On Functional Gender

  • Marian Rothstein
Chapter

Abstract

The sources of the androgyne, despite their disparate origins and purposes, have in common that they treat the androgyne condition as a state that provides individuals access to the highest aspirations and greatest strengths by allowing them access to the full range of human qualities. Transcending biological sex, largely transcending the body, the androgyne is at base a figure of completion or plenitude. If neither biological sex, and perhaps not even the human body, is the operative mode of classifying humans who are nonetheless seen as masculine and feminine, some variant of the idea of gender must be in play, one that, although distinct from the modern concept of gender, may usefully coexist with it. In what follows, this will be called functional gender, a mode of gendering that can be seen to allow all humans potential access to the functions or roles that in traditional societies were customarily attributed to a single sex. In this system, an individual can honorably perform functions conventionally attributed to the opposite sex. The imputation of transgression that might be expected to be attached itself to such breaches of decorum is not applicable; often rather the effect is just the opposite, moving the perception of the person who performs these actions toward human perfection, toward the imago Dei. The marks of such a habit of thought can be found in Western culture over a very long period, found in texts ranging from the Hebrew Bible to sixteenth-century European literature, the central ground of this study.

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Notes

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    Helene P. Foley, Female Acts in Greek Tragedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001). Although in Greek theater male actors played women’s roles, their words were nonetheless heard as those of a woman.Google Scholar
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    Mary Harlow, “In the Name of the Father: Procreation, Paternity, and Patriarchy,” in Thinking Men: Masculinity and Its Self-Representation in the Classical Tradition, ed. Lin Foxhall and John Salmon (London: Routledge, 1998), p. 166.Google Scholar
  32. 59.
    Modern Dante criticism, too, is filled with observations of his use of crossgendering, often accompanied by an implicit understanding of plenitude. See for example Joan M. Ferrante, Dante’s Beatrice, Priest of an Androgynous God (Binghamton: SUNY Press, 1992)Google Scholar
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  35. Olivia Holmes, Dante’s Two Beloveds (New Haven: Yale, 2008).Google Scholar

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© Marian Rothstein 2015

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