Gender in the Enlightenment

Judith Butler’s “Imitation and Gender Subordination” overall states that gender identities are a social construct. She says that drag is not the imitation of straightness; it is not the appropriation of a gender that solely belongs to one sex.

Butler says later in her work, “In a way, the presence of heterosexual constructs and positionalities in whatever form in gay and lesbian identities presupposes that there is a gay and lesbian repetition of straightness, a recapitulation of straightness – which is itself a repetition and recapitulation of its own ideality – within its own terms, a site in which all sorts of resignifying and parodic repetition become possible” (Butler).

From this quote it is clearly explained that straightness cannot be an “original” because there are so many other sexualities that are not only the opposite but sometimes completely dissimilar.

“A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” by Jonathan Swift is about a prostitute coming home from work. The poem illustrates how a woman is only beautiful with make-up and dresses. The scene of Corrina waking up after a night of prostitution is full of disgusting images:


“A wicked Rat her Plaister stole,

Half eat, and dragg’d it to his Hole.

The Crystla Eye, alas, was miss’t;

And Puss had on her Plumpers p—t.

A Pigeon pick’d her Issue-Peas;

And Shock her Tresses fill’d with Fleas.”

Butler would respond to this poem by Swift in a less than admirable way. Swifts poem speaks of how when an ugly woman takes off her make-up and other beauty aids she is no longer beautiful. Swift’s ideal of womanly beauty is artificial. Swift demonstrates that there is a certain type of beauty associated with women. Butler would respond to this by saying that it’s not the artificial aids that make a woman beautiful – it’s not even that she’s a woman – beauty is not related to the gender or sex of a person. The same is exemplified in Swift’s poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room.”

“But oh! It turn’d poor Strephon’s Bowels,

When he beheld and smelt the Towels,

Begumm’d, bematter’d, and beslim’d

With Dirt, and Sweat, and Ear-Wax grim’d.

No Object Strephon’s Eye escapes,

Here Pettycoats in frowzy Heaps…”

This part of the poem explains how Strephon can no longer forget his experience the inside of a woman’s dressing room. Strephon can no longer even think about a woman without mentally experiencing what is underneath all of the artificial aids that woman use to live up to the womanly beauty ideal. Butler would say that there is no true ideal of womanly beauty because the gender role of women is a social construct.

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