THE PERSON, THE SOCIAL
INDIVIDUAL, AND THE SELF
I BEGAN WORKING ON the ideas in this book in response to a puzzle about the evident systematic presence of gender in our day-to-day experiences, on the one hand, and the almost uniform rejection of gender essentialism by feminist theorists, on the other. The debates between gender realists and gender nominalists, while both interesting and important, seemed to turn on issues tangential to our day-to-day experiences of gender.1 I also thought that the omnipresence of gender in our lives primarily reflects a social fact or a complex social structure out there in the world rather than an interior psychological fact about individuals (although of course individual psychologies interact with, and reflect, the social world in which they reside). My initial focus, therefore, was on the social world and its structures rather than on the self that engages with those structures. Since I began with an interest in understanding our day-to-day experiences of gender, it is time to bring the focus back from the social world to the self.
What is a self? Questions about the self, its nature, unity, and persistence, are almost as old as philosophy itself (Martin and Barresi 2003). Is the self defined by internal, intrinsic properties (like psychological or bodily properties) or by external,
1. For a recent discussion of important issues in the gender realism/gender nominalism debate, see Frye (2010), Stoljar (2010), Mikkola (2010), and Sveinsdottir (2010).