Event: Journal of Women in Culture and Society thematic “sex issue”

Have just been given a heads-up that Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society is excited to announce the publication of a thematic issue on “sex,” which forges new approaches to longstanding debates and questions in feminist theory, sexuality studies, and science studies.

The articles collected here will be of use in many women’s and gender studies classrooms.

Taking an expansive approach to the many valences of “sex,” this issue brings together perspectives from sociologists, historians, anthropologists, and science studies scholars to consider the emergence of sex as a category, its surprising geographical and historical variability, and its imbrication with processes of regulation, racialization, and commodification.

The issue challenges any attempt to ground sex universally in anatomy or to demarcate a firm boundary around what constitutes a sexual act. Articles trace repeated but often divergent attempts to define and redefine what “sex” is, from the historical construction of biologized sex in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Western Europe, to the discovery of sex at the chromosomal level, to changes in the interpretation of sexual behavior in animals after WWII, to the emergence of the concept of “gender” during research on intersex.

Exploring how groups in wildly divergent contexts inhabit spaces where alternative sexual norms might take hold, articles limn lesbian masculinities in South Africa, trans and disabled activism and performance, and women’s sexual fluidity in a global historical context. They describe both the pleasures to be found in the margins and the often violent consequences of breaking the heterosexist rules of sexual anatomy and activity. The issue also calls on feminist scholars to question their own normativities around sexed and gendered embodiments, most pointedly in their relations with and representations of transsexual women.

Table of contents is below:

*Symposium: Before Sex * edited by Michael McKeon/

The Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Sexuality Hypothesis by Michael McKeon

The Rise of Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Historical Context and Historiographical Implications by Thomas W. Laqueur

Women’s Bodies and the Making of Sex in Seventeenth-Century England by Laura Gowing

The Reformulation of Sexual Knowledge in Eighteenth-Century England by Tim Hitchcock

The Transformation of Sodomy from the Renaissance to the Modern World and Its General Sexual Consequences by Randolph Trumbach


Sexual Fluidity “Before Sex” by Leila Rupp

Transsexual Women and Feminist Thought: Toward New Understanding and New Politics by Raewyn Connell

“An Unnamed Blank That Craved a Name”: A Genealogy of Intersex as Gender by David A. Rubin

Sexing the X: How the X became the “Female Chromosome” by Sarah S. Richardson

Gender across the Animal-Human Boundary: Making Males Aggressive and Females Coy by Erika Lorraine Milam

Paradoxes of Butchness: Lesbian Masculinities and Sexual Violence in Contemporary South Africa by Amanda Lock Swarr

Open Normativities: Gender, Disability, and Collective Political Change by Alexis Shotwell

What is Human Trafficking? A Review Essay by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Maria Cecilia Hwang, and Heather Ruth Lee

Additional detail

*Raewyn Connell*, in “Transsexual Women and Feminist Thought: Toward New Understanding and New Politics,” offers a nuanced overview of the troubled and often antagonistic relationship between feminism and transsexual women. By developing an ontoformative transsexual politics that attends to global dynamics, Connell hopes to enable a new relationship between transsexual women and feminism oriented toward a politics of social justice.

*David A. Rubin*’s “‘An Unnamed Blank That Craved a Name’: A Genealogy of Intersex as Gender” shows that the concept of gender emerges from the effort to cover over the instability of the sexed body. Through a close reading of psychoendocrinologist John Money’s work, Rubin demonstrates that the concept of intersex paradoxically preceded and inaugurated what we would today call the sex/gender distinction, and he teases out the regulatory tendencies in the deployment of “gender.”

*Sarah S. Richardson* examines how the X became the “female chromosome” and how the association of the X with femaleness influences research questions, models, and descriptive language in human sex chromosome research. Richardson demonstrates the continuing influence of the feminization of the X by closely analyzing the assumptions made in the literature on X chromosome mosaicism.

*Alexis Shotwell*, in “Open Normativities,” urges feminist and queer scholars to reexamine their approach to normativity though a contemplation of trans and disabled activists’ and performers’ attempts to create new, more capacious norms that are friendly to the proliferation of many kinds of embodiments, subjectivities, and ways of being in the world. The activities of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and the performance group Sins Invalid, Shotwell contends, bypass volantaristic approaches to challenging standards of normality.

*Rhacel Salazar Parreñas*, *Maria Cecilia Hwang*, and *Heather Ruth Lee*, in their review of recent literature on sex trafficking, recount the historical genesis of contemporary antitrafficking campaigns and point to the colonialist imagery of some antitrafficking work. They explore the productive potential of reframing sex trafficking as a problem of labor and migration.

To access the issue, go here.



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