Bodies as open projects: reflections on gender and sexuality

  • MESE van den Berg


This article argues that the social constructivist paradigm falls into the same dualistic trap as biological essentialism when attempting to respond to questions of gender and sexuality. I argue that social constructivism, like biological determinism, presumes a ‘split’ world, where subjective lived experiences are separated from the world of socio-cultural forces. Following a phenomenological approach, grounded in Merleau-Ponty’s ontological view of the body, this article attempts to move beyond the dualistic metadiscourses of social constructivism in maintaining that identity is a fully embodied process. I see gender and sexuality as necessarily embodied and corporeally constituted. In the light of this, I propose an understanding of gender and sexuality that focuses on the centrality of the body as open project. This approach sees gender and sexuality as embodied processes that are enmeshed with the complex fabric of lived everyday experiences and concurrent socio-cultural and historical processes. Drawing on real-life examples, I conclude that gender and sexual embodiment are not one-dimensional according to a binary system of male versus female. Rather, given the documented experience of the indeterminacy and ambiguity of human existence, there are a variety of possible embodiments of humankind.

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eISSN: 0258-0136