(Sociology of) Sex and Gender


Robert Max Jackson


~~~~~~~~~~~ The Gender (Auto)Biography ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~ Formal Writing Issues ~~~

Formal writing issues

These gender autobiographies are scholarly term papers. They should represent good expository writing, not creative writing. We do appreciate imaginative thinking and creative writing. The goal is not to be dull or sterile. Still, these papers should meet standard norms of scholarly presentation.

By this point in college, most of you will know what this means. If you do not, or if you would like to refresh or expand your understanding (probably a worthy goal for everyone), let me recommend the material at the following sites:

Some specific points to keep in mind for the social gender biographies follow. These points respond to issues students have had in writing these papers in the past.

Thesis and structure. Consistent with the usual expectations of expository writing, a good gender autobiography will have a thesis, a clearly stated, central argument that makes the paper something more than a compilation of otherwise "unrelated segments" of a gendered life. Such a thesis statement should be something more than "Gender affects my life." How does gender affect my life? (How does it not?) When and where does it affect my life? (When and where does it not?) Your paper is built on your biography, but it is not merely descriptive. Your aim is to say something thoughtful about why and how gender has influenced your biography, taking into account the ideas and research we have explored in this course.

Ending (and starting) the biography will be challenging. No simple template can be offered, given that people will be using highly varied approaches to organizing their biographies and presenting even more varied material about their lives. Still, the paper should have well-designed introductions and conclusions that give proper beginnings and endings to the argument being developed. As with most papers, the conclusion should aim to draw together the important ideas in the paper. In these "gender social biographies" the important points operate at two levels (or possibly more). One level concerns the substance of the individual biography, the circumstances and developments that are the keys to an identity. Another level concerns the ways in which one's biography relates to the organization of gender in our society and the generalizations that theory and research offer us about gender's influence. Because the objective of our gender biography is to show how each of our lives relate to the larger patterns in society and what we have learned about those patterns, this level of the biography should be featured in the conclusion and represented in the introduction. This is the analytical part of the conclusion (and introduction) that reflects the work we have done in this course. How much and in what way you develop the substantive level of your biography in the conclusion (and introduction) depends on the specifics of your biography and the way you write about it. (For some general ideas about these issues, please see the section on introductions and conclusions at the Dartmouth Writing site discussed above.)

Audience. Students may exercise reasonable choice about the implicit audience for the biography. I would recommend that a good starting place is to aim at an audience of people who have a moderate knowledge of modern work on gender, more or less at the level of those who have taken one course in the subject, but people who cannot be assumed to be familiar with the specific materials we have read.

Using materials. One particular requirement of expository writing is that all texts considered should be appropriately introduced, cited, and integrated into papers. When appropriate, include direct quotations. Note, however, that the insertion of sentences from readings helps one's argument only if they specifically contribute to or support the reasoning being developed. Avoid inserting quotations in awkward or seemingly random ways. Summarizing the main points of an author's argument or paraphrasing are often preferable to quoting. When we restate the author's ideas, we demonstrate an engaged understanding of the material. When we quote, we may only demonstrate an ability to cut and paste. On occasion, the cited author's thoughts are especially well-written and we could thus "lose something" in translation. That calls for a direct quotation. When that is not the case, we are often better off if we put the original author's point into our own words.

Citations. It is not necessary to summarize a reading in order to cite it in the biography. It is appropriate to state how the material being cited is relevant, indicating what is the argument or evidence that matters. This can be done using quotes or brief summary statements (e.g. of the form "X suggests that B will usually result in C if conditions D are present"). It is also possible to use citations without further elaboration when the intent is clear from the context (e.g., "various authors suggest boys get more reinforcement for openly aggressive behavior [citation 1, citation 2, citation 3]").

Citation and Bibliography Styles.  As academic works, these papers should follow formal rules on citations and bibliographic entries.  For a brief introduction to this, go to our library's Citation Style Guide pages.  The papers may use any standard style, but must use that style consistently and accurately.  We recommend the Chicago style as first choice, APA second, and MLA third, but using a style with which you are familiar is generally the most straightforward strategy.  Please note the section of these NYU web pages on Citation Management Tools.  Adopting one of the citation management systems available to you will be a significant advantage in the long run.

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