Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Myth of Gender and Heterosexuality

THE MYTH OF GENDER AND HETEROSEXUALITY - Thoughts on Butler and the Logic of Gender: The Possible Origins of Authentic Masculinity

Thoughts on Butler and the Logic of Gender

The Possible Origins of Authentic Masculinity

Judith Butler, from what I can gather in Gender Trouble, has a straightforward argument. Gender is socially constructed, it is reproduced and reconstituted (through discourse, especially) to reaffirm itself. The constructed nature of gender means that masculine and feminine behavior is a lived illusion.
     Butler denies a causal link between gender and sex distinction, and from here decides that the sex distinction itself is a social/cultural construct. Her reasoning is that we cannot perceive the distinction between male and female without appealing to gender. Once we grasp that there is no meaningful differential quality between what we claim to be the two sexes, this, and the reality of intersex, somehow renders sex distinction unstable. Using this reasoning, heterosexuality is revealed to be a social/cultural construct as well. Sexual identity for heterosexuals, then, is only real when you internalise the discourse. Gender and sexuality is thus, technically, existentially arbitrary.
     For Butler all notions of masculine and feminine, and the heterosexual, are constructs of discourse which are self-perpetuating, and have no cause other than the power structures of heterosexual domination (heterosexist social orders).
     The implication of Butler’s thought, at least from my understanding of her, is that genitalia differences are content-free; sex distinction and gender are socially constructed (along with heterosexuality). I feel it is an awfully big coincidence that the same structures of oppression and domination (heterosexist, phallocentric, whatever you like) appear almost globally across time, and seem to create the same discourses. Perhaps Butler has an answer to this, but I feel that the independent formation of heterosexist social orders, across continents and diverse peoples, demands a universal cause.
   I don’t think I misrepresent Butler in saying her conclusions amount to a denial of the sex distinction, and a claim that it exists only as the consequence of discourse. So let us take this notion of heterosexuality, which is likewise a product of discourse. In the United Kingdom, every year, around 30,000 women are raped by men, and in 2003 it was as high as 50,000. Let us imagine in a utopian fashion that the heterosexist social order is undone and discourse is gender-free, as Butler would have it. What would the rape statistics of the following year be? If Butler is right then we should be confronted with a rape statistic showing an equal number of men raping men and an equal number of women raping women; an equal number of women raping men and an equal number of men raping women. Butler’s denial of substantial sex distinction and fixed sexual orientation demands this. We can never know the truth of such a thing, but most of us know that even if a “Butler-Britain” was achieved, the rape statistics would remain at present levels: 30,000 women would be raped by 30,000 men. It is inconceivable, I suggest, for any other configuration. What does this suggest? Firstly, it tells us that there is a fundamental element that makes society predominantly heterosexual, and secondly, that there exists a fundamental element that in some fashion is sex distinction (in some form outside mundane differences in genitalia and reproduction). I’ll flesh out the reasoning here quickly to be clear: if we cannot conceive of the statistics being substantially different, then that implies an “innate” heterosexuality (outside of society and culture), and a disposition for more men than women to engage in rape, implying a distinction between the sexes.