KRISTEN SCHILT. The Pleasures of Gender: A Social Analysis

Monday, April 22, 2013 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

Some new discussions among feminist sociologists center around the suggestion that the normative expectations of male/masculine and female/feminine must be undone, because such a belief system is a source of global oppression, institutional inequality, and personal pain.Acknowledging the ways in which gender can operate as a source of oppression, Kristen Schilt and Tey Meadow look to the empirical scholarship on gender, and find that it suggests individuals take deep and meaningful pleasure in doing gender in both normative and transgressive ways. Gender, in this conceptualization, is cultural material for personal and relational forms of exchange in everyday life. We raise this idea of gender pleasure not to naturalize it; rather, we see a need to distinguish between theorizing gender as an oppressive form of social control – and therefore something people should, through education and enlightenment, be willing to “give up” or “undo” – and empirically investigating people’s attachments to both personal gender identities and sense of membership in a broader gender category. In this article, we argue that by ignoring the social dimensions of gender pleasure, feminist sociologists currently miss a major causal mechanism in the maintenance of inequality.

Kristen Schilt is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago. A central focus of her work is finding new ways to make visible the taken-for-granted cultural assumptions about gender, sexuality, and biology that serve to naturalize and reproduce social inequality. In 2010, she published the monograph, Just One of the Guys? Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality (University of Chicago Press). In this book, she illustrates how the workplace experiences of transgender men can help to illuminate the organizational and interactional processes that contribute to the persistence of gender, race, and sexuality-based inequalities in the workplace. Her second book project in the works is entitled, The ‘Before and After’ of Major Life Transformations: Biological Authenticity and the Reproduction of Inequality.