Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Love and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Love and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro

Article excerpt

1. Gender Identity

Gender, as a fundamental aspect of personal and social identity, is a biological, psychological, and cultural category of paramount importance. In addition, gender is often a criterion for social stratification and different political treatment, as well as a favored symbol for expressing values and beliefs. It is continually reconstructed in global processes of economic and political change. The purpose is to foster awareness of the importance of gender in personal and public life, and how public policy is shaped on a regional, national and international level. Inherent in Munro's thematic interest in the personal construction of identity is an awareness of the significant role played by gender in establishing who we are and how we see the world. For example, Loma Irving refers in her articles to several of Munro's stories in which the mother-daughter relationship is pivotal. Also in Bronwen Wallace's essay, the focus in on the themes of gender and identity in Munro's works, including the mother-daughter relationship and the contradictory nature of maternal feelings, women's bodies, male-female relationships in which women maintain various selves in the face of men's struggle to control or deny them.

With the advent of postmodernism attempts to explain apparently universal gender inequalities of power were abandoned and the focus returned to gender as an attribute of individuals constructed through cultural practice. Instead of analyzing gender in terms of social structures and social systems the construction of gendered subjectivities of self and identity became important. This can be seen as part of the cultural turn within sociology whereby culture displaced society and the economy as a focus of theoretical concern. This shift can be understood as a move from studying socio-sexual divisions of labor to studying gender symbolism and gender identities.

Although academic postmodernism has contributed to a destabilization of overly dichotomous and generalizing conceptions of gender, and equally (if not more) important impetus has been the political failure of such understandings of gender to illuminate the complex material realities of sexuality, race, and class as they are constitutive of gender categories.1

In Dance of the Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro, there is a feminist critical perspective, with arguments set out plainly:

Munro's art is informed by being female. Her folk art and her irony are natural expressions of her gender, her use of landscapes and place are bound up with the female psyche, and fictional form and content develop in a variety of ways from writing the body.2

She considers the two collections of stories: Lives of Girls and Women and The Progress of Love to be reflective of a writing form defined by French feminist critics as l'écriture féminine. Rasporich states that her resistance to linear narrative gives rise to multiple climaxes and multiple epiphanies: a denial of the transcendent One through the divergent many.3 Her emphasis on alternating perspectives and contingent arrangements undermines any definite position, among those being the authority of patriarchy and its gender stereotypes.

Judith Butler conceptualizes gender as a system of signs infused with power. Gender, sexuality and identity are all elements of the discourse of heterosexuality and it is within discourses that power is constituted. Conceptualizations of gender as performance or as part of the discursive construction of subjectivities has been criticized for its lack of attention to systemic power relations which, it is argued, derives from Foucault's apparent denial of an extra-discursive, material reality in which power is based. Gender has also been conceptualized in terms of social practice and here the theories of Pierre Bourdieu, particularly his concepts of habitus and disposition have been influential. His theory provides a materialist alternative to the idealism of Michel Foucault and post-structuralism. …

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