About Me

My photo
Grassroots activist, feminist, sociologist, poop talk pro, future foster mom, travel whore, thrift store junky, music and food consumer.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Problematizing Categories

A sociologist's favorite thing to do is problematize categories. Just think of all the categories we use everyday that we all have different criteria for. What's a woman, a man, a human? You're probably shaking your head and thinking, "Now who doesn't know what those things are?" My response: YOU. On the issue of human: A woman has a vagina. A man has a penis. Humans walk upright and need food to survive. All of these criteria can be discounted and one would still say well...she doesn't have a vagina but...OR...he doesn't have a penis but...OR...you don't have to have legs or eat food (in the case of a select few who reside in India) but...they're still human. The point is, criteria we consider basic to a category are not in fact basic, because there are a number of things that get factored in via a multitude of combinations.

The following excerpt is from a current paper I'm working on. Hopefully, it compels you to start problematizing more categories, and in so doing, I hope it gets you to question what you "think" you know. Why? So that you may start to think of how ridiculous your prejudices and "isms" really are.
--- Go Time ---


The category of “women” has been plagued by Eurocentric assumptions that have led to a globalized view of women as a group determined by biological constructions and the domination by an opposing sex category: men. This notion of a global identification of women was first addressed by Audre Lorde. Her research warned of how seeing women as a homogeneous group disregarded the varying ways women were oppressed by men, and albeit themselves (1981). This was further addressed by Chandra Mohanty in a now famous article, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship” (2003). She is critical about assumptions made by Western, albeit women researchers and writers, concerning a singular patriarchal kinship system in which all of the women of the world are presented to presumably be affected by; regardless of race, class, and cultural differences.

In countless Western feminists’ works women are classified as a homogeneous group based on a general notion of subordination and exist outside of history, because intersections of social concepts, history, and location are not considered. “Instead of analytically demonstrating the production of women as socioeconomic political groups within particular contexts,” women are limited to a definition based on gender identity, “completely bypassing social class and ethnic identities” (Mohanty 2003:31, 38). Mohanty calls for intersections of race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and various cultural aspects, along with history and location to be considered when referring to “women.” The meaning and explanations of things thought to affect women must be configured according to those specific women’s sociohistorical context (Mohanty 2003:35). “It is only by understanding the contradictions inherent in women’s location within various structures that effective political action and challenges can be devised” (Mohanty 2003:33).

The next time you make a statement to the effect of "All women..." or "All men...", be aware of the inaccurate statement you're making. 


  1. ok ok I'm following...this arises anther question for me...so what about the transgender community? How do we classify, perhaps declassify ?(according to the article) in this day and age?

  2. My number is still at 33 so...join...for real:-) The whole point is to not classify people at all. The only time classifications are important is when you are developing prejudice, discriminating, or treating people in other inhumane ways. Think about it. Why do you need to know someones sexuality that you are not interested in knocking boots with? I used to feel like "knowing" what someone is helped me stay within bounds of being politically correct, but shouldn't I be practicing that anyway? There is the issue of uniting people for empowerment purposes but the person on the receiving end ALWAYS knows why they are perceived as a threat. The key is in preventing people from categorizing others as threats.