Archive for the ‘Feminism studies’ Category

Feminism studies: Compare and contrast two competing accounts of ‘sexual difference’ – between Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Part – 5 Bringing new thoughts

‘Sexual difference’ as a ‘burning issue’ has been controversial since the end of last century. Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler are two of the most influential feminist thinkers who hold different opinions of how society has changed the concept of ‘women’ and also deconstructed ‘sexual difference’ among humanity. I have been studying those differences by analyzing key terms such as ‘culture over nature’, sex and gender and ‘sexual difference’. It seems that Irigaray’s theory was based on a historical point of view, which rejected Freudian theory of binary opposition of ‘women’ and ‘men’. She emphasises women’s value and position in the western society in the 1980’s. Conversely, Butler focuses on the ‘multiplicity’ of ‘gender identity’, whose argument seems more relevant to ‘sexual difference’ in general (with respect to racism and homosexuality) today.

While Irigaray and Butler are fundamental to Western thought, in my opinion, Globalization has broken the boundaries between people who have different identities and come from different cultures. In this sense, people who are from non-western cultures may have various opinions about ‘sexual difference’, which may bring new insights to the discussion.

Feminism studies: Compare and contrast two competing accounts of ‘sexual difference’ – between Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Part 4 – Sexual difference

When P. DE Sagazan questions Irigaray about how men and women are different, Irigaray’s answer was that ‘they are corporeally different’. She articulated that this ‘biological difference’ leads to other differences such as constructing subjectivity, connecting to the world and relating (Irigaray, 2000, p.96). In contrast to ‘biological difference’, Butler argues that these ‘corporeal styles’ (differences) are a sedimentation, which has been produced over time. It appears in sexes that sit in ‘a binary relation to one another’. (Butler, 1988, p.407)

‘Sexual difference’ for Irigaray is heterosexually based, which is the major distinction between her and Butler. Irigaray stated later in conversation that ‘…two genders have different forms of consciousness: one remaining more faithful to the body and to her sensibility, to the concrete environment, and to intersubjective relationships, …the other, constructing a universe of non-natural objects…’ It seems that she clearly separated the idea of ‘sex’ into two genders. Conversely, Butler rejects the heterosexuality of sex/gender division, she claims that heterosexuality (the same as gender) is, as mentioned above, ‘culturally produced’ and can be ‘subverted and dismantled.’ (Stone, 2006, p.7)

Furthermore, Irigaray believed that ‘sexual difference’ is a universal difference, which can serve as a standpoint for understanding other differences. According to her, ‘there are traces of instincts derived from animality and human passions in the relations between women and men’, such as respecting other gender. For her, this can be seen as from the ‘most instinctive to the most spiritual’ – the most spiritual being that which bring humans to respect other differences such as race, generation, culture and so on. (Irigaray, 2000, p.99) So ‘sexual difference’ (which by her means sex difference) obviously was a fundamental difference for her, which Butler denies. Butler stresses the ‘multiplicity’ of ‘sex’ and ‘gender performativity’, which bear cultural meaning with it.

Bibliography

Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution. In Conboy, K., Medina, N., Stanbury, S. eds. Writing on the Body: Female Movement and Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Irigaray, L. and Lotringer, S., transl. Collins, C. (2000). Why Different? New York: Semiotext(e).

Stone, A. (2006). Luce Irigaray and the Philosophy of Sexual Difference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Feminism studies: Compare and contrast two competing accounts of ‘sexual difference’ – between Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

Part 3 – sex and gender

It seems that Irigaray and Butler’s interpretations of ‘sexual difference’ are based on different starting points. Irigaray focuses on the rejection of female sexuality in cultural theory, and claims that gender is sex based. However, Butler states that it is extremely limiting if one understands gender as a separated model, which is based on sex, and does not take into account other bases of gender identity and different forms of sexuality (Long, 2006). She articulates Merleau-Ponty’s reflections on the phenomenology of perception on “the body in its sexual being”, saying that the human body is “an historical idea” rather than “a natural species.” She is also inspired by Simone de Beauvoir’s notion of “woman”, for which ‘any extension, and gender, is an historical situation rather than a natural fact.’ Butler explains that ‘[Beauvoir] clearly underscores the distinction between sex, as biological facticity, and gender, as the cultural interpretation or signification of that facticity’ (Butler, 1988, p.403).

According to Butler’s theory of sex and gender, one can argue that biological sex does not oppose performative gender. Sex and gender can be seen as an interacted relationship (sex/gender). Sexes can be seen as gendered bodies, which are created by culture. Butler elaborates gender as an aspect of identity, which are created through ‘a stylized repetition of [performative] acts’ (Long, 2006). In this sense, gender can also be defined into multiple assumptions. As Butler states

‘…there is neither an “ essence” that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender creates the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis’ (Butler, 1988, p.405).

Even through both Irigaray and Butler agreed that patriarchal power has been influencing and controlling human interpretation of ‘sex’ and gender, one could argue that Butler reveals more possibilities for the understanding of sex/gender. Butler’s notion of sex/gender is sublimated to an intellectual level, which free individuals to define their own sex/gender.

Bibliography

Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution. In Conboy, K., Medina, N., Stanbury, S. eds.

Writing on the Body: Female Movement and Feminist Theory

. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997
Long, V. (2006). Subjectivity and Gender: Luce Irigaray’s, Judith Butler’s and Riot Girl’s Gender Challenge. Internet (last viewed 10 January 2007).

Feminism studies: Compare and contrast two competing accounts of ‘sexual difference’ – between Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

Part two – Why ‘culture over nature’

Both Irigaray and Butler agree that culture is ‘over’ nature. Similarly, both of them reject the ‘given truth’, and believe that humans are cultural beings. We engage in activities of transforming ourselves in the material world. However, the term ‘culture over nature’ was elaborated in different ways by these two thinkers.

For Irigaray, ‘culture’ indicates the notion of ‘man’ (the ‘only one sex’) who revalued ‘woman,’ which is therefore a culturally constructed idea (of what it is a woman should be) that appears ‘natural’. Irigaray claimed that, traditionally, the need for a representation of ‘nature’, was seen as good or bad depending on whether it is created by men or engendered by women (Irigaray, 1987, p.96). It seems that Irigaray was trying to describe the power relationship between culture and nature, and also self-awareness among ‘women’. In her book This Sex Which Is Not One, she claimed that ‘ “women” always remains several, but she is kept from dispersion because the other is already within her and is autocratically familiar to her, which is not to say that she appropriates the other for herself, that she reduces it to her own property.’ She focused on the female position in human society and emphasized that women should create their own systems in terms of language, discourses and sexuality.

Stone argued that Irigaray could be seen to use the concept of nature in two main senses. ‘Firstly, the ‘nature’ of something, for her, denotes its defining character or essence – in the sense men and women are said to have different natures.’ (Stone, 2006, p.5) Besides that, Irigaray denoted ‘nature’ as character and essence of human – she believes that men and women have different natures.

One could argue that by encouraging and also emphasizing female positions, ‘sexual difference’ for her is to distinguish male and female identities or positions.

However, Judith Butler questions the notion of natural, biological or true gender identity. She stepped further than Irigaray’s analysis by explaining the hidden ‘reason’ behind why ‘nature’ was understood as natural. She claims that culture is continuously changing and gender is a constructed idea. As Long stated,

Butler contends that culture requires gender to be inscribed upon the body…gendered bodies are created. Gender is a facet of identity created through a stylized repetition of acts. Gender performance and prescription is internalized as a form of self-discipline. (Long, 2006)

For instance, Butler also argues that ‘heterosexuality is a cultural artifact, which can be subverted and dismantled’. She explicated ‘Phenomenological theories of human embodiment have also been concerned to distinguish between the various physiological and biological causalities that structure bodily existence and the meanings that embodied existence assumes in the context of lived experience.’ (Butler, 1988, p.403) This explanation reflects what Stone stated about Judith Butler’s idea that bodies do have a natural character, but one of multiplicity (Stone, 2006, p.6).

Bibliography

Long, V. (2006). Subjectivity and Gender: Luce Irigaray’s, Judith Butler’s and Riot Girl’s Gender Challenge. Internet (last viewed 10 January 2007).

Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution. In Conboy, K., Medina, N., Stanbury, S. eds. Writing on the Body: Female Movement and Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Irigaray, L. (1987). Sexual Difference. Transl. Hand, S. In Whitford, M. ed. (1991). The Irigaray Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Stone, A. (2006). Luce Irigaray and the Philosophy of Sexual Difference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Feminism studies: Compare and contrast two competing accounts of ‘sexual difference’ – between Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

Part 1 – The notion of ‘sex’

In order to compare and contrast the term ‘sexual difference’ between these two thinkers, it is necessary to define Irigaray and Butler’s notion of ‘sex’. In ‘This Sex Which Is Not One’, Irigaray criticized Freud’s concept of the ‘binary opposition’ of sexuality. She theorized, ‘another system is needed, a system that will privilege the feminine as much as the masculine and will be based on the multiplicity of sexuality’ (Harmon, 1996). By pointing out the ‘multiplicity of sexuality’, Irigaray explained that from the historical interpretation (Freud’s concept of Binary opposition), if male sexuality is based on having a penis (a single sex organ) and female sexuality is based on having ‘nothing’, and then the binary opposition could be one of ‘penis/nothing, clitoris, vagina’ (Harmon, 1996). It is clear that the ‘sex’ for Irigaray is not only ‘one’ – the ‘one’ indicates an active, male, patriarchal culture. What she argues against is the historical idea that women are passive, whose desire and pleasure have been situated in males. As Harmon stated, Irigaray suggested constructing a new system for women, which ‘will privilege the feminine as much as the masculine and will be based on the multiplicity of female sexuality.’

Judith Butler does not draw a clear line between sexes. She agrees that humans have natural characters but also claims that ‘sex’ reveals multiplicities to humans, who then need to be considered as ‘cultural products’. She contends that:

…there is a sedimentation of gender norms that produces the peculiar phenomenon of a natural sex, or a real woman…this is a sedimentation that over time has produced a set of corporeal styles which appear as the natural configuration of bodies into sexes which exist in a binary relation to one another’. (Butler, 1988, p.407)

Butler focuses on the relationship between ‘natural’ sex and ‘performative’ gender. She believes that sex is a gendered body, which bears cultural meanings. She states that ‘the acts by which gender is constituted bear similarities to performative acts within theatrical contexts’ (Butler, 1988, p.403). It seems that ‘cultural products’ play an important role in constructing different sexes. For her, sex is also not ‘only one’, but also not only two – it is the multiplicity. Sex is never ‘natural’ for her, but can be seen as a culturally transformed gender. ‘Gender performativity’ can be seen as a way to represent different sexes. Irigaray responded to and rejected the historical consequences (the binary opposition of sex), whereas for Butler’s ‘multiplicity’ this is irrelevant, but now it directly explains it’s own genesis.

Bibliography

Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution. In Conboy, K., Medina, N., Stanbury, S. eds. Writing on the Body: Female Movement and Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Harmon, B. (1996). Luce Irigaray.
http://www.colorado.edu/English/courses/ENGL2012Klages/Irigaray.html Internet (last viewed 10 January 2007).

why do I chose Sexual Poetics as my special subject

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Since I chose Sexual Poetics as my special subject, I have been considering writing about female art in China. Or to be more specific, the application of feminist theory to art in China as feminism is an exclusively western phenomenon.

In order to find more information in relation to feminist theory in China, I have observed some of the websites which introduce this theory to China, especially how Chinese women deal with this western philosophy. Many important philosophers have been introduced to China, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler. However, it seems that the essays that introduced these writers generally attempted to introduce western thoughts directly from translations rather than elaborate them from Chinese perspectives. The critical articles on the subject of feminism in Art are also difficult to find.

I hope I can study this subject matter in depth, to be able to understand more contemporary theories which are happening in the west. However, my aim is not to apply these theories to the Chinese side. Instead, I think one should encourage oneself to be critical toward contemporary issues in order to develop one’s own thoughts.