Continuing our introduction to the topic at hand—gender and popular culture—we looked at a lot of key terms and concepts this week. I’m going to pick just a couple that I had questions about or wanted to better understand.
gender essentialism “stipulates that men and women are inherently different beings who belong to separate different categories” (Milestone & Meyer 12).
sex-gender distinction “‘sex’ refers to biological, bodily differences between men and women, ‘gender’ refers to the socially constructed categories of masculine and feminine and the socially imposed attributes and behaviours which are assigned to these categories” (12).
I am a cisgendered woman. Much of my favourite media draws on the idea that men and women are inherently different and uses that idea for humour or plot purposes. Victor/Victoria for example, is centred around a woman pretending to be a female impersonator (a women pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman). When Harry Met Sally asks the question, “Can men and women be friends?” and imagines a heteronormative world where sex usually gets in the way. And then there’s the constant cross-dressing on Monty Python, which I still think is hysterical.
I didn’t begin interrogating the gender binary until I was 16/17. Sometimes, discussions of the gender spectrum and non-binary identities can still set my head spinning, so I do my best to listen to people who are more well-informed than I am.
The article “No, The Existence of Trans People Doesn’t Validate Gender Essentialism” from Everyday Feminism stood out to me because while I agreed with headline, I couldn’t fully articulate why—I wouldn’t have been able to argue the point effectively. After reading it, I understood; the article helps to define gender essentialism and outline how trans folk may or may not transition, and that the process of transitioning is not tied to a binary concept of gender but to the right of trans folk to have autonomy over their bodies and alter them. The article also offers the perspective of biologist and queer-feminist activist Julia Serano, who asserts that gender is both biological and social and not a mere binary.
The distinction between gender and sex remains complex, in my view. Judith Butler’s suggestion that “the categories of sex and gender are powerful but unstable” (15) rings true, and I look forward to examining popular media’s representations of these categories.
A video investigating this topic:
“Ch. 1: Introduction,” Gender and Popular Culture, Katie Milestone & Anneke Meyer
“No, The Existence of Trans People Doesn’t Validate Gender Essentialism,” Kaylee Jakubowski, Everyday Feminism