Hello everyone! Welcome to the Feminist Theory Conference here Hunter College. I thank Judith Butler and Jasbir Puar for giving us insight on their views of feminism and gender. Both of our guests have brought up some great points.
Judith Butler critiques feminism, something that many have come to know as a movement that sought to bring equality to women (and homosexuals, transgenders…), is doing the exact opposite of what it intends to. The identity of the women has long existed long before feminism. However, feminism is what created the gender/identity of the women as the oppressed group. Women are then the byproduct of feminism. Similarly with Puar’s critique feminism, a category of the “Other” is created. Intersectionality, the idea that oppressive powers/issues (racism, sexism) are linked and must be looked at together, ironically re-centralizes the White woman. The Women of Color, the “Other” is viewed as the one suffering from grievances. Both Butler and Puar have issues with feminism. Their papers chose to look at identities and how they are formed within specific contexts.
Butler takes an epistemological approach in which the knowledge/discourse is most important. Gender is socially constructed. Gender is what determines how we act in society and what responsibilities we hold. At the same time, sex is just as culturally determined as gender. Sex, but especially gender, do not have to be fixed. The human body is moldable. Gender performativity is what everyone has been taking a part of. Our actions are merely a pattern of repeated acts that have been determined through our cultural definitions. How we dress and what we say are all acts. Butler has given us the example of drag as gender performing. Drag queens often dress up in exaggerated manners. They wear heavy makeup, glammed up costumes, and perform exaggerated actions of the opposite gender. The body is used as medium for performance. It is malleable. Couldn’t we agree that come drag queens are quite successful in displaying the opposite gender? In performing gender, drag reveals the “imitative structure” of gender. Drag blurs the distinction between the identities. Butler quoted Esther Newton. Drag reveals the outside (appearance) as feminine, but the inside (body) is male. At the same time, the outside of the performer is masculine, and the inside (thoughts) at the time is feminine.
Puar has taken more of an ontological approach in explaining gender. For her, it was more important that on the being/becoming process. Gender is socially constructed, but through discourse-as mentioned by Butler. It is the body that creates discourse. Puar mentions assemblages, the relations between things, in her paper. She talks about the relationships and organizations of bodies. Like Butler, she also believes that identity is not fixed. However, we need more than epistemology to understand the body. Bodies does not just have to relate to humans. There are bodies of water and institutions. We can understand them in many ways, such as through language or discourse. Lastly, there are categories. Categories are ontological events(discourse) of of matter. We can look at racism as a category. Racism has always existed. As a result of racism (act), it created race (discourse), not the other way around.
Both theorists have contributed a lot in regards to feminist theory and gender identification. I agree that gender is more than what’s determined by a biological trait. Some questions I have for the theorists and/or the audience are:
1. If gender is an act, couldn’t we say that all other aspects of our lives (race, language, religion) are all acts as well.
2. If feminism has been creating separations, then what is there that can be done to actually unify the groups, if possible?
3. Lastly, Puar stated that it was necessary to look at the underlying meaning behind the matter. What are some of the underlying meanings that can be used to push feminist movements forward?