The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

Maybe I have been brainwashed by traditional society to believe in the importance of sex, but I could not wrap my head around the foundational arguments of Monique Wittig’s thoughts on sex and gender in “Gender Trouble” by Judith Butler. I found it virtually impossible to follow Wittig’s premise that “there is no reason to divide up human bodies into male and female sexes except that such a division suits the economic needs to heterosexuality and lends a naturalistic gloss to the institution of heterosexuality,” (143).

Even with clear paraphrasing of this argument by Judith Butler, I cannot look at sex divisions as politically constructed agendas. When all animal species that reproduce through sexual reproduction are divided almost equally into male and female, it is hard for me to see this as either biologically coincidental. I think that sex divisions have to be meaningful simply because it does serve a purpose in animal societies of all sorts and even penguins and seahorses and lions have established roles based on sex. In looking at a male penguin as a caretaker I see that gender roles are not dictated by sex in the animal kingdom, but I also see a clear example of gender role division by sex in a society that is not linguistic or political. This makes me face an obstacle in comprehending Wittig’s argument and more importantly makes me faces obstacles in understanding my own thinking.

I almost was incapable of following Wittig’s logic and I really dislike that I cannot tell if this because I felt that there was faulty reasoning or if I cannot comprehend a different view of sex that is so far outside the box of what I have known. De Beauvoir’s view of gender as a role and act made perfect sense to me, and also accounted to why certain individuals with certain biological characteristics might play a certain gender based on how they might believe it suited them to be cast in a certain role.

I am unable to separate a physical body from the equation. It feels uncharacteristically traditional and conservative for me to say this, but I see the interplay of my body and my identity to be a very important part of the human experience. Try as I might to see gender identified physical features as “in themselves as neutral as others” (145) I cannot do that.  Biologically there is of course more in common between male and female than there is different, but it is also small biological differences that make me different from my cat. Ironically, Wittig is also unable to separate gender and sex (which is why she postulates that lesbians are not women), but our thinking diverges about this issue.

I feel that I am an interplay between a sex and a gender, much more like De Beauvoir’s view.  But I am extremely bothered by my inability to fully understand Wittig’s reasoning. I do not like feeling a block between my understanding and her perspective particularly if this is not my thinking as an individual but rather society thinking for me. I hope to gain further clarity on Wittig’s argument and get more insight into how to further think unconventionally about sex.

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Comments on: "The Natural Irrelevance of Male and Female Divisions" (1)

  1. I think Wittig disputed the idea that sex was based entirely on a person’s “sexual” organs. The parts of our body that identify our sex are named that way in language and therefore are classified that way by human understanding as it is now. What she’s saying is that there is more to being male or female in sexual terms than the body parts to which those terms are now ascribed. I discussed this a little bit in my own post so I won’t completely repeat myself but this doesn’t make sense. If you were to separate a male from his penis, is he sexually neutral? I don’t believe so. Is a female without breasts still deserving of the term? I think so. So, if sex is then independent of the physical form, then what are we basing male and female sex on? I think Wittig is saying that since sex transcends the binary categories in which it is divided at the present, we should seize the opportunity to end this obsessive need to categorize (especially since it limits the scope of human development and more especially because women get the short end of the stick and gay and lesbian people get less than that) and restrict our self in language. I don’t think agreed with everything Wittig and Butler were saying, but I certainly appreciated the radical changes in perspective and identity they were calling for.

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