My Face Is A Painting And The World is a Gallery

Jonathan Swift seems to believe that the expectations of a women, in his society at least, are quite absurd.  It follows then that he would probably agree with the sentiment that the gender roles we inhabit are also constructed to a point where they do not express the direct link to an expression of sex but rather the social expectations of each sex, in essence agreeing with Butler’s point that gender as we are accustomed to seeing is as much a construction as the non-normative gender roles we find obtrusive.

Swift’s poem is very critical of the artificial and constructed facade that women must embody to be considered proper or even attractive in their social environment. Lines like, “Returning at the Midnight Hour; Four Stories climbing to her Bow’r; Then, seated on a three-legg’d Chair, Takes off her artificial Hair” express a dry sarcasm and open criticism of the artificiality of expected beauty placed on women by not only society but on themselves as well.  This is not saying that the plight of the women he criticizes is necessarily their fault, but because of the social barriers placed between their true sexual gender and their expected expressed gender, the problematic rise of performative gender expression has  become an inherent part of how the female thinks and the qualities they expect themselves to uphold.  Just as Butler points out in her essay,”gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original”,  and Swift would have most likely agreed that many of the performative and exterior rituals of the woman he criticizes in his poem experience are in large part imitations of an ideal female figure that has perpetuated itself in his social climate as well as within the minds of the women who take part in the rituals themselves.

Both Swift and Butler are pretty accurate in their summation of the performative and ritualistic act that comprises many of the gender conventions we see perpetuated even today.  It seems Butler deals more in depth with the idea that these gender rituals affect both males and females, but because of the fact that through most of Western history the male has remained dominant (resonating even today), many of the criticisms that Swift aims at the female plight also affected the male. Because they were seen as the dominant social and political figures it was less of a problem and much less desirable to point out the fallacy of performative gender conventions, which luckily are entering modern discourse from both the male and female perspective, as well as gender roles that are outside of the normative spectrum.


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