Thursday, October 27, 2011

The 20 Best Books About Gender Studies

Gender and human sexuality exist in shades of grey, not the bipolar "male-female" and "heterosexual-homosexual" mindsets with which most people are familiar. Were it all so clear, easy and black-and-white, colleges wouldn’t have much of a reason to offer gender studies courses and majors! And with so many personalities and philosophies at play, it behooves such students to consider and read about everything they possibly can, although trying to tackle them all might prove impossible. The following 20 offer up some fantastic starting points unraveling the tangled field, but should not be thought of as the be-all-end-all gender studies canon.

  1. Sexing the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling

    Body politics receives a thorough dissection from a Brown University professor and lauded gender studies expert. Here, Anne Fausto-Sterling posits some undeniably challenging perspectives regarding intersections between culture, medicine, gender and sex. One of her most heatedly debated points jettisons the traditional binary model and outlines a five-gender, more spectrum-based approach. Controversial stuff, to be certain, but compellingly supported by beaucoup scientific research.

  2. Guyland by Michael Kimmel

    While the author assures readers that the majority of American males between 16 and 26 do not engage in aggressive behavior enabling or displaying arrested development, those who do pose a serious sociological threat. Guyland explores the misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic currents flowing through pop culture’s masculine depictions and their roles in shaping today’s youth — as well as the history of emotional suppression and the inherent dangers. Parents hoping to raise healthy, happy children who push society forward should read this alongside the gender studies crowd. Consider it absolutely essential for individuals belonging to both demographics!

  3. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

    Contemporary "Western" feminism roots itself in this social justice classic, which questioned then-current attitudes towards women and their roles. History filters so much into sociological and cultural studies, ignoring groundbreaking works will ultimately prove detrimental. Exploring Mary Wollstonecraft’s world sheds light on the current, allowing for epic compare-and-contrast sessions.

  4. Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent

    Much ado gets made over double standards and unrealistic expectations foisted upon women — and rational individuals realize the outcry is wholly justified. But less attention turns towards those American men experience daily. One intrepid female journalist convincingly disguised herself as a male for 18 months and used this position to explore and analyze the issue firsthand. Her insightful journey picks apart contemporary views regarding masculinity and showcases how they prove just as restrictive as their feminine equivalents. With so many similarities between ladies and gentlemen, why should the battle of the sexes even be a thing?

  5. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks

    Feminism’s major downside involves the glossing over or ignoring issues related to women of color — not just African-Americans. Improvements, fortunately, continue happening, but still need implementing. bell hooks’ oeuvre bursts with ruminations on overlaps between race and gender marginalization, showcasing how black women in the United States end up oppressed by ostensible defenders claiming to voice every female’s concerns. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism provocatively traces how this happens and proffers suggestions on best approaching and including doubly- (if not triply- or more) overlooked — even exploited — demographics.

  6. Between XX and XY by Gerald N. Callahan, PhD

    Science and culture collide in one fascinating argument about how gender and sex completely transcend biology. The current two-gender model of approaching human sexuality, many experts argue, proves entirely too limiting when one considers the transgendered, intersexed, two-spirit and other individuals with non-mainstream wiring. Doing so might very well help clear up some myths, misunderstandings and marginalization regarding these demographics, creating a safer space for all peoples.

  7. Dude, You’re a Fag by C.J. Pascoe

    Because gender and sexuality start coalescing around adolescence, both factors start shaping internal and external behaviors. Bullying involving LGBTQIA youth — or even related slurs hurled at the heterosexual and/or cisgendered — is sometimes portrayed as a masculine rite of passage in some communities. Suffice to say, not only does this psychologically (if not physically) scar victims, it also further pushes sexuality and gender identity minorities towards societal fringes. Dismantling the current climate means saving the tormented — and maybe even the bullies themselves.

  8. Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

    Written by a MTF biologist, Whipping Girl illustrates how transphobia stems directly from systemic sexism and argues that mainstream feminism must absolutely embrace transwomen. Both science and anecdotes factor into Julia Serano’s powerful, exceptional, and courageous clarion call for equality and understanding. These days, gender studies programs worth applying to include explorations of transgender and transsexual rights and social perceptions, and this book deserves a hallowed syllabus spot in at least one class.

  9. Real Boys by William Pollack

    Restrictive gender roles start filtering in during the childhood years, so parents and education professionals wanting to nurture happy, productive kids should understand what they are, what they do and how they receive reinforcement. This inquiry into masculine stereotypes illustrates the damages ravaged by narrow interests — specifically, cars, sports and conventionally attractive ladies. Bullying, squelched creativity, anxiety and depression (unaddressed, because admitting emotion or weakness works against the rigid "ideal") all increase alongside perpetuated societal expectations.

  10. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

    Another landmark feminist text, perfect for more historically-minded gender studies aficionados. Published more than a decade before the feminist movement, it served as an effective reminder that a truly civilized, enlightened society couldn’t keep its female population down. Simone de Beauvoir took an interdisciplinary approach to the subject, blending philosophy, economics, science and plenty more into her argument, creating a compelling case for equality.

  11. Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein

    Kate Bornstein opens up about the transsexual experience — including reassignment surgery — and reinforces the popular mindset that sex is biological, but gender is social. Philosophical and scientific ruminations on societal roles, myths and misconceptions, marginalization and more abound, illuminating the shades of grey overriding traditional black-and-white thinking. Part memoir, part empowering inquiry into an oft-misunderstood gender and sexual world, the book creates an excellent, effective case for overthrowing rigid perspectives, roles and expectations.

  12. Lessons from the Intersexed by Suzanne J. Kessler

    Hear about intersexuality from the most frequently ignored voices in the matter: the intersexed individuals themselves. They open up about gender reassignment surgery, sexuality, gender identity and other unique struggles amongst their demographic, humanizing the often clinical definitions with which their often characterized. Considering medically fiddling with genitalia to force the intersexed into one gender role or the other, often one they don’t always identify with, it’s integral for everyone to understand their poses the risk of compromising the affected person’s quality of life.

  13. Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, PhD

    Expectations of femininity start ensnaring young girls around adolescence, often leaving them strangled and confused. Bullying and guilt over faking tastes and attitudes wreak havoc on their mental and emotional development. Parents, educators and gender studies majors need to explore the strategies outlined here in order to help the upcoming female generations stay true to themselves amidst a slew of disconcertingly mixed media messages.

  14. Getting Off by Robert Jensen

    Pornography always has been and probably always will be a major point of contention amongst sociologists and society alike. Getting Off explores how such imagery and its influence on mainstream media (especially advertising) cause damage to both men and women. While not all pornographic images feature unrealistic body types and expectations regarding the sexual experience, the ones that do can cause some perspective issues across gender and gender identity lines. Breaking their hold — particularly unfair ideologies painting "real men" as shameless porn hounds — might very well improve sex lives and gender relations.

  15. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

    Betty Friedan almost singlehandedly kicked off Second Wave feminism with The Feminine Mystique. Fed up with workplace discrimination, minimal career opportunities and high depression, anxiety and suicide rates amongst American housewives, she issued forth a call for equality. One that stuck and eventually altered the course of the feminist movement forever.

  16. Race, Class, and Gender in the United States Paula S. Rothenberg

    Yes, Virginia, it’s a textbook. One that gender studies majors will probably encounter in their studies. But formatting doesn’t preclude efficacy and importance, and Race, Class, and Gender in the United States provides a provocative glimpse at how all three factors work with and against one another. Their often volatile relationships continue pushing and pulling today, so understanding the history might very well mean nurturing strategies towards a more positive, equitable future — especially since vestiges still trail along into today.

  17. Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy

    Ariel Levy asks some very tough questions about contemporary feminism and the appropriation — even exploitation? — of female sexuality. Conflicts within the community arise over whether or not voluntary objectification helps or hinders the cause, as it ultimately still gives chauvinistic viewers exactly what they want. Shades of grey undoubtedly pepper the debate, and gender studies majors and activists alike should pay close attention as they continue influencing sex, sexuality, gender and gender identity. Ultimately, Levy holds a dim view of the phenomenon, but still acknowledges the other perspectives out there.

  18. He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know by Jessica Valenti

    Double standards, like the one praising stay-at-home moms while shaming the fatherly equivalent, hurt all genders and gender identities in different ways. editor Jessica Valenti reveals 50 still in effect today and the sociological damages they wreak daily. In addition, she also offers advice on how to start dismantling the stigmas keeping everyone from moving forward and being themselves.

  19. Changing Sex by Bernice L. Hausman

    Technology altered the course of the transgendered and transsexual community forever, and — in turn — greatly impacted its internal and external sociology. Medical and surgical advances in particular allowed so many people to allow their bodies to start reflecting their minds, challenging so many preconceived notions regarding sexuality, gender and gender identity. Changing Sex completely transcends its original theses as well, offering up some fascinating ruminations on how technological advances change humanity on the whole.

  20. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

    Another provocative, influential read lamenting society’s tendency to reduce human sexuality, attractiveness and roles into very narrow, sometimes unrealistic, definitions. This time, the author concentrates on beauty, and the damages descending when the media only perpetuates a homogeneous view of acceptability. Because of this, individuals start policing one another’s bodies and filling minds with negativity and shame. Negativity and shame which don’t exactly do much for anyone.

Taken From Best Colleges Online

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