What is gender
Gender and identity can be applied to many written texts, as a way of analysing or criticising it. Gender is often seen as images of women, images of men or images of the difference between the two. In literature as in society, women are often represented in different ways to men, despite the obvious dependency on one another. There are several ways to look at the idea of gender, and several different readings of what we define as gender. It can also be a commentary of society’s view on homosexuality and how people react to these ‘different’ people.
As the passage suggests, the idea of homosexuality has been often confronted with a deep, hate-filled hostility throughout the years, especially in the domain of literature. Gide spoke back against this hostility in his works, especially L’immoraliste, in which he spoke about himself and his sexuality.
He wanted to help other people in his situation who did not have the protection of being a celebrated author. He used his works to do this. This is visible in his text, L’Immoraliste, where we can clearly see how his homosexual experience grow more meaning as we follow his story.
But what is gender? Gender is something which is socially constructed. Socially, we are men and women, but by birth, we are born either male or female. Our gender is built up through a variety of social experiences, but our sex is something given to us at birth which cannot be changed. As Didier Eribon says, homophobia has played a large part in the structure of the twentieth and twenty-first century homosexuals.
The battle and fight against homosexuality continues today. It can be seen in a lot of modern pieces and homosexuality becomes more and more socially accepted. From what we can see, it seems the more a person can talk openly about their sexuality, the more their sexuality becomes socially accepted and therefore making it easier for other writers who follow to do the same.
Homophobia still exists in the modern society however, and it’s this homophobia which is beginning to shape the modern homosexual. As the passage states, homosexuals are forced into self-justification towards other people. This can be seen in L’Immoraliste in that Gide often writes of Michel’s strain to justify his feelings for the young boys.
Michel claims to himself that the feelings he has for the young child is down the health and strength of the boy’s strength.
Unfortunately, as authors and homosexuals attempt to battle and combat the socially constructed ideas of homosexuality, they also contribute to their perpetuation, by continually bringing them up to discussion. According to Eribron, literature plays part in the identity of modern gays, and this can be seen through the popularity of such texts as Gide’s L’Immoraliste and Les Faux-Monnayeurs.
Gender isn’t only to do with homo- and heterosexuality. It is also a commentary of how the different sexes are seen in literature by different authors.
In Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxieme Sexe, he states that women are only an ‘other’ compared to the men.
“Il est le Sujet, il est l’Absolu : elle est l’Autre”
Although he claims that women are nothing without men, he also states that men and women are reliant on eachother. This hasn’t, however, brought about sexual equality.
The passage claims that heterosexuality is seen as the “norm” but there are still fundamental problems between heterosexual males and females. Women are often seen as objects to the male viewer, and this is still visible in modern literature and even film – women are often used as sexual objects to draw the attention of the male viewer.
Although there is an obvious dependency on eachother by both sexes – nature says that reproduction can only be achieved with a member of both sexes – there is still an overriding male superiority in the world, just as the heterosexual dominancy over homosexuals. However, this is not chance dominancy. It has been born over hundreds of years of traditional ideas. There is even a link between the position of women in society and the Jews after the second World War – both were seen as lesser, lower social beings.
Human character is not a given entity however. It is a reaction to circumstance. In Gide’s L’Immoraliste, we can see from the narrative, which is a first person narrative from the eyes of Michel, the opinion of Marceline that Michel holds. The narrative itself shows the ascent of Michel and his social enlightenment combined with the descent from grace of Marceline. Again, male superiority and dominancy is highlighted.
In conclusion, it can be said that gender is society’s perception of men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals. Traditional views form our vision of society and obviously affect how people are depicted, especially in literature. But our views and ideas are constantly changing and being changed by what goes on around us. Therefore, gender is something which is almost indefinable, due to the on-going changes enforced upon it.
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