Butler: Multi-Dimensional Approach

In discussing Judith Butler, we realized that we wanted to take approaches and theories discussed in class and apply them directly to Butler’s article. At first we were overwhelmed with the plethora of approaches possible to take, but once we narrowed it down, the analysis becomes very interesting.

Rochi decided to use Derrida and unpack Butler’s ideas. Butler uses Derridian deconstruction to critique the two main genders that are identified in mainstream society today. Female and Male are identified as two polar opposites and according to Saussure and Barthes would have been one of the most commonly occurring binary oppositions in our society. However, the Butler deconstructs these genders to show that they exist in relation to each other and not as opposites. Arguing that “all gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation” she goes on to argue that masculinity and femininity that are represented as two opposites are actually structured upon what she calls the “phantasmic ideals of heterosexual identity”. These ideals are forced upon us and thus we chose which characteristics we want to portray ourselves as one of the gender and not of the other. Thus as a woman I would act, speak and behave in a certain way that identifies me with the gender female. However, this identification is only possible because society identifies my behavior as being not male, or masculine. Similarly Butler argues that there are many other genders besides these two dominant ones that people can choose to identify with, which do not fall in line with the rigid rules of heterosexual identities.

Reka and I wanted to focus on Marxist ideology, specifically Gramsci and Althusser respectively. Butler’s argument is highly appropriate to analyze within the realm of Antonio Gramsci “History of the Subaltern Classes,” as both discuss ideology and praxis at the core of their arguments. Gramsci contends that particular social groups practice dominance over others through domination as well as “intellectual and moral leadership,” which Butler complements through noting the way in which categories of identification are used as instruments of domineering regimes. Praxis, that is, practicing a belief/theory, constitutes the underpinnings of Butler’s article, as she recalls her appearance at Yale as a lesbian and gender as a whole to be a “performative” action (341). We internalize particular ideologies of a particular gender role from the superstructural elements that surround us. Therefore, we grow up and live in a Western (capitalist) society in which the ‘norm’ constitutes a heterogeneous individual, and anything outside this window is deemed as an aberration. Butler’s critique of feminism is quite controversial, but her points do strike a chord with Gramsci’s arguments.

Althusser realizes that situations, labels, and ideology do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in a material condition where ideologies are created collectively by those who live them. For Butler, being lesbian is dependent on cultural views; no one is lesbian really unless people categorize them as lesbian and continue this classification. This idea actually stems from Althusser’s concept of interpellation, meaning that ideology envelops the individuals in the society and becomes relevant only because people believe it so. We have created ‘gayness,’ meaning that in a vacuum, homosexuality does not really exist; it becomes relevant because we have created it.

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