chapter  7
The gendered image
Pages 22

Another domain where one can examine the ideas surrounding internal and external images is gender. In this chapter my aim is solely to provide a number of introductory comments on contemporary research in psychology, sociology and cultural studies on gendered images. By gendered images, I mean both the specific images and icons represented in men’s and women’s magazines, and also more general ideas we have about what it is to be male or female, encompassing the stereotypical prejudices regarding gender display found in many cultures. Nancy Armstrong (1988) has argued that the body functions as an image or sign which we use to help us understand social relationships, ‘which include the relationship between ourselves as selves and the body within which as modern selves, we find ourselves enclosed’ (p. 2). Some researchers in fact propose that it is simply not possible to talk about self-identity and self-image without presupposing gender identity (Bern 1983). Whether we think of the self as an identity construct, conceptual schema or narrative representation, our self-reflections will be closely linked to, if not interdependent with, our gender identity. Within developmental psychology this way of thinking is represented in gender schema theory, where a gender schema is taken to be a network of associations that form a fundamental part of an individual’s cognitive/conceptual framework, and ‘gender based schemata’ processing, a central characteristic of perception. Critical theorists, however, emphasise the very ambiguity of gender categories, instead defining gender as

what we make of sex on a daily basis, how we deploy our embodiedness and our multivalent sexualities in order to construct ourselves in relation to the classification male and female. This deployment does not arise from any ‘natural’ or scientifically representable idea of the body as a physical object, nor is it individually negotiable . . . Sex/gender systems, as we understand them, are historically and culturally specific arrogations of the human body for ideological purposes. In sex/gender systems, physiology, anatomy, and body codes (clothing, cosmetics, behaviours, miens, affective and sexual object choices) are taken over by institutions that use bodily difference to define and to coerce gender identity.