Archives for posts with tag: Butler

After reflecting on the “safe places” exercise (referencing Rubin) we did in class, it seems to me that we have the largest potential to experience the most comfort when we’re by ourselves. Perhaps this position sounds cynical, but look at it this way…

1: Society spends a good deal of time discouraging attitudes and behaviors that make sense and encouraging flawed and narrow logic. (See Butler)

2: Society discourages internal reflection and getting to oneself on an intimate level. (This happens in several ways, including objectifying women, tabooing masturbation, medicalizing EVERYTHING so we’re ignorant of our bodies, etc)

3. Social conventions and expectations permeate every facet of society, even if a group is deliberately rejecting those conventions.

4. So basically, if society tells us NOT to spend time alone and learning about ourselves, we should probably stop whatever we’re doing and do just that.

This, of course, is not to say that basic human interaction isn’t necessary and fulfilling, but regardless of with whom we’re spending out time, we are constantly shifting and shaping our identities, even if we’re unaware of doing so.

To illustrate this point, it is beneficial to examine some of the most obvious “safe places.” A few of these include: spending time in a group of like-minded/identified people, using anonymous avenues to express ourselves (i.e. Post Secret), and sharing things with family and close friends. While each of these provides innumerable benefits, each has its shortcomings as well.

It should be said that feminism’s internal critique is one of its greatest strengths in the “big picture,” but that very critical eye cane sometimes be turned on the individual. Thus, even if certain parts of one’s identity are in a “safe space,” other parts (or the ways in which one expresses them) are clearly not.

One of the best examples of this discomfort around the people with whom we’re closest is illustrated in this card sent to “Post Secret.” The postcard read, “She sent me this 3 weeks after she told me I couldn’t come to her wedding because I’m a lesbian and my family doesn’t want ‘to see me use their wedding as a giant “coming out” affair. Thanks sis, YOU save us the date.” The other side reads…

We’re supposed to be close and comfortable with our families,but obviously that’s not how it works for this woman.

I guess the point is that at the end of the day, the only person you have is you. So, ya better start defying those social conventions and deciding that you (whoever you are) are just fine.

-Mika Baugh

As a gender studies major, I have read a good share of scholarly articles/excerpts in which the writer suggests that all minority groups join together for one main cause: to overthrow the dominant society and to create true equality between all people, no matter what their race, sex, sexuality, class, or any other marginalizing characteristics.  My question has always been, well if this is the answer, why is it so hard to group all these people together and also when they are grouped why can’t there be any main focus that can be agreed upon?  The answer that I am starting to come up with after the few weeks of class along with Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, is maybe instead of trying to come together as one for one main goal, we should try to recognize differences amongst ourselves, as these differences create varying life experiences.  Instead of doing this, when trying to group up a minority, say feminist groups, there is further grouping of a minority and majority within this big group of minorities.

In the example from above, there could be a separation in what should be strived for between black and white feminists, or even between lesbian and straight feminists. . I believe this is because of the way that society has been constructed to keep the minority populations exactly where they are through language, culture, and politics. This is when Butler mentions the heterosexual matrix, in which the combination of heterosexuality, whiteness, male masculinity, and wealth equals dominance and superiority. This and only this combination receives high status, and this system of human worth is created through things in history such as stereotypes, science, cultural customs of what is appropriate for what type of person, and many other things that we now have been born into and assume that is just the natural order of things.

Butler argues that since this is such an ancient form of social construction that it would be impossible to make any difference from outside of this system. For instance, the word woman has multiple meanings other than just biological reasons. Woman also denotes a certain inferiority or submissiveness because of the dichotomy of male and female and their supposed opposite traits. And because of this, there is a transcendence of this system into other parts of the human experience, such as through politics or even the workplace. For the longest time, and sometimes even in the present, because of their given inferiority women were unable to actively participate in politics or excel in the workplace. 

I honestly feel that because these systems of social control have been ingrained in the fibers of our society that it is impossible to reverse the effects that they have had. However, this does not mean change is impossible, as history has shown us. While the overthrow of the dominant population is in dire need I believe that the effects they have had on who we are as a people will only be erased with time. We have seen this with women’s suffrage, African American civil rights, and in our generation LGBTQ rights. While we slowly move away from our Catholic conservative roots, the more accepting we are of other groups of people. Once we are able to get past stigmas placed on others based on traits we cannot change, we are able to see that even with many differences we are all still relatable. Through relation to others comes empathy and through empathy comes a certain unity  between all of us who can relate to being the other.

-Jay Luther

Last week, my blog entry came to this conclusion:

“Women” asks for boundaries and a definition like any other term. But how can I define such boundaries when no essence exists?

The answer is you can’t, but people do, and that’s the problem.

After dealing with Butler’s concept of the “heterosexual matrix” and its “intelligible gender”, we turned to Wittig and found ourselves; well at least I did, in a space where lacking essence is no longer the problem. Why worry about something that does not exist? Definitions are the real problem here!

I was well aware that definitions fail reality, and I knew that not every aspect of one category someone else identifies him- or herself with characterizes this person; no one is simply gay or White or male. So, I knew that defining and ascribing terms is highly problematic, especially when general assumptions are applied to the particular case.

This week, in quoting Butler loosely saying, “Leaving one closet to go to another”, Hilary introduced the discussion in “Explaining Sex and Gender Differences” to a notion which I think to be universal. Leaving one category and entering another can be as much restricting as the one had been you just left. Despite the fact that “lesbian” may describes you best, the closet “lesbian” can be uncomfortable indeed.

As a final note, we were asked to think of and describe the situation or relation in which we feel free to be the persons we are. From many answers I gained the feeling that Butler’s statement is familiar. And when I think of the example I had in mind which may has nothing to do with gender, but culture differences based on my recent move to the US, I realized that it is not my home country Germany that makes me feel German, since I almost never feel German when I am actually in Germany, but it is the other, the USA, which defines me, and makes me clash.

Returning to Wittig, who says that through naturalizing categories – and of course, nationality is as much a naturalized category as gender – we make changes within impossible. At this point, Wittig wants us to recognize that my identity is everything but natural. Whatever it means to be German – honestly I don’t know – at the moment, I simply experience what different socialization means, not nature. And though it may help me to embrace my home in the moment of culture clash, I never know when this “closet” will be too small for my needs. So, don’t you lock me in.

Today I may be German; tomorrow I may be Scuba Diver Barbie – who knows.

– franziska krause


Throughout the years, women have been believe to “bond” in certain ways men can not understand.  Is this true? Do women understand things on a more emotional level than men and does this separate women into a group of their own?  Some may follow this idea and believe it is common nature between the sexes.  That it is common nature for a man to act masculine and women to act feminine, but how did this normality come about? After reading both Monique Wittig and Judith Butler, I have developed  a similar idea on how this dichotomy was created.

The heterosexual matrix can explain how males and females relate in terms of sex, gender, and sexual desire. Men are expected to act masculine and a part of acting masculine is to be attracted to women.  If a male is not interested in women, he therefore breaks the flow of the heterosexual matrix and will ultimately be deemed a monster.  Butler believes this heterosexual matrix forms the relationship to build the nuclear family.  Wittig feels that the matrix is simply for reasons of political and economic roles to take place between men and women.  How does anyone know what to believe?

One idea, of Whittig’s, I completely agree with….Sex is not natural, it is historical.  The differences between men and women have been expected because they have been passed down throughout history and no other way has ever been known.  Sex distinction is presumed to always be two, and only two, categories of sex.  No in betweens have ever been excepted.

Both authors refuse to recognize this sex distinction.  The only way Whittig says a woman can “break away from the heterosexual matrix” is to become a lesbian.  Becoming a lesbian, she describes, is the only way to escape.  To dis-identify with the matrix will free individuals from the specified categories of sex.  I agree with this fact, that becoming a lesbian separates a woman from the obvious female, I am still just not sure that it is the only way…

Alexandra Fath

Judith Butler refers to the concept of “institutionalized heterosexuality” on page 34 of Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire. Now, one of the primary things that has always fascinated me about the subject of “Gender Studies” is that it is so interdisciplinary. That’s almost one of those Gender catch-phrases, isn’t it? Anyway, that off-handed mention of heterosexuality as something that is institutionalized made me think about how exactly sexuality is formed or how categories of sexuality are formed. With education, religion, and governmental institutions, there are physical institutions that correspond to each abstract institution. And, these physical spaces–schools, churches, the Pentagon, and so on–all serve as a primary site for passing on the values of these institutions. What if there were an actual physical structure in which sexuality were taught, preached, and regulated? What would that look like?

Yeah, I’m just picturing walking into a giant penis-shaped tower right now… Maybe through doors that look like labia… Man, I am going to have some weird dreams tonight. Or, great ones, I guess, depending on your point of view…

The humor in imagining sexuality in such blatant terms is that lessons about sexuality, gender, and desire are supposed to be innate and natural, when really these categories of identity are socially constructed to such a degree that it become easy for us men on the ground to even recognize this. These categories are formed by many, many institutions, including those already mentioned and many others that are also maybe a bit harder to pin down–family, media, and so on. And, more than that, they are formed by human agency, the choices individuals make, day in and day out.

On one hand, I can see how it may be sort of… tempting–from a socialist’s sort of perspective, maybe–to essentialize a person or group of people. But, when you think about how incredibly complex people are and how much the institutions in our lives shape who we are, I actually find it hard to believe that it happens. Although, seeing ourselves as being only socially constructed totally ignores free will…

Like the free will to take this test! “This test will determine if you are gay or strait…”

You better hope you pass, so you can make it into Hetero School. So, you can be more like this…

Night ya’ll! Have a good week!

Lynn Beavin

What exactly is the essence of female?

Is it some sort of natural inherited behavior? Or having female genitals?

When discussing gender and sex differences outside class you are often confronted with various thoughts on what the concepts of gender and sex really are. Most of the time, at least in my experience, a consensus can be reached that gender is constructed, and gender performance is something personal. However, more often is the answer to these questions: You can do whatever you want, but sex is biological!

The idea of the biological sex as the essence that everything comes down to sex is in line with Plato’s Theory of Forms. Plato thought that everything we see in the material world is not real but only a replica of the real object in the real world. The real object is the Form, which is the essence of every object in the material world. So according to Plato, an ideal must exist, since we can only make sense of our reality through this ideal. Back to the discussion on sex and gender; does this mean that an ideal of male and female exist?

Gender essentialism argues that the way you were born is your destiny. This way of approaching gender and sex is often also referred to as biological reductionism. Biological reductionism makes the agenda clear: everything is reduced to nature, and through that essence becomes the telos, an end in itself. It sees distinct destinies for men and women and limits the range of action, since, in the end, it is true that only women can be pregnant.

So, according to this, is it safe to say that everything is relative except for my biological sex then?

Every answer that comes to mind turns out to be problematic. Especially after reading Angier, Foucault and Lorde, who argue that every norm has nothing essential to it, but provides a meaning of the essence which is only in so far real as it means something in a society. Not even biology can give the right answer, for example if we consider AIS: females with female genitals, but a y-chromosome, who would rebut all kinds of claims of not being female solely based on a tiny chromosome.

This is where Butler ties in taking the discussion to the next level. In her book Gender Troubles, Judith Butler addresses the issue of gender essentialism in pointing out that “women” is as much a constructed category as every other constructed normality. The term “women” is not self-evident, since not even biology can provide one definite answer. Not every biological “pure” female can become pregnant due to various reasons, or even wants to have children. “Women” asks for boundaries and a definition like any other term, too.But how can I define such boundaries when no essence exists?

The answer is you can’t, but people do, and that’s the problem.


– franziska krause