29 Constructing the Essentials, a DIY guide to Feminism

Nicholas A. Prescott

Hey guys, it’s me, back with another “do it yourself, the Nicky P way” tutorial. Today I’m going to be showing you how to build your own feminist schools. Here’s what you’re gonna need:

  • An understanding of language (and a knowledge of Post-Structuralism)
  • The knowledge of cultural construction
  • A pitchfork with which we’re going to dismantle the patriarchy
  • and a whole lot of glue!

I’m done with this bit, I can feel it sucking the soul out of me.

Alright, class, turn your books to page 766.

“Gender… might instead be a construct of culture, something written into the psyche of language… toward a deeper identification with a female ‘essence’ or toward a departure from the way women had been made to be by patriarchy, the very thing radical feminists construed as essentially female… two perspectives began to form, one ‘constructionist‘ or accepting of the idea that gender is made by culture in history, the other ‘essentialist,’ more inclined to the idea that gender reflects a natural difference between men and women that is as much psychological, even linguistic, as it is biological… each necessarily denied the other” (R/R 766).

The first listed, “constructionist” feminists are concerned with why gender is why it is. Certainly the more mainstream of feminism in our time. Whereas “essentialist” feminists might seem like an older kind of feminism (I only say this because every feminist I’ve known like this is of the older variety of person).

Rivkin and Ryan detail several differences that the two schools view. Essentialists are more attuned to the earth than men. They are physically the “creators” in the world. The simple fact that women are the ones who birth humans into existence makes them more connected with the world (R/R 767).

Constructivists takes from the idea of Post-Structuralism and Marxist theory about the nature of language giving the impetus behind gender. Male and female and the roles that go with them are products of society. This school tends to be seen as more radical (R/R 768).

As someone who gets confused with feminism and all its glorious confusion (@intersectionality), I tend to think of it like this:

Take this glorious man, for example,

Image result for Børns

singer/songwriter BØRNS, also known as Garret Borns. (If you haven’t heard of him, go listen to any of his music. He’s got a killer falsetto.)

Anyway, I thought he was a woman because of his voice and his appearance in many of his pictures. Turns out he’s not. Just likes to crossdress and has great hair. Constructivists would purport that to an outside observer, should he want to be, because gender is performative to them, (given he does perform as such) he could be a woman.

Essentialists would support that while he might come off as a woman, even if he “performed” (wow that has like a triple meaning here) as such, he would not have the same qualities that women have because of his physiology.

Those are two very, ver ybasic ways to get into the mindset of the two schools. That being said, they get the job done.


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Nicholas A. Prescott is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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