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Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


Professor Helen Fielding


Gender appears “unlocatable” because it is not a property of biology. At best, it is widely considered a “social construction” reinforced through institutional norms. This thesis contends that the underlying reason there is such difficulty in theorizing gender constitution is because much of Western philosophy is prefaced on an unrealizable contradiction. The subject is assumed to be constituted by multiple factors such as one’s biology as well as the influence of society. Such a multiplicitous constitution, however, cannot be expressed within an individualistic psyche. The work of Marx is predominately appealed to in order to explain traits of the individual psyche. In order to make sense of the way in which gender is multiply-constituted, the psyche must be theorized instead as multiply-constituted as well. Rather than presenting the psyche as individualistic, it is represented within these chapters as a collectivity. After consideration of what a potential psyche construed as a multiplicity may look like through the work of thinkers Mikhail Bakhtin and Luce Irigaray, it is easier to see where the confusion with constitution rests. The psyche is made up of our own thoughts, but these are traceable to the material world and others. The psyche is thus always a collectivity, not something closed-off from the influence of others. The multiple factors that are said to constitute gender are able to be traced through this new model of the psyche. This thesis concludes that gender is therefore not a mysterious property of an individual. Rather, different identities manifest as different types of embodied subjectivities, some of which share traits. This gives the illusion that there are immutable categories of gender identity.

Summary for Lay Audience

Gender is an elusive concept that cannot be pointed to as it lacks a strict biological origin. Sociologists and gender theorists have argued that gender is reinforced by certain social institutions that assume gender is binary—that there are only male and female genders. The interior component to the constitution of gender has been lacking in analyses because it is a very complicated topic. This thesis looks at the ways in which language and our thoughts play a part in the establishment of gender identity. A model of the psyche that is more expansive is proposed to help explain gender identity. This model expresses the psyche as a collectivity, rather than that of a sole individual, in order to show the way multiple influences bear upon and compose identity. This research also relies on the stories of transgender folk to confirm there are more than two genders. By expanding the model of the psyche, one is able to show that gender is multi-faceted in its constitution and it is not a mysterious property. The practical purpose of this research is to help legitimize the presence of LGBTQ2S+ identities by establishing a theory that academically accounts for the plethora of gender identities in today’s society.