Adjusting bass and treble: the continuously modulated performance of gender

Kentlyn, Sue (2006) Adjusting bass and treble: the continuously modulated performance of gender. In Social Change in the 21st Century Conference 2006, 27 October, 2006, QUT Carseldine, Brisbane.


My research into domestic labour in same sex households has prompted me to radically rethink my ideas about gender. Most work on the domestic division of labour has found that the family-household is one of the key sites for the maintenance and reproduction of the gendered division of labour and, in fact, the production of men’s and women’s gendered identities (Baxter 1993, Stacey 1991, Morris 1990, Delphy and Leonard 1992, Ferree 1990). As the partners in a same sex relationship are by definition of the same gender, I initially supposed I would need to find some other theoretical perspective on the dynamics of domestic labour to underpin my analysis. However, as I conducted the interviews, it seemed to me that each of the respondents performed their gender in different ways to their partner, and indeed to all the other respondents, and this seemed to involve a subtle and complex interplay of many endogenous, contextual and relational factors. Bem’s (1995) article on dismantling gender polarization by turning the volume of gender difference down or up suggested a useful analogy to portray a more nuanced understanding of this dynamic, along the lines of adjusting the bass and treble controls of a sound system – hence the continuously modulated performance of gender. Building on Connell’s (1987) understanding of the multiple forms of masculinity performed by different groups of men, in this paper I wish to explore the idea that each person performs different degrees of masculinity and femininity simultaneously, in the context of different domains of social and cultural space, and in relation to other actors in that space. Finally I have used Bourdieu’s ideas about habitus, field, and reflexivity to explore how people may engage with this process in a more or less conscious manner, and with differing degrees of complexity and skill. I hope in this way to contribute a slightly different perspective to the understanding of gender as performatively constituted, and perhaps also to furnish the ‘social imaginary’ (Taylor 2002) with some new ways to think about gender.

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ID Code: 6348
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: gender, same sex, domestic labour
ISBN: 1741071291
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > SOCIOLOGY (160800) > Social Change (160805)
Divisions: Past > Research Centres > Centre for Social Change Research
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > QUT Carseldine - Humanities & Human Services
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2006 Sue Kentlyn
Deposited On: 28 Feb 2007 00:00
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2010 12:37

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