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Virtual Issue: Unfixing Gender Studies

In advance of the forthcoming special issue “Proximities: Reading with Judith Butler” (scheduled to publish in Spring 2022), we invite you to reflect on a set of essays published in Representations that resonates with some of Butler’s earliest and most well-known critical interventions in discourses around gender. Even before the 1990 publication of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Butler was already introducing the argument that gender is performative, constituted socially by the repetition of acts.1 The essays selected for this virtual issue are only a sampling of those in Representations whose discussions of gender unfold in conversation with Butler. Read in stereoscopy with Butler’s seminal work on gender, they anticipate and echo the same impulse: that we cannot take gender categories for granted.

Since the earliest issues of Representations, gender has been taken up again and again in the the journal's pages as a category of historical analysis—a category that is necessarily unstable and unfixed. Analyses of figures from the rake to the tomboy to the vampire have revealed the social contingencies and frequent collapse of gender difference. Modern understandings of gender have been traced to origins in translations of Juvenal into English and Pauline texts; those understandings have been questioned in the contexts of civil codes and debates about affirmative action. And the authors of these articles have exposed the tenuous foundations of medical discourse by turning to representations of demonic possession, accounts of spiritualism, and anatomical illustrations. Two articles come from an early special issue, “ Misogyny, Misandry, and Misanthropy” (1987), whose interrogations of gender inequality and violence could have provided an entire table of contents for this virtual issue. What these articles often tell us is that categories of gender turn out to be about everything else.

The articles of this special issue, available free of charge for a limited time, give examples of the historicism frequently associated with Representations. But they also give a sense of the enduring relevance of questions around gender discourses, including those of our contemporary moment.

Table of Contents

Christopher Craft. “Kiss Me with Those Red Lips”: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, no. 8 (1984)

Londa Schiebinger. Skeletons in the Closet: The First Illustrations of the Female Skeleton in Eighteenth-Century Anatomy, no. 14 (1986)

R. Howard Bloch. Medieval Misogyny, no. 20 (1987)

Carol J. Clover. Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film, no. 20 (1987)

Judith R. Walkowitz. Science and the Seance: Transgressions of Gender and Genre in Late Victorian London, no. 22 (1988)

Daniel Boyarin. Paul and the Genealogy of Gender, no. 41 (1993)

Barbara T. Christian. Camouflaging Race and Gender, no. 55 (1996)

Dror Wahrman. Gender in Translation: How the English Wrote Their Juvenal, 1644–1815, no. 65 (1999)

Yota Batsaki. Clarissa; or, Rake Versus Usurer, no. 93 (2006)

Allison Miller. Am I Normal? American Vernacular Psychology and the Tomboy Body, 1900–1940, no. 122 (2013)

Anne E. Linton. Hermaphrodite Outlaws: Ambiguous Sex and the Civil Code in Nineteenth-Century France, no. 138 (2017)

Boyd Brogan. His Belly, Her Seed: Gender and Medicine in Early Modern Demonic Possession, no. 147 (2019)


1 See Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory” Theatre Journal 40, no. 4 (December 1988): 519–31.

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