Sex and Gender

Research Project

Write a major piece of writing that consists of a 5-7 page research paper that discusses a narrative on gendered and/or sexual identity.

I ask you to take on a reasonable project. I don’t want you to survey all the Arabic literature on genital mutilation and all the theoretical material that has been written on it. I would rather you work on one or two personal narratives, e.g. short narratives by prostitutes or a novel by D.H. Lawrence. When I say “narrative,” I mean any story or account that describes a person’s experiences. It will most likely take the form of a first-person testimony (an autobiography of a nun), but could be a novel (a work by Ernest Hemingway), a character in a movie/documentary (Jody Foster in The Accused), maybe even something purely visual (Frida Kahlo’s paintings). Having chosen an appropriate narrative, I ask you to try to get some of the existing secondary literature on a topic related to these narratives (in these four examples they might be lesbianism, machismo, rape, and madness) and to consider what insight these materials can bring to the narrative. At some level, the work must have primary reflection on a person’s gender and/or their sexuality.

For example, you might want to ask: What do I learn about HIV/AIDS and sexuality by reading Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America? What does it mean to be someone who is HIV+? What do the characters reveal about the nature of the disease? About the culture and/or communities in which the various characters live, work, love? What does it mean to be a gay man who is HIV+?

If you read personal narratives by bulimics and anorexics and then try to understand how these afflictions are related to cultural norms about women and beauty, you are on the right track. You should demonstrate the relationship of personal identity (in general) and gendered/sexual identity (in particular) to our general immersion in culture. This mean that you need to consider identity as something more than individual, but always in a sense, social or cultural.

You should work as closely as possible with your primary narratives in order to show how the general issues are manifested. For example, you should not begin a paper about a particular rapist only to go on and write a 10 page paper on the prevalence of rape in the United States. You should attempt to work with the primary narrative itself and consider how this particular person’s identity (as a man, as heterosexual, as white, as the victim of sexual abuse, etc.) is linked to cultural notions about masculinity, femininity, sexuality, violence, dating, etc. How does one’s identity, as, for example, a daughter, politician, bisexual woman from Idaho, inform the work itself?



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