West, C. and S. Fenstermaker. 1995. “Doing Difference.”

West, Candace and Sarah Fenstermaker. 1995. “Doing Difference.” Gender and Society 9(1): 8-37.

Doing difference as interactional, extends previous applications of gender to relationships of race, class, and gender. RCG, despite differences in characteristics and consequence, are equitable methods for producing social inequality.

Question mathematical and geometric understandings of intersectionality – note that our metaphors for analyzing gender (adding in race and class later) are impacted by social locations – how are some people able to “forget” or not lend mind to the impact on these categories in interlocking interpretations? We must know “values” and “locations”  of intersections, if we are to apply some of these conflicting metaphors – which, questionable if we can allocate. In DG,  “involves a complex of perceptual, interactional, and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of manly and womanly ‘natures.’ Rather than conceiving of gender as an individual characteristic, we conceived of it as an emergent property of social situations: both an outcome of and a rationale for various social arrangements and a means of justifying one of the most fundamental divisions of society” (9).

Privileging of white, middle-class feminist theorizing; assumed feminist self as such. Feminism as never originating from most oppressed by sexism (hooks 1984) –  most victimized the least likely to protest it as consequence of victimization. White middle-class feminists in academia as gatekeepers to scholarly access, recognition. WMCF plagued by “white solipsism”- “thinking, imagining and speaking ‘as if whiteness described the world,’ resulting in ‘a tunnel-vision which simply does not see nonwhite experience as precious or significant, unless in spasmodic, impotent guilt reflexes, which have little or no long-term, continuing usefulness’” (10-11, see Rich 1979, 306). Denial of difference in feminist organizations, scholarship tends to promote WMCF interests inadvertently, “women” presumed as a WMC term or self.

Mathematical representations fail as the “adding” in of identities and locations creates a distinguishing from WMC-assumed sexism; geometric models as failing in terms of cogency and translatability – how does the experience of those privileged in some areas and not in others, relate to others’ relative privilege and oppression? Are these technically comparable?

“No person can experience gender without simultaneously experiencing race and class” (13); “While race, class and gender can be seen as different axes of social structure, individual persons experience them simultaneously” (Andersen and Collins 1992, xxi). When we re-establish social meanings of sex in biology, we cannot effectively compare them to race or class, or address the power relations that derive from each as well as collection.

(kx^ do not agree with page 20 Garfinkel assumption of two and only two sexes – essential womanly or manly characteristics a la Goffman… how important is it to distinguish sex category, sex assignment, and both from ‘doing gender’?) Assessment of gender through accountability – deviance not static, but as a “possible evaluation of action in relation to normative conceptions and the likely consequence of that evaluation for subsequent interaction” (21); accountability as interactional and relational, based on recognition and evaluation; accomplishment of gender works to structure and reproduce social institutions.

“the seemingly obvious, ‘natural’ and ‘common sense’ qualities of the existing racial order ‘themselves testify to the effectiveness of the racial formation process in constructing racial meanings and identities” (Omi and Winant 1986, 62) – offering predispositions, ideal appearances, state-mandated criteria of classification – develops into accountability and expectations for racial category, used to police and justify actions/reactions. Race as situated within social situations, rather than individual expectations, misconception of essential natures that relate to hierarchies and inequality.

Luckily, social Darwinism doesn’t really impact our notions of class, but meritocracy does.  “We cannot see the system of distribution that structures our unequal access to resources.  Because we cannot see this, the accomplishment of class in everyday life rests on the presumption that everyone is endowed with equal opportunity and, therefore, that real differences in the outcomes we observe must result from individual differences in attributes like intelligence and character” (28). (kx ^ this class portion seems to be the weakest in defense).

“While sex category, race category and class category are potentially omnirelevant to social life, individuals inhabit many different identities, and these may be stressed or muted, depending on the situation” (30).  Where presumptions of class, race, and gender are based on limited knowledge of another? “Situations that involve more than one sex category, race category, and class category may highlight categorical membership and make the accomplishment of gender, race, and class more salient, but they are not necessary to produce these accomplishments in the first place. […] existing formulations of relations among gender, race, and class might lead one to conclude that ‘difference’ must be present for categorical membership, and, thus, dominance to matter” (31). Depending on accomplishment, same things may mean different things to different people.


Andersen, Margaret L. and Patricia Hill Collins. 1992. Preface to Race, Class and Gender, edited by M.L. Andersen and P.H.Collins. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

hooks, bell. 1984. From Margin to Center. Boston: South End.

Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. 1986. Racial Formation in the United States from the 1960s to the 1980s.  New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Rich, Adrienne. 1979. “Disloyal to Civilization: Feminism, Racism, Gyephobia.”In On Lies, Secrets, and Silence. New York: Norton.


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