Sex and gender and the beginnings of queer theory

(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

Contributing to queer theory’s emergence is the differentiation between sex and gender made by feminist thinkers, including Simone de Beauvoir and Luce Irigaray. Complications to those precepts have been raised by feminist literary and cultural critics such as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler. Their arguments are predicated upon premises generally current among postmodernists and specifically articulated by French psychoanalysts Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. The fact that queer theory appeared at a historical point in response to specific philosophers suggests to some that it may be culturally bound and might become irrelevant, but its immediate, broad application to a variety of disciplines argues for its continuation as a viable and relevant method of textual analysis.

Beauvoir’s claim that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” summarizes for many early feminists the distinction between the biological factors commonly used to identify a person’s sex and the social pressures that form a person’s gender. While biological sex was then commonly held to be easily categorized and understood, an assumption that would soon be challenged, social constructions were immediately recognized as shifting, variable, and indeterminate. Feminists have since engaged in systematic explorations of the social pressures to which women are subjected, perhaps in complicity with the patriarchy, and which men and women alike, either consciously or...

(The entire section is 576 words.)