Let me start off with Connell's definition of gender: "Gender is the structure of social relations that centres on the reproductive arena, and the set of practices that bring reproductive distinctions between bodies into social processes." (p. 11)

Now let me try something different for reading notes on this book: instead of a frantic attempt to discuss all my exhaustive thoughts on it,  what if I (gasp) prioritized and didn't say everything?

Connell, R. (2009). Gender: in world perspective. Cambridge: Polity.

I'd like to focus my reflections here on two related points: first, that gender ultimately refers to reproductive differences (male/female), and that language and gender (and performativity) are inexorably intertwined.

On page 42, Connell brings up Judith Butler's Gender Trouble, which rocked the 1990's gender-research world: "Gender is performative, bringing identities into existence through action, rather than being the expression of some pre-existing reality." This is exactly what p. 18-19 illustrate when telling the story of Mpondo migrant mine workers and their families, who saw ubudoda (manhood) as something that women could -- and did -- possess, managing households and holding together rural communities in the absence of their men, who were working in the city mines. The women performed masculinity.

That last sentence, "the women performed masculinity," could be seen in a number of different ways. If we think of gender as a pre-existing reality, ubudoda would be something the women "put on" in a sort of... deceptive, or false, or somehow lesser way. Performances are fake. "Real" members of a group don't need to "perform" membership in that group. However, if gender is a performance by everyone in the first place (how else do you see outward signs of group membership?), the womens' performance was no more or less "true" than the performance of masculinity by men.

I nearly typed "actual men" in that last sentence, and wonder how it'd change the meaning of the sentence if I did -- acknowledging the many people in the world who don't identify as one side or the other of a neat male/female binary. This is one reason I stumble over Genesis 1:27:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Do we read these words and infer a binary -- "a bucket for male and a bucket for female he created, and in one bucket or another he created each individual human being, and if you're not neatly in one bucket or the other you've got it wrong"?

Or do we read them and infer a spectrum -- "maleness and femaleness he created, and with some mixture of the two he created each individual human being"?

Or do we read them and think about something else entirely -- "maleness and femaleness and hey who knows what other things he created..."

There are an infinite number of ways to express femininity and womanhood, but there are also an infinite number of shades of red. Do we say:

  • There is one shade of red (pure red) and one shade of blue (pure blue) and everyone is either red or blue.
  • There are infinite shades of red and infinite shades of blue, but everyone is either (some sort of) red or (some sort of) blue.
  • Whoa, purple!
  • Whoa, yellow!

My understanding of Connell's take on Butler is that we, each of us, mix our own colors constantly throughout life, based on what we want to show others on our canvas.