Gitta's Literary Escapades

Just another reader taking on (modern) classics, best-sellers, award-winners, non-fiction, and (guilty pleasure) chicklit armed with common sense, a brain and feminism.

Gender, Heterosexuality, and Youth Violence by James W. Messerschmidt

Gender, Heterosexuality, and Youth Violence: The Struggle for Recognition - James W. Messerschmidt

This is a review of Chapter 2: "Theory and Method".


Messerschmidt gives a structured overview of the three key-terms needed to understand socially defined behaviour and identity: sex, gender and sexuality; male/female, masculinity/femininity (or masculinities/femininities), heterosexual/non-heterosexual (gay, lesbian, bi, etc.). Our biological sex is determined at birth based on genitals, but in daily life we need to assess a person's sex. In this sense, each of us "does" sex:


"Our recognition of another’s sex is dependent upon the exhibit of such bodily characteristics as speech, hair, clothing, physical appearance, and other aspects of personal front—through this embodied presentation we "do" sex and it is this doing that becomes a substitute for the concealed genitalia." (p. 29)


Moreover, he shows sex intersects with gender and sexuality, and how they differentiate with each other and amongst each other. Similarly to sex, we "do"/perform gender, too (i.e. masculinities/femininities). Gender does or does not match our biological sex. As such, there are effeminate men and masculine women.


"[T]he relationship between hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity underpins what has become known as heteronormativity, or the legal, cultural, organizational, and interpersonal practices that derive from and reinforce taken-for-granted assumptions that there are two and only two naturally opposite and complementary sexes (male and female), that gender is a natural manifestation of sex (masculinity and femininity), and that it is natural for the two opposite and complementary sexes to be sexually attracted to each other (heterosexuality)." (p. 36)


Messerschmidt then continues to discuss 'four distinct masculinities and femininities: dominant, dominating, subordinate, and equality' and explains how the incongruence within the sex-gender-heterosexuality structure is view and socially dealt with (pp. 38-39). Even equality masculinities and femininities, who -- as the term implies -- hold egalitarian viewpoints of men and women and maintains his/her relationships in a similar fashion, ultimately disregards the masculine hegemony (man-masculine-heterosexual) over the Other and are thus not complementary to it. They are thus not socially "natural" and will, as of yet, not be perceived as normal in the eyes of society (for now).


"The body thus plays a crucial role in social interactions and it determines how you are perceived by others. 'To be "read" by others as male, female, masculine, feminine, straight, gay, lesbian, etc., individuals must ensure that their proffered selves are maintained through situationally appropriate display and behavior - the body is social and social settings are created through intercorporeality." (p. 43)


Though the relationship with criminality is of lesser concern to my academic interests, this chapter gives several useful insights into sex, gender and sexuality and dominant studies previously published. It is a great starting point for those interested in criminology, naturally, but can also prove useful for students/academics in the fields of literature, (social-)history and sociology.

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