The discursive gendering of marital intimacy



Berman, Rachel

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University of Guelph


Previous research on intimacy and gender is criticized for its assumptions regarding gender. Five main approaches to intimacy and gender are identified in the scholarly literature: 'woman are superior', ' men do', 'separate but equal', 'intimacy and power', and 'sameness'. These approaches may be conceptualized as interpretive repertoires: " ...culturally familiar and habitual line[s] of argument comprised of recognizable themes, common places and tropes..." (Wetherell, 1998, p.400). In this study a feminist discursive approach was taken to examine the way in which participants themselves treat gender in their talk about intimacy. Twenty married individuals volunteered for open-ended interviews to discuss intimacy in their relationship. Their accounts displayed their cultural knowledge about intimacy and gender. Participants both took up and resisted the repertoires of intimacy and gender. This was done in a variety of ways, for example, via the discursive devices of extreme case formulation, of systematic vagueness, of personal examples, of reported speech, of listing, of self-repair and of stake inoculation, as well as through modal-like linguistic elements, and epideictic and defensive rhetoric. Additionally, resistance was also accomplished by using laughter, use of the past tense, and by belittling the repertoire(s). Both taking up and resisting function to make claims about identity. Hence, this study is not about how gender determines what people say about intimacy nor is about how they enact intimacy. Rather, this study focuses on how gender is used, or resisted, as a resource for participants when talking about intimacy. The discursive approach taken in this study can improve our understanding of both the ways in which discursive practices position women and men in relation to intimacy and the ways in which such gendered subjectivities can be taken up and resisted.



Gender, Marital intimacy, Assumptions, Cultural knowledge, Discursive approach