Feminist Critical thinking

Intersectionality: Queer Theory

Initial critical ideas that looked at the plurality of feminist thought can be found in the early work around Queer Theory. In the UK the pioneering academic presence in queer studies was the Centre for Sexual Dissedence in the English department at Sussex University, founded by Alan Sinfield and Johnathon Dollimore in 1990 (Barry: 141). In terms of applying queer theory to feminist critical thought, Judith Butler, among others expressed doubt over the reductionist, essentialist, approach towards the binary oppositions presented in terms of: male/female; feminine/masculine, man/woman. Arguing, that this is too simple and does not account for the internal differences that distinguishes different forms of gender identity, which according to Butler ‘tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes . . . normalising categories of oppressive structures‘ (14:2004).

Judith Butler: ‘gender as performance’


In many ways Judith Butler counterpoints earlier ideas of gender representation, for example, some of the ideas presented by Laura Mulvey seem to suggest that gender is fixed – male/female – that it is structured by institutions and those powerful individuals who are able to exert power and control – Weinstein et al. While still recognising those argments presented by Mulvey, Jean Kilbourne, Sut Jhally and others, Butler suggests that gender is fluid, changeable, plural a set of categories to be played out and performed by individual subjects in individual moments in time and space.

Put another, it suggests that we have multiple identities that are performed to different people, in different social settings, under different social conditions. For example, look at categories such as lipstick lesbian, butch and femme, girly girl and so on, which illustrate the multiple, plural nature of identity, representation and performance with feminist critical thinking. Which can be explored and mapped out into similar studies on male identity (again see work by Sinfield, Dollimore and others).

The idea of identity performance is explored further in another post: Representation, Identity & Self. However, to understand the approach of gender as performative is to recognises a ‘phenomenon that is being reproduced all the time‘, which perhaps suggests that nobody is a gender from the start.’ The question for Butler (and for students of media and cultural studies) is therefore: how does gender get established and policed? Which, of course, is why we look at her ideas in subjects like Media Studies.

identity can be a site of contest and revision

Butler (2004:19)

Van Zoonen

Similarly, Lisbet Van Zoonen also highlights the idea that the concept of ‘woman’ is not a homogenous, collective noun. That students need to be aware of the differences between women, that ‘gender is not the defining quality alone for women, and intersects with race, sexuality and class.’ (Hendry & Stephenson 2018:52). Van Zoonen, develops and applies ideas of cultural hegemony (GRAMSCI) and interpellation (ALTHUSSER) towards feminist studies, which are explored in this blogsite on these pages: link1, link2). Van Zoonen, prioritises the realm of popular culture as the site of struggle, where identities are continually being reconstructed.

Hook: Multicultural Intersectionality

As Barker and Jane note, ‘black feminists have pointed ot the differences between black and white women’s experiences, cultural representations and interests’ (2016:346). In other words, arguments around gender also intersect with postcolonial arguments around ‘power relationships between black and white women’. So that ‘in a postcolonial context, women carry the double burden of being colonized by imperial powers and subordinated by colonial and native men’ (ibid).

As a way of exploring this notion of intersectionality ie the idea that an approach such as feminism, is NOT UNIVERSAL, SINGULAR or HOMOGENEOUS as this is a REDUCTIONIST and ESSENTIALIST way of seeing the world. Rather intersectionality highlights the way ideas and concepts such as ‘female‘, ‘feminist‘, ‘feminine‘ (Moi 1987) intersect with other concepts, ideas and approaches, such as, sexuality, class, age, education, religion, ability. A way of exploring these ideas is through the work of bell hook.

bell hook (always spelt in lower case – real name: Gloria Jean Watkins) advocates media literacy, the need to engage with popular culture to understand class struggle, domination, renegotiation and revolution. Put another, encouraging us all to ‘think critically’ to ‘change our lives’.ethnicity and race, see for example here work ‘Cultural Criticism and Transformation‘ which was another video production by the Media Education Foundation (MEF), directed by Sut Jhallypart 1 below, parts 2 & 3 at the end of this post.

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