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Posts tagged ‘compulsory heterosexuality’

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?

Constructing Gender

In class and in our past readings, we have touched upon the idea that gender is not a state into which a person is born, but rather a role that is eventually assumed. But what then, is gender? If it is an unnatural division between the sexes, then how and why does it exist? Through the Butler article and her understanding of Wittig, the construction and purpose of gender is called into question as well as the definition of sex in the binary male and female sense. The foundation of the query lays in the fact that there are obvious exceptions to the “rule” of heterosexuality e.g. lesbian and gay men, so the rule is obviously not a rule at all. Therefore, the sexes are not complementary opposites at all and are not restricted to an “one or the other” ethos.

Before I discuss the building blocks of gender and sex construction, attention must be given to the purpose of gender and identifying sex. As I reflected in my earlier post on Rubin’s writing, the assignment of gender is not biological, but economic and social. Throughout history, heterosexuality as an institution has supported role of marriage as the preeminent  goal of human relations. A woman then, as society categorizes the creature, “only exists as a term that stabilizes and consolidates a binary and oppositional relation to a man; that relation…is heterosexuality.”(143) So what is woman exactly? The opposite of a man. I would argue that by society identifying woman this way, it is only further proving that gender is fabricated an unnatural.How can you define a living being only through its comparison to another being? The answer is through the forms of the sexes, i.e. through the “sexual” parts of the male and female body. Butler comments,”That penis, vagina, breasts, and so forth, are named sexual parts is both a restriction of the erogenous body to those parts and fragmentation of the body as a whole.”(146) If sex is restricted to these areas of the body, then what of the other parts of a man and woman? Does a man’s arm have no sex? I imagined for a moment, a rather violent image of man and woman with their “sexual” organs hacked off. They did not cease to exist or lose their humanity, or even lose their unique composition. The image came to mind easily because by attempting to rationalize and classify gender by a person’s sexual organs, words are dissecting the being and placing certain fragments above others. It is language then, that Butler argues is the founding construct to sex and gender roles.

“Language gains the power to create ‘socially real.'”(146) Butler is seeming obsessed with the power of language, and for good reason. She argues that sex appears only in a “second level” of reality. That is, it does not exist as a universal norm. Instead, it is called into being by language, which Wittig defines as ” as set of acts, repeated over time, that produce reality-effects that are eventually misperceived as ‘facts.'”(147) However, the misperception has become material through language and through time, which explains how Wittig could argue that “sex” as a category can enslave. Speaking, as Wittig argues, “invokes a seamless identity of all things.”(150) Therefore, language creates a concrete frame into which people have to pour themselves. How can anyone, regardless of sex, identify themselves if not through language? When a person is born and develops they do not place their own name on their sex, let alone establish their own hierarchy of sexual identifiers. A person learns a language with pre-established “rules” and emphasis. How can sex be deconstructed when many languages are composed of masculine and feminine word forms? I agree with both Wittig and Butler in their assessment that in order to deconstruct sex, our language of binary male and female must be eliminated.