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The Inner and Outer Bounds of Gender Identity

Judith  Butler sets up an interesting analysis of  the body and what possible gender constructs define it; She is all the while really questioning if it is in fact,  the boundaries of the body that define gender (at least that is how I understood it).  Through her research, she is able to reveal how historical influences are able to mold perception of body, thus tying in the idea of a culture influenced gender (and slightly re-visiting the ideas of the nature /culture binary discussed in Orton’s essay). “Within the metaphoric of this notion of cultural values is the figure of history as the relentless writing instrument, and the body as the medium which must be destroyed and transfigured in order for “culture” to emerge” (FT 435).

Additionally, Butler also discusses how understanding the physical limitations of the body can then give room to analyze the the gender performatives that are outwardly expresssed.  I found that part of her essay to be particularly interesting because it forces us to think about how and why we carry out specific behaviors.  It’s  actually confusing to think that expressions are or  could be manifestations of a gender identity that we are trying to hide, as Butler discusses, “…acts, gestures, and desire produce…this on the surface on the surface of the body…but never reveal, the organizing principle of identity as a cause” (FT438). When these actions are closely considered, we are left to catagorize behaviors and then impart the nature/ cultural standards of gender, which would be exclusive.

I  can partially understand what Wittig argues about , where gender can be seen “…as the workings of sex.”  But at the same time it also complicates the issue of our bodies being seen as a curltural sign when we are considering those who do not conform to the inner and outter bounds of the body due to performative expression that would render a different appearance or essence (as with Newton’s study).  Butler is right to say that “…gender should not be construed as a stable identity…” (FT441).  As society continues to change and adopt new ways of thinking, its important to redefine gender roles.  Although I still feel your sex is either male or female regardless of performaitve expression, there should be serious discussion on how gender is to be understood…or just agree to disagree that is incredibly ambiguous.





The life of Feminism

I must start this post by saying, feminism never seemed as complex as it is before this course. As one of 19 females within my family, I never stopped to think what exactly does it mean to be a female. Hearing the word ‘feminist’, but not fully understanding the complexity of it has left me reading and re-reading this excerpt. Judith Butler, though very articulate, has left me in a slight radical state of mind. Are we born females or is this gender role something that we acquire over time?

The challenge posed among the initiation of the reading, set up my perspective for the entirety of the exerts. The thought that sex and gender are socially constructed was something that I had never conceived to be true. How is it that my entire life I have distinguished ‘females’ as something that we are born as, whereas in all actuality it is something we have been socially constructed to be. When I began to associate this notion, I realized that as young girls we are automatically deemed to be delicate. It is implied that we be represented by specific colors, themes, roles etc. But does this make it true that sex and gender are both delegated?

Though I understood the gist of the reading, I found it difficult to agree or disagree with it all. Butler brings up valid points of sex and gender being social and political, but that could be said of many things in life. It comes down to a point of how we want to identify a person. When we think about women, we think about all the things that come along with them; make up, dresses, heels, bows, ceremonies. This may be off topic, but why is it that a women is more fluid into a “male” role. They can wear sneakers, ties and shave their heads, things that are dignified male traits, but still be deemed women, but men who do the opposite are exemplified as transgender etc. Though I may be flipping the script, it wouldn’t be a post by me if I didn’t refute what was argued in our readings.

Over all, I tried my best to understand this reading, and it may be that last week was my first class, but I am having a hard time understanding the theory. Reading everyone’s post has helped me catch a gist of it, but still difficult for me to write about it. Does anyone have any suggestions as far as being an effective reader with this type of literature?

Priori in gender Identity

By Mayra Jiménez

I have written a creative answer to Wittig and Foucault in relation to the body, and the idea of a preexisting priori that culture has defaced by placing categories to fit a planned scheme.


My body is the subject for much criticism, and has been used to define the ways of the world, as if my body is only a defining and concrete answer to everything I feel, think, and do.

I, the mind inside, the spirit, the human, the child, the parent, the sibbling, the artist, the worker, the healer…all my I’s are what I am; whatever I fit into my bucket, that’s who and what I am.

It is not my body, and not certainly a sticker posted on my forhead or on my back, what can define who I am. I am me, the I that is not defined until the day I die.

I can write tattoos on my skin, but that doesn’t mean I am dirty or perverted. I choose the lenght of my hair, not to fit into a gender acepted kind of look, but to match the way I want to feel the air against my skin…

Culture and Gender

           “One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one”; Butler claims that the phrase is “odd” and “nonsensical”. I agree with Butler’s beginning point, that culturally we put to much emphasis on gender and those who do not fall into this category are left “outside the human”. Leaving those who feel that God has placed them into the wrong body shunned from our society and viewed as taboo. Our culture imposes gender rules on us from the very beginning by asking if  “is it a girl or boy” and assigning the color pink to a baby girl and blue to a boy. Butler poses a question from the very beginning, “are there ever humans who are not, as it were always already gendered?” I believe that there are people who are not always gendered. For those who are transgender they are stuck between what is “culturally correct”and their own feeling of what their gender is.  In these terms gender goes beyond the body but implies that gender is also a state of mind. 

         This opening phrase is entirely culturally driven which caused me to think about many coming of age ceremonies such as; a quinceanera and a bar mitzvah, and many phrases such as; “a girl becomes a woman once she has a child” or “or a woman becomes a mother once she becomes pregnant while a man becomes a father upon seeing his child born”. Each of the ceremonies mentioned are transitions for a child to become an adult and each phrase represents a cultural accomplishment which Beauvoir means. As Butler states, ” Beauvoir, of course, meant merely to suggest that the category of women is a variable cultural accomplishment, a set of meanings that are taken on or taken up within the cultural filed, that no one is born with a gender–gender is acquired”. 

     The importance of gender and being defined as either male or female is “odd” since once we are in our mothers wombs we are “female”. It isn’t until later that the male hormone kicks in and his gentiles appear. Something that is mentioned later on in the piece when Butler presents Wittig’s second argument that lesbians are not woman. ” Wittig understands sex to be discursively produced and circulated by a system of significant oppressive to women, gays and lesbians”.

From Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

During the discusions of gender there has been the main idea of society indicating which is the way to go for each gender in terms of roles to take in every aspect of life. This excerpt from Butler is an example of many stereotypes that are said about certain situations in life about what genders should and should not do. Butler mentions the diffrence between the external and the internal of the body. Butler feels that the body is sometimes looked ‘as passive and prior to discourse”. In other words there are many times that we are judged by our appearence. Our gender is one of the first things that are evident physically and our part of our external.

Butler mentions Purity and Danger by Mary Douglas. This excerpt according to Butler suggests that the body entails many taboos and cultural coherence. The body give impressions of somone from the outside but in actuallity internally the intelect is completley different. The way to differentiate the two are two words used by Butler one of them is the performatice they are gestures, acts, and desires created by each person. Then their is the fabrcications which is what the body demonstrates by general and corporal signs.

In Butler’s excerpt there are many examples of showing the diffrence between the external and internal of each individual. The gender troubles seem to be the “body” because it immediatley associates certain objective views. As Butler mentions other subjects like gays and lesbians and states that people immediatley associate gay with the AIDS disease. This can be seen as a performative stereotype. Butler’s excerpt mentioned many important examples and thoughts that explain the gender trouble.

The Heterosexual Matrix

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?

Gender Trouble: Escaping Operative and Compulsive Heterosexuality

By Frank Miller

Butler opens with a critical approach to a claim made in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, “one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one.” As Butler poses several questions directed toward the distinctions between gender and sex in humans, her readers begin to question Beauvoir’s claim as well, attempting to deconstruct the distinctions within one’s own mind. Butler then offers her interpretation of Beauvoir’s claim, “gender [is] acquired…whereas sex cannot be changed…gender is the variable cultural construction of sex” (142). However, Beauvoir is simply used  as a stepping stool to introduce the more controversial Monique Wittig.

The passage transitions to a claim made by Wittig in Feminist Issues (1:1), “one is not born a woman.” Wittig views sex as a distinction that already contains a gender (which culture has grown to accept as “the norm,” though it is far from normal), a belief supported by her proposal that “sex is neither invariant nor natural, but is a specifically political use of the category of nature that serves the purposes of reproductive sexuality” (143). Wittig’s second, and perhaps more provocative claim lies in her belief that “a lesbian is not a woman” (143) and that she argues that the term “woman” is dependent upon the existence of the institution of heterosexuality (serving as the binary opposite term to “man”). A lesbian is much different from a “woman” because she rejects the conventions of heterosexuality, no longer allowing her to be defined as a term that exists as a byproduct of a tradition she opposes. In Butler’s analysis she concludes that a lesbian is “sexless,” and that Wittig too would believe that “one is not a female, one becomes female” (144) referencing Beauvoir’s claim. Butler brings up a particularly interesting concept stating that “one can, if one chooses, become neither female nor male, woman nor man” and that “the lesbian appears to be a third gender…a category that radically problematizes both sex and gender as stable political categories of description” (144).

Wittig writes that it is a “linguistic discrimination of ‘sex’ secur[ing] the political and cultural operation of compulsory heterosexuality,” speaking of how “sex” has been dubbed female, while males “within this system participate in the form of the universal person” (144). She calls for females to escape from the title that “female sex” itself suggests within the political and cultural borders of heterosexuality. She proposes language as the power to signify the structures of  “sex” in a heterosexual and compulsive manner, and that this power has “distribut[ed] the rights of full and authoritative speech to males and deny them to females” (147). Wittig states that women must be much more assertive and take an authoritative role, which is “in some sense their ontological grounded ‘right’ — and to overthrow both the category of sex and the system of compulsory heterosexuality that is its origin” (147). She labels the “the ‘naming’ of sex an act of domination” and that “‘men’ and ‘women’ are political categories, and not natural facts” (147). This seems as if it opposes what was said earlier to radically reorganize the description of bodies and sexualities without recourse to sex” (145).

At the end of the excerpt, Butler poses a question for her audience, “what criteria would be used to decide the question of sexual “identity”?” (162) which seems to be where the heart of the problem exists, and raises multiple questions. Is becoming a lesbian really breaking the ties of “female sex” or taking an authoritative stance against heterosexuality or is it just a “third category” that can be used to side-step the real issue of women’s oppression or add more chaos to the mix of labeling gender and sex? Additionally, can any fourth or alternative categories arise from this mode of thinking? In regards to language serving as the liberator of women within a male implemented and dominated system, wouldn’t women participating in the “naming” of sex as an act to free themselves that has been considered a “dominant” act be just as wrong? Wittig’s statement on 145 regarding radical reorganization seems the most reasonable to me.