Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity Pdfby Published 01 Jan 2006
|Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.pdf|
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity Book Description
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity Book by "Judith Butler" gets rating 4.08 of 5 which means good grades. Carefully read the review and description below for reference. find also other interesting ebooks in the box below.
Since its publication in 1990, Gender Trouble has become one of the key works of contemporary feminist theory, and an essential work for anyone interested in the study of gender, queer theory, or the politics of sexuality in culture. This is the text where Judith Butler began to advance the ideas that would go on to take life as "performativity theory," as well as some of the first articulations of the possibility for subversive gender practices, and she writes in her preface to the 10th anniversary edition released in 1999 that one point of Gender Trouble was "not to prescribe a new gendered way of life [...] but to open up the field of possibility for gender [...]" Widely taught, and widely debated, Gender Trouble continues to offer a powerful critique of heteronormativity and of the function of gender in the modern world.
"Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity" Pdf Reviews
Some very interesting ideas here imprisoned in a lot of opaque, tortuous sentences. Postmodern ‘academese’ remains the only major European language that I am completely incapable of understanding. I am also sick to death of seeing intelligent friends, both here and in real life, make apologetic comments about how they weren't quite up to the task of fully engaging with texts like this – as if it were their fault!
You know what? If a series of highly educated, intelligent and well-read adults do not properly understand you, that is because your writing is confused, not because your ideas are too complex to be captured by mere language. In actual fact, far from being complex, many of these ideas, when expressed in more familiar terms, are so simple as to be trivially refuted – which is one of the things that makes me so suspicious about this kind of prose style.
So yes, this is one of those books where honesty is called ‘efforts to wield the discourse of truth’, and a language built by men is a ‘closed phallogocentric signifying economy’. We are asked to consider the ‘heterosexual matrix’ and ‘medicojuridical hegemonies’, and to ponder the ‘normative telos of definitional closure’. Not to mention the usual postmodernist distraction of irritating and trivial puns (‘she is the masculine sex encore (and en corps)’).
When I say that these phrases are nonsense, which they are, I don't want to be misunderstood. It's not that I reject the concepts being discussed, because I don't. What I object to is being asked to accept these terms on no evidence and with no discussion, so that combinations of them become divorced from reality altogether. God, how I wish for some examples when I read books like this! A little data – some evidence, some anecdotes, anything to show what kind of behaviour or thought processes in real life are being referred to. Instead, the whole thing becomes a sort of linguistic game where abstract concepts are manipulated in isolation from reality.
What really made me angry – and I'm sorry for this lengthy rant, I will get to the book's arguments in due course – but what really upset me was Butler's introduction, where she acknowledges the complaints that have been made about her language and proceeds to double down. ‘It would be a mistake,’ she writes, ‘to think that received grammar is the best vehicle for expressing radical views, given the constraints that grammar imposes upon thought, indeed, upon the thinkable itself.’
Need I point out that no one has the slightest idea whether grammar imposes any constraints upon thought (most linguists would say it does not)? In any case, ‘received grammar’ may not be the best vehicle but at least it doesn't have four flat tyres like Butler's own syntax does. Radical ideas do not become conventional by being expressed clearly, they only become better disseminated.
It does not surprise me one bit that so many of these writers of theory are sceptical about language's communicative ability, and question whether language can really communicate anything meaningful at all. If I wrote as poorly as they do, I'd have similar concerns.
(Deep breath—) with that rant out of the way, let me just offer a few disconnected reading notes on some of the very interesting ideas in the book, insofar as they were at all comprehensible.
Butler's main idea is that gender is not a binary thing, but instead a spectrum of available identities which has no simple link to biological sex. That being the case, gender is seen not as a physical or even a mental property, but rather as something ‘performative’ – gender comes into being through being enacted in a myriad small and large ways within society. ‘There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender.’
That's the capsule summary of what's going on here, but the arguments involved are often fascinating. I thought she was particularly strong on the ways in which gender and sex are related to sexuality and desire. She recognises the huge variety of things that turn people on, and she's surprisingly practical about whether women should worry that their desires have been conditioned by a patriarchal society. Women that don't understand that premise, she warns, could be ‘potentially written off […] as “male-identified” or “unenlightened”’. This is implicitly contra thinkers like Dworkin and also more modern writers like Ariel Levy who – in broad terms – would like to imagine a new female sexuality constructed outside the influence and consideration of men. Butler doubts whether this is possible or desirable. (More importantly, she sees that it becomes yet another way of criticising women who aren't turned on by the ‘right’ things.)
Where I start to lose her, or rather where she becomes especially challenging, is when she conflates gender roles and psychological states with physical biology. For instance, she very astutely notes that the body is often ‘not the ground or cause’ of sexual desire, but rather ‘its occasion and its object’. People sometimes fantasise about exaggerated or altered bodies, or imagine themselves as the opposite sex: here sexual pleasure is coming somehow from the idea of the physical frame rather than from the physical frame itself. But this is used to suggest that conventional erogenous zones are therefore only ‘conceivable foci of pleasure precisely because they correspond to a normative ideal of a gender-specific body’, which I find very doubtful. Men do not, for instance, gain any direct sexual pleasure from their facial hair or Adam's apples. They rely on the dense network of nerve-endings found at mucus membranes like the genitals, as indeed do women.
In general there is a kind of confusion between sexual desire, on the one hand, and the physical reactions of sexual pleasure on the other – the former may not be tied to the body but the latter certainly are (which is one of the things that can make sexual assault so confusing and upsetting). Still, Butler says my opinion is a ‘literalizing fantasy’ which is ‘characteristic of the syndrome of melancholic heterosexuality’, so what do I know.
The same issue comes up when she examines the nature of gender and sex themselves. For Butler, biological sex – not just gender – is a ‘regulatory fiction’, and indeed she suggests that the social convention of having two genders is one of the ways by which a legal and linguistic two-sex distinction is maintained. To put it another way, the ‘gender trouble’ of the title is founded precisely on the assumed instability of biological sex.
I am not convinced by this, but the arguments are interesting. Mostly the focus is on what it means for the idea of women: ‘there is very little agreement after all on what it is that constitutes, or ought to constitute, the category of women.’ This is mostly building on de Beauvoir's famous dictum, On ne naît pas femme : on le devient ‘You are not born a woman, you become one’; still, it's strange to me, and historically suggestive, that these arguments never seem to exercise men in the same way. One of the reasons I wanted to read this book was to get a better understanding of the arguments that regularly fly around about transsexuality and specifically how it fits with feminism, and although a lot in here was useful on that score, it is also frustrating to the extent that it is sometimes unclear whether Butler is discussing sex or gender or both. Or neither?
Historically, feminism has worked to break down the importance of gender, while also generating a kind of solidarity among those of a particular sex.
To some second-generation feminists, transpeople appeared to go against all this. In the affinity they feel to a different biological sex, they seem implicitly to reinforce the link between that sex and its traditional gender roles. After all, if ‘biology is not destiny’ (one of feminism's great rallying-cries), then why would anyone need or want to have a different biology? ‘Trans-skeptic’ feminists (this is a more neutral term than most would use) complain that transpeople are not interested in subverting the constraints of their own gender, but rather want to adopt a different one.
Germaine Greer's views are notorious: ‘women must sympathize with transsexuals but a feminist must argue that the treatment for gender role distress is not mutilation of the sufferer but radical change of gender roles. […] Sex-change surgery is profoundly conservative in that it reinforces sharply contrasting gender roles by shaping individuals to fit them.’ Julie Bindel, more bluntly: ‘I don't have a problem with men disposing of their genitals, but it does not make them women, in the same way that shoving a bit of vacuum hose down your 501s does not make you a man.’
Behind all this is the looming spectre of biological essentialism. I might be happy to treat someone as a woman, refer to them as a woman, and fundamentally consider them a woman (as in fact I am), but at the end of the day your biological sex is a matter of fact, not a matter of assertion. This has practical implications – doctors need to know that transmen are at risk of ovarian cancer, say – but it also has implications for solidarity and group identity more generally. I have to be sensitive to the fact that not all women would be comfortable taking advice in a rape survival support group from someone who has XY chromosomes and a penis, no matter how firmly they identify as female. (This is not a made-up example – Google the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women's Shelter for a famous test case.)
However, more recent waves of feminism have instead chosen to see sex as a matter of felt identity – one's ‘brain sex’, as some call it – which might eventually be found to have some neurological basis or might just be a matter of profound feeling. On this view, transwomen are not men who have cut off their genitals to ‘become’ women: they are women, in some essential sense, who happen to be lumbered at birth with a male physiology.
In some ways it might seem to be a matter of trivial importance. What kind of person would you be if you needed to check inside someone's underwear – or their chromosomes – before deciding how to treat them? Which is true as far as basic respect and rights and values are concerned. But there is also something to be said, perhaps, for shared experiences. Biologically female experiences like childbirth, facing the menopause, bleeding every month, access to abortion and reproductive control – these have been a crucial part of female rights and female solidarity and the feminist movement, and some women have been cautious about the idea that the word ‘woman’ can now include people who have experienced none of them. I think this is not an outrageous position to take, but attempts to articulate it tend to be silenced now by accusations of ‘transphobia’ or ‘cissexism’ – and many people feel understandably strongly about it because transsexual people face such vastly inflated risks of violence, abuse, depression and suicide, to which ill-judged statements might contribute.
What are we really arguing about here? Pure semantics – how we define the categories ‘man’, ‘woman’. But this is so deeply a part of people's sense of self that the debate can be astonishingly acrimonious. Perhaps we should make such a binary distinction less important to our sense of self, and perhaps the whole thing is built on a much shakier foundation that we realise. Butler's book offers few solutions but lots of revelatory, if badly explained, new ways to think about these ideas.
Thrilling new vocabulary with which to alienate friends and offend family
You know, the problem with troubling gender is that gender isn’t the only thing that is going to be troubled. When I was doing my first degree my lecturer in the editing subject said that you should pay attention to the things people generally skip over in books – the titles of chapters for one, but much more importantly, epigraphs. The example he gave was Watership Down, which he claimed that if you read all of at the start of each of the chapters and said rabbits a couple of times you could plausibly get away with reading nothing else in the book and still know what the book was about. I’ve never bothered even doing this – but it would be an amusing exercise. What I can tell you is that this book can be pretty well summarised by the five quotes used as epigraphs immediately after the title page:
One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one.
Simone de Beauvoir
Strictly speaking, “women” cannot be said to exist.
Woman does not have a sex.
The deployment of sexuality ... established this notion of sex.
The category of sex is the political category that founds society as heterosexual.
This book is a working through of the implications of these five quotations. The takeaway message is that gender – and sex too – is a performance, not a pre-existing state, but a series of practices (although, I think we need something stronger, like habits, only stronger still) that are made real by being constantly enforced and reinforced. That’s the key thing, these are practices that are made normative by their repetition and how society regulates their adherence.
My favourite part of this book was what she does with de Beauvoir’s quote about becoming a woman. The issue here is around the notion of a pre-existing subject. The problem is complicated as such a pre-existing and non-gendered subject simply does not exist. This is a point that is made beautifully in Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference – we like to think we bring up our children in ways that are gender-neutral, but in a society that colour codes children at birth as either pink or blue, we are really kidding ourselves. We literally only have a subjectivity once we have a sex – try telling someone that you’ve had a baby and not tell them the sex of the child and see how long the conversation lasts or how free flowing it is.
Now, I’m going to give my grossly simplified version of this book – but look, this is a classic text for a very good reason – it is basically a summary of lots of very important ideas about gender and is a seminal text in Queer Theory – so, I’m not going to do this one justice. Just saying.
I think it is good to ask, why is all this important? Firstly, gender is so important in deciding the kinds of persons we will be, the kinds of lives we will live and be allowed to live that to accept the gender roles assigned to us at birth is to accept remarkable restrictions as ‘purely natural’. The question is, just who decided what ‘natural’ meant? I remember an Australian politician saying of homosexuality, ‘you don’t see animals in the field doing that sort of thing’. It turns out that you do see animals engaging in homosexual behaviours – or, at least, what we would classify as such. All the same, this is a stupid argument by a stupid person. You don’t see animals in the field reading books, either – are we to stop reading out of solidarity with sheep?
My point isn’t just about ‘homosexual behaviours’ – a friend of mine once told me how angry she became after hearing a woman on the radio wonder aloud about just what it is that lesbians actually do in bed. Imagine how bad your sex-life would need to be for that to be an open question. Your sex-life would need to be summed up by the phrase, ‘whip-it-in-whip-it-out-and-wipe-it’.
Also, gender isn’t a simple dualism even if you ignore the proportion of the population that are homosexual or transsexual. As Butler points out here, there is a sense in which maleness isn’t really a gender at all, but rather the default in our society like ‘white’ also is the default – the taken for granted – the sex that is not seen. In this sense the only gender is female, the eternal other and this gender is defined (like some terrible joke from primary school) by a lack of the female.
Isn’t it remarkable that our whole life is constructed around the shape of our genitals and yet we spend all of those lives keeping them pretty well completely hidden? In fact, if you are after a quick way to get arrested, exposing your genitals in public is probably as effective as anything else. And this is particularly bizarre, as so many of our social behaviours are directed at making it clear which set of genitals we have. Literal hiding followed by ritualised display. Sort of "I've got a penis, I've got a penis - but you can't see it..."
I should speak only for myself (I’ve started this sentence a number of times now with ever-decreasing generality) but I find that when I have to spend time with what might be called hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine people my most consistent emotion is boredom. “Oh Christ, they aren’t really still talking about football, cars, makeup and weight loss are they? How can they stand being themselves?”
The problem many people might have with this book is that they will think the argument is a nurture over nature one – which is actually not the case. This is a book that is focused on the complex dialectic of human behaviour and one that says that the simple, pre-decided categories of male and female provide constraints that we really ought to think through before accepting them blindly. That is, that our habits and ways of being – as regulated and enforced by society – come with many more constraints than just who we can and cannot have sex with. If gender is a performance, then it is one that requires us to remain in character, that decides what we can and cannot do even before any conscious decision can be made. Such restraint is the very opposite of ‘freedom’. This is a point Butler makes at the end of this book – where what is presented is the dialectic of agency and construction – such that in realising how we are constructed by social norms we have at last a means of acting in ways that might undermine and trouble those norms, rather than our merely remaining repressed by them.
Still no real review yet, but in my research for this I found 'Judith Butler Explained with Cats', an instructive Socratic dialogue on Butler's idea of gender as a performance.
(Source is binarythis.wordpress.com)
Look at this. It lays out the idea very clearly and it has cat pictures. How am I going to compete with this.
This was a woefully dense text, meant primarily for those who have read enough feminism to have at least a basic idea of the major concepts of feminist theory as well a basic idea of the theorists from whom Butler draws her arguments. I was aware of what Foucault, Beauvoir, Lacan, Freud and Levi-Strauss stood for, could never get into Kristeva, and had read little or nothing of Wittig, Reviere, Cixous and Mary Douglas. On that account, this seemed to be a quite difficult text, but I suppose someone familiar with their basic ideas will find it quite lucid.
Mostly, this is a postmodernist approach that refutes simplistic assumptions of feminine identity and is more inclusive than earlier feminist stances. Drawing upon various theorists, Butler charts the way ahead where binaries of not only men and women, but that of sex and gender too could be transgressed in a way it would expose the artificiality of the hegemonic patriarchal discourse and the fallacies of earlier feminist discourse which addressed narrower, more specific concerns that were representative of their own particular historical, social, economic and geographic positions.
Overall, given the exhaustive study of various standpoint theories, I am extremely surprised Butler leaves out Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak altogether, despite her being a postmodern Marxist feminist when she had briefly discussed Eagleton and Marx as well, and very early on drew attention to the pluralistic complexity of feminist theory today with concerns of age, time, place, ethnicity, class, sexuality and religion.
Perhaps, I temporarily conclude, this is as much a West-centric text as others, but in that specific framework, I deduce it works fine.
Through this text, Butler proceeds to consolidate her theory of “Gender Performativity” by extrapolating on various discourses of power and sexuality by cultural theorists/feminists/psychoanalysts such as Beauvoir, Foucault, Irigaray, Cixous, Wittig, Reviere, Freud, Lacan, Kristeva and Levi-Strauss. Forming a base from the acceptance and/or refutation of the theories proposed by them, Butler derives her conclusions as to how feminism and gender issues can be used to deconstruct hegemonic structures of patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality.
However, a big drawback of this book is that it is, apart from being too dense and too technical, quite repetitive as well, and goes about in circles sometimes without a clear end. And it is quite long for its content. I'd much more prefer a lucid, less repetitive, shorter book. Butler has some brilliant ideas, but they get lost in the density and repetition. but this, I guess, is a malady affecting all those I've found exceedingly amazing - Foucault, Beauvoir, Althusser, Gramsci, Haraway and Spivak. They're probably so high up on the technical ladder, they can't see us down there.
In the first section, Butler refutes the idea of an “essential” woman/feminine identity, especially in the view of racial and colonial discourses. Negating the idea of “femininity” or “womanhood” as a ‘stable signifier’, she sees it as a site for contest that is all the more problematic owing to growing rifts within the feminist discourse that attempts to create a pre-patriarchal identity they can revert back to.
Not only does she find “politics of identity” counter-productive to the liberation of women, Butler emphasizes it as a product of the very hegemonic structures feminism wishes to undo. Instead, Butler advocates “coalitional politics”, what Donna J. Haraway would later refer to as “politics of affiliation”, that would eschew a priori assumptions of “feminine” identity.
Butler goes on to refute the distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ as ‘biological’ and ‘cultural’ constructs. For her, they are historically and genealogically inseparable, and discourses of power have either constructed gender from sex or reduced and restricted gender by sex.
Drawing on Foucault, who points out that “juridical systems of power produce the subjects they subsequently come to represent”, Butler concludes that ”the gender/sex divide ceases to be the culture/nature divide; gender becomes the discursive/cultural means by which “a natural sex” is produced and established as “prediscursive”, prior to culture, a politically neutral surface upon which culture acts.”
Taking cues from Beauvoir (for whom women are the Other) and Irigaray (for whom women are multiple identities, unrepresentable) she explores the formation of and contexts of gender and its sociological implications in the complex webs of race, ethnicity and class, and further examines their conflicting views on the “marking (off)” of the female body by “masculinist discourse”.
Drawing on Wittig’s argument that doing away with normative heterosexuality will lead to dissolution of the gender-binaried thinking, aligning with Foucault’s view that gender is a production of not biological sex but sexuality, Butler argues that Wittig provides a normative humanistic framework as a structure, making space for non-binaried categories of sexualities under feminism instead of the man v/s woman argument.
Butler proposes that “the claim that gender is ‘constructed’ does not assert its illusoriness or artificiality……. but acts as an inquiry to understand the discursive production of the plausibility of that binary relation and to suggest that certain cultural configurations of gender take the place of the ‘real’ and consolidate and augment their hegemony through that felicious self-naturalization.”
The following chapter is devoted to the ‘investigation of some aspects of the psychoanalytical structuralist account of sexual difference and the reconstruction of sexuality with respect to its power to contest regulatory regimes as well as its roles in uncritically reproducing those regimes.’
Butler takes up patriarchy, one of the focal points of feminist thought, along with the idea of a pre-patriarchal state that would serve as the basis for a new non-patriarchal society. She warns of the tendency to universalize patriarchy as a counter-productive technique, emphasizing the need for new techniques in the wake of legitimate incursions of feminist theory into the examination of racial and ethnic oppression.
Studying the taboo of incest through the lens of Levi-Strauss’ ‘anthropological structuralism’, which posits a kinship structure governed by women, she views Levi-Strauss’ assertion of gender as an imposition on sex as an equivalent of culture’s imposition of meaning on nature which is ‘before’ the law as yet another problematic binary between nature and culture, reinforcing culture as ‘male’ and nature as ‘female’, and mind as ‘male’ and the body as a ‘female’ territory.
Levi-Strauss’ argument that the institution of marriage through which women are traded as good without their own identity, acts as an indicator of homoerotic discourse that is implied yet negated – the function of marriage is to simultaneously an act of ‘dividing’ men into different clans and uniting them by the bonds of marriage.
Levi-Strauss maintains that the centrality of the incest taboo establishes the significant nexus between structuralist anthropology and psychoanalysis. This prohibitive nature of incest taboo that engenders desire is appropriated by Lacan who contends that the taboo is reproduced in kinship and linguistic structures, since it is not sanctioned culturally. Language, then, for Lacan, acts as the ‘residue and alternative accomplishment of dissatisfied desire.’
Butler moves on to Joan Riviera, along with Lacan, both of who consider women as masquerading as men, through what Butler would eventually call Gender Performance, accentuated with a Phallic “lack” in order to participate and perpetuate their own subjugation. Irigaray too remarked, the masquerade… is what women do…. In order to participate in men’s desire, but at the cost of giving up their own…”
Reviere’s argument is that females take up homosexuality not as an expression of their sexual preference, but as a way to masquerade as men, desirous of women sexually, but wishing desperately to enter the realm of men as a man herself, equal to other men in status. The core here, then, is not sexuality but rivalry and rage.
Using Freud’s theories of Oedipal Complex and sexuality and drawing on Foucault, Butler notes that emphasis on compulsory heterosexuality coupled with lack of sanction on homosexuality and incest in turn naturalize heterosexuality through the act of mourning and melancholia, which leads people to willingly or unwillingly choose a gender identity.
Butler remarks that ”homosexual melancholy is culturally instituted and maintained as the price of stable gender identities related through oppositional desires.”
Problematic to me particularly is Butler’s notion that “bisexuality is indeed the consequence of child-rearing practices in which parents of both sexes are present and presently occupied with child-care and in which the repudiation of femininity no longer serves as a precondition of gender identity for both men and women.” I’m not sure I wholly, or even partly agree to this, though I keep the doors of possibility open.
The final chapter considers “the very notion of the body, not as a ready surface awaiting signification, but as a set of boundaries, individual and social, politically signified and maintained. No longer believable as an interior ‘truth’ of dispositions and identity, sex will be shown to be a performatively enacted signification, one that, released from its naturalized interiority and surface, can occasion the parodic proliferation and subversive play of gendered meanings.”
Butler begins with Kristeva’s reclaiming of the maternal body within Language, as a move against Lacan who held that language and culture indicated repression of women. Kristeva appropriated poetic language as expression of femininity, which Butler considers just as “essentialist” and binaried a position as Lacan’s. For Kristeva, the act of giving birth is a covert acknowledgement of female homosexuality, by which a female bonds with her own mother when she gives birth. Female homosexuality, to her, is the emergence of psychosis in a culture, manifest in poetic language.
Butler deals with Foucault’s conflicting views on sex and gender through a reading of his introduction to the journals of a hermaphrodite Herculine Barbin in 19th century France who committed suicide after she was compelled to act like a man by society on account of her physical characteristics after she confessed to priests and doctors about her condition. While Foucault seems to celebrate here a utopian sexuality ‘before’ the law prohibits it, he directly contradicts his own views in ‘The History of Sexuality’ where he contends that the notion of “real” sex is illusory, since ‘sex’ is a product of socio-cultural discourse, and not the cause. Butler also reads it as a possibly parallel account of Foucault’s own homosexuality, about which he was reluctant to talk.
Butler backs her case up by an account of a culturally biased MIT project by a group of scientists headed by Dr. Page who established sex on the basis of the presence/lack of testes – i.e., to determine if a person was female, the litmus test was whether the person had a testicles or not, rather than checking for ovaries and ovarian functions.
Next, Butler examines Wittig’s arguments that the category of ‘sex’ as well as ‘normative heterosexuality’ is repressive to women, lesbians and gays, and that lesbians are not women – because to her, the category woman is assumed to be a heterosexual identity. Drawing on Beauvoir’s iconic statement ”One is not born a woman; one becomes one.”, Wittig explores that sex itself is a product of male ideology, the Other to males. Because one’s biological sex has little to do with one’s sexuality – e.g. hermaphrodites. To Wittig, ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are political categories, not natural facts.
Aligning herself with Marx, Wittig further says that language is a form and expression of repression, not a neutral or abstract exchange.
Butler, however, disagrees with Wittig’s idea that heterosexuality is the only power that shapes and restricts homosexuality. For Butler, there are “other power/discourse centers that construct and structure both gay and straight sexuality.” Butler does not entirely reject Wittig’s stand, but posits that Wittig’s formulation of power structures in only one of the many structures of oppression. Wittig’s theory, says Butler, overrides those discourses within the gay and lesbian culture that employ sex as a category to proliferate the number of sexes with terms such as dyke, butch, fag, femme and queer, through which these discourses situate themselves within heterosexual discourse.
She cites the example of a lesbian femme, who liked her boys to be ‘girls’, with the ‘girl’ resignifying ‘masculinity’ in a butch identity. Such categories both recall and displace conventional, normative heterosexuality, a point that Wittig misses.
Drawing on Mary Douglas’ Purity and Danger, Butler posits that “any discourse that establishes the boundaries of the body serves the purpose of instating and naturalizing certain taboos regarding the appropriate limits, postures and modes of exchange that define what it is that constitutes bodies.”
Butler cites the example of AIDS being defamed as a “gay disease” to perpetuate its heterosexual hegemony. Later, Butler derives that,
”If the inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is a fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems that genders can neither be true or false, but are only produced as the truth effects of a discourse of a primary and stable identity.”
Further, Butler suggests that the ‘figure of the ”drag” fully subverts the distinction between inner and outer psychic space and effectively mocks both the expressive model of gender and the notion of a true gender identity.’
With the drag, gender becomes performative, rather than essence, as much as normative gender is, through repetition.
Butler, in her concluding chapter suggests the act of ‘parody’ as a practice that can serve to reengage and reconsolidate the very distinction between a privileged and naturalized gender configuration and one that appears as derived, phantasmatic, and mimetic - a failed copy.
By employing these ‘failed attempts’ at performing the socially approved gender, Butler believes it is possible to critique hegemonic accounts of gender formation.