Gender: Group 5

To understand the opinions expressed in Swift, one should understand Butler as a relationship of sorts. The ideas that Butler portrays provide a connection with gender identity that is is hard to argue with anything but. In Butler’s opinion, social constructs surrounding gender will always exist, and one has to admit that this cannot be far from the truth. Swift’s opinions are not far from that, social constructs come with being a women, ideas that are without a doubt, reflected within her pieces of work. These “original” gender/sex roles are hard to actually understand when paired with social constructs. What can actually earn that name as “original”? To be born with or adapted into? The distinction is hard to understand when looking at their roles generally without seeing some relationship and connection between the two as a catalyst to gender roles. Swift sees the social construct more influential in the gender roles of individuals. Swift sees problems with these “original” roles, there are understood missing pieces of information. In regards to if “heterosexuality” is the “original” of “homosexuality,” it rings true. In the words of Butler,

“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).

Man had to find means of expanding with those roles man and women, and only when opportunity in new eras came, homosexuality was able to thrive without worry of population, the opportunity just had to be there. Butler disagreed with this, seeing that because of the variety of sexualness, being a homosexual could never be seen as “original”.

Butler’s theories of social constructs mingled with that of Swifts ideas and conclusions, exemplify such a strong connection and evaluation that it is hard to do anything but agree with their opinions. However biology is the sole benefactor in the way that people are internally, so why not physically and emotional as well. I’m sure one could find some scientist that could discover that some random mutation of genes or chemical imbalance could cause various stimulates, ideas, and behaviors that help to portray gender roles. I’d like to fully agree with the conclusions Swift came to, however science does not lie. Some relationship between biology and social constructs are the sole reasons that people behave in the manner they do. And only with those two stimuli do gender roles fully develop.

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.

Gender Roles?

When looking at gender and anything concerning it (sexuality, identity, etc.) there is always a social construct, or so it is posed by Butler. In her essay she states that “I’m permanently troubled by identity categories, consider them, as sites of necessary trouble” (Butler) and how can you have categories without someone constructing them. Someone once exclaimed that this was normal and people excepted it or rejected it which is how social construct come about. This causes there to be a moment of confusion because then what is the “original” gender or sex? I think the definition comes down to time period and influences or the time with majority being held as the “original,” but I suppose that this may have also come about because same sex couples could not create life and therefore were not norm. The ability to procreate seems to be directly linked with being classified as the norm.

Swift chimes in during the Enlightenment by poking holes in such categories and predetermined roles. He ends “The Lady’s Dressing Room” (1732) with the lines “Such Order from Confusion sprung,/Such gaudy Tulips rais’d from Dung” (Swift). The poem speaks of an individual who sees women as filthy creatures because he is “immune” to their feminine wilds. Swift by defining the charming allure of females brings to light what it means to be a woman during the period. With the “stink” which refers to perfume or the painted faces which crack and fall to pieces (mentioned in his other poem “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed”) the illusion of the perfect female crumbles to pieces and Butler would be proud of bringing such things to light.

The gender roles of yesteryear still hold true today. Open any magazine and I would be willing to bet you find a man or woman of “perfect” sculpting portraying what it is to be a “modern” man and/or woman. A “normal” magazine may also capture same sex individuals “coming out of the closet” as scandalous or shocking because it is still taboo in many states and in many communities (also it is still shaky ground as a society). The coverage of advertising and popular culture magazines fuels the fire for perpetuating negative stereotypes because not everyone is a size 0 and not everyone has abs which you could cut diamonds. The urge to abandon individuality for a plastic face to match a celebrity or role model means that we as a people wish to conform to some picture drawn by some big shot instead of drawing our own conclusions.

Gender from Swift to Butler

I think the most important thing to remember when reading Butler is that gender and sex are two totally different things. Sex simply refers to your biology. This refers to a physical “maleness” or “femaleness”. Gender is essentially what you identify yourself as. It refers to a more internal “masculinity” or “femininity”. Butler believes that gender is socially constructed and she is troubled by this fact. She says, “I’m permanently troubled by identity categories, consider them, as sites of necessary trouble.”

With this in mind, we turn to Swift’s “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed”. Using Butler’s perspective on gender and her dislike for the social constructs surrounding gender, one may interpret Swift’s poem as a social commentary on the struggles of women (specifically prostitutes) conforming to society’s standards of beauty and its definition of “being a woman”. According to the poem, beautiful women must have perfect hair and eyes, filled out cheeks (the girl in the poem “dexterously her Plumpers draws, That serve to fill her hollow Jaws.”), full breasts (“the Rags contriv’d to prop / Her flappy Dugs”), and full hips (“off she slips / The Bolsters that supply her Hips.”). Using Butler’s perspective that gender is socially constructed, we can assume that “Corinna, Pride of Drury-Lane” only adorns her artifices and enhancements to portray herself in a more ‘womanly’ fashion as dictated by the culture of her time so that she can earn money as a prostitute. This interpretation of Swift’s poem allows the reader to become sympathetic towards Corinna, whose existence seems to be nothing but a pretense, because Corinna feels forced to become something she is not in order to impress others. The concept continues to be relatable in today’s world.

Swift’s poem does not give a clear statement on one’s biological sex; its primary focus is the social construct of what is considered “feminine”. Though his views are not stated outright, it is reasonable to assume that gender is determined by society’s standards of “masculine” and “feminine”, not by one’s biological sex. This seems to agree with Butler’s view that “gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original”; gender is an imitation of what have been established as socially acceptable “male” and “female” roles, but the “original” archetypes for these roles are unclear. As for hetero/homosexuality, I would say that only the stereotypes would indicate that heterosexuality is the original of homosexuality. If the original is what dictates society’s norm and heterosexuality is generally seen as the “norm” for relationships, then it follows that it must precede homosexuality.

On a final note, I must respectfully disagree with Butler’s view that gender is solely socially constructed. I believe that there is a reason that we tend to assign “masculine” roles to men and “feminine” roles to women, and it isn’t just that we have placed men and women into categories because that’s what society decided. I believe that there is something biological about it—that our biological sex is at least partially “the original” to our true gender.

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.

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”

Gender – Robert Yetter

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.