Reading Judith’s Butler’s excerpt from Gender Trouble opened up my eyes and mind to theories I was not even aware of. In the excerpt, Butler introduces Monique Wittig’s views, and begins by stating her beliefs that the terms “male” and “female” and “masculine” and “feminine” are only existent within the heterosexual matrix, and are just common terms that keeps the matrix concealed, protecting it from radical critique (141).
This view is interesting because it challenges terms and language that have been existent in the minds and mouths of people for centuries. Where did these terms come from, and, more interestingly, are they serving some agenda?
Butlergoes on to highlight Simone de Beauvoir’s idea that “One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one.” Beauvoir believes everyone is born with a sex in the anatomical sense, but a person acquires gender over time. Sex is a just a trait of being human, but sex does not determine what gender one can become (142).
Wittig supports the de Beauvoir theory that “one is not born a woman,” but does not agree with Beauvoir’s theory that everyone is born with a sex. For Wittig, sex is a gendered category which serves a political purpose of reproductive sexuality. Sex then promotes heterosexuality and is not natural. Thus, a lesbian is not a woman, and that the term woman exists only to stabilize and consolidate an opposite relation to man—the relation being heterosexuality (143,144).
This is the part of the text that just confused me. I was able to grasp the idea that gender could quite possibly be acquired throughout time, though even that notion is a little hard to understand, especially in the case of homosexuality—whether one is born gay, lesbian, or straight. Would the acquired gender argument refute that one is born a certain way?—Please feel free to chime in on this!
But Wittig’s idea that sex is a gendered category was and is still hard for me to grasp, not because I don’t understand what she is saying, but because I don’t understand how she could think this is quite possible. It is clear that men and women are both human, but there are distinctions that separate the two—not only physically, but internally as well. Butlersays, “That penis, vagina, breasts, and so forth are named sexual parts is both a restriction of the erogenous body to those parts and a fragmentation of the body as a whole.” Perhaps the names have become restrictions, but named or not, it does not change the fact these parts do exist. (146)
Wittig refuses to take part in these labels and wants to overthrow the vocabulary. She wants to change the description of bodies without referring to sex or gender.Butlersays that, “the political cultivation of intuition is precisely what she wants to elucidate, expose, and challenge” (145).
ButButleralso says that “it is unclear, however that these features could be named in a way that would not reproduce the reductive operation of the category of sex.” I don’t think that these features can be named without sex being involved.
“‘Men’ and ‘women’ are political categories, not natural facts,” Wittig says (147). And that is where the agenda comes into play. Can sex really all just be some political ploy to keep men on top? Is this all really just serving the heterosexual matrix?