Gender is at the heart of our thinking about sexuality, though not necessarily in the ways traditionally believed. The complex ways in which gender is constructed, reinforced, and set in patterns of dominance and subordination through the institutionalization of heterosexuality, has become central to our developing understanding of sexualities and sexual cultures. Some feminist theorists have indeed argued that gender constitutes sexuality, and that female sexuality is shaped and organized through the mechanisms of male domination. Other theorists have argued for a significant distinction between the domains of sexuality and gender, regarding their relationship as more complex and contingent than is often thought. But there can be little question that gender relations have been shaped asymmetrically, in patterns of domination and subordination.
But of course, the existence of a hierarchy does not determine gender relations in an absolute way. If that were the case, there could be no change. On the contrary, uneven power relations provide the necessary condition for resistance, and for sexual politics. The impact of feminism since the 1960s has simultaneously sharpened our awareness of the arbitrary nature of gender divisions and increased the possibility of changing them. Gender has increasingly been seen not simply as lived, but as "performed" through the constant iteration and reenactment of what are regarded as the essential characteristics of both sex (male and female) and gender. In such theorizations we seem to move ever further from any preexisting essence of femininity or masculinity.
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