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Changing Sex and Bending Gender

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Volume 1

Social Identities

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Changing Sex and Bending Gender

Edited by Alison Shaw and Shirley Ardener

158 pages, 10 illus., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-053-3 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (October 2005)

ISBN  978-1-84545-099-1 $27.95/£22.95 Pb Published (October 2005)

eISBN 978-0-85745-885-8 eBook

Hb Pb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


"Overall, the book is a marvellous example of cross-discipline contributions to one topical subject - sex and gender - and anyone curious, or concerned, about historical and cultural constructions of sex and gender should pick it up. As the first in the Social Identities Series, this reviewer will be interested in future volumes and contributions to the subject."  ·   Third Space: A Journal of Feminist & Film Culture

“…texts such as Changing Sex and Bending Gender are so necessary. An engaging and interesting text, this book should appeal to a wide audience – from those now to the topic to those who have explored this gendered path before.”  ·  Anthropological Forum


Anthropologists and historians have shown us that 'male' and 'female' are variously defined historically and cross-culturally. The contributions to this volume focus on the voluntary and involuntary, temporary or permanent transformation of gender identity. Overall, this volume provides powerful and compelling illustrations of how, across a wide range of cultures, processes of gender transformation are shaped within, and ultimately constrained by, social and political context. From medical responses to biological ambiguity, legal responses to cases brought by transsexuals, the historical role of the eunuch in Byzantium, the social transformation of gender in Northern Albania and in the Southern Philippines, to North American 'drag' shows, English pantomime and Japanese kabuki theatre, this volume offers revealing insights into the ambiguities and limitations of gender transformation.

Alison Shaw is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, Department of Public Health. Her research interests include medical anthropology, ethnicity, kinship and social aspects of genetics. Her publications include Kinship and Continuity: Pakistani families in Britain (Harwood/Routledge 2000); A Pakistani Community in Britain (Oxford: Blackwell 1888) and Get by in Hindi and Urdu (1989 BBC Books).

Shirley Ardener is a Senior Associate of Queen Elizabeth House, the University of Oxford's International Development Centre. She was the Founding Director of the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research on Women, now known as the International Gender Studies Centre, whose programme was recognised by her OBE, and of which she is an active honorary member. She has edited and contributed to many books on gender and is the editor of Berghahn's series Cameroon Studies.

Subject: Gender Studies and Sexuality Theory and Methodology


List of illustrations

Shirley Ardener

Chapter 1. Changing sex and bending gender: an introduction
Alison Shaw

  • Defining sex and gender
  • Changing bodily sex
  • Long-term gender transformations
  • Women in transformed gender roles
  • Women disguised as men
  • Women with ‘manly’ attributes, and the issue of sexuality
  • Men in transformed gender roles
  • Temporary gender transformations
  • Women playing men on the stage
  • Men playing women on the stage
  • Conclusion

Chapter 2. Is it a boy, or a girl? The challenges of genital ambiguity
Alison Shaw

  • Intersex conditions
  • Reactions to intersex births
  • Botched pots, unnatural horrors and supernatural blessings
  • ‘Correcting’ intersex infants
  • Lessons from the Dominican Republic
  • Conclusions and implications

Chapter 3. Why should biological sex be decisive? Transsexualism before the European Court of Human Rights
Marie-Bénédicte Dembour

  • The Convention
  • The cases
  • Typical facts
  • The Court’s reasoning in transsexual cases
  • Judge Martens’ critique of ‘Biological Sex is Decisive’
  • A false positive
  • The denial of legal fatherhood
  • A tightening majority
  • Victory at last
  • The ‘normalisation’ of transsexual human rights issues
  • Conclusion

Chapter 4. Two views on the gender identity of Byzantine eunuchs
Shaun Tougher

  • Eunuchs
  • Eunuchs in Byzantium
  • The Image of eunuchs
  • The texts: Claudian and Theophylact
  • The negative view: Claudian’s In Eutropium (I and II)
  • The positive answer: Theophylact’s In Defence of Eunuchs
  • A comparison
  • Conclusion

Chapter 5. The third sex in Albania: an ethnographic note
Roland Littlewood and Antonia Young

  • The historical setting
  • ‘A woman is a sack made to endure’: gender and the customary law
  • Sworn virgins
  • Three into two

Chapter 6. Living like men, loving like women: tomboi in the Southern Philippines
Mark Johnson

  • The locality
  • Ethnographic encounters with tomboi in the Southern Philippines
  • Living ‘like men’
  • Loving ‘like women’
  • ‘Women who do bad things’: hegemonic masculinity and compulsory heterogender/sexuality
  • The question of tomboi likeness and being

Chapter 7. One of the gals who’s one of the guys: men, masculinity and drag performance in North America
Fiona Moore

  • Drag as an expression of masculinity
  • Dragged up on deck: the setting
  • More man than you’ll ever be: drag as gay male art form
  • Rocky Horror? Straight men and drag
  • Passing women: the views of performers
  • Masculinity, sexuality and liminality: discussion and conclusion

Chapter 8. Male dames and female boys: cross-dressing in the English pantomime
Shirley Ardener

  • English vulgar comedy
  • A potted history of pantomime
  • Story lines
  • Dames
  • Dress and make-up
  • Women, drag and female impersonators
  • Principal Boys
  • Commentary

Chapter 9. Cross-dressing on the Japanese stage
Brian Powell

  • Female actors
  • Male actors
  • Two contrasting onnagata
  • Takarazuka
  • Emergence of the actress in Japanese theatre culture
  • Change and changelessness

Notes on contributors

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