The Queer Turn in Feminism: Identities, Sexualities, and the Theater of Gender

The Queer Turn in Feminism: Identities, Sexualities, and the Theater of Gender

The Queer Turn in Feminism: Identities, Sexualities, and the Theater of Gender

The Queer Turn in Feminism: Identities, Sexualities, and the Theater of Gender

Synopsis

More than any other area of late-twentieth-century thinking, gender theory and its avatars have been to a large extent a Franco-American invention. In this book, a leading Franco-American scholar traces differences and intersections in the development of gender and queer theories on both sides of the Atlantic. Looking at these theories through lenses that are both "American" and "French," thus simultaneously retrospective and anticipatory, she tries to account for their alleged exhaustionand currency on the two sides of the Atlantic. The book is divided into four parts. In the first, the author examines two specifically "American" features of gender theories since their earliest formulations: on the one hand, an emphasis on the theatricality of gender (from John Money's early characterization of gender as "role playing" to Judith Butler's appropriation of Esther Newton's work on drag queens); on the other, the early adoption of a "queer" perspective on gender issues. Inthe second part, the author reflects on a shift in the rhetoric concerning sexual minorities and politics that is prevalent today. Noting a shift from efforts by oppressed or marginalized segments of the population to make themselves "heard" to an emphasis on rendering themselves "visible," she demonstrates the formative role of the American civil rights movement in this new drive to visibility. The third part deals with the travels back and forth across the Atlantic of "sexual difference," ever since its elevation to the status of quasi-concept by psychoanalysis. Tracing the "queering" of sexual difference, the author reflects on both the modalities and the effects of this development. The last section addresses the vexing relationship between Western feminism and capitalism. Without trying either to commend or to decry this relationship, the author shows its long-lasting political and cultural effects on current feminist and postfeminist struggles and discourses. To that end, she focuses on one of the intense debates within feminist and postfeminist circles, the controversy over prostitution.

Excerpt

“But after all, who is interested, today, in sexual difference, gender roles and hierarchies, or even sexualities, in the United States of America—or, to be more precise, in ‘theoretical America’? In her most recent work, at least the work she has been producing in the United States and for an American public, hasn’t Judith Butler moved away from the divided field of feminist theory and queer theory? Hasn’t she turned toward a more general theorization of the political, or to an attempt to reestablish moral philosophy on a ‘poststructuralist’ basis? Eve Kosovsky Sedgwick’s last essays addressed the issue of ‘affects’ and ‘feelings’; hadn’t she stopped contributing to the field of queer theory several years before her untimely death in 2009, even if she continued thinking and writing ‘in a queer fashion’ to the end? Didn’t well-known thinkers such as Janet Halley, a queer legal scholar at Harvard, and Andrew Parker, a queer literary critic, announce the end of queer theory as early as 2007, in a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly titled After Sex? Two years earlier, hadn’t Janet Halley proclaimed the end of feminism—or rather the need to end it—in a book titled Split Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism?. In an article published in 2010, even the historian Joan Scott wondered about the ‘usefulness’ of the ‘concept’ of gender that she had helped develop and promote in the 1980s. As for Wendy Brown, a well-known political theorist and (post)feminist, she has been playing Cassandra in the field of gender studies since 1997.

“This is all true, but still, gender studies and gender theory—or rather theories—are now well established in Europe. Long implanted in Northern Europe, they’re now welcomed and recognized in France and Spain.

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