Archives for posts with tag: Judith Butler

While watching Real World San Diego 2 last Wednesday, there was a preview for this coming Wednesday’s episode, which is at the 40:40 mark for reference:

I. can’t. wait. Anyways, Frank defines himself as bisexual, which both straight dudes Dave and Zach find strange and baffling. In the two episodes that have aired, Dave and Zach have been as quiet and politically correct about it as they can, but in this week’s episode when Frank’s bisexuality becomes “real” and he brings home a guy from the bars, Dave freaks out. When he goes to the confessional room to chat with the camera he says, “Don’t do it when I’m around”, referring to Frank hooking up with a guy.

That night Dave is talking to Zach about his uneasiness of the situation, saying,  “I can’t live with a dude that does dudes.” Zach responds with,”What if it’s a girl, though?”

Dave:”Then that’s okay. it’s a double standard–”

Dave's face when he finds out Frank is about to hook up with a guy in their house.

Zach interrupts by saying,”It’s an absolute double standard.” Even though Zach is standing up for Frank at this point in time, in episode two, he makes fun of Frank for crying and says, “There are few reasons why a man should cry, and this is not one of them,” and later says Frank is “moody” and “on his period”.

In Butler’s definition of the heterosexual matrix, clearly Frank is someone who does not fit in the process of it. Dave and Zach, however, are two examples of heterosexual males that firmly believe in the heterosexual matrix, or “intelligible genders” as Butler puts it (Butler 23).

Butler writes, “‘Intelligible’ genders are those which in some sense institute and maintain relations of coherence and continuity among sex, gender, sexual practice, and desire. In other words, the spectres of discontinuity and incoherence, themselves thinkable only in relation to existing norms of continuity and coherence, are constantly prohibited and produced by the very laws that seek to establish casual or expressive lines of connection among biological sex, culturally constituted genders, and the ‘expression’ or ‘effect’ of both in the manifestation of sexual desire through sexual practice” (Butler 23).

By Dave saying, “I can’t live with a dude that does dudes” is reinforcing the heterosexual matrix as the natural order of things, making someone like Frank be a violation to that order, or the “incoherence” and “discontinuity” of it. Bisexuality is something that is rejected entirely by the norms defined by a heterosexual lifestyle.

Butler writes that gender constructs sex, which applies to Dave and Zach defining what a man or a “dude” should do and with this definition, who these dudes should be doing. To these two “manly men”, men should rarely cry or reveal any type of feelings/emotions to others. By Zach referring to Frank’s crying moment as moody and on his period, he is consciously making a decision to assign Frank to having “girly” traits, or hegemonically feminine ideals. It is with these beliefs of “culturally constituted genders” that all other beliefs stem from Dave and Zach.


-Bailey Cook


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

In our culture, sex, gender, and sexuality are wrongly conflated. The genital make up of a newborn baby classifies them as male or female. Along with this sex assignment comes an obvious gender of boy or girl, and form this still comes the crux of the newborn babies sexuality. Baby boys will grow up to sexually desire women and baby girl will grow up and sexually desire men.

Through this system, referred to by Butler as the “Heterosexual Matrix”, feminine, heterosexual females and masculine heterosexual males are normalized. Like in any sort of distinction there is a corollary creation: the creation of the abnormal. These abnormalities can be defined by a simple step outside of one’s given gendered role or a step into a sexual interaction that is not deemed “good sex”, as Gayle Rubin would put it. Because a specific gender and a specific sexuality are thought to be natural and normal attributes of the sexed body, any difference has become stigmatized.

In her article, “Thinking Sex”, Rubin explores some of the ways that the “Heterosexual Matrix” has influenced and effected sexuality throughout history. One thought challenged by Rubin is sexual essentialism, the idea that human sexuality is natural, innate, and constant throughout history. Working in a framework like essentialism makes challenging sexuality pointless, seeing that it is unchangeable.  Through this mindset individuals see their sexuality as being exactly the same as the sexuality experienced by cavemen, Victorian women, and ancient Greek philosophers. More and more evidence keeps piling up, and the results show that this is not the case. One doesn’t even need to look back into human history to see that the differences among human sexualities are bounteous; one only needs to look around. One such example of sexual diversity comes from observations of Lesotho women in Africa made by Jane Kendall. Kendall’s work uncovered a practice, common in Lesotho, in which women of all ages partook in physical relations with other women. These instances would without a doubt be viewed as sexual from the cultural stand point of the United States; however, these relationships where not thought of as sexual in any way due to the cultural understanding of sexual as requiring a penis. These women had husbands and families who were well aware and supportive of their relationship with another woman, and these relationships in no way challenged their heterosexual identities.

This example and many others are certainly enough to make me question the origins of my sexual desires and the ways that I think about and understand them. Rubin presents the idea of a “sex hierarchy” in the form of a “Charmed Circle” and “The Outer Limits” to explain further the effects of essentialism on sexuality. ( rubin_charmed_circle_841.gif ) The “Charmed Circle” represents sexual acts that are accepted and privileged while the “Outer Limits” represent bad sex that is viewed as abnormal and is often times pathologized. The most interesting thing about this image; however, is the permeable boundary that separates the god sex from the bad sex. As many of us would like to equate our desires with those of people from the past (maybe to make ourselves feel more normal/comfortable with our sexualities), the ever changing hierarchy of sexuality reminds us that this is not the case.  If you only consider the differences in sexual appropriateness between two generations, it is easy to see that changes in acceptability occur very quickly. Recently homosexuality has again become more normalized and accepted as good sex, especially in monogamous situations.

This progress toward acceptance from homosexuals is encouraging, but it should not be mistaken for something it is not. This progress still exists in a model that values some things while devaluing others. In any system where acceptability exists, unacceptable will also exist. Even as “break throughs” are being made in the battle for homosexual rights and visibility, the overall politics of sexuality has not changed. People will only have the freedom to fully explore and enjoy their sexualities when they exist in a realm without distinctions between normal and abnormal, and when sexuality is no longer viewed as a natural, innate aspect of a sexed body.


“Most people find it difficult to grasp that whatever they like to do sexually will be thoroughly repulsive to someone else, and that whatever repels them sexually will be the most treasured delight of someone, somewhere.” –Gayle S. Rubin, Thinking Sex

People will only have the freedom to get their freak on, without judgements, when we find a way to get rid of the “freak”

-Jennifer Peper

I’ll be honest. Reading Judith Butler’s work was quite a challenge for me. I often found myself having to re-read over a sentence 4 or 5 times, but still questioning what I had just read. Every so often, I would understand a concept/theory presented by Butler, and that was definitely a time for celebration. In light of those celebrations, I would like expand on some of my “AH-HA!” moments by offering my own critique and twist to one of Butler’s theories in Gender Trouble: Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire.

 When addressing the issue of gender, Butler brings into question the meaning of construction, and how this constructivism of gender takes place in society. She offers the idea that, “…the notion that gender is constructed suggests a certain determinism of gender meanings inscribed on anatomically differentiated bodies, where those bodies are misunderstood as passive recipients of an inexorable cultural law” (12). It’s my understanding that Butler is expounding upon the fact that gender is solely constructed by linking certain atttributes/characteristcs to either being feminine or masculine onto a rather “blank canvas,” so to speak. So, as many of us have heard in previous gender studies courses: gender is socially constructed. Ta-da!

 If this is so true, then a person’s sex, male or female, shouldn’t have anything to do with whether a person is feminine or masculine. Right? Well, not according to Butler. She believes that by understanding gender, we can in turn understand sex and that our understandings of sex are culturally constructed as well. However, I’ve always been a big believer that a child’s biological sex has a great impact on how that child’s parents are going to raise their child. Well, duh. Yes, I am indeed an essentialist. If a child, later on in life, decides to be more like the other sex, they will ultimately have to become the opposing gender first. This desire of gender opposition in individuals, in my opinion, stems from their biological sex. In other words, a man may want to become a woman because he believes that his present sex is not a true representation of himself. I’m sure there are more examples of this idea that I’m playing around with, but at the moment, this is the only one that’s making sense. But as a brief recap of my babbling, I offer you this picture:

Now, I would like to return to the notion that gender is socially constructed. With that being said, one can only assume that if gender is constructed, that it can be destroyed, to then be constructed once again. In that case, the oppressed would then become the desirable within society. With that in mind, I immediately think back to an episode in season 2 of “Modern Family.” Yes, I am going to briefly talk about my two favorite people on the show: Cam and Mitchell. During this episode, Cam and Mitchell are in search of a preschool for their adopted Asian daughter, Lily. While waiting in the lobby of a potential preschool, Cam and Mitchell are anxiously chatting among themselves as to where or not Lily will be admitted. Hearing their conversation, the receptionist begins to tell them that wouldn’t have any trouble getting into a preschool of their choice because they’re like “diversity x3.” A gay couple with an adopted Asian daughter? You can’t get any more diverse than that, right? Wrong.

 After hearing the news that they are such a hot commodity among preschools, Cam and Mitchell head to a very upscale school where they are certain to secure a spot for Lily, because of their desired characteristics as a gay couple raising an Asian child. But their party was stopped short when a white woman walked into the office holding an African American child. Cam immediately reassures Mitchell that they are in a good position because “being gay is a competitive advantage” that they posses. Just then, the woman’s partner walks, or rather, rolls into the office in her wheelchair. Not only is the woman’s partner disabled, but she is of a different race as well. Which, unfortunately, sends Cam and Mitchell into a panic mode in fear of being beaten by their new competitors.

 Cam ends the scene by saying, “Disabled interracial lesbians with an African kicker? I didn’t see that one coming.”

 Although the situation that Cam and Mitchell find themselves in is quite unheard of, at least for me, it offers a brief example/possibility of what it would be like if gender were to be destroyed and then rebuilt again. All the characteristics and traits that are/have been oppressed would become desirable. This would not only apply to gender, but to race as well, and any other identity that has had to go through some type of oppression.

 My only hope is that some type of deconstruction/reconstruction will happen sometime soon. If I have to personally do it with a chisel and ax, then I better get chopping, but I strongly believe that society is slowly heading in the right direction.

–Aubrey Merrell

One of the things that caught my attention in Judith Butler’s Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire section was the part of identity in terms of gay and straight people. She writes:

“The repetition os heterosexual constructs within sexual cultures both gay and straight may well be the inevitable site of the denaturalization and mobilization of gender categories. The replication of heterosexual constructs in non-heterosexual frames brings into relief the utterly constructed status of the so-called heterosexual original. Thus, gay is to straight not as copy is to original, but, rather, copy is to copy” (Butler 41).

This reminded me of a Prop 8 commercial with Justin Long, along with other known actors, who are all in support of gay marriage.

“Devin and Glenn” are portrayed in a relationship with stereotypical heterosexual standards. This to me was a homosexual relationship “copying” a heterosexual relationship, which in any case is a constructed thing where nothing about the relationship identity is innate between two individuals. The commercial shows the couple having breakfast with their family, bickering, and the inevitable weight gain that always seems to happen to couples when they’re comfortable. For this relationship of two men to mirror “what really happens” between men and women, it is showing how an “original” relationship functions, which Butler writes “the original [is] nothing other than a parody of the idea of the natural and the original” (41). Many homosexual relationships do imitate the expectations that heterosexuals have for their own relationships. Because gender is constructed over time and is not something that is destined, then relationships between people is an expansion of that construction where their thoughts and actions toward one another are not naturally so.

This also reminded me of an interview Lindsay Lohan gave (don’t ask me how I ended up watching this) where she “discussed” her sexuality on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man Show.

 It starts at the 7:10 mark.

Alan Carr asks Lindsay if she’s an Arthur or a Martha, focusing on her bisexuality. She had a relationship with Sam Ronson, and through pictures, they functioned in a “man/woman” situation, where Lindsay was the role of a constructed heterosexual woman and Sam played the man. By using words like “role” and “play” it suggests in and of itself that these relationship identities aren’t really based on anything real, but again it is based on the “idea”, as Butler puts it.

Evan Rachel Wood (leave it to me to post only references of pop culture) also talked about her bisexuality during an interview with Esquire, and she said this:

“Yeah, I’m more kind of like the guy when it comes to girls. I’m the dominant one, I’m opening the doors, I’m buying dinner. Yeah, I’m romantic.” For Wood to acknowledge the idea of a man/woman relationship applying to not only relationships between men and women, but to herself and another woman, it is displaying that central concept that these “norms” are being recreated everywhere, in all sorts of situations. I think people like to function in ways that are more easily defined than others, and these social constructs of relationships are some ways in which it makes things flow between two people. Often we all are conditioned into thinking specific roles are who we should be and how we should act, and these constructs are made applicable to all sexes and sexualities through the ability of manipulations of the roles.


-Bailey Cook