The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018
Constructionism: In literary criticism, the view that gender and / or sexuality are culturally constructed and determined, not biologically based; the opposite of essentialism. Broadly speaking, constructionists believe that gender and / or sexuality — particularly the dichotomies masculine / feminine and homosexual / heterosexual — are social artifacts, learned behaviors, products of language and culture, whereas essentialists believe that they are natural or innate. French feminist Simone de Beauvoir’s classic assertion in Le deuxième sexe (The Second Sex) (1949), “One is not born a woman: one becomes one,” reflects a constructionist perspective. So does queer theorist David Halperin’s claim in Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (1995) that “homosexual” is “a discursive, and homophobic, construction” rather than a natural category. By contrast, French feminist critic Hélène Cixous posited an essential connection between the female body and writing in “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1976) when she exhorted women to “Write your self. Your body must be heard.” Debates about constructionism and essentialism — culture or nurture versus biology or nature — have occurred both among and within various critical schools, particularly feminist criticism, gender criticism, gay and lesbian criticism, and queer theory.