Course Catalog

01:988:318 The Gendered Body

The word “gender,” from the Latin genus, refers to a set of elements that comprise a “kind,” “sort,” or “class.” Gender is a way of grouping things: it establishes qualities that define them as similar to each other and different from everything else. When we speak of human “gender,” we imply that humans come in “natural sorts” and conversely that there exist “natural” ways to sort humans. Traditionally we distinguish the results of such sorting as “male” and “female.” Yet as with all acts of generic categorization, the sorting defines the groups and not vice versa. Thus, nature does not make us men and women. Rather we are made to be either male or female—and not both, or neither--through a principle of selection that assigns each of us (to) a gender by deciding which “type” of body we have. (As Kate Bornstein argues: “it’s all penises or no penises.”) But what does it mean “to have” a body? And who is it that “has” this body anyway? Why are bodies gendered? And how do the forms our bodies take seem to tell us something essentially true, not only about who we are, but also about who we may become? This course interrogates the Euro-American history of engendering bodies in order to consider how and why the properties of different bodies have come to define “different” kinds of people.