COMMENT: In her recent book (Struggles in (Elderly) Care: A Feminist View, Palgrave Macmillan 2017; see previous entries 21 and 28 January, 4 February 2018) Hanne Marlene Dahl embraces the language of “gendering”, to which she adds “de-gendering”. The use of gerunds (putting “ing” onto nouns) is a well-known post-structuralist device for challenging fixity (essences) and highlighting process. The goal here is to draw attention to how “things” are continually being made with the effect of opening up spaces for challenge and change (see C. Bacchi and S. Goodwin, Poststructural Policy Analysis: A guide to practice, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, p. 31).
This challenge to fixity is particularly difficult to maintain in relation to people, especially those people marked as “men” and “woman”. We are certainly not used to thinking of these categories as anything but fixed!
Poststructuralism makes the case that there is “no essential, natural or inevitable way of governing or classifying people” (M. Tamboukou 1999. “Writing genealogies: An exploration of Foucault’s strategies for doing research. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 20(2), p. 208). Rather, people are seen as in “ongoing formation” and as constituted in practices (see Bonham, J. & Bacchi, C. 2017. “Cycling ‘subjects’ in ongoing-formation: The politics of interviews and interview analysis”. The Journal of Sociology, 53(3): 687-703).
It is argued, for example, that policies as practices can play a role in producing “women” and “men” as gendered beings (Bacchi, C. 2017. “Policies as Gendering Practices: Re-Viewing Categorical Distinctions”. Journal of Women, Politics and Policy, 38(1): 20-41). Importantly, we are never completely “gendered”; rather, we are always becoming “men” and “women” (signaled through the use of quotation marks around the terms). For a helpful illustration of how research and policy are gendering practices that take part in the co-constitution of binary genders, see David Moore, Suzanne Fraser, Helen Keane, Kate Seear & Kylie Valentine (2017), “Missing Masculinities: Gendering Practices in Australian Alcohol Research and Policy”, Australian Feminist Studies, 32(93): 309-324.
De-gendering, it follows, are practices that interfere with the “ongoing formation” of “women” and “men” as particular kinds of gendered being. As Dahl (p. 39) describes, in de-gendering, “efforts are made to de-link gender from bodies with gendered signs”. An example would be the efforts in the five Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – to encourage “men” to assume more caring and domestic responsibilities (p. 40).
Deploying this theory leaves us with a dilemma – how to refer to and develop policies that aim to assist existing “women” and “men”, those who inhabit the categories. With Joan Eveline, I describe a “politics of movement” that involves strategies of “fixing” and “unfixing” the meanings we attach to concepts given the politics of the situation.
Recognising that “knowledge” is always political, a “politics of movement” relies upon willingness to self-identify as critical researchers, with the decisions about when to fix and when to unfix meanings dependent upon reflexive judgment about the political exigencies of the particular situation. (C. Bacchi and J. Eveline, Mainstreaming Politics: Gendering Practices and Feminist Theory, University of Adelaide Press, 2010, p. 13; available as a free download from University of Adelaide Press – https://www.adelaide.edu.au/press/.