Abstract of essay by Robyn Wiegman

One of the things we're doing in my Women's Studies class, in addition to the weekly response papers, is taking turns writing abstracts of one of the readings (total of 3 over the course of the semester). I decided to get one of those out of the way. Here's my first draft:

Abstract of "The Progress of Gender: Whither 'Women'?" by Robyn Wiegman

Wiegman argues against the effectiveness of gender studies as a replacement term for women's studies by pointing out that the search for a coherent referent to the object of study in women's studies is futile because the way knowledge is formed in feminist thought is based on identity, which gender does not escape but only sidesteps. The connection between knowledge-making and identity is the central problematic, not referentiality, according to Wiegman. She claims that we should reconsider the term women's studies and think of women not in an identitarian sense or as an object of study, but in a metaphorical sense, as a framework or example of the most incisive, groundbreaking critiques of identity and difference. Thinking of the term women in this way, as an umbrella term, can allow for intersectional analysis and all analysis of power, difference, and identity. Wiegman traces the evolution of theoretical thought that led to the consideration of the term gender instead of women by citing three trajectories: first, feminist women of color proclaimed allegiance to men of color as well as women and resolved to conduct analysis based on the premise that oppressions are "interlocking." Such analysis opened up possibilities for new objects of study, and theorists began studying masculinity and male bonds (e.g., Rubin, Sedgwick, Jeffords, Segal). Second, poststructuralist critiques of identity's mobility and lack of coherence produced a need to distinguish among the terms sex, gender, and sexuality. Genetic sex can no longer be used as the ground upon which identity is built; instead, hierarchical cultural assumptions surrounding gender determine how society reacts to genetic sex (e.g., Butler). Third, transsexual theory and intersex activism extended the poststructuralist critique of identity, calling for a mobile identity logic based on self-identification rather than corporeality. Wiegman then reminds us to look at the term women's studies in a historical, cultural, and institutional context and to consider the political implications of the terms women and gender.