entities, such as sexed bodies (see situated knowledge). This is a different, though not necessarily contradictory, strategy to that of Butler who, drawing upon theories of discourse, deconstruction and psychoanalysis, argues that the regulatory regime of heterosexuality brings the (hetero)-sexed body (either female or male but never inbetween — she analyses the refusal of inter-sexed infant bodies as a way of demonstrating this) into being. Sexual determination is an immediate, forcible and reiterative practice. We must be gendered male or female to be human; those who are not properly gendered are threatened by psychosis (unstable bodily and psychic boundaries) and abjection. Neither sex nor gender has ontological status and gender cannot be theorized apart from regimes of (hetero)sexuality (cf. ontology). Gender is a truth effect of a discourse of a primary and stable identity; this identity emerges out of repetitive gender performances, instantiations of an ideal/norm (see performativity; subject formation, geographies of). For Butler, sex is not extra- or pre-discursive; it is brought into being through discourse. She does see opportunities to prise performances of sex and gender apart: subversive potentials of drag performances lie in the disjunction between (a posited interiorized) sex and exteriorized gender performances, and in allowing the sexually disallowed or unperformable (e.g. the figure of femininity for men) to be performed: drag can be read as an effort to negotiate unpermissable cross-gendered identifications.

The implications of this retheorization of gender and sex are far-reaching: gender is recast as derivative of the norms of (hetero)sex and as repetitive and unstable practices enacted in different ways in different places and times. This invites close attention to the persistent deployment of regulatory regimes of heterosexuality, to the sexualities that operate at the margins of and exceed the boundaries of these norms, and to the geographies of both (see queer theory; sexuality, geography and; Bondi, 1998; Nast, 1998) (GP)

References Bondi, L. 1998: Sexing the city. In R. Fincher and J. Jacobs, eds, Cities of difference. New York: Guilford, 177-200. Butler, J. 1993: Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of \'sex\'. London and New York: Routledge. Foord, J. and Gregson, N. 1986: Patriarchy: towards a reconceptualisation. Antipode 18: 186-211. Haraway, D. 1991: \'Gender\' for a marxist dictionary: the sexual politics of a word. In D. Haraway, Simians, cyborgs, and women: the reinvention of nature. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 127-48. Knopp, L. and Lauria, M. 1987: Gender relations as a particular form of social relations. Antipode, 19: 48-53. McDowell, L. 1986: Beyond patriarchy: a class-based explanation of women\'s subordination. Antipode 18: 311-21. Nast, H. 1998: Unsexy geographies. Gender Place and Culture 5: 191-206.



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