Taking a gendered reading of a text is to foreground the depiction of the sexes and genders. It is important to separate the terms: sex: the physical manifestation of being male or female gender: the psychological, emotional and behavioural manifestation of masculinity or femininity. A person does not need to be physically female to identify as being feminine; a person, in rare cases, may have the physical attributes of both man and woman (intersex) but identify as one or the other.
Indeed, when taking a gendered reading, we often look at how women are portrayed in a stereotypical way or how men are expected to conform to cultural norms.
Julia Gillard was celebrated for 'calling it like she saw it' in branding the way women are treated in Australian politics as mysogenistic. However, she has also been criticised for subsequently taking a gendered reading of every insult and criticism of her during the final months of the Labor government's recent leadership. What do you think? Was this fair? Is there an argument to be made that this is a way that the media (and others) perpetuates gender imbalance and inequality? (ie. by make a villain of anyone who dares to challenge the dominant ideology)
When we read for gender, we might look at
the way ideas of femininity and masculinity are normalised (or interrogated) in a text.
how our own expectations of how men and women should act lead us to react or respond in particular ways.
which characters are depicted as passive and which as active.
how femininity is often portrayed as a weakness, and masculinity as an asset.
the way that social structures reward or punish particular sexes for their physical features and abilities.
whether a particular sex might be omitted from a text.
how the portrayal of women or men have become features of genres.
It is important to note that you do not have to declare yourself as a feminist in order to take a reading which deconstructs aspects of gender!
Another key point to note is that the depiction of gender is often a product of time and place. Therefore, if you are analysing a text which is from a different context you will need to ensure that you are clear that your understanding of the text has been informed by your own context.
For example, The depiction of Hedda in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, while challenging to audiences at the time it was written, does not have the same impact on modern Australian audiences who have grown up in a society where gender is not a determiner of our future. Despite this, we largely embrace the character regardless of her flaws as she represents a challenge to a society which was clearly biased in favour of women who were happy to be subservient to men.
A word of caution: It is not advisable to take a 'poor woman' stance when reading texts. The 'sad' lives and 'deplorable' conditions endured by women are often exaggerated in student responses. Try not to become hyperbolic.
Read Tony Hunter's 'Listen To The End' for an example of a text which utilises the tropes of the horror genre, including the depiction of women as weak, prone to emotional outbursts, and hysterical. (as a side note, look up the etymology of the word 'hysteria'!)
Taking a gendered reading, deconstruct the depiction of the male and female characters.
How does this text draw on naturalised ideas of masculinity and femininity?
What dangers does the text suggest there are in not questioning these beliefs?
Who is eventually punished in this story and in what way/s? How could this be read from a gendered perspective?
What cultural assumptions does this text support, challenge, and reinforce?
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