We have had lengthy discussions about gender in class so far, and even our final project is built upon the ideas of gender roles in society. Obviously, this topic hits home when thinking of how society works and gets down to the core when thinking of systems of thought that run through society.
As trivial as her writing may be, Judith Butler has commented effectively on gender being a social construct. She states that “there is no ‘proper’ gender, a gender proper to one sex rather than another, which is in some sense that sex’s cultural property. Where that notion of the ‘proper’ operates, it is always and only improperly installed as the effect of a compulsory system” (Butler, 722). This passage states specifically how gender is defined not by sex but rather by societal stereotypes. I think that this is extremely useful insight into how categorical society has become. Humans feel at peace when they can define things and place them into categories, however separating and dividing that action may be. I see it as a sort of system of comfort to create constructs such as gender or race, because one can easily be placed within the confines of one.
I think Jonathan Swift is in the same conversation with Butler. He uses satire to unmask the follies of society, which is a very effective tool. Swift states in “A Beautiful Nymph Going to Bed”:
Then, seated on a three-legg’d Chair,
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,
Pulls off with Care, and first displays ‘em,
Then in a Play-Book smoothly lays ‘em.
Now dextrously her Plumpers 5 draws,
That serve to fill her hollow Jaws.
Untwists a Wire; and from her Gums
A Set of Teeth completely comes.
Swift is displaying the artificial things that constitute gender. Corsets, make-up, shiny and long, flowing hair all make up society’s view of what a woman should look like. In other words, society is putting these artifacts in a category that belongs to women. Swift’s poem directly relates to Butler’s ideas.
In short, I think that from the Enlightenment period to now, not much has changed. People still view others in categories. Only when the social constructs are deconstructed, can humans reach their ultimate potential.