Tristan Potter

2. Gender Theory - Contemporary

Philosophy, science, and society have come a long way since the initial theories of Aristotle and St. Augestine. Simone de Beauvior critiqued the old Western men:

Man vainly forgets that his anatomy also includes hormones and testicles. He grasps his body as a direct and normal link with the world that he believes he apprehends in all objectivity, whereas he considers woman’s body an obstacle, a prison, burdened by everything that particularizes it. “The female is female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities,” Aristotle said. “We should regard women’s nature as suffering from natural defectiveness.” And Saint Thomas in his turn decreed that woman was an “incomplete man,” an “incidental” being. This is what the Genesis story symbolizes, where Eve appears as if drawn from Adam’s “supernumerary” bone, in Bossuet’s words. Humanity is male, and man defines woman, not in herself, but in relation to himself; she is not considered an autonomous being.1

De Beauvoir, The Second Sex, pp2014

Discussions surrounding the philosophy of gender have come a long way since the days of Aristotle and St. Augustine. Although historical interpretations of gender have continued to broadly influence our culture, modern and contemporary philosophers have expanded the discipline, providing more nuanced understandings of human biology, psychology, and sociology. Looking at the works of Simone De Beauvoir, Michael Foucault, Suzanne Kessler, Wendy McKenna, and Judith Butler we will investigate:

Through our investigation, we will discover that theories of gender have been varied, and that gender is viewed as a subjective experience of identity that is created by repeated performances made by individuals.

We’ve established that gender is a subjective experience that is constructed as a sustained performance, but what does this mean for contemporary society?

Revisiting our initial questions going into this exploration:

We still don’t have a concrete answer to some of these, but perhaps the answers are less relevant than we originally believed. How can we move forward where our ideas of each other are not informed by our stereotypes of a particular role, and be more intentional and thoughtful with our interactions?

Moving forward it is important to recognize that popularized ideas surrounding gender are a disservice to society. We as a global community can do better, and should work to bring an intersectional and progressive view of gender into more mainstream view.

A more important consideration is if we are even capable of fully investigating and changing the system. For those of us who live within the systems that we are aiming to critique, we come to the question how we can have the knowledge to critique it.

“What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable”2

(Lorde, Sister outsider: essays and speeches, pp25)

  1. De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Random House, 2014. 

  2. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, c2007.