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Posts tagged ‘language’

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.