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.


Reflections on Environmental Justice: Where are the Men?

Although the media coverage for reproductive justice is minimal, there is considerably more data found directed toward women’s infertility and sterilization cause by environmental toxins than issues regarding men.  I believe this is a reflection of the epistemic view of reproduction being linked directly to women’s bodies, while forgetting that in fact “it takes two to tango”. There is a certain amount of blame put on the woman and her own reproductive system when certain issues arise in pregnancies.

Focus is broadly related to the responsibilities women have been entrusted with for social reproduction and population growth. This concern of endocrine disruptors and other genetically manipulating toxins are deemed a female issue – one that is affecting women more than men.  These kinds of research tools are put into action to address the failure of women’s reproductive health, rather than how it has also affected men.

These conclusions I have made about the scientific community reflect a very gendered view of reproduction, excluding how men should look at these drastic changes in the environment seriously as well. Environmental justice is not only a female issues.

This discourse of a feminine nature is reproduced or validated by focus on scientific finding, and how little the male reproductive system is address. Literature about fighting for reproductive justice has become an enclosed space for women; it is lacking a male voice. I am not suggesting that this voice is oppressed or marginalized, but silenced by its own group and own ideologies regarding sex, gender and nature.

International Breast Milk Project

The International Breast Milk Project is one that encourages mothers to donate their breast milk to help infants in need. How does this raise questions of how globalization leads to spread of toxins around the world – a child in South Africa who has been orphaned by HIV/AIDS will be exposed to a multitude of various toxins depending on where the breast milk they are drinking is coming from. This is similar to issue of child well being with infants like those born into reserves in Northern Canada who are exposed to a high level of toxins through their mother’s milk. This kind of environmental health issue is significant, even at birth a child is exposed to extremely high levels of toxins which is likely to not be naturally occurring in the environment they are born into. I must ask what kind of long-term effects this kind of exposure will have on children, as breast milk contamination continues to grow exponentially. The issue of contaminated breast milk stems beyond reproductive rights and into serious unanswerable questions about increasing toxins entering our bodies and becoming a part of

The Mother’s Milk Project of St. Regis

Reproductive justice is an issue which questions the control a woman has over her body, as all women have been exposed to various toxic chemicals which jeopardize her chance to conceive, as well as the well-being of her unborn child. “The Mother’s Milk Project”, chapter seven from the book Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice, looks at how the condition of the natural environment has devastated the relationship Native American culture has to the natural process of reproduction. As the chapter states, “[a] woman’s body is seen as the first environment and is not separable form the external environment. […] Degrading the health of mothers and their children is organically connected to the degradation of Native lands” (123).  The St. Regis Mohawk Reservation has a community of about 8,000 Mohawk people who have protested against the General Motors corporation who “stripped the land, operated manufacturing plants that used polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dumped thousands of pounds of PCBs into the St. Lawrence, and poured toxic substances from their unfiltered smoke stacks” (124).

The Native women of the area had concerns about their own reproductive rights, as many faced sterilization abuse (127). There has been an ongoing devaluation of Native approaches to community based health care, and the citizens “saw that the lack of knowledge about their bodies led to a lack of control over their reproductive health” (127). The local women suspected that General Motors had been dumping various chemicals into the environment, which were absorbed into their bodies as fat and high amounts were secreted through breast milk (132). The breast milk of mother’s who had eaten fish from the St. Laurence River had a 200% greater concentration of PCBs than the breast milk of mothers who did not (132). This data has created a national community between Native American mothers, as statistics of PCBs in the food chain have been shared between the Inuit tribes of Northern Canada and Alaska, as well as Quebec (134). These findings have lead to altering many Native women’s lives, now fearing the food they consume from their present environments. For many Native American people, “fish are a symbol of fertility and were traditionally fed to young women who wished to conceived healthy children. […] [M]others had to give up eating fish in order to protect their children and to continue breastfeeding.  The absence of this excellent, low-cost protein has affected the ability of families to feed themselves. This, for Native American women, the right to a non-toxic environment is also a basic reproductive right” (135).

The issue of toxins in Native American mother’s breast milk spans beyond the realm of environmental health, and into environmental justice. Where is the line we can draw between what is natural and what is social. It is clear the women from these Native communities include their own bodies in the natural world and experience an intense relationship to their surrounding environment. This relationship is destroyed when their physical body is damaged.

What is Ecofeminism?

I’d like to start with a brief history of feminism. I know that you can get this information just as easily off a Wikipedia cite, but I think it’s important that if you’ve stumbled onto this blog, you have a grasp of what it is:

Three Waves of Feminism

The first wave of liberal feminism paved a space to challenge the inequalities of between the sexes, where women sought equal pay, voting rights and quite frankly, a lot more respect from the ‘macho’ male. It might remind you of the “We Can Do It” photo. Because of the First World War, women were forced to work outside the house to maintain their nation’s economy and were not willing to pacify themselves for men when they returned home from the war.

The second wave of feminism looked beyond the issues first wave feminists opened and branched between radical, social and cultural feminists who looked at issues of reproductive rights, racial equality, essentialist views of sex and gender, among a vast number of other issues. If you’re interested, check out the works of Angela Davis, Simone de Beauvoir, Donna Harraway and bell hooks to name a few influential second wave feminists.

Third Wave feminism was greatly influenced by the work of the social feminists, and can be looked at as a reaction against essentialist views of biological sex. These feminists looked at structures such as class and race and how they are naturalized in a society through epistemic language and how these can be deconstructed. Another few honorary mentions are the works of Eve Sedgwick, Vandana Shiva, Judith Butler, Margaret Atwood, Nancy Tuana, Carolyn Merchant, Catriona Sandilands; music talents Joan Jett and Peaches – just to name a few (I could keep going)

Ecofeminism is the intersection between third wave feminism and its’ relationship to nature. It is a type of feminism which focuses on environmental justice through reproduction, health, class, race and other social related issues. Ecofeminism speaks to the relationship between women and nature; the sensual, the wild, and the urge for man to dominate.