Seminar Week 3 – Is Gender in Trouble? Biological Sex and Social Gender
What is sex? – Your Perspective• What does sex mean to you?• Discuss in your groups; can you come up with a simple definition?
What is sex? – The Judith Butler Perspective• Traditional feminism accepted that sex was a biological category, while gender was a historic category. In other words, earlier feminists admitted there are biological differences between men and women, but the main differences between the two genders are socially constructed, having nothing to do with biology.• The theories of Judith Butler challenge this idea, proposing sex to be not an anatomical condition upon which gender is socially constructed, but ‘a cultural norm which governs the materialisation of bodies’(Butler, 1993: 3)• Sex is, therefore, ‘an ideal construct which is forcibly materialised through time. It is not a simple fact or static condition of a body, but a process whereby regulatory norms materialise sex and achieve this materialisation through a forcible reiteration of those norms’ (Butler, 1993: 1)• In an ideal world, ‘no longer believable as an interior “truth” of dispositions and identity, sex will be shown to be a performatively enacted signification’ (Butler, 1999: 33)
Language, Power and Sex• Butler draws inspiration here from postmodern thought, which suggests that the way we perceive reality is completely governed by language. Language itself is a framework through which power circulates, and she demonstrates how power has moulded the idea of a ‘biological sex’ through language.• Performativity as an illustration: ‘illocutionary speech acts’ (John Searle) – that do something rather than represent something. The classic example – ‘I pronounce you man and wife’ – the words, coming from a person of authority, actively change the couple’s status, by doing what they say.• A speech act can produce that which it names only through law (or the accepted norm, code or contract) which is cited and repeated and thus performed. Sex/gender come under social norms and codes and a ‘boy’ becomes a boy by being named so, he would not have a sex or gender outside of social norms. By repeating these terms and ‘performing’ according to social norms, we make these artificial conventions seem necessary and natural.
What is Gender? – Your perspective• What is gender to you?• Discuss in your groups; can you come up with a simple definition?
What is gender? – The Judith Butler Perspective• ‘Gender is the repeated stylisation of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of *...+ a natural sort of being’ (1999: 33)• Gender, as ‘the act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on long before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act which has been rehearsed, much a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualised and reproduced as a reality once again’ (1988: 526)
Why debate sex and gender?• Judith Butler, as well as other social and cultural theorists, argue that the continual repetition of sex/gender, male/female acts is needed to preserve the standards of heteronormativity.• In this oppressive environment, there is no space for identities which transcend sex and gender.• Task: find out what heteronormativity is
Is gender in trouble?• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ag9uaEVh Xe4
Further Reading• On Judith Butlerhttp://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-butl.htm• Michel Foucault on sex and genderhttp://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/gender andsex/modules/foucaultgendersex.html• Queer Theoryhttp://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-quee.htm• Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sexhttp://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/ de-beauvoir/2nd-sex/index.htm