Essential Reading: Henrietta Moore on Gender
Henrietta Moore


Introduction
Below are a selection of books chosen by Henrietta Moore for Women's History month. She picked a novel, an anthropological work and a collection of essays. All three books explore the connections between gender relations and society. She argues that if you have a theory of gender relations you will invariably develop a theory of society and vice versa. When looking at questions of gender, you are not just considering gender itself, but ways of understanding the world at large.

The Passion of New Eve
by Angela Carter

The Passion of New Eve is the story of a young Englishman called Evelyn who over the course of the novel becomes a woman. Although Angela Carter was a famous feminist, she wasn't keen on being didactic in her literary writings. Nevertheless she made an exception in the case of The Passion of New Eve. She said it was a direct attempt to look at issues of gender and sexuality and their social construction in the form of a novel.

There are lengthy sections of the novel where Evelyn, as he becomes a woman, is subject to a long period of confinement where he has to watch endless reruns of old Hollywood movies about how women behave and what they look like. The drama of the story is about how femininity is constructed. It is also a story about how strange gender relations are, why people are so obsessed with them and why it matters in terms of the way we think about society.

What interests me about it is that it is a novelistic treatment of key themes in understanding how gender and sexuality are socially constructed but also understanding why we as individuals are so interested in that process of construction and how all our lives are bound up with it all of the time.

The Gender of the Gift
by Marilyn Strathern

The Gender of the Gift is a contemporary classic. It is probably the book that has had the most impact on the way in which all feminist anthropologists think. What is very important about it is that Marilyn uses the question of gender relations in Melanesia as a way of thinking about what a society is and how a society is constructed. Instead of looking at gender from the perspective of how gender is constructed, she looks at it in terms of how society is based on various understandings about the nature of sociality and in particular about the way in which societies are made up of individuals.

She argues that we cannot understand Melanesian gender relations or indeed Melanesian social relations through the use of various kinds of western concepts such as society, the individual, or indeed the categorical division into two genders.

In the end, it becomes a long-running discussion of whether anthropology is really possible. What it shows very clearly is how a critical reflection on gender opens up a whole series of questions about epistemology and about cross-cultural comparison and the very possibility of understanding not only other culture but your own society as well.

Sexuation
by Renata Selecil

Renata Selecil is one of the foremost Lacanian (Jacques Lacan was a French practitioner and theorist of psychoanalysis) theorists in the world. This book is a series of essays about how it is that the subject comes to be a gendered subject. What these essays do is to show quite straightforwardly that it is not a matter of a biologically based process nor a socially constructed process. From a Lacanian perspective, it is a problem of how the subject is constructed in language. In other words, how the subject is constructed in the symbolic world. The theory put forward there is both abiological and asocial constructionist. In other words, Lacan's re-reading of Freud shows that becoming a subject and becoming embodied is something that happens as a result of the subject's confrontation with the other.

Copyright London School of Economics and Political Science.