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34 - Gender

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

Dúnlaith Bird
Affiliation:
English at the Université Paris 13.
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Summary

The American Psychological Association (2011) currently defines ‘gender’ as ‘the attitudes, feelings, and behaviours that a given culture associates with a person's biological sex’. Although this definition is indicative of the progress made over the past decades in terms of our understanding of gender and gender identity, it remains inherently problematic. Such definitions imply that the relation of gender to culture is straightforward, that gender is dependent on culture and inextricably linked to biological sex. In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler (2006 [1990], viii) rejects strict definitions which reduce gender to ‘received notions of masculinity and femininity’. For Butler, as for many recent researchers including Efrat Tseëlon and Lois McNay, the notion of gender resists categorization and indeed part of its power lies in its mutability. If gender, cultural norms and biological traits are interconnected, then travel can be argued to set gender in motion.

Travel and travel writing were traditionally seen as masculine domains, with official proclamations such as the King James I ‘Proclamation touching Passengers’ (1606) forbidding women to travel overseas without royal licence. As Karen Lawrence (1994) notes, up to the twentieth century women were largely written out of critical analysis on travel writing. In the 1980s and 1990s feminist research on gender and travel largely focused on women's travel writing; that work included Jane Robinson's anthology, Unsuitable for Ladies (1994), and the writing of Pat Barr and Billie Melman. Though this research was essential in broadening the field of travel and gender, in recent years gender has increasingly been seen as part of a wider nexus of intersecting discourses including race, classand spatial theory.

This trend is illustrated in the selection of texts made by Shirley Foster and Sara Mills (2002) in their anthology of women's travel writing. Their aim is ‘to demonstrate the contextually and historically specific nature of gender conditions’, while at the same time acknowledging the continued importance of gender as a determining factor in travel and travel writing (1). Mills (2005, 11) has repeatedly argued for a more materialist understanding of gender, which would focus on the lived experience of the traveller. This insistence on the specificity of gendered experience, which acknowledges the power but also the contingency of gender, has provided a guideline for researchers such as Kristi Siegel (2004).

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Chapter
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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 99 - 101
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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