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"Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire"

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Grayson Hunt

on 27 October 2015

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Transcript of "Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire"

An excerpt from Judith Butler's
Gender Trouble
"Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire"
What if "woman" and the sex that seems to mark her, was just the tip of the gender iceberg? What if "woman" was no longer a stable category of feminism?
Why can't feminism use the category in order to secure adequate recognition?
But what's wrong with
Do you consider Butler to be an intersectional feminist?
This doesn't mean we
can get outside of representational or
discursive power.
Foucault on Discursive and Juridical Power
Representational Politics is a form of political acknowledgment that relies on stable identities such as "woman" as the grounds on which it extends political representation. In order to be be politically represented, a stable category is said to have to appear first. Butler thinks it works the other way around. Representation creates (in the case of women) a seemingly coherent identity by restricting its meaning.
heterosexual matrix
juridical power
Judith Butler is a living American Jewish philosopher. She teaches in the Rhetoric Department at UC Berkeley.
Her most famous book is called
Gender Trouble
How does Butler cause trouble?
Butler destabilizes many of the categories of identity that feminists rely on: "woman" and the "sex/gender" binary. Butler is doing Queer Theory, and it causes trouble for Feminism's identity politics.
Butler uses Rhetoric.
Watch for her asking questions, or saying
what if... Chances are she is not asking, but
suggesting something. Butler suggests her
arguments and claims, she will not announce
Main influences:
take a look at the epigraphs
on the first page...
Juridical power produces what it claims to merely represent (5).
Juridical power is the administration structure of law and justice.
Such power is administered from above, not enacted by the
individual person, so emancipation seems to be created out of the
structure that that subjugates women in the first place (4-5).
How does power both produce identities and limit freedom? Because the law distributes power from above (think of gay marriage, for instance), and because the subject is produced through that power ("lesbian"), and because that power is responsible for power differentials that are gendered, it will be self-defeating to ask that power structure for more representation because you'll be asking for more of that same representation that produces and limits people according to heterosexual power structures ("wife").
This is a post-modern or post-structuralist feminist text.
It is "third wave". It is Queer Theory and it's here to cause
trouble for feminism's reliance on "a subject" whose "sex"
is what defines her as a "woman". It upsets our modern notion of power. By revealing how power shapes us from the outside, without our permission. The modern subject was seen as autonomous and self-realizing. Post-modern theories refute this image of personhood and suggest instead that we are all porous and subject to the rules of an overarching and self-functioning structure of power.
Paragraph 1:
Butler questions feminism's need
for "woman"
Paragraph 2:
Butler describes the Catch 22

Paragraph 3:
Butler discusses how feminism's
use of the category "woman" is
self-defeating, even strategically.
Discursive doesn't just mean speaking or conversation. It refers to large groups of statements that govern how we speak about and perceive historical moments. So feminism is a historical moment governed by a much larger structure of language that determines to a certain extent how the movement will be understood. Discursive power requires a representation of identity that it can talk about. It needs a subject. Butler thinks the subject is already constituted through a heterosexual matrix (surrounding medium or structure)

Thesis? Butler suggests that "woman" is a
coercive and regulatory practice. This claim
reveals the limits of identity-based understandings
of personhood.
critique the categories of identity
that juridical power naturalizes. (8)
In other words, feminists must cause trouble for gender.
Let's free feminism from the requirement
of identity. Let's engage in practices of variable
constructions of identity that are not based
on sex and gender.
Feminism needs to stop uncritically adopting
reified categories of gender; the very categories
that oppress women.
Butler suggests two options for feminist theorists on page 7:

Radical rethinking of the ontological constructions of identity in order to formulate a representational politics that might revive feminism on other grounds.
It might be time to entertain a radical critique that seeks to free feminist theory from the necessity of having to construct a single or abiding ground which will always be contested by those identities or rather non-identities that it excludes.
Should feminists fix the problem of identity, or get rid of identity altogether?
Is the category of woman something that exists prior to domination? Or are women bound together by oppression alone?
(p. 7)
Even though "woman" is understood as a unified category, SdB introduced a split into the feminist subject with the sex/gender distinction. (9)
Is Woman coherent?

Let's remember that SdB did this in order to refute the "biology is destiny" formulation.
THANKS SdB, but we'll take it from here.
But this sex/gender split is more complicated than it first appears.
For even if there are only 2 sexes (and there aren't), it does not follow that there should only be 2 genders (so then why are there only two? [feminine and masculine?]) (10)
And, when gender is theorized as radically different than sex, gender becomes this free-floating artifice (which it's not). (10)
According to the sex/gender split, it appears as though gender mimics or mirrors sex. (10)
The split also creates another set of problems...
What is sex anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosonal, or hormonal?

How are might feminist critique evaluate scientific discourses that claim to establish such "facts"?

Is there a history that reveals how the duality of sex was established? (Especially since there is more than 2 sexes?)

Is there a critical history that could expose how the binary of sex was constructed in the service of political and social interests?
"If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called 'sex' is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all" (10)
Don't forget footnote 9:
"A great deal of feminist research has been conducted... that assess the political interests inherent in the various discriminatory procedures that establish the scientific basis for sex."
If sex is a gendered category, why are we defining gender as the "cultural interpretation of sex"?
Rather, Butler suggests that "gender must also designate the very apparatus of production whereby sexes themselves are established" (11)
'SEX as a fixed BINARY' is a STORY that GENDER has the POWER to TELL
Section 3
Gender: The Circular Ruins of Contemporary Debate

Is gender as volitional as SdB suggests?
Section 2:
If gender is constructed, if it is made, can it be unmade?
Or does construction suggest that "certain laws generate gender differences"? (11)

Butler is causing trouble for social construction theories. She argues it maintains and conceals essentialized binaries.
If we understand the sexed body is a passive recipient of a cultural law (gender),

"then it seems that gender is as determined and fixed as it was under the biology-is-destiny formulation. In such a case, not biology, but culture, becomes destiny." (12)
This is me fashioning my sex to confirm the laws of gender.
On the one hand,
On the other hand,
Let's not forget that SdB said that one is not born a woman, but becomes one. So there is an agent or subject in her story that takes on or appropriates gender. But is gender then a form of choice? What about the compulsion to be a gender?

Do we passively receive or actively present our gender?
"Bodies cannot be said to have a signifiable existence prior to the mark of their gender."
A body becomes a somebody only with the mark of gender
What does that mean in terms of how people who don't present a gender "properly," or "intelligibly," or coherently or at all (remember, there are only 2) will be treated by the law, and by others?
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