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FU-BEST 27: Bounded Sex? Gender, Sexuality and Identity in and beyond European borders

InstructorHannah Vögele
Credit Points6 ECTS


The sex/gender system, such as many social systems of categorization, serves to group individuals. It represents an act of dividing, i.e. categorizing individuals as male or female; yet it also, paradoxically and simultaneously, connects individuals through shared membership in a category. This course on gender and women’s studies in a transatlantic context focuses on the boundary—that which both divides and unites. We investigate sexed and gendered boundaries between bodies, communities, cultures, classes, races, ethnicities, religions, sexualities, and nations.

Our exploration of boundaries is grouped into three units: In the first, we examine the way sex/gender boundaries are mapped onto the body; this includes the history of sex differences within scientific discourses, transsexual and transgender definitions, and attempts to control women’s health and reproduction. The second unit analyzes conceptualizations of citizenship as practices of drawing boundaries, and we examine how these boundaries can connect individuals in solidarity, as well as separate out others. We look at the gendered ideals of citizenship, the history of women’s rights, women’s movements, and intersectionality between different types of marginalization. The final unit explores the boundary between the public and the private in an investigation of gender (politics), migration and work, including sex work and domestic work.

In this course we use statistics, history, political and social sciences, filmic representations, news reports, essays, medical texts, biographies and field trips to conduct our interdisciplinary investigation. Our guiding approach is one of transnational feminism, which seeks to find solidarity between women by understanding and embracing their differences. Ultimately, our analysis of a multiplicity of subject positions and histories reveals the overall instability of the sex/gender system. For example, something that one culture views as inherently masculine may be viewed as inherently feminine in another. Therefore, our transcultural examination helps us understand the socially constructed nature of a system that is often viewed as natural, unchanging, and stable.