Mapping gender theories
A post-structuralist attention to meanings had challenged structuralism’s search for underlying frameworks which might explain gender oppression. Post-structuralism questions binary systems of classification which insist gender must be fixed as either feminine or masculine. In contrast to structuralism it proposes that gender has no ‘real’ basis as part of individuals and their bodies, but that gender differences are created by language. However, these themes have emerged, albeit in slightly different guise, within second-wave feminism where both material inequalities and the production of meanings around difference were of concern. Debates about equality or difference were used strategically to fulfil particular goals (Bacchi, 1990).The difficulties involved in these debates were partly responsible for prompting an intellectual and political shift away from the complexities of materially based gender inequalities towards an interest in discourse and ‘texts’. The cultural turn saw language, meaning and representation become the core concerns in examining gender.
The cultural turn offers new appreciations of the agency or choices we are able to exercize in regard to gendering processes. However, it leaves us with questions about to what extent social structures continue to impose constraints on how we are gendered and how we do gender. Problems remain in using more language based analyses to understand such issues as gendered power relations (Roseneil, 1995) and gendered embodiment (Howson, 2005).