Critical Terms for the Study of Gender


“Gender systems pervade and regulate human lives—in law courts and operating rooms, ballparks and poker clubs, hair-dressing salons and kitchens, classrooms and playgroups. . . . Exactly how gender works varies from culture to culture, and from historical period to historical period, but gender is very rarely not at work. Nor does gender operate in isolation. It is linked to other social structures and sources of identity.”

So write women’s studies pioneer Catharine R. Stimpson and anthropologist Gilbert Herdt in their introduction to Critical Terms for the Study of Gender, laying out the wide-ranging nature of this interdisciplinary and rapidly changing field. The sixth in the series of “Critical Terms” books, this volume provides an indispensable introduction to the study of gender through an exploration of key terms that are a part of everyday discourse in this vital subject.

Following Stimpson and Herdt’s careful account of the evolution of gender studies and its relation to women’s and sexuality studies, the twenty-one essays here cast an appropriately broad net, spanning the study of gender and sexuality across the humanities and social sciences. Written by a distinguished group of scholars, each essay presents students with a history of a given term—from bodies to utopia—and explains the conceptual baggage it carries and the kinds of critical work it can be made to do. The contributors offer incisive discussions of topics ranging from desire, identity, justice, and kinship to love, race, and religion that suggest new directions for the understanding of gender studies. The result is an essential reference addressed to students studying gender in very different disciplinary contexts.

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology
Gender and Sexuality
Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory
Sociology: General Sociology
Women’s Studies

Human Sexuality: Self, Society and Culture.



Sexual literacy is the knowledge and skills needed to achieve sexual well-being in life. It’s taken society so long to realize that sexuality is a whole lot more than disease prevention. From the lack of sex education that we experienced in growing up, to the gap in holistic sexuality we came to experience in our college education, and on to the lack of accurate information that is out there online and in the media, we think sexual literacy is vitally important in the 21st century. This is how we can support people’s sexuality through acceptance of their desires and pleasure, intimate relationships, and the aspiration to want to experience sexual happiness throughout the life cycle.

Our approach takes each person as unique by focusing on their sexual individuality, even as we place behavior in the full context of culture, society, and such forces as the Internet, religion, and human rights. These are the huge institutions that help shape sexual literacy or illiteracy in today’s world, and we provide the knowledge and tools to critically think about them. Positive and holistic sexuality in our approach also requires emotional literacy, that is, knowing the words and meanings and ways of communicating feelings, needs, and goals in intimate relationships, providing the possibility for both pleasure and protection. To put a personal face on these challenges in the classroom, we have structured our book in the form of the narrative of sexual literacy not only drawing upon the latest research but also using our own experiences, the questions of our students, the experiences people have brought to the classroom, and the great changes occurring in society today, for example, through the emergence of new sexual cultures, diversity, and sexuality emerges as a human right.

Moral Panics – Sex Panics

Same Sex Different Cultures

Something to Tell You

Sambia: Ritual Sexuality and Change in Papua New Guinea

Children of Horizons

Children of Horizons

A sure-to-be controversial volume on inducting self-professed homosexual teenagers into the gay and lesbian culture of the 1990’s. Hackles rise merely at the idea that teenagers can know whether they prefer the same sex or the opposite. Adolescence is the age of experimentation, most people contend, one in which no decisions have been made. But Herdt (Human Development/University of Chicago; ed., Gay Culture in America, 1992, etc.) and Boxer (Psychiatry/University of Chicago), both of whom are gay, disagree, their findings based on two years spent interviewing teenagers at the Chicago-based Horizons center, which offers refuge for teens troubled about their sexual identities. The authors’ interviews and questionnaires show that, in some cases, children as young as nine years old have the beginnings of a same-sex preference. As puberty arrives, some of these kids accept their homosexuality, while others deny it and struggle against their feelings. Horizons offers the support of peers and of gay and lesbian counselors, as well as an introduction to the gay and lesbian community. Herdt and Boxer describe that community in often tedious detail, including the geography of Chicago’s gay neighborhoods; the history of homosexuals in the US; and the rituals and organizations–from political groups to choruses and sports teams–that help define a gay/lesbian culture. Most of the children who come to Horizons have kept their sexual orientation a secret except from a close friend or two, and they use the confidence they develop there to “come out” to families and at school. As the authors describe it, though, “coming out” is a continuing process, about “the death and rebirth of a new self.” Repetitious and sometimes academic-sounding, but still useful information about a new generation of gays who are coming out in the daylight and not in a closet or a dark and dangerous bar. — Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.