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She knows who she is: Getting beyond 'gender' in contemporary feminist theory

Alice, Lynne Christine (1994) She knows who she is: Getting beyond 'gender' in contemporary feminist theory. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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In this thesis 'gender' is examined as a concept which has provided part of the conceptual basis for feminist politics for the last two decades/ An increasing scepticism about the adequacy of the concept to describe the differences of culture and sexuality is examined through an interrogation of selected Anglo-American feminist texts and some works by 'third world feminists', indigenous women and 'women of colour'. The thesis is that the diversity of feminist thinking about 'gender', 'difference', and 'identity' in various geographical and cultural locations has been insufficiently acknowledged by the Anglo-American feminist mainstream, and that localised, coalitional and affinity politics are an inevitable strategic result for postmodern feminisms.

The question of how to achieve a conceptualisation of 'gender' and a politics of sexuality based on a pluralist ethics is central. It is argued that despite its intention to challenge biologistic representations of female sexuality, feminism has tended to hierarchise and prescribe sexual choices and values. Contrary to feminists who criticise 'libertarianism' as replicating a phallocentric acceptance of sexual minority behaviours, it is argued that feminism must accept the contradictory and unstable bases of identity and sexuality. In the age of HIV/AIDS the persistence of sexual subjectivities based on prescriptive notions of identity, only reinforces a panicked logic of regulation and control.

The inevitability of essentialism in constructionist accounts of lesbian and gay theories provides the context for a discussion of attempts to reconfigure sexual ’identities’ within the politics of HIV/AIDS activism. It is argued that the persistence of ’gender’ in feminist theory supports a cul de sac of identity based politics. Its usefulness is strategic on occasion, but arguably must also allow for a broadening of understandings about the subject(s) of feminism. An effective feminist sexual politics will be coalition and affinity based.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Baldock, Cora
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