Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
feminist philosophy, gender norms, metaethics, normativity, trans studies
Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies
Gender oppression is sustained in part through enforcement of and compliance with gender norms. Understanding how they work is therefore salient to the goal of gender liberation.According to the category-based view, which is common in analytic feminist philosophy, gender norms are assigned to individuals based on their assigned gender category, such as woman or man. I argue that this is insufficient, because it ignores the experiences of those who are marginalized or excluded from those categories. On a category-based view, individual responsiveness to gender norms will track gender category assignment; only individuals assigned the category woman will be responsive to and evaluated under feminine norms, and so forth. However, many trans and GNC people experience themselves as responsive to norms that were not assigned to them. For example, a person who hasn't been assigned the category woman may nevertheless feel that they ought to follow feminine norms. This cross-category norm responsiveness has considerable power over choice and behavior; but a category-based view does not explain this it. Moreover, many marginalized people are actively excluded from dominant, white-centric, cisnormative gender categories. However, the norms associated with these categories are nevertheless enforced on marginalized in particularly brutal ways, in part because they are not afforded full gender category membership. In neither of these cases does the category-based view in fact capture the way gender norms are enforced or experienced as normative. I argue that gender norms primarily operate by attaching to traits. Traits are descriptive features of individuals or groups, which are coded as masculine or feminine in a context. Dominant social contexts mandate the coherence of a set of traits; if some individual or group exemplifies a feminine-coded trait, they are thereby expected to exemplify the rest of the set. However, individuals who are disposed to express a trait which does not "match" other traits they are observed to express can thereby feel responsive to the norms associated with the trait in question, rather than with their assigned category. For example, a person who is disposed to express a masculine trait may therefore feel responsive to norms of masculinity. Similarly, those who are excluded from a gender category can nevertheless be punished for non-coherence. Gender norms may be enforced on marginalized based on the gendered traits they do express, even as they are excluded from category membership. I proceed over the course of four chapters. Chapter 1 examines the literature on gender norms in analytic feminist metaphysics, and distinguishes between a commitment to ascriptivism and a commitment to the category-based view (CBV), which are often conflated in this tradition. I articulate the advantages of ascriptivism, but suggest that the CBV will face serious problems. Chapter 2 motivates two major objections to the CBV, as outlined above; the responsiveness objection and the evaluability objection. I argue that the CBV fails to explain gender's normative power because it centers those with significant privilege. Chapter 3 explains and defends my positive view, traits ascriptivism (TA). TA holds that gender norms are assigned on the basis of traits, rather than gender categories. TA has many advantages over existing views in the metaphysics of gender, while maintaining their valuable core commitments and insights. I explain how the view captures the important desiderata for a positive view of gender norms enforcement, and respond to objections. Chapter 4 explores the normative power of authenticity over behavior. Gender norms are often experienced as authentic, despite being socially assigned and morally bad. Drawing on metaethical notions of normative authority and an existentialist tradition of socially embedded authenticity, I explain how gender norms can be authentic and therefore action-guiding.
Bell, Rowan, "Gender Norms and Gendered Traits" (2022). Dissertations - ALL. 1541.