Judith Butler's View On Gender Oppositions

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Interrogating Judith Butler’s view on gender oppositions, Vicki Kirby asserts that she is ‘clearly committed to a notion that language possesses a constitutive and regulatory force which causally implicates sex/gender and sexuality’ . This essay will critically dissect poststructuralist theories to expose phallogocentricism and instability within the gender binary.
Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle assert that ‘the notion of essentialism’ in gender ‘consists primarily in anatomical or biological difference’ . Traditional doctrines of essentialist masculinity consist of dominant, authoritative behaviour, whereby femininity is associated with being ‘subordinate’ and passive. The concept of the phallus is the portrayal of dominance, conventionally
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This is applicable within the opposition of masculinity and femininity, as they contain elements of themselves but simultaneously differ from one another. This results in a text to be denoted as an ‘essentially vitiated, impure… thing, consisting of traces and traces of traces’ which complicate our understanding of a literary text. Thus, gendered oppositions and the meaning of their signifiers are rendered unstable because of differance. Furthermore, as Bennett and Royle assert, “sexual difference” involves not only difference between but difference within’ . They argue that The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) ‘enact(s) or allegorise(s) this notion of difference within’ by exploring the identity of John’s wife. The woman becomes an ‘uncannily double’ with the woman whom seems to be ‘behind the wallpaper’ , questioning the identity within the woman . This poststructuralist approach deconstructs identity and binary oppositions, subverting traditional doctrines and complicating our understanding of a literary text. Thus, it is clear that these oppositions are never in “peaceful coexistence” and instead, produce a “violent hierarchy” . This is evident in The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) as we think of John as …show more content…
This concept reaffirms that the phallus is also a signifier; the phallus can never be obtained, as it is just a representation of authority and power . This confusion is fuelled by traditional ideals of masculinity and femininity; individuals are ‘interpellated’ as gendered subjects within society. Men are conventionally encouraged to desire the phallus, whilst women are expected to fulfil their role as objects of desire . Eustacia, within Thomas Hardy’s extract ‘The Return of the Native’ is described as a ‘model goddess’ but not a ‘model woman’ , suggesting that she is subverting the notion of femininity. Her eyes are ‘full of nocturnal mysteries’ , connoting enigmas and danger, attributes you would primarily associate with masculinity. Butler supports this idea in her book ‘Gender Trouble’ , asserting that it is ‘possible to have a designated “female” body and not to display traits generally considered as “feminine” . In contrast to this, Laura Mulvey asserts that a woman ‘holds the look, and plays to and signifies the male desire’ , supporting the idea that females conform to the role proposed upon them. Butler believes that we only think of ourselves as coherent, as a ‘coherence’ of gender is impossible to achieve. This suggests that we are only subjected to a fixed identity because of the rigidity of the signifier; ‘it presumes, fixes and constrains’ .

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