A lot of Toppings on this Gender Pie

Richard Derderian

November 13, 2013

ENGL 382:  The Enlightenment

Group #5

After reading through the complicated work that is Butler, I learned 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.”  (Pg. 722)   From this perspective, we can infer that our biological sex does not typically determine our true gender.  Take, for instance, the poem by Jonathan Swift.  That “woman” is anything but the typical female.  Whether that is a consequence of birth, or, of how she imagines herself to be, we cannot determine.

“Takes off her artificial Hair: [10]

Now, picking out a Crystal Eye,

She wipes it clean, and lays it by.

Her Eye-Brows from a Mouse’s Hyde.

This sample from Swift’s poem makes our task of determining gender and sex even more perplexing, but also allows for an interesting interpretation.  The fact that a “woman” is taking all of these feminine qualities off of her makes us wonder.

Let’s go back to Butler’s reading to try to gauge this.  First off, she completely separates gender and sex.  To her, they are two different things, independent from one another.  Swift demonstrates this in his poem by not clearly defining the biological gender of the “woman,” thus showing us that gender is a social construct created by our society.  When we read through the poem, we recognize what Swift is describing as “feminine” characteristics, but we never get to find out if “she” is biologically female gendered, or just dressed up in drag.  From this we can see how Butler is correct when he says, “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” (Pg. 725) From this quote we can see that just because someone is represented as feminine doesn’t mean that it is their biological sex.  From this, we can gauge that our biological sex is not the “original” to our true gender.

As far as the notion of heterosexuality being the original of homosexuality, Butler offers an interesting take.  She says that “if it were not for the notion of the homosexual as copy, there would be no construct of heterosexuality as origin.”  (Pg. 723)  But, Butler goes on to refute the notion of origin, saying that inverting both homosexuality and heterosexuality as origins of genders proves to be too unstable to determine which came first.  Heterosexuality is always trying to justify itself as the original sex, something that Butler says it is failing at.  She says “heterosexuality is always in the process of imitating and approximating its own phantasm tic idealization of itself – and failing.”  (Pg. 722)  From these quotes, I believe that it is impossible to determine which was the original.  But, the argument for procreation is always prevalent when considering this argument.  How could a homosexual exist without there being some heterosexuals to create them?  But, Butler tells us that sexual orientation and biological genders are separate, and each entails a wide variety of specific types of both hetero and homosexual qualities within them.  Though I disagree that gender is solely a social construct, I can respect and understand Butler’s notions regarding the subject of gender formation.

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