sex and gender

  • Barbara Holland-Cunz (Author)

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In the history of political and natural philosophy, there are hardly any terms that were and are as strongly charged with controversial interpretations as “sex” and “gender”. From the historically and geographically almost ubiquitous assumption of women’s closeness to nature, to the radical rejection of all connections between biological sex and social gender formulated by today’s dominant current of gender studies, there is no ‘neutral’ definition of these terms, although at first glance they appear to be undeniable facts. The manifold dimensions and contrasting definitions can nevertheless be classified in terms of the history of ideas: in particular in terms of conceptions of the nature-culture relation as well as in terms of the most important positions within modern feminist theory, i.e. the locus of disputes about the definition of sex and gender since the end of the 18th century. The question that permeates the various positions always remains that of the ‘share’ of the cultural (symbolic) in the understanding of sex and the ‘share’ of the natural (material) in the understanding of gender. The dispute over the interpretation of the most famous feminist phrase – “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” (Simone de Beauvoir) – stands paradigmatically for every conceivable controversy.


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