International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe
Chapter 8: Sex, gender and sexuality
It is tempting to see sex, gender and sexuality as analytical categories referring to timeless properties of the human body, social aspects of behaviour that reflect this, and biological imperatives of the species. Indeed there are very powerful political forces heavily invested in promoting that view of those very terms, framed with religious, moral and political ideologies. Ideologies are understood here in a general sense as systems of ideas that organize concepts in a mutually supportive manner, thus generating a sense of coherence and certainty (Freeden, 1998). The view that sex, gender and sexuality are just descriptive concepts, with perhaps some normative aspects, does not capture the power that ideological systems – even ones which seem to omit or marginalize these crucial particularities – exercise in and through social institutions. These institutions – whether overtly political or not – form human beings as subjects and frequently treat them as objects. If sex, gender and sexuality are treated as constructive categories (not just constructed ones), then power-relations start to become visible, and the work involved in keeping them hidden (and in keeping us incurious) emerges (Enloe, 2004). This is how feminists, speaking as and for women as a marginalized majority, have come to view sex, gender and sexuality, though in widely differing ways. However, the point of their work, and of this chapter, is to politicize these terms, and expose the ways that they function in international politics, rather than to make them definitional debating points.
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