Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray

Here I have compared Judith Butler’s “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire” to Luce Irigaray’s  “This Sex Which is Not One” on each feminist’s views on sexuality and gender.

Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble is interested in the historical construction of language through the domination of certain groups of people, which in turn, creates myths of gender. She focuses on the discursive methods of universalized heterosexuality and how these influence our scripts of femininity and masculinity. There is a history of politics that have helped to emplace the notion of woman, and the problematic here is only through this oppressive system can individuals liberate themselves:

[T]he feminist subject turns out to be discursively constituted by the very political system that is supposed to facilitate its emancipation […] becom[ing] politically problematic if that system can be shown to produce gendered subjects along a differential axis of domination or to produce subjects who are presumed to be masculine. (Butler 473)

Butler focuses on the difficulties of transcending female stereotypes within the society that has emplaced these limitations in the first place. The racialized, classed, sexual and ethnic body are all intricately tangled within a system gender (473).  These identities are founded through political and cultural productions.

Irigaray is interested in asserting the female body against the philosophical assumption of a universalized male body. Her ideas focus on female sexuality and how it has functions through the binary of masculine terms. She argues that woman is not missing some crucial aspect to their sexuality; she can fulfill her own desires without the need of a man. Irigaray bases her theory on the bias of female and male genitalia, where “the vagina is to serve […] to take over for the little boy’s hand in order to assure an articulation between autoeroticism and heteroeroticism in intercourse” (449).  Women are perceived as an object to be used by the opposite sex, the heterosexual male. Her identity is shaped through the other as a body for sex.

There is a process of uncovering this gender identity that goes beyond what we can do as a society.  We must venture  “very deep indeed to discover beneath the traces of this civilization that might give some clue to woman’s sexuality. [… ] Woman’s desire would not be expected to speak the same language as man’s: woman’s desire has doubtless been submerged by the logic that has dominated the West since the time of the Greeks” (450).  Here Irigaray is suggesting there is a suppressed female sexuality, one that has been hidden deeply under the history of language. To uncover this hidden sexuality would be to undo the social implications of sex and gender from before the Greeks, a task impossible to accomplish.

Both Irigaray and Butler challenge biologically essentialist views of gender and sexuality.  Butler not only theorizes gender, but challenges socially imposed notions of stereotyping and categorization upon the individual. While Butler looks at the cultural and political aspects of gender, Irigaray takes a much more psychoanalytical approach to sexuality and gender.  She focuses on how heterosexual norms have created a sex that is not valid; woman searches to find her sexuality separately from a dependency on a man. Irigaray challenges the biologic notion sexual binaries. There is an impossibility to differentiate between the social implications and intrinsic qualities when exploring a woman’s sexuality. Butler looks to the political structure of language to explain the binary of masculinity and femininity.  Both theorists look at gender from different discursive standpoints – Butler through gender performatives and Irigaray through the difference between male and female sexual activity – but their conclusions are founded in the same ideas regarding the implications of these naturalized classification systems.  These systems have been imprinted to function specifically to their cause, the end result has formulated naturalized concepts of gender and sexuality. To create a new space for these identities through liberation may not be possible, as it would remain founded within the power structures of the society that maintain these biological view of gender and sexuality presently.

Both can be found in Imre Szeman & Timothy Kaposy’s Cultural Theory: Anthology. 2011. Print.


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