Swift and Butler: Friends?

When reading Swift and Butler together I feel as though I have no choice but to draw a parallel between their ideas, and say that they are “in agreement.” When Swift’s works are compared to Butler’s ideas one can derive pretty direct evidence that Butler’s work backs up Swift’s thoughts, (and vice versa). When doing as the blog prompt suggests and “using Butler’s ideas to analyze Swift’s poems about women” it seems as though Swift believes gender roles are socially constructed. Butler argues that sums of imitations learned from childhood are used to form our ideas about what makes a man and a woman. In Swift’s poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room” a man is exposed to the dirty smocks, powder, and paints that made his beloved so “womanly” and attractive to him. With one look at her stereotypically feminine shell in pieces, our man Strephon finds his lady “unsavory.” In another poem, “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed,” Swift tells the tale of a “beautiful young woman” who upon removing her clothes and makeup turns out to be old and ugly. Swift satirically calls attention to his society’s idea of what makes a woman. I would say that the ideas he portrays are in line with Butler’s belief that gender roles are (both figuratively and literally) put on. By reading Butler’s essay alongside Swift’s poems, I was more able to focus on the “gender roles” being questioned.

I have a hard time determining what Swift’s views are on whether or not our biological sex determines our gender, or his views on heterosexuality acting as the original to homosexuality. Butler writes, “There is no “proper” gender, a gender proper to one sex rather than another, which is in some sense that sex’s cultural property” (Butler). Her opinion on the matter is stated quite clearly, but I feel it would be a pretty far stretch to say whether Swift’s work agrees or disagrees.  Comparing the 18th century to present day, I feel like gender roles have evolved in some ways, but remain similar in others. The idea of women having a stereotypically “masculine” personality, or a man having a “feminine” personality is no longer so taboo. I would even say that if a person of one sex has the “gender characteristics” of the opposite sex it is mostly accepted. Physically speaking, the more one sex begins to look (stereotypically of course) like the opposite sex, (for example a woman with very short hair or a man wearing makeup), the more “taboo” their actions are considered. I feel like in 18th century society men and women were more held to their socially constructed gender than in our society. However, I think that as far as what is “idolized” and considered right in our popular culture still follows the gender roles of the 18th century: women are supposed to be dainty, soft, and dependent while men are the strong independent bread-winners.

I agree with Butler’s opinion that our biological sex is NOT the same as our gender. I do not however believe that gender roles are 100% pressed on people. Society and upbringing have an affect how people turn out, but do not have the governing hand Butler seems (to me) to believe they have in the way people “turn out.” I will use a few personal examples to explain why I disagree with Butler. As a little girl I grew up in the country. I climbed trees in the woods, built forts, and played with my dog all day. When it got too dark to play outside I would go inside and play dress-up, or play with Barbie dolls. I was happy doing both things. In middle school I felt more of an urge to “conform” to my gender stereotype, so I stopped dressing in overalls, (so much but not altogether) and wore skirts and other “girly” things I suppose. In high school I, (as well as the majority of people I went to school with), started looking and acting more “individually,” and dropping the conformist attitude. I think that at some point or another everyone conforms to meet a standard, but I do not believe that the impact of society causes people to remain “ever-conformed.” Now, when I wear a dress or put on makeup I do not believe I am doing it to fit some sort of social norm. I still feel just as “me” in those overalls.

When asked if I believe heterosexuality is the original of homosexuality, I can neither completely agree nor disagree with Judith Butler. I do not think that any sexuality is “greater” than the other, but I cannot say what came “first.” In society today and in the 18th century I feel like heterosexuality is seen as the original, and homosexuality a mere derivative. I do not feel this way, but it still seems to be the general feeling. I do not think that sexuality and gender are quite related though. In my case, I have a stereotypically male personality, but I am still “straight,” so I don’t feel like a person’s gender will affect their sexuality necessarily.

Butler “Imitation and Gender Subordination”


Swift “The Lady’s Dressing Room”


Swift “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed”



One thought on “Swift and Butler: Friends?

  1. Samantha, GREAT job answering each part of the prompt. I like how you explicitly state the prompt and your response. You have made grading your blog easy.

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