Risman, B. 2009. “From Doing to Undoing: Gender as We Know It.”

Risman, Barbara J. 2009. “From Doing to Undoing: Gender as We Know It.” Gender and Society 23 (1): 81-84.

Risman – Criticizes way that DG is used in research; in MS soc, DG is “reduced to behavior consistent with expectations about appropriate masculine behavior for members of the male sex category and appropriate feminine behavior for members of the female sex category” (74). Asks if any behavior can be seen as not involving the doing of gender. Draws on Butler (2004) and Deutsch (2007) to ask how individuals may “undo gender” – which has more potential for transformation

Critiques not the original concept, but how it has become mis/used – which loses embedded critique of /by some feminisms, by creating a feminist overuse of the term, and a misdefining where what groups of girls and boys do is that – DG (calls this a tautology – the saying of the same thing twice in different words, where the same thing is said twice; a statement that is true by necessity or by virtue of its logical form). *** The language of DG must be used carefully to document the instance of “undoing gender” – builds on Duetsch’s elaboration of Butler.

“Fundamentally, we must know what we are looking for when we are looking for gendered behavior and then be willing and ready to admit when we do not find it.” (82)  (Say, is it really doing gender when young women adopt situational masculine or feminine behaviors, or is it just “destabilizing the taken-for-granted personae that were in the past assumed essentially to match sex category?” (83) — Is DG adaptable for newly recognized modes of masculinity and femininity? She responds: “Why categorize innovative behavior as new kinds of gender, new femininities and masculinities, rather than notice that the old gender norms are losing their currency?” (84) – (kx – so, new behaviors in gender are being categorized – bad – and we should work to remark that traditional systems are becoming outdated? What use in that?)

References Giddens (1984) theory of structuration to help understand modern feminist movement

  • Structuration: (1) Social structure constrains behavior and is created by behavior; (2) Individuals are products of structures and social worlds, but are not determined by them.

Argues for usefulness and universality of possessing a gender structure; likens this to economic structure

Mentions Duetsch (2007) – feminists often highilight changes in gender structure when traditional gender scripts are not followed, and gender is undone. (kx- so, is gender undoing just rebellion from what is understood as gender normative? Can queer folk do their genders or lack thereof?) – If we believe that (as feminists) gender is socially constructed and used as a tool for inequality, we should use this as a political call to move to a postgender society.

“But why is it that any group of human beings with vaginas should have their collective norms called a type of femininity?” (83)


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