Impact of gender studies on English literature

Seminar Paper, 2020

11 Pages, Grade: 1.0


Table of Contents

Gender Studies, Transgender Studies, Queer Studies

Cultural Memory


Reception Theory

Works Cited List

Gender Studies, Transgender Studies, Queer Studies

In the excerpt of Eveline Kilian's "Gender Studies, Transgender Studies, Queer Studies," published by J.B. Metzler in 2012, the author addresses the history of Gender, Transgender and Queer Studies and the impact the changes had on gender and sexuality in English and American Studies. Kilian differentiates between sex and gender and explains the impact of heteronormativity on society. She focuses on the crucial contributions of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and R.W.Connell. Connell shapes the term hegemonic masculinity, which describes gender practices granting dominance to specific groups of men (heterosexual men), subordinating, e.g., women and homosexual men.

Killian starts with the clear differentiation between sex and gender: Sex determines the "biological difference between male and female" (Kilian 209) and is therefore seen as "natural." Gender is a social and cultural construct (masculinity and femininity). Therefore, gender identity is created through specific gender markers. (Kilian 209). Judith Butler, however, questions the naturalness of the biologically determined understanding of sex, diving into male and female, in her influential study Gender Trouble. She states that sex is culturally produced and performativity achieved through permanent repetition "within the confines of a regulatory norm" (Kilian 209). Connell shaped the term hegemonic masculinity, demonstrating the dominance of male social roles over women and other subordinate groups of men, particularly homosexual men. The concept of hegemonic masculinity is beneficial for the majority of men.

Heteronormativity links gender and heterosexuality, oppressing any other forms of sexuality and gender that do not conform to the norm. This tendency is seen not only in individuals but also in "political, economic, legal and symbolic systems of society" (Kilian 210). Butler, questioning the duality of sex and gender, since both might be regarded as cultural constructions, introduces the term transgender, a third gender located in-between male and female. Queer theory opposes all kinds of identity categories, heteronormativity, and other forms of normalization or categorization. Besides, queer theorists have concluded that gender cannot be separated from sexuality and should be seen as an interdependent category.

Foucault identifies sexuality as an "apparatus of power" used, for instance, as a "regulation of reproduction through specific mechanisms of control" (Kilian 210). Also, he sees homosexuality and homosexuals not temporarily flawed but as a species shaped by their sexuality, calling it the incorporation of perversions. Queer theories emphasize dissident genders' potential to rearrange the binary system and overcome established heteronormativity.

In conclusion, Gender Studies have influenced not only our typical sociological, cultural and political pattern but also the narrative Theory and the understanding of traditional literary movements, which has led to the opening of traditional canons and the appearance of queer narratology. Kilian does an excellent job of pointing out essential terms such as heteronormativity or hegemonic masculinity and illustrating the effects these have had on individuals and our society. Furthermore, she clarifies the difference between sex and gender, indicating gender identity's performance based on gender markers. Familiarising oneself with all of these topics is vital if one would like to understand many social, cultural structures and the dominance of white heterosexual men in our society.

Cultural Memory

Cultural memory is practiced in English and American Studies to put the past and present processes and events about socio-cultural aspects on individual and collective levels. Thereby, one not only has to emphasize remembering but also forgetting. Interdisciplinary memory studies, and English and American Studies focus on three topics: traumatic pasts, the "afterlife" of literature, transnational, and transcultural memory. The first topic concentrates on the representation of traumatic historical experiences in literature and fiction. "Afterlife" of literature examines the cyclical reception of literature in the media, text-centered analyses, and the social context. Transnational and transcultural memory studies study different views and perspectives on specific historical events globally.

Holocaust studies and other historical events concerning war and violence are summarised in the term "traumatic pasts" that represent these in literature and film. Individual and cultural trauma caused by war and other social injustices is often addressed using "narrative structures, symbols, and metaphors" (239). Individual memory also plays a vital role when looking closely at the narrating situations of literary texts, since we have to distinguish between a pre-narrative experience and a historical memory. A first-person narrator is always influenced by his individual remembering (239). In particular, the Holocaust has been depicted when it comes to memories of violent history such as genocide and colonialism, showing how different generations represent different viewpoints and perspectives and how traumatic experiences impact, even shape individuals, nations, or even global communities. Alison Landberg speaks of "prosthetic memory": When occupying oneself with historical experiences such as the Holocaust or slavery, mass media allows to "produce empathy and social responsibility" regardless of 'race, class, and gender" (240).

After their publication, stories are re-read, forgotten, rediscovered through intertextual referencing, rewriting, or social debates. The basic process of memory in culture: Literary stories are never fully finished since they are continually actualized, discussed, and perceived anew. Firstly, different social actors have various views and perspectives on literary works, which are often influenced by societal changes. Secondly, through "intertextual and intermedial references, rewriting and adaption, forms of commentary and cross-reference," premeditation and remediation, the perception of specific historical events are transformed continuously. Thirdly, one analyses text- intrinsic elements that could contribute to an actuality, ambivalence, or lasting impact of a text.

Transnational and transcultural memory directs attention at specific historical events such as colonization, imperialism, or globalization. "Methodological nationalism" is often recognized in memory studies because studies are often nation-centered, ignoring that other nations' perspectives and experiences are just as valuable. For instance, Sarah Nuttall (South African fiction) has come up with the concepts of "negotiation" and "entanglement"; these support the viewpoints of different racialized identity groups (241).

To conclude, cultural memory remains one of the crucial parts of English and American Literature connecting social disciplines with literary works. Formative historical events such as the Holocaust, slavery, or colonialism that have impacted and party shaped the world are addressed in literature and film. Therefore, a constant reproduction and occupation guarantee an "afterlife." The majority of the human population is still affected by historical events such as World War 2 or colonization, so cultural memory remains as crucial as ever.


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Impact of gender studies on English literature
University of Bremen
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Kem Kuliyev (Author), 2020, Impact of gender studies on English literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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