In the previous entry (31 May 2019) I suggested the usefulness of gendering as a concept. An earlier entry (11 February 2018) introduced this topic. In this brief contribution I summarize the intent of this conceptual intervention (as I use it), preparing the ground for two subsequent entries on dilemmas associated with this position: first, how to operationalize a gendering concept in research; and, second, the relationship between gendering and claims about feminism.
In a recent article (Bacchi 2017) I make a first attempt to clarify the many ways in which feminist researchers deploy the concept “gendering”. I have found additional uses since that article. For simplicity’s sake it is useful to identify two trends in this literature: first, interventions by researchers to insist that a particular phenomenon needs to be understood as displaying “gendered” characteristics (as an example, see Staudt, “Gendering development”, 2008); and, second, interventions that use gendering to refer to how social practices, including policy practices, produce “women” and “men”. I use the term in this second sense.
To repeat a point I have made on several occasions, my comments on “gendering” as a concept do not reflect a conviction that I am offering the one, correct definition of gendering. Rather, I think it is important to be clear about the political intent of specific adaptations of the term. To talk about “gendering” to refer to how social practices produce “women” and “men” offers a political attempt to challenge gender binaries, including male/female, man/woman, boy/girl, masculine/feminine. The grounds for this challenge are that such binaries impose unacceptable and harmful boundaries on forms of human interacting.
This stance is associated with a poststructural view that political subjects are beings in process rather than fixed or essential types/entities – described as an ontology of becoming rather than an ontology of being. Many poststructuralists find it helpful to replace nouns with verb forms as a strategy for displacing essences. Gerunds, produced by adding “ing” to a noun, constitute one such verb form. Poststructural Policy Analysis: A Guide to Practice (Bacchi and Goodwin 2016, p. 100) offers the example of “bordering” (van Houtum 2005). When one talks about bordering rather than borders one draws attention to the practices involved in producing things called borders. In this way it becomes possible to highlight or make visible the politics – the heterogeneous relations – involved in producing geopolitical entities.
To apply this thinking to “women” and “men” through the concept of gendering is a challenging exercise since the common distinction between male and female biological entities is longstanding and ingrained in many cultures. In The Politics of Affirmative Action (Bacchi 1996, p.4) I make the simple point that, if these categories are common-sensical, one needs to wonder at the amount of effort expended in reinforcing them. More significantly, of course, transgender and intersex positions pose important challenges to conventional gender distinctions.
Brought to the policy domain, a gendering analysis examines policies as productive of gender. Policies are treated as social practices involved in the production of the categories of “women” and “men”. Westbrook and Saperstein (2015) make a useful contribution on this point. They show how social surveys are “gendering” in the ways in which sex/gender categories are applied to respondents, both directly and indirectly, through the forms of question asked (about grandsons and granddaughters, for example) and through gendered pronouns. The poststructural position makes the case that in these instances gender is not only attributed to subjects; rather, such practices take part in the ongoing constitution of “women” and “men”. This position is developed in the WPR argument that policies produce “subjects”, alongside “problems”, “objects” and “places” (see Bacchi and Goodwin 2016).
As an example, according to a 2017 OECD Report, women at home looking after their children represent “the greatest untapped potential” in Australia’s workforce (https://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2016/s4633783.htm). The Report concluded that the Australian economy might continue to suffer unless “stay-at-home mothers are encouraged back to work”. Encouraging “stay-at-home mothers” into paid labour appears to challenge conventional gendered domestic roles. However, because the Report pays no attention to how caring responsibilities will be carried out (a silence), the presumption is that those marked as “women” will continue to perform these responsibilities. The Report therefore almost counter-intuitively constitutes “women” as carers; it impels those marked as “women” to fulfill expected obligations and so genders [verb] them.
The political implications of this stance are far-reaching. Such an argument means that, instead of asking how particular policies impact on women and men, as assumed categories, we, as researchers, ask what I call the “gendering question” – how policies and policy research produce “women” and “men” as particular sorts of being. For a helpful illustration of how research and policy are gendering practices that take part in the co-constitution of gender binaries, see Moore et al., 2017.
Such a focus on the constitutive effects of policies entails the need to also ask questions about policies as racializing, heteronorming, third-worldizing, disabling, classing, etc. (Bacchi 2017). In each case the emphasis is on how policies produce realities rather than the conventional view of policies as reactions to assumed “problems”, creating a whole new agenda for policy research.
The next entry considers the challenges such a theoretical position poses for policy development and research.
Bacchi, C. 1996. The Politics of Affirmative Action: “Women”, Equality and Category Politics.London: Sage.
Bacchi, C. and Goodwin, S. 2016. Poststructural Policy Analysis: A Guide to Practice. NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bacchi, C. 2017. Policies as Gendering Practices: Re-Viewing Categorical Distinctions, Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 38:1, 20-41.
Moore, D., Fraser, S., Keane, H., Seear, K. & Valentine, K. 2017. Missing Masculinities: Gendering Practices in Australian Alcohol Research and Policy”. Australian Feminist Studies, 32(93): 309-324.
Staudt, Kathleen. 2008. “Gendering Development.” In Politics, Gender, and Concepts: Theory and Methodology, eds. G. Goertz and A. Mazur. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 136–56.
van Houtum, H. 2005. The geopolitics of borders and boundaries. Geopolitics, 10: 672-679.
Westbrook, L. and Saperstein, A. 2015. New Categories are Not Enough: Rethinking the Measurement of Sex and Gender in Social Surveys. Gender & Society. 29(4): 534-560.