PHIL 2550G University of Western Ontario WK2 Judith Butler & Her Book Gender Trouble Essay

Reflection Question for this Week: In your opinion, what is the most damaging construction of gender that the dominant heterosexual, social-political structures of power imposes upon us (as subjects), and what gender performatives would you see as being the best way to subvert this impositions? And explain why you feel such and be sure to detail the gender performatives.   **An alternative to this reflection question is to pick a celebrity or culture icon that you feel has gender performatives that have been powerful and effective at subverting damaging constructions of gender tied to the dominant heterosexual, social-political structures of power. [You must detail what the damaging constructions are and why they are damaging and to who, then who this chosen person is and what gender performatives they do and how they effectively subvert the dominant heterosexual, social-political structures of power.]

  • You may speak using the first person.
  • While this is not a super formal piece of academic writing, please follow the usual guidelines of good grammar, spelling, punctuation. Try to structure your reflection so it doesn’t feel like a rant. Execution is key here!  Oh and yes, you may swear if you feel the need to.
  • To cite readings simply name the author and the page number from the text. Direct quoting is not necessary, summary is always nice, but if you do make sure you clearly show where it comes from.
  • You may include in your reflection an example in your life, or the media, or film, etc. – a real concrete example to illustrate your reflection. Make sure to include websites or information to cite this example.
  • If you go over the word limit the is fine. If you are under it, that’s not fine.
  • Submit your typed reflection, with your name on it, to the DropBox tab here in Owl by Sunday 27 June 11:59pm. If you do a tech-based reflection, you can try to use the DropBox but if it doesn’t allow you to upload there please email it to me by Sunday 27 June 11:59pm. Note: If you need more time to complete this just inform me – i have no issue with late submissions so long as i am aware and you get the required number into me by end of term.
  • To upload to DropBox, simply click on the tab, and near your name is a drop down menu called “actions” – click it and then you’ll see ‘upload files’. Select that. You don’t necessarily get an email receipt, so if you want to make sure it is there you can email me to say you uploaded it and to confirm it.
  • As per the syllabus, it is optional to do the reflection this week. You have to do 4 in total over term, and which weeks you do a reflection is up to you.
  • If you choose to submit written reflections, the word count is 750 – 1000 words. The syllabus also provides some tech-based options if you wish to pursue a reflection that is expressed in a medium other than written.
  • Judith Butler talking about Gender Performing & Gender Performative:
  • Links shown in the lecture:

    Trailer for ‘I am Divine’:

    Divine walking:

    PHIL 2550: Sex or Gender In
    the Digital Age
    Week 2:
    Judith Butler on Sex/Gender

    Discuss Section 1 of Gender Trouble (1990, 2006)

    Discuss essay by Butler: ‘Sex and Gender in Simone
    de Beauvoir’s Second Sex’

    Continuing themes introduced last week on Sex/
    Gender – she puts forward the idea that both are

    Gender as performativity
    Some Debate about Sex & Gender

    Essentialists of Sex/Gender = Rooted in Aristotle; The view
    that there is some attribute that is fixed, intrinsic, universally
    shared, innate that make women & men what they are;
    Biological or psychological features observed in bodies &

    Heavily criticized by those who are Conventionalists of Sex/
    Gender (i.e., social constructionists)

    Conventionalists of Sex/Gender = Rooted in Beauvoir; Sex is
    biological & gender is socially constructed by institutions &
    agents in our culture
    Debates about the fix

    Conventionalists of sex/gender = The fix involves adjusting the
    social structure & norms to be less oppressive & more equal; Keep
    the same categories but renovate them, make them more fluid

    Abolitionists of sex/gender = They hold the above but for them the
    fix would involve getting rid of gender altogether because the
    gender ontologically depends on oppressive social conditions;
    Changing the social conventions to end oppression would mean
    the end of gender; Feminism’s political goal should be doing away
    with gender

    Butler is in the conventionalist group – she wants to expand the
    ideas of sex/gender
    Judith Butler
    (1956 -)
    “…gender is a kind of imitation for which there is
    no original; in fact, it is a kind of imitation that
    produces the very notion of the original as an
    effect and consequence of the imitation
    itself…what they imitate is a phantasmic ideal of
    heterosexual identity…gay identities work neither
    to copy nor emulate heterosexuality, but rather, to
    expose heterosexuality as an incessant and
    panicked imitation of its own naturalized
    idealization. That heterosexuality is always in the
    act of elaborating itself is evidence that it is
    perpetually at risk, that it, that it ‘knows’ it’s own
    possibility of becoming undone”
    Butler Overview

    Most famous books: Gender Trouble: Feminism and the
    Subversion of Identity (1990) & Bodies That Matter: On
    The Discursive Limits of Sex (1993)

    Best know for her theory of Gender Performativity,
    challenging conventional & accepted notions of gender

    Criticisms of social constructions about sex & gender

    Draws on existential & phenomenological philosophies, as
    well as feminist & social-political philosophies
    Butler Gender Trouble Overview

    Name is a reference to 1974 John Waters’ film “Female Trouble”
    which starred Divine, a famous drag Queen

    Critically discusses the ideas of thinkers like Freud, Beauvoir,
    Irigaray, Kristeva, & Foucault

    Main argument: the seemingly natural coherence of categories of
    sex, gender, sexuality, etc. (e.g., masculine gender &
    heterosexual desire in male bodies) is culturally constructed
    through the repeating of stylized acts

    Challenges the biological accounts of binary sex & how feminists
    have used terms like sex & gender
    Butler, Gender Trouble: Ch. One, Part. 1

    Category of ‘women’ is the subject of feminism

    Problem = ‘women’ is not a stable category; it is also unclear what the
    criteria is defining category & it varies across culture

    Problem of defining subjects – those with definite identities, interests,
    experiences; Subjects as represented & regulated by the law but do
    they exist apart from it? Not a natural existence

    These two problems are interrelated because they both have identity
    issues – who/what are they?

    Identity & subjecthood are political – constructed, regulated, contained
    in the power structures of society; Not a natural existences
    Butler, Gender Trouble: One, Part. 1

    Feminists must not universalize these concepts – there are changes
    across race, class, sexuality, etc.

    p. 6 – 7

    “By conforming to a requirement of representational politics that
    feminism articulate a stable subject, feminism thus opens itself up to
    charges of gross misrepresentation.”

    “Is the construction of the category of women as a coherent and
    stable subject an unwitting regulation and reification of gender
    relations? …To what extent does the category of women achieve
    stability and coherence only in the context of the heterosexual matrix?”
    Butler, Gender Trouble: Ch. One, Part. 2

    Feminism has classically seen sex as fixed biology & gender as
    the construction arising out of culture

    But this implies a stable system of Sex/Gender/Sexuality as well
    as the binary – feminists are upholding this system

    Butler argues that sex, like gender, is a category constructed
    through discourses (science, history) according to certain
    political & social interests

    If sex is constructed, maybe there is no difference between it &
    gender? Gender is the means by which sex is constructed and
    presented as ‘natural’ (nature’s design before structures)
    Butler, Gender Trouble: Ch. One, Part. 3

    Investigate construction of gender to reveal it is sex: that the
    body “come[s] into being in and through the mark(s) of

    Determinism of gender meanings inscribed on anatomically
    different bodies & those bodies are passive recipients of
    inescapable cultural laws; Culture, not biology, is destiny

    Beauvoir: “One is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman”
    but this suggests in ‘becoming’ a degree of agency/volition
    in the construction?
    Butler, Gender Trouble: One, Part 3

    Discourse on gender presupposes & preempts the possibilities
    imaginable & realizable concerning gender configurations within
    the culture

    Not all gendered possibilities are open – boundaries/limits exist &
    these condition experience; also set limits on language & analysis

    Limits set by the dominant culture &/or social politics, predicated
    on binary structures & these appear as the ‘language of universal

    Constraints = what that language constitutes as the imaginable
    domain of gender
    Butler, Gender Trouble: One, Part 3

    Social scientists see gender as Signification: existing in
    relation to another; the feminine in relation to the masculine;
    Cultural Interpretation of the body means gender consists of
    the social meanings that are assumed about sex

    Beauvoir: only female gender is marked – the Other that is
    not universal person, she is the negative

    Irigaray: Women are a paradox = in a language constitute
    they are unrepresentable; linguistic absence because of a
    culture that expresses mostly male attitudes, reinforces male
    dominance (phallogocentric)
    Butler, Gender Trouble: One, Part 3

    Irigaray: Female sex is the subject that is not one; she is not a
    lack or marked as Other; masculine & feminine cannot both be
    represented in closed signification where the masculine is both
    signifier & signified

    Beauvoir argues female body is marked within masculinist
    discourse, masculine is the unmarked, universal personhood;
    Irigaray argues female body is marked off from domain of
    signifiable, she can’t be represented

    Feminist inquiry into gender is problematically circular;
    Consequence of these disagreements about meaning of gender
    establishes the need to radically rethink these categories
    Butler, Gender Trouble: Ch. One, Part 4

    Debates of essentialism raise questions about stability & universality of
    female identity & masculinist oppression

    Feminists make mistakes of totalizing – assume one set of experiences
    encompass ‘women’; bad consequences

    Butler proposes a model of ‘Coalitional Politics’ – an assemblage of
    positions that cannot be prearranged or figured out in advance; They are in
    flux & flexible, inclusive, unstable

    Coalitions do not assume solidarity/unity as a prerequisite for political action

    Interrogate the power relations that condition & limit discourse possibilities;
    Acknowledge fragmentation, incompleteness, & anti-foundationalist
    Butler, Gender Trouble: One, Part 4

    A group can come into being & dissolve depending on the
    concrete practices that constitute them

    Coalitional feminist politics would require no unity among
    women but only loosely overlapping connections & relations

    Feminist coalitions should aim to subvert, not consolidate,
    entrenched norms concerning femininity

    Coalitional politics avoids the problem of identity politics
    Butler, Gender Trouble: Ch. One, Part 5

    Into metaphysics of substance – what is identity? what is the
    nature of beings with ‘substance’

    Identity, as the quality that designates personhood, is inseparable
    from gender

    Coherence of a stable identity is threatened by beings whose
    gender is not culturally intelligible – i.e., those who do not follow the
    hegemonic binary (i.e., Non-Binary folks; Queer folks)

    Intelligibility = the types of identities thought possible by a culture;
    Heterosexual normativity/systems render what is intelligible & must
    be conformed to (& what is not intelligible & thus cannot exist/
    impossible); Culture limits what can exist!
    Butler, Gender Trouble: One, Part 5

    Subjects are said to have a gender core – a stable identity of
    sex, aka biological & natural; Butler contends it is all

    Butler = gender is neither a solid, static thing or set of
    qualities, but rather it is performative — a doing that
    produces a series of effects that consolidate an impression
    of being a man or woman

    Over time performed expressions of gender give rise to the
    appearance of solid identity
    Butler, Gender Trouble: Ch. One, Part 6

    Being a woman = a process of becoming a constructing; not a fixed

    Wittig = language helps create the illusion of the category of sex, a
    genital-based sexuality that renders women defined by their reproductive
    abilities & parts; But language CAN change; Need for diffuse sexuality
    instead of genital-based

    Social-Political structures of power give rise to & regulate process of
    identity, through discourse of heterosexism & phallgocentrism; Foucault
    says power & sexuality are coextensive

    A sexuality or gender identity cannot exist outside of the field of power,
    but gender as a process is itself alterable
    Butler, Gender Trouble: One, Part 6

    The process of ‘doing gender’ can cause confusion &
    dissonance in the social-political discourses – it has the ability to
    subvert or displace this field of power

    Butler investigates the ways this discourse has produced the
    illusion of ‘real’ binary gender

    Power structures have an interest in maintaining the binary, its
    appearance as natural; patriarchy benefits

    Butler wants to make ‘gender trouble’ – explore the supposed
    fixed categories of identity to show the constructed illusions at
    Comments? Reflections?
    Discussion Questions

    Do you agree that gender is a performative?

    Do you agree with her that sex is also constructed?

    Do you see a relation between gender & being a subject?

    Does her position truly cause ‘gender trouble’ – given it
    was written in 1996, are we seeing the evidence of this?
    Butler on Beauvoir

    Beauvoir’s argument that “one is not born, but rather becomes a

    “Becomes” a woman tells us that gender isn’t fixed – it should be
    understood as a modality for taking on or realizing possibilities;
    An active process of appropriating, interpreting, and
    reinterpreting cultural possibilities on the body

    Active process of constructing ourselves; ‘To BE a woman is to
    BECOME a woman’ is an existential project

    The question is how much do we freely construct ourselves in
    this system of norms?
    Butler on Beauvoir

    p. 37: thesis of the article; Butler will show how Beauvoir’s sense
    of ‘becoming’ reconciles the internal ambiguity of both project &
    construct; It is both choice & acculturation

    In keeping ‘become’ ambiguous Beauvoir formulates gender as
    a corporeal locus of cultural possibilities both received (already
    created) & innovated (those we freely make)

    Choosing your gender is understood as the embodiment of
    possibilities within a network of deeply entrenched cultural norms

    Freedom in the determinacy; Agency in a preexisting world
    Butler on Beauvoir

    Ontological puzzle – how do we become?

    If we are always already a gender (born into a system of it,
    raised in it) so how do we choose something we are? This
    seems to posit the idea of a choosing agent prior to it all,
    which is a Cartesian ghost (an egological structure prior to
    language & culture – consciousness); But this is hard to verify

    If Beauvoir means choosing as a kind of volitional acts, she
    can’t have a Cartesian ghost – becoming a gender is not the
    same as becoming our bodies
    Butler on Beauvoir

    Beauvoir on the body – critique & radicalization of Sartre where
    she sees to get past the Cartesian dualism

    She transposes his arguments of mind & body to sex & gender the tension she speaks of is not that of being in & beyond a body,
    but between the natural & acculturated body; this move is from
    sex to gender is a move from one kind of embodiment to another

    To exist one’s body is to, in some part, become one’s gender

    Gender is not natural; we never know or can know our body as
    pure & simple; Never know sex outside of gender; Lived sex is
    always gendered
    Butler on Beauvoir

    We do not become our gender from a place prior to culture
    or embodiment; but strictly it happens within those terms

    There is no linear progression of gender or certain moment in
    time where it is fixed in form – it is an originating activity
    incessantly taking place

    Gender is a way of organizing past & future cultural norms,
    situating oneself with respect to these & actively living one’s
    body with them in the world

    How do we choose it? What kind of choice is it?
    Butler on Beauvoir

    Prereflective choice – tacit, spontaneous, quasi knowledge; not
    wholly conscious = it is one we make & only later realize we have
    made it

    Becoming a gender is impulsive yet mindful process of interpreting
    culture sanctions, taboos, prescriptions; not at a moment’s notice

    The choice to assume a certain aesthetic on the body or a certain
    size/shape assumes there is a world of established corporeal
    styles – you just organize them anew

    Gender is a tacit project to renew one’s cultural history on one’s
    terms – not a task, it is one we have been endeavouring all along
    Butler on Beauvoir

    Oppressive gender norms persist only by being taken up & given life
    over & over; Tacit consent of these systems through individual strategies
    that are more or less disguised = socialization

    The burden of freedom gender brings – social existence requires
    unambiguous gender affinity; if existence is always gendered, then to try
    to live outside this puts one’s very existence into question

    When we see we don’t have to be the genders we have become we are
    confronted by the burden of choice intrinsic to living as a man or woman
    – the social constraints are heavy!

    E.g., accepting motherhood as an institution rather than instinct; The
    pressures trans individuals have after coming out
    Butler on Beauvoir

    One ‘becomes a gender’ does not say in what way

    Woman as The Other, set up through a Hegelian dialectic: man seeks
    disembodiment that is self-deluding & unsatisfactory

    Man as self-definition sets up woman as the Other; as the self-identical
    he is the “I” consciousness/mind – The One (a disembodied self); Woman
    is corporeally itself (determined, only embodied self), the body as Other women are only their bodies

    Body as Situation: twofold meaning – (1) a locus of cultural
    interpretations, it is a material reality which is already located & defined in
    a context, (2) the situation of taking up & interpreting the received cultural
    interpretations; Body is the field of interpretative possibilities (p. 45)
    “The body is not a thing, it is a situation: it is our
    grasp on the world and our sketch of our project”
    Simone de Beauvoir
    Butler on Beauvoir

    A nexus of culture & choice – a dialectic of interpreting anew
    historical interpretations on the flesh; existing a body is about
    personal ways to taking up & reinterpreting cultural norms

    If gender is a way of existing one’s body, & one’s body is a
    situation of cultural possibilities received & reinterpreted … then
    gender is cultural & socially constructed

    (p. 45) The notions of natural body & natural sex are rather

    Gender is no longer dictated by anatomy, & anatomy does not
    pose limits on the possibilities of gender
    Butler on Beauvoir

    Body is an occasion for meaning; it is non-natural – the idea of body as a
    natural fact doesn’t really exist in human experience

    Defining the natural body prior to its entrance in culture is impossible we are situated & cannot step out of culture to make an objective
    assertion & we are always embodied

    Body is always in a state of becoming; never self-identical phenomenon,
    until death

    Body as non-natural asserts an absolute difference between sex &
    gender & questions if they ought to be linked at all

    Gender seems less a function of anatomy & more about its possible uses
    Butler on Beauvoir

    Beauvoir does not take her argument about body as situation to its full
    consequences – Wittig & Foucault do, they release gender from sex in
    ways she couldn’t imagine

    (p. 47) If existing one’s gender means that one is tacitly accepting or
    reworking cultural norms that govern the interpretation of one’s body,
    then that makes gender the place where the binary restricting it can be
    subverted; we can innovate

    Seeing gender as historical constructs indicates that we can see the
    binary system as not ontologically necessary

    To become a gender means both to submit to a cultural situation & to
    create one on the body one already wears
    Comments? Reflections? Thoughts?
    Week 2 Notes

    Background: Title of the book inspired by John Water’s 1974 Film Female Trouble,
    staring Divine. This book was revolutionary in 1990 when the book was published and
    are still shocking to many today. Gender Trouble’s impact reached far beyond academia
    and is considered a foundational text of queer theory. Because of its groundbreaking
    approach to understanding the very nature of identity, Gender Trouble has remained
    relevant ever since its publication.
    Inspired by Foucault, Wittig, Rubin, Beauvoir, Lacan, Irigaray, Freud
    Gender Trouble calls out the notion that categories of sex, gender and sexuality have a
    natural coherence (aka the hegemonic binary) and she argues they are culturally
    constructed through a repetition of styled acts; These repeated, stylized acts establish the
    appearance of an essential ‘core’ to gender. But, she will argue, that it shows sex, gender
    and sexuality are performative. She challenges the biological accounts of binary sex.
    Gender Perfomatives are not voluntary, instead they are constructed (often coercively)
    onto a subject, within regulative discourses. These frameworks determine in advance
    what possibilities exist for sex, gender, and sexuality – what is permitted to appear as
    She wanted to address issues that threatened feminism’s ability to take political action on
    behalf of women.
    Foucault terms: Subject – they are placed in relations of power; the one subjected.
    Subjection is a process whereby one becomes a subject & is subjected through discourse.
    Juridico-Discursive Power – is a top-down exercised power that dominates, subjugates,
    and renders a subject subservient. Power expressed through laws and legal structures,
    traditionally exercised and held by a king or ruler.
    Chapter 1: Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire
    1. Part 1: “Women’ as the subject of feminism
    • The category of “women” is the subject of feminism. Feminism seeks to secure
    women’s representation in society and politics. But the notion of a stable,
    universal category of “women,” as well as the very notion of a “subject” under the
    law, are now open to question.
    • It has become unclear what criteria defined the category of “women,” the subject
    of feminism’s struggle for opportunity and representation.
    • The notion of a “subject,” represented and regulated by the law, is troublesome.
    She puts forth the premise that this very subject cannot exist apart from the law,
    because the law itself defines or constructs the subject, which it then seeks to
    regulate. This is a problem of the “ontological integrity of the subject before the
    law.” Having created a “subject,” the juridical structures of power—which
    regulate social norms through prohibition—hide the fact that they have done so.
    While the “subject” appears to have a natural existence that predates the law, she
    claims this to be a “foundationalist fiction.” Butler argues that “subjects” are not
    natural but come into being through political forces that then seek to regulate
    them. Foucault influence here.

    Assuming there exists a feminist subject, defining this subject is also problematic:
    There was also disagreement about what constituted the very idea of a “subject,” a
    being with identity for whom representation and opportunity could be sought..
    Femininity and the workings of the patriarchy—the social and legal structures that
    ensure the domination of men over women—are not universal. Gender roles and
    the power structure of patriarchy vary widely across cultures. These experiences
    are modified by their intersection with “racial, class, ethnic, sexual, and regional
    modalities.” Feminism must not exclude by “universalizing” these concepts.
    The response to these problems is not to seek universal criteria for the category of
    “women” nor to try to discover a subject that exists outside the law. She sees that
    her task is to conduct a “feminist genealogy” = investigate the various ways these
    categories have been constructed. This investigation will expose the nature of
    these concepts as historical constructions
    2. Part 2: The Compulsory order of sex/gender/desire
    • Feminism distinguishes between sex and gender: Sex is considered fixed and
    biological, while gender is arising out of culture. But this does not imply that
    there is necessarily a correlation between male bodies and the masculine gender,
    nor between female bodies and the feminine gender. Additionally, not necessary
    to assume there are only two genders.
    • Here we see the starting of her asserting the equivalence and artificiality of the
    identity categories of gender and sex.
    • She questions the nature of “sex” and proposes that, like gender, sex is a category
    constructed through scientific and historical discourses and according to certain
    “political and social interests.” If sex is constructed, then, perhaps there is no
    actual distinction between sex and gender. She asserts that gender is the means by
    which sex itself is constructed and presented as “prediscursive” or “natural.”
    3. Part 3: Gender: the circular ruins of contemporary debate
    • How gender is constructed, she now speaks of Beauvoir’s assertions that “one is
    not born a woman, but, rather, becomes one” and that “the body is a situation.”
    She claims that investigation will show that sex is actually gender, and that the
    body “come[s] into being in and through the mark(s) of gender.”
    • Some have categorized gender as a relation, not an individual attribute. In this
    scheme, the meaning of “feminine” exists only in relation to the meaning of
    “masculine.” For Beauvoir and Wittig, the masculine gender is the unmarked
    gender of universal personhood. The feminine gender, therefore, is the “marked”
    gender that is the other. For Irigaray, the masculine or “phallogocentric” quality of
    language presents women not as “marked” or “Other” but as “unrepresentable,” a
    “linguistic absence.”
    • Phallogocentric: Phallocentric means that something is centered around the
    phallus, the symbolic aspect of the penis. Logocentric means that something is
    based on logic and language.
    • This thread of analysis transitions into Butler’s inquiry into the nature of being,
    which she labels “the metaphysics of substance.” i.e., the way subjects—beings
    with individual existence, or substance—are constructed within various
    4. Part 4: Theorizing the binary, the unitary and beyond
    • Here she returns to the question of a stable identity category of “women” and
    whether this is necessary for feminism to proceed with its goals. Asserts that the
    search for such a category has caused lapses into “totalizing,” when feminists
    assume that any one set of experiences or attributes can encompass “women.”
    This totalizing or universalizing is an error that feminism ought to investigate and
    remain on guard against. It’s dangerous – Eurocentric, Colonial, paternalistic and
    it sweeps over the individual differences of experience.
    • She’s wary of these “identity politics” for their exclusionary nature. She examines
    the alternative of “coalitional politics,” where the category of “women” is not
    predetermined nor stable. “Identity politics” has caused fragmentation among
    feminists. She proposes a new conception of “coalitional politics,” which will
    allow for the inclusion of various, shifting, unstable feminine identities. Such a
    conception will avoid the problem at the heart of identity politics: the normative
    question of what women ought to be. Think of Wittig and the idea of having class
    consciousness and individual consciousness.
    5. Part 5: Identity, sex, and the metaphysics of substance
    • Butler claims that identity, the quality that designates personhood, is inseparable
    from gender. The concept of a stable, coherent identity is threatened by the
    existence of beings whose gender is not culturally “intelligible.” These
    “unintelligible” beings do not exhibit the culturally prescribed alignment between
    sex, gender, and sexual desire. This alignment is the heterosexual norm wherein
    female sex correlates with feminine gender and a sexual desire for men, and viceversa. The compulsory heterosexuality of the culture requires this gender binary
    in order for either gender to be “intelligible.” This gives rise to the idea of a
    “gender core,” as a stable identity that belongs to subjects that appears to be
    natural but is actually constructed.
    • Some have argued that the apparent existence of substantive beings, or subjects, is
    an illusion that arises as a consequence of mistaking language for reality. Wittig
    undertook a critique of the French language to show how personhood cannot be
    designated in language apart from gendered categories.
    • Butler asserts that gender is neither a solid thing nor a set of qualities, but it is
    rather a performance or a “doing.” Over time, performed expressions of gender
    give rise to the appearance of solid identity.
    • Gender as performative tells us that it is the illusion of identity, which is
    suggested on the body’s surface through performance. This performance that
    constitutes gender consists of desire, acts, gestures, and words. It is repeated and
    ritualistic. Gender is not an expression of internal essence rather it is produced by
    repeated acts. The appearance of internal identity has no existence apart from the
    repetition of the acts that constitute it. It is therefore open to subversive forms of
    these repetitions. The styles in which gender is performed are regulated and
    enforced by culture – the juridical structures and norms.

    The heterosexual matrix regulates gender, sexual desire, and sex to align with its
    goal of reproduction (hegemonic binary). Intelligible gender identities = those that
    manifest the standard configuration of these elements. Other configurations =
    unintelligible & unacceptable. The illusion that gender is an internal identity
    conceals the role of the power structure in producing and policing gender. This
    concealment serves to consolidate and maintain the power of the heterosexual
    6. Part 6: language, power, and the strategies of displacement
    • Butler asserts that being a woman is not having a certain fixed substance, rather it
    is a “process, a becoming, a constructing.” Wittig = language creates the illusion
    of the category of “sex,” rendered culturally as a genital-based sexuality where
    women are defined by their reproductive function. Language is open to change,
    however. Wittig takes advantage of this in her promotion of diffuse sexuality, or
    “polymorphous perversity,” in contrast to the genital-based sexuality that is the
    • The social and political field of power gives rise to and seeks to regulate this
    process of identity creation through discourse, in line with its “heterosexism and
    phallogocentrism.” Term from Foucault: “sexuality and power are coextensive.”
    Therefore, there cannot exist a sexuality or gender identity outside of this field of
    power. But because gender is a process, it can be altered. The process of “doing
    gender” can use “hyperbole, dissonance, [and] internal confusion” to subvert or
    displace the field of power within which it exists.
    • In her task of constructing a “genealogy of gender ontology,” Butler investigates
    the specific ways in which discourse has produced the illusion of a “real” gender
    binary. She also explains these mechanisms in terms of the field of power’s
    interest in maintaining this binary and its appearance as a natural, substantive
    reality. Her overall goal is to “make gender trouble” by exposing ways these
    supposedly fixed categories of identity can be revealed to be constructed illusions.
    • The concept of “reification” can aid in understanding this claim. Reification
    occurs when an abstract concept or idea takes on the quality of having a fixed,
    concrete, reality. An arbitrarily grouped set of elements can be “reified” through
    language. Given a word to describe these attributes, they come to seem as if they
    were an inevitable, distinct entity. An example of this is the way that body parts
    are named and then attached to the idea that they are the source and location of
    sexuality and sexual pleasure. These arbitrarily constituted “parts” are then used
    as the basis of classifying persons as either male or female. Because sex can be
    “seen” on the body, its status as a reified abstraction can be difficult to
    understand. However, people could just as arbitrarily be classified on the basis of
    other combinations of physical attributes, such as various configurations of hair
    color, foot size, and blood type.
    • As Wittig points out, bodily pleasure is not inevitably limited to penis and vagina.
    But when culture repeatedly identifies these organs as the source and location of
    sexual pleasure, other areas of the body tend to fall “silent.” It is not so hard to
    imagine a culture where discourse held that sexual pleasure existed in the entire

    body. Nor is it difficult to imagine how, in such a culture, bodies would “awaken”
    and respond sexually to this discursive concept.
    Therefore, it is no more natural to designate the arbitrarily-constituted penis and
    vagina as the source and location of sexuality than it is inevitable to classify
    persons according to the presence of these organs. There is, however, an aim to
    this classification scheme and the notion of genital-based sexuality, which
    Foucault speaks to. Such classifications are part of society’s aim of ensuring the
    reproduction of humans. In a patriarchal society, such classifications also serve to
    cement the power of men over women. In other words, such reifications and
    classifications are tools of social power rather than natural facts.
    Other things she will come to argue and say:
    • Parody is a subversive act – so when Divine acts like a woman, what is revealed to the
    film goer is that gender is constructed and historically contingent rather than natural.
    Gender parody” reveals that the original identity” being mocked is “itself an imitation
    without an origin.” Parody not only “deprives hegemonic culture of the claim to
    naturalized or essentialist gender identities,” it also extends intelligibility to
    configurations of sex, gender, and desire that do not align with the norms produced and
    enforced by the heterosexual matrix. This subversive gender parody, such as the example
    of drag performance, not only mocks gender, it mocks the very idea of the real, authentic,
    or original. Parody that confuses assumptions is subversive. Subversive parody
    undermines the gender binary of compulsory heterosexuality because it “compel[s] a
    reconsideration of the place and stability” of gender categories.
    • Drag, as a subversive parody, also subverts “the distinction between inner and outer
    psychic space.” In their subversive aspects, drag and transsexuality create confusion as to
    whether the person is man or woman, masculine or feminine. It becomes “unclear how to
    distinguish the real from the unreal.” This confusion and blurring of categories leads to
    the realization that gender and sex are not natural facts but are naturalized and illusory
    • The Body as Constituted Surface – body is not an inert medium that receives cultural
    meanings like a blank canvas. It is an effect of cultural meanings. Anatomical is not fixed
    sex. Sex is a culturally constituted designation, like gender, which is naturalized (made to
    seem natural) by the discursive power that generates it. The consideration of individuals
    whose bodies lie at the margins of what is culturally intelligible and legitimate, reveals
    the constructed nature of the categories of the male and female sex.
    • She concludes – body is “a surface whose permeability is politically regulated” and “a
    signifying practice within a cultural field of gender hierarchy and compulsory
    heterosexuality.” The body is a place where the illusion of interior essence, which
    includes gender identity, is fabricated and performed.
    Butler: Sex & gender in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex

    Existential Terminology used here, Sartre & Beauvoir: Freedom, situation, facticity,
    lived body, project
    Freedom: Existence necessarily involves freedom of thought & action; we have the
    ability to be self-conscious & launch ourselves into action; It is the way each one of us
    interprets ourselves and our actions/behaviour; We have the freedom to choose an action
    & to act on that choice; My self-consciousness is not only an awareness of who I am now
    but who I shall become – who I become is my free creation; It is about agency &
    autonomy more than doing as you please (self-legislator), because our actions help create
    our essence & character; but because we are free we are also responsible for our actions
    & how they impact others
    Project: A self-made plan for who we will be in the future, that which commits us to
    activity; More than a goal it is the projection of yourself into the future; It motivates you
    to actions and goals, it is a self-defined purpose; You can change your project at any time
    Lived Body: A unified idea of a physical body acting and experiencing a specific sociocultural context, we all live a specific context, also called body-in-situation; Situation is
    the produce of Facticity (the material and factual things about your body like age, height,
    race, ability, size, health, sex; a person lives the material facts of their body in a given
    social environment) and Freedom (What you choose to do through actions and create
    projects with that material body in a given social environment) – when we engage with
    others in our environment we are in Situation, the way that the facts of embodiment,
    social and physical environment appear in light of projects a person has. Beauvoir
    critiques Sartre in not understanding that women experience all of this very differently –
    he was gender-blind to the fact that women are not free like me, women cannot create
    projects just like men, and women’s situation is very different because of this.
    The Body as Constituted Surface – body is not an inert medium that receives cultural
    meanings like a blank canvas. It is an effect of cultural meanings. Anatomical is not fixed
    sex. Sex is a culturally constituted designation, like gender, which is naturalized (made to
    seem natural) by the discursive power that generates it. The consideration of individuals
    whose bodies lie at the margins of what is culturally intelligible and legitimate, reveals
    the constructed nature of the categories of the male and female sex.
    Cartesian Dualism is the mind-body problem and often asserts that we can know
    consciousness more certainly than the body; Conscious mind is seat of rationality and is
    incorporeal, and this takes priority over the fleshy feeling corporeal body; Existence in
    the world is of mind and body, and existentialists tried to find ways to overcome the
    Cartesian legacy to speak of experience
    One is not born, but rather becomes a woman carries with it an element of choice; it is an
    active process where we construct ourselves in light of cultural histories and meanings.
    Balance of choosing & acculturation
    How do we become? If we are always already a gender – from our birth – then how is
    there a moment to make a choice? If we think of a subjectivity/ego as pre-culture and prelanguage then we have a Cartesian ghost, and that gets you nowhere because you cannot
    prove it. Can’t have a Cartesian ghost.

    Beauvoir’s critique and radicalizing of Sartre’s body is her way of getting rid of this
    ghost and the dualism with it
    His arguments for mind-body she transforms into sex-gender in a world of free choice
    and cultural norms; the body is seen as both a natural object and an acculturated one
    Gender is not nature – we never know our body as without gender or sex as a pure &
    simple body
    There isn’t a place where we become gender – it happens within culture and the body; It
    doesn’t happen at one specific time, it is incessantly taking place
    Gender = organizing past & future culture norms and situation yourself with respect to
    these, and then living your body in the world
    What kind of choice is this? Prereflective one! It is tacit, spontaneous, and not wholly
    conscious – we understand we’ve made it later on
    Becoming a gender is both impulsive and mindful process of interpreting cultural norms,
    taboos, prescriptions
    Your choices assume that the world contains established styles/modes to choose from –
    you just organize them anew
    Oppressive gender norms exist and keep existing because people take them up and give
    them life – tacit consent to these systems of patriarchy that are easily disguised in
    Gender brings a burden of freedom – social existence prefers an adherence to gender, and
    if you try to go outside that you put your very existence into question. When we see we
    don’t have to become the genders we are we are confronted by the burden of what that
    means – you feel how heavy the social constraints are when you think about changing
    your ideas/actions of gender. So, if you are a woman and you don’t want to be a mother,
    you feel backlash against this as if you are putting your whole femininity into question
    and turning your back on it. Motherhood is seen as a natural instinct of women (rather
    than a social institution); trans persons feel pressure as they come out and transition from
    one gender to another that they are – not only the shame of leaving one, but then the
    pressure to adhere to the transition properly & accurately
    How one becomes a gender isn’t specified – Butler looks at Hegel and his dialectic
    between slave and master. Man sets himself up as the definition, the One, the
    Consciousness/mind – he is higher and better than corporality; Woman is his opposite,
    she is the Other, the corporeal itself. His self-definition requires her to be his contrast.
    She is really his own alienated self (the body). This established the interdependence of
    the disembodied man and the corporeally determined woman – his status hinges on hers.
    But this means women have a monopoly on the body sphere. He is the cartesian man –
    more mind than body, he is not really his sex – he is beyond it. He inhabits a body
    convinced he is not a body – his body must appear to him as alien, a body not his. The
    body is Other. He makes the logical assumption that others are their bodies – he is mind,
    women are bodies. Women’s existence and essence becomes this redundancy. This IS the
    limits of the cartesian dualism and the view of autonomy that is largely masculine gender
    norms based. Disembodiment is denial.
    Body as situation is twofold: a locus of cultural interpretations, it is material reality
    already located & determined in a cultural context, and the situation of taking up and
    interpreting the received cultural interpretations – the body is a field for these
    possibilities to be understood and acted out

    The body is nexus of culture and choice – we take in and interpret cultural and historical
    information and then decide how to exercise it – keep the same or innovate it? It is
    personal and creative
    Natural body and natural sex are suspect – if gender isn’t dictated by anatomy, and
    anatomy doesn’t limit gender possibilities … then they seem not connected
    Body is an occasion for meaning – it is not a natural object; We cannot see the body prior
    to culture to define it, we also live in bodies so we cannot get outside of them to
    understand a neutral body
    Bodies are always in a state of becoming – never static or self-identical (until death)
    Gender seems to be a function of the possible uses of anatomy
    Beauvoir doesn’t take this argument to its consequences, but Wittig and Foucault do –
    gender as a cultural and historical construct means that the binary restricting it has no
    natural necessity or reason to be. Becoming a gender can be subversive to the binary
    To become a gender means to both submit to a cultural situation and to create one on
    your body

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