Connell, R. 2009. “Accountable Conduct: ‘Doing Gender’ in Transsexual and Political Retrospect.”

Connell, Raewyn. 2009. “Accountable Conduct: ‘Doing Gender’ in Transsexual and Political Retrospect.” Gender and Society 23 (1): 104-111.

W&Z DG follows an international trend in Britain, Germany, Australia, and Canada. Follows trend in UN Decade for Women concluded, though Northern feminist theory was slow to take on scholarly implications of these recommendations. Impacted by gay and women’s liberation, antifeminist governments and misogynist capitalist practices in these same nation-states; neoliberal control of World Bank and IMF. Feminist theorists had two challenges – emancipatory movement, and resistance against categorical knowledge production — use of structural analysis, phenomenology, interactionism, Marxism, and political economy to study and advocate. W&Z chose uniquely American tool: ethnomethodology.   W&Z noted gender not as a foundation of gender practice, rather an effect – conduct of everyday behaviors are held “accountable” for presumed sex category. “The conduct produced in the light of this accountability is not a product of gender; it is gender itself” (105). AKA – A.L. Austin’s “performative character of gender” — in this, political hope.

Example, Agnes, used in DG has been bases of four theoretical works – psychiatry, Garfinkel’s Ethnomethodology, and feminist gender analysis of Kessler and McKenna (1978), AND DG. Several feminist critiques of these documents and applications. Garfinkel points out that Agnes makes visible what culture has made invisible – the accomplishment of gender. Agnes’ deliberate practice of what is often taken for granted of femininity and womanhood – the sustenance of perception of womanhood, based upon gender conformity.

How do transsexuals “fade” into invisibility? Can they? (Does Connell infer that transsexuals maintain an enhanced form of accountability, or an even stricter form of accountability, because of their label?) Notes that recognition and embodiment is central to recognition. Connell notes the significance of transsexual women’s practice as concerning social solidarity rather than individual identity, normativity, or passing (108).

“This reading requires, however, a rethinking of the relationship of embodiment to solidarity because gender is precisely a social relation that is embodied in certain ways, one that refers to (although it is not determined by) reproductive distinctions between bodies. It requires us to think of social embodiment as an active, changing historical process, not as a matter of fixed categories for bodies. What has always been shocking about transsexual transitions is that they reveal simultaneously the depth of embodiment and the force of the social process in a single life” (108)

W&Z utilize a viewpoint and feminist citations that are often hostile to transsexual bodies – as a passive adoption of patriarchal ideals (kx- and dichotomies?). However, take a more empathic approach. Use of Agnes not as a model of normative femininity, but as a means to “unpack” what we consider to be feminine.

“If the situated accomplishment of gender creates the illusion of a hierarchical natural order, this same situated accomplishment is a site where hierarchy can be contested” (109).

Contestation of gender, gender order not as individualized, but as a collective effort; trans* inclusion into this movement must be a part of this large-scale transformation. Collective agency of women can change institutions, conditions of accountability of individuals, and processes that legitimize and naturalize patriarchy.


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