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For Butler, sexed bodies never exist outside social meanings and how we understand gender shapes how we understand sex , Sexed bodies are not empty matter on which gender is constructed and sex categories are not picked out on the basis of objective features of the world. Instead, our sexed bodies are themselves discursively constructed : they are the way they are, at least to a substantial extent, because of what is attributed to sexed bodies and how they are classified for discursive construction, see Haslanger , Sex assignment calling someone female or male is normative Butler , 1.

In fact, the doctor is performing an illocutionary speech act see the entry on Speech Acts. In effect, the doctor's utterance makes infants into girls or boys. We, then, engage in activities that make it seem as if sexes naturally come in two and that being female or male is an objective feature of the world, rather than being a consequence of certain constitutive acts that is, rather than being performative.

And this is what Butler means in saying that physical bodies never exist outside cultural and social meanings, and that sex is as socially constructed as gender. She does not deny that physical bodies exist. But, she takes our understanding of this existence to be a product of social conditioning: social conditioning makes the existence of physical bodies intelligible to us by discursively constructing sexed bodies through certain constitutive acts.

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For a helpful introduction to Butler's views, see Salih For Butler, sex assignment is always in some sense oppressive. Again, this appears to be because of Butler's general suspicion of classification: sex classification can never be merely descriptive but always has a normative element reflecting evaluative claims of those who are powerful. Conducting a feminist genealogy of the body or examining why sexed bodies are thought to come naturally as female and male , then, should ground feminist practice Butler , 28—9.

Doing so enables feminists to identity how sexed bodies are socially constructed in order to resist such construction. Stone takes this to mean that sex is gender but goes on to question it arguing that the social construction of both sex and gender does not make sex identical to gender. According to Stone, it would be more accurate for Butler to say that claims about sex imply gender norms. To some extent the claim describes certain facts.

But, it also implies that females are not expected to do much heavy lifting and that they would probably not be good at it. So, claims about sex are not identical to claims about gender; rather, they imply claims about gender norms Stone , Grosz ; Prokhovnik The thought is that in oppositions like these, one term is always superior to the other and that the devalued term is usually associated with women Lloyd For instance, human subjectivity and agency are identified with the mind but since women are usually identified with their bodies, they are devalued as human subjects and agents.

This is said to be evident for instance in job interviews.


Men are treated as gender-neutral persons and not asked whether they are planning to take time off to have a family. By contrast, that women face such queries illustrates that they are associated more closely than men with bodily features to do with procreation Prokhovnik , The opposition between mind and body, then, is thought to map onto the opposition between men and women. The idea is that gender maps onto mind, sex onto body. That is, the s distinction understood sex as fixed by biology without any cultural or historical dimensions.

This understanding, however, ignores lived experiences and embodiment as aspects of womanhood and manhood by separating sex from gender and insisting that womanhood is to do with the latter. Rather, embodiment must be included in one's theory that tries to figure out what it is to be a woman or a man. First, claiming that gender is socially constructed implies that the existence of women and men is a mind-dependent matter.

This suggests that we can do away with women and men simply by altering some social practices, conventions or conditions on which gender depends whatever those are. However, ordinary social agents find this unintuitive given that ordinarily sex and gender are not distinguished.

Second, claiming that gender is a product of oppressive social forces suggests that doing away with women and men should be feminism's political goal. But this harbours ontologically undesirable commitments since many ordinary social agents view their gender to be a source of positive value. So, feminism seems to want to do away with something that should not be done away with, which is unlikely to motivate social agents to act in ways that aim at gender justice.

Given these problems, Mikkola argues that feminists should give up the distinction on practical political grounds. Feminism is the movement to end the oppression women as a group face. But, how should the category of women be understood if feminists accept the above arguments that gender construction is not uniform, that a sharp distinction between biological sex and social gender is false or at least not useful, and that various features associated with women play a role in what it is to be a woman, none of which are individually necessary and jointly sufficient like a variety of social roles, positions, behaviours, traits, bodily features and experiences?

Feminists must be able to address cultural and social differences in gender construction if feminism is to be a genuinely inclusive movement and be careful not to posit commonalities that mask important ways in which women qua women differ. These concerns among others have generated a situation where as Linda Alcoff puts it feminists aim to speak and make political demands in the name of women, at the same time rejecting the idea that there is a unified category of women , If feminist critiques of the category women are successful, then what if anything binds women together, what is it to be a woman, and what kinds of demands can feminists make on behalf of women?

Many have found the fragmentation of the category of women problematic for political reasons e.

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For instance, Young holds that accounts like Spelman's reduce the category of women to a gerrymandered collection of individuals with nothing to bind them together , Black women differ from white women but members of both groups also differ from one another with respect to nationality, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and economic position; that is, wealthy white women differ from working-class white women due to their economic and class positions.

These sub-groups are themselves diverse: for instance, some working-class white women in Northern Ireland are starkly divided along religious lines. So if we accept Spelman's position, we risk ending up with individual women and nothing to bind them together. And this is problematic: in order to respond to oppression of women in general, feminists must understand them as a category in some sense.

Some, then, take the articulation of an inclusive category of women to be the prerequisite for effective feminist politics and a rich literature has emerged that aims to conceptualise women as a group or a collective e.

Articulations of this category can be divided into those that are: a gender nominalist — positions that deny there is something women qua women share and that seek to unify women's social kind by appealing to something external to women; and b gender realist — positions that take there to be something women qua women share although these realist positions differ significantly from those outlined in Section 2. Below we will review some influential gender nominalist and gender realist positions.

Before doing so, it is worth noting that not everyone is convinced that attempts to articulate an inclusive category of women can succeed or that worries about what it is to be a woman are in need of being resolved. Instead, Mikkola argues for giving up the quest, which in any case she argues poses no serious political obstacles.

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Young holds that women are not bound together by a shared feature or experience or set of features and experiences since she takes Spelman's particularity argument to have established definitely that no such feature exists , 13; see also: Frye ; Heyes Instead, women's category is unified by certain practico-inert realities or the ways in which women's lives and their actions are oriented around certain objects and everyday realities Young , 23—4. For example, bus commuters make up a series unified through their individual actions being organised around the same practico-inert objects of the bus and the practice of public transport.

Women make up a series unified through women's lives and actions being organised around certain practico-inert objects and realities that position them as women. Young identifies two broad groups of such practico-inert objects and realities. First, phenomena associated with female bodies physical facts , biological processes that take place in female bodies menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and social rules associated with these biological processes social rules of menstruation, for instance.

Second, gender-coded objects and practices: pronouns, verbal and visual representations of gender, gender-coded artefacts and social spaces, clothes, cosmetics, tools and furniture.

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So, women make up a series since their lives and actions are organised around female bodies and certain gender-coded objects. Although Young's proposal purports to be a response to Spelman's worries, Stone has questioned whether it is, after all, susceptible to the particularity argument: ultimately, on Young's view, something women as women share their practico-inert realities binds them together Stone Natalie Stoljar holds that unless the category of women is unified, feminist action on behalf of women cannot be justified , Stoljar too is persuaded by the thought that women qua women do not share anything unitary.

This prompts her to argue for resemblance nominalism. This is the view that a certain kind of resemblance relation holds between entities of a particular type for more on resemblance nominalism, see Armstrong , 39— Stoljar relies more on Price's resemblance nominalism whereby x is a member of some type F only if x resembles some paradigm or exemplar of F sufficiently closely Price , For instance, the type of red entities is unified by some chosen red paradigms so that only those entities that sufficiently resemble the paradigms count as red.

The type or category of women, then, is unified by some chosen woman paradigms so that those who sufficiently resemble the woman paradigms count as women Stoljar , Semantic considerations about the concept woman suggest to Stoljar that resemblance nominalism should be endorsed Stoljar , It seems unlikely that the concept is applied on the basis of some single social feature all and only women possess.

Nonetheless, she holds that since the concept woman applies to at least some MTF trans persons, one can be a woman without being female Stoljar , The cluster concept woman does not, however, straightforwardly provide the criterion for picking out the category of women. Rather, the four clusters of features that the concept picks out help single out woman paradigms that in turn help single out the category of women. First, any individual who possesses a feature from at least three of the four clusters mentioned will count as an exemplar of the category.

That is, what delimits membership in the category of women is that one resembles sufficiently a woman paradigm. In a series of articles collected in her book of , Sally Haslanger argues for a way to define the concept woman that is politically useful, serving as a tool in feminist fights against sexism, and that shows woman to be a social not a biological notion. More specifically, Haslanger argues that gender is a matter of occupying either a subordinate or a privileged social position.

In some articles, Haslanger is arguing for a revisionary analysis of the concept woman b; a; b. Elsewhere she suggests that her analysis may not be that revisionary after all ; Consider the former argument first. Haslanger's analysis is, in her terms, ameliorative: it aims to elucidate which gender concepts best help feminists achieve their legitimate purposes thereby elucidating those concepts feminists should be using Haslanger b, In particular, they need gender terms to identify, explain and talk about persistent social inequalities between males and females.

Haslanger's analysis of gender begins with the recognition that females and males differ in two respects: physically and in their social positions. And this generates persistent sexist injustices. With this in mind, Haslanger specifies how she understands genders:. These are constitutive of being a woman and a man: what makes calling S a woman apt, is that S is oppressed on sex-marked grounds; what makes calling S a man apt, is that S is privileged on sex-marked grounds.

Haslanger's ameliorative analysis is counterintuitive in that females who are not sex-marked for oppression, do not count as women. At least arguably, the Queen of England is not oppressed on sex-marked grounds and so, would not count as a woman on Haslanger's definition. And, similarly, all males who are not privileged would not count as men.

This might suggest that Haslanger's analysis should be rejected in that it does not capture what language users have in mind when applying gender terms. However, Haslanger argues that this is not a reason to reject the definitions, which she takes to be revisionary: they are not meant to capture our intuitive gender terms. In response, Mikkola has argued that revisionary analyses of gender concepts, like Haslanger's, are both politically unhelpful and philosophically unnecessary.

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Note also that Haslanger's proposal is eliminativist: gender justice would eradicate gender, since it would abolish those sexist social structures responsible for sex-marked oppression and privilege. If sexist oppression were to cease, women and men would no longer exist although there would still be males and females. Not all feminists endorse such an eliminativist view though.

Stone holds that Haslanger does not leave any room for positively revaluing what it is to be a woman: since Haslanger defines woman in terms of subordination,. But according to Stone this is not only undesirable — one should be able to challenge subordination without having to challenge one's status as a woman. Feminism faces the following worries among others :. Commonality problems : 1 There is no feature that all women cross-culturally and transhistorically share.

He thus proposes that women make up a natural kind with a historical essence:. In short, one is not a woman due to shared surface properties with other women like occupying a subordinate social position. Rather, one is a woman because one has the right history: one has undergone the ubiquitous ontogenetic process of gender socialization.