Thursday, April 9, 2015

More than Just a Bathroom Sign: Gender and Queer Theory

Long are the days when sex and gender were simple definitions found in your 7th grade science book. Sure, for all practical purposes, sex is "either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions" (Oxford English Dictionary), and gender is "the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)" (Oxford Dictionaries). However, theorists like Judith Butler, make it clear that such definitions are over simplifications. 

Judith Butler writes:
Drag…implies that all gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation. If this is true, it seems, there is no original or primary gender that drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original; in fact, it is a kind of imitation that produces the very notion of the original as an effect and consequence of the imitation itself. In other words, the naturalistic effects of heterosexualized genders are produced through imitative strategies;… the “reality” of heterosexual identities is performatively constituted through an imitation that sets itself up as the origin and the ground of all imitations. In other words, heterosexuality is always in the process of imitating and approximating its own phantasmatic idealization of itself—and failing. 

This quote, I believe in many ways, captures the essence of queer theory. Here, Judith Butler examines how gender is something that is socially constructed. We, society, have determined what “male” and “female” looks like: i.e. male=pants and shirt, while female= a dress. Drag is anything that deviates from that, or, more radically, everything is drag. Gender is something you can put on and take off. And, in that sense, all gender is a performance, a charade.  When a female dresses is clothes that society has deemed as male clothes, she becomes it's ironic, because she's "really a woman." But when does she become "really a woman?" The moment she puts on men's clothing. Thus, drag produces the original gender.

My artwork attempts to capture this concept that gender is a socially constructed phenomena, and that it is more complex than the dictionary definition. Gender is a world of bina oppositions, and ever shifting symbols and signifiers. 

Ultimately, queer theory is a study of sexuality. It does not just take into account lesbians and gays, but also bisexuals, transgenders. Heterosexuality comes into play in queer theory as they examine binary oppositions. Like feminist theory and gay/lesbian theory, queer theory rejects the notion that sexuality is merely caused by biology. Rather, what queer theorists focus on are the "complex array of social codes and forces, forms of individual activity and institutional power, which interact to shape the ideas of what is normative and what is deviant at any particular moment, and which then operate under the rubric of what is 'natural,' 'essential,' 'biological,' or 'god-given' " (Queer Theory Definition & Literary Examples).

1 comment:

  1. I'm stumbling a bit on this: "Like feminist theory and gay/lesbian theory, queer theory rejects the notion that sexuality is merely caused by biology." Some feminist theory would likely suggest that sexuality is caused by biology (essentialist feminism). And G/L Theory generally does endorse the "born this way" theory (thus the political arguments about being gay as "not a choice," and the rush to isolate the "gay gene," etc.) There are sexist/homophobic worldviews that tie sexuality to nature, but there are also feminist/non-hetero theories that do as well, though I tend to see all essentializing rhetoric as ultimately damaging to feminist and queer agendas. A few formatting issues that make some things here hard to reach, and a little brief with a few blips that were a tiny bit off on the theory, but overall, solid work here!