There is a huge difference between sex and gender. Sex is biological and based on chromosomes and physical, biological factors. Gender is how one identifies themselves in society. I think that Judith Butler got it right in her work “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” by saying that gender roles are a social construct formed from the society we live in. Frankly, almost all concepts we have today about the world around us were put in place by society. I think that Swift recognized this in his poems “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” and “The Lady’s Dressing Room” as well. In the first poem, the title alludes to this being a romanticized poem but it talks of a woman as she “Takes off her artificial Hair/Now, picking out a Crystal Eye,/She wipes it clean, and lays it by./Her Eye-Brows/ from a Mouse’s Hyde,/Stuck on with Art on either Side,” (10-14). These lines from the poem are showing how a woman puts on this façade so that society will see her the way she wants to be viewed according to gender and tries to fit in with what her society views as acceptable feminine appearance. This goes with Butler when she says: “I suffered for a long time, and I suspect many people have, from being told, explicitly or implicitly, that what I ‘am’ is a copy, an imitation, a derivative example, a shadow of the real.” (272). This part of her work really helped me understand Swift’s poems in realizing that what society says about gender is what people are forced to go along with.
And “Is our biological sex the “original” to our true gender?” I would have to say no to that. I think that gender is completely socially constructed like Butler said. Sex has nothing to do with how we identify ourselves in modern times. Though it is a contributing factor because of how the society we live in places it, it is not the end all or be all of identifying with a gender. A point that would back my view up is how in the United States we only acknowledge two genders: male and female. This isn’t like this everywhere in the world. A lot of cultures have a concept of a “third gender”. This third gender is socially accepted and is specific to the society that they are in. There are Native American tribes that call this third gender “berdache”. Berdache is a commonly accepted gender role in specific Native American tribes. So obviously gender roles have to be socially constructed if different cultures acknowledge different genders than others.
I think that in comparison to the 18th century, gender roles are becoming slightly less important than they were. People now a days are trying to fight for people to be how they feel they should be and not pressured by society. Obviously gender roles still exist and do determine how we act, dress and go about our daily lives, I just don’t think that will ever go away, but I think it is slightly less judgmental than in the 18th century to define yourself how you want to.