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Disciplining Gender

Rhetorics of Sex Identity in Contemporary U.S. Culture
Analyzes media coverage and public discussion of five highly visible cases of gender ambiguity

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An expert on the rhetoric of the mass media, John M. Sloop has written several books on how the spoken and written word can influence political and cultural debate. In Disciplining Gender, he turns his attention to a topic that has attracted widespread public discussion—the treatment of gender ambiguity in American culture. He offers critical readings of five cases, showing the extent to which, in each instance, public discourse and media representations have served to reinforce dominant norms and constrain or "discipline" any behavior that blurs or subverts conventional gender boundaries.

The five cases include John/Joan or David Reimer, Brandon Teena, k.d. lang, Janet Reno, and Barry Winchell/Calpernia Addams. Sloop draws on queer theory and research in the field of critical rhetoric to examine representations of "gender trouble" in these much-publicized stories. In each case, he provides a comprehensive analysis of the public discussions of their significance. In short, rather than simply study the people and circumstances involved in each case, he examines the public meanings attached to them and the implications of those meanings for how contemporary culture comes to understand what "man" and "woman" mean and which sexual behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate.

In highlighting the ideological constraints imposed by our society, Sloop also suggests the ways that these constraints might be loosened and understandings of gender and sexuality diversified.

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