I think that Jonathan Swift thought along the same lines as Judith Butler in terms of gender roles. Butler vehemently believes that sexuality and gender roles are simply a social construct, something that we’ve been taught is “right.” She calls out the ignorance of that thought process, saying, “There are no direct expressive or casual lines between sex, gender, gender presentation, sexual practice, fantasy, and sexuality. None of those terms captures or determines the rest. Part of what constitutes sexuality is precisely that which does not appear and that which, to some degree, can never appear” (725). What Butler is protesting is our society’s need to categorize people based on their gender and sexuality so that we can more easily judge each other. Why is there any need to judge in the first place? By categorizing people, we immediately make their distinguishing characteristics the ones that define them. This also applies to race, religion, and any other aspect of society in which there is a majority versus a minority, and thus an Us versus Them.
Swift, too, points out the ridiculousness of gender stereotypes, focusing on those applied to women. Swift doesn’t seem to think that our gender identity originates from our sex. His poems argue that the only reason women make themselves up in such a drastic way is because that is how society expects them to behave. In both “The Lady’s Dressing Room” and “A Beautiful Nymph Going to Bed,” he describes all the work that women put into making themselves “presentable” in society, poking fun at the apparently horror that, God forbid, there is an actual human being under all that ornamentation. Strephon, of “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” is appalled when he sees all the signs of Celia’s humanity, crying out, “Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!” (118). Apparently the notion that “girls don’t poop” is not a new one. I think Swift’s poems not only criticize society for its unrealistic ideals of women, but also women for painstakingly conforming. However, it seems that Swift suggests that it there is sweet justice for those who are so blinded by gender stereotypes. He writes, “His foul Imagination links/ Each Dame he sees with all her Stinks” (121-122). Logically, if Strephon finds all women abhorrent after realizing that women are not the perfect beings he once thought, he will not reproduce, and thus spawn an ignorant child. This is hopeful, in a strange, bitter way. Swift’s poems do not really broach the idea of homosexuality; as his poems were written in the 1700s, the topic of homosexuality was not something usually endorsed, let alone written about. So, unfortunately, while Swift was a progressive thinker in terms of advocating for the equality of women, he falls into his own trap concerning sexuality.
I tend to agree with Butler and Swift’s criticisms. It’s stifling to try to conform to the ideas of what other people, and eventually yourself as an individual, think you should look, act, think, and feel. I don’t believe that our biological sex predetermines out true gender because our biology doesn’t dictate our personality, our thoughts, or how we want to present ourselves. I also don’t believe that heterosexuality is the “origin” of homosexuality because I don’t think anyone is one hundred percent heterosexual or homosexual. I don’t know of any guy that doesn’t have a man crush, or a girl that doesn’t have a girl crush. Like Butler argued, I think it is extremely narrow-minded to think in such black and white terms. I think that it is much more important to access a person’s character before passing any judgement.