Sunday, March 16, 2008

In the name of the Maternal Body and Herculine Barbin

Part 3: Subversive Bodily Acts

I. The Body Politics of Julia Kristeva

In this section Butler goes about deconstructing Julia Kristeva's theory of the semiotic dimension of language in which she bases much of her argument off of Lacan's theory of "the Symbolic." Since I knew nothing about the semiotic (Butler assumes her audience is as well read as her) I looked it up to get a better grasp of it. This website may not be 100% dependable but it was able to break down the "semiotic" for me.

The "semiotic" is a language directly connected to the maternal body. "For Kristeva, the semiotic expresses that original libidinal multiplicity within the very terms of culture, more precisely, within poetic language..."(108) This poetic language within the maternal body attempts to "disrupt, subvert, and displace the paternal law." (108) Butler is critical of Kristeva's theory of the semiotic because she is basing her very argument off of the paternal law and therefore perpetuates its very existence and dominance. Butler tries to "show how the failure of her (Kristeva's) political strategy follows in part from her largely uncritical appropriation of drive theory." (109) Kristeva believes that we all have drives and some are repressed through our existing language in the paternal law. There is a "multiplicity" of drives that are repressed are then expressed disobediently through a poetic language grounded in the maternal body. It is grounded in the maternal body because we have all shared the experience of actually living in the maternal body. This maternal body represents a "continuity rather than a discrete subject or object of desire" (110) which the Symbolic desire proclaims.

I am trying to clarify whether or not Butler is stating this or if she is stating this is where Kristeva's theory falters (I'm guessing it's the latter.) This semiotic language comes from a connection to the mother, it is natural and rhythmic therefore it is primitive to the paternal law...? Is this not perpetuating the dichotomy that "women" are more connected to the earth and less rational because of it? And that men are more rational and civilized therefore must create a patriarchal language to set themselves above this maternal body and primitive language?
This must be where Butler believes Kristeva goes wrong in her theory.

I was also confused by the connection of a psychosis language to the maternal body. Is that really a true connection along with the connection with infants and mothers? Are psychotic people the only ones that truly understand themselves enough to reject and subvert from the paternal law and speak in tongues or their "mother tongue"?

Does that make any sense or am I just spouting out "glossalalias"?

Butler then explains that the homosexuality and childbirth are the only forms of semiotic that "can be sustained within the the terms of the Symbolic." (115) Homosexuality is a break from the paternal law because it portrays a multiplicity of drives (or that is what I have gathered from all of this.) Butler also states that a complete rejection of the Symbolic is impossible (116.) While the semiotic is a "nice try" in subversion from the paternal law, it is not possible because she uses the paternal law to produce her theory through the language. Butler poses the question: "how do we know that the instinctual object of Kristeva's discourse is not a construction of the discourse itself?" (120)

And of course that is a brilliant point to bring up but couldn't Butler ask herself that very same question when it is all boiled down to nothing? I mean she is still speaking English somewhat. If she really wants to avoid using reject this paternal law and discourse she should create her own language. (And of course it always goes back to the language for Butler and Butler basically knows everything that is wrong with everyone else's theories.) The End. But not really the end...ever.

II. Foucault, Herculine, and the Politics of Sexual Discontinuity

Butler starts out this chapter by discussing Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality and the story of Herculine Barbin, the 19th-century French hermaphrodite. Butler explains that there is a disconnect between Foucault's theory of sexuality in The History of Sexuality and his writings and studies of Herculine's tragic life. Butler believes that "he fails to recognize the concrete relations of power that both construct and condemn Herculine's sexuality." (128) I thought it was very interesting when she described Foucault's theory of sexuality and that the analysis of sexuality pretty much became simplified into the analysis of sex. And this very simplification became problematic for all sexualities.

I also thought his ideas on being "sexed" were very interesting along with critiques of feminism...if I understood them correctly. Feminists are subjecting themselves to a set of social regulations by using the "binary restrictions on gender as a point of departure" for their arguments. (130)

Anyway, the chapter goes on to analyze Herculine or Alexina's life and struggles with gender or rather the law's and science's struggle with her gender or "non-identity." Herculine was a threat to the very system that sexuality, sex, and gender were built on therefore they constantly tried to define her. They tried to justify her sexuality and attractions to women by finding as many signs of masculinity as possible. This story is proof enough that sex has everything to do with power because with the smallest of threats all hell breaks loose!

Foucault describes Herculine to be in a "happy limbo of non-identity" state and that maybe this is possibly what homosexuals also experience because of their bodily likeness. I felt as if Butler was putting words into Foucault's mouth when she questioned his "happy limbo of non-identity" even though what she was saying did make sense. By saying homosexuality promotes a non-identity state which then presumes that heterosexuality promotes a identity state. Then it was almost as if Butler was psychoanalyzing Foucault in her comparison to Herculine. At that point I thought she was going crazy but maybe she really is on to something...or maybe this is just her way of saying she can relate to both Foucault and Herculine as well??? Hmmmm...

*Concluding Unscientific Postscript*

In this section Butler talks about a biological study at MIT in 1987 conducted by Dr. David Page. Dr Page claimed from this study that they found "the binary switch upon which hinges all sexually di-morphic characteristics." (145) He then made the claim that "perhaps it was not the presence of the gene sequence in males versus its absence in females (X and Y chromosomes) that was determining, but that is was active in males and passive in females." (146) Which Butler humorously responds "Aristotle Lives! What was not included in this study but Anne Fausto-Sterling reveals is that the subjects in the study were "far from unambiguous in their anatomical and reproductive constitutions." (146) In the end these people were being gendered only upon their external genitals, whether or not they were functional making their research into the "master gene" hardly necessary. In the end, it is all brought back to language, a language being used not only by our society but also through science to perpetuate these restrictive and damaging gender binaries.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Don't You Want Somebody To Love/Have Sex With?

Louisa Allen's Article, "Girls Want Sex, Boys Want Love: Resisting Dominant Discourses of (Hetero)sexuality" was an interesting and accessible exploration and study about young heterosexual youth in today's culture. Based off of a study done in New Zealand, she interviewed/researched 17-19 year olds of a variety of races, economic backgrounds, and social upbringings. Her research was an attempt to "explore Foucault's notion of the possibility of resistance in relation to the discursive construction of young people's sexual subjectivities (216.)" In layman this translates to: she wanted to explore how young people today approach societies discourses in terms of their own sexuality. Through her research she found that some youth still take on "stereotypical" female and male constructs in relationships but that some are also deviating from these constructs.

Allen stresses the strong presence of power in our discourses in sexuality but also emphasizes that, although these discourse may be strong they are not monolithic (216). As Foucault also said "where there is power, there is resistance" therefore there will always be those that choose not to live by our stereotypes of sexuality and gender. When I began reading this article, I automatically related to its content. In my own sexuality I often feel very conflicted on where I stand. At times I feel like I am the active one, making my own decisions about my sexuality but then there's the other side that I often resist. I try not to get emotionally attached, I try not to care about the other person because I don't want to complicate things but I fail almost always.

This article was refreshing for me, not because of the personal testimonies or interviews but with Allen's own critiques throughout. Her theorizing made me feel less crazy when it comes to my sexuality and "love" life.

Allen explains that discourses in our society are never fully recognized or realized therefore they can be resisted which I thought was very interesting. This makes complete sense because it's not like people are walking around thinking "Gee, I really feel like I need to dominate my girlfriend to assert my masculinity today!"
Well, maybe someone out there is thinking that but it's not common. Allen also emphasizes the importance of social location. The society we live in will regulate our actions, for example; whether or not one goes to a private or public school, lives in rural or urban areas, etc.

In the section, Traditional (hetero)sexualities, Allen sets up the basis of her argument by introducing the dominant sexual discourses. She also states that New Zealand is particularly conservative when it comes to sexuality or so they display publicly and socially. She describes the dichotomy which our discourses tend to form of the sexually ready, emotionally disconnected male and the romance yearning and emotional female. She explains that "these discourses have been historically shaped by fields such as religion, medicine, law, media and academic disciplines (218.) But just because they are strong discourses doesn't mean they are the only ones, they are at times resisted.

In the section "Young women and dominant discourses of female (hetero)sexuality" she explains that there are still many women that are still living in the traditional discourse. These women portrayed themselves as sexually vulnerable, not as interested in sex, and more interested in the loving relationship and commitment to another person. In this section I was intrigued by the first woman she talked about, Caitlin, who said she just wanted "to get it (sex) over and done with...(219) And thought that this was fine because they have been together for 3 years. This puzzled me for a couple reasons but I don't know the context of Caitlin's sexuality. I don't think sex should ever fizzle out of a relationship just because they have been together for so long that it gets boring but it happens very often, especially with married couples. Experimentation is good and I'm guessing Caitlin is missing an in depth education of sex and her own sexuality... Either that or she is no longer actually attracted to her boyfriend and is simply attached to him because she wants to be loved and given attention from a male figure (boyfriend.)

These women that show the characteristic romance, love, emotional seeking qualities also talked about their submission into sex after much talk with their boyfriends or lovers. Most of the women expressed fear of pregnancy, abandonment, pain from sex, etc and this is very sad to me. There is so much more pressure put upon women about having sex! Men are encouraged to have as much sex as possible because they have nothing to lose while women have EVERYTHING TO LOSE!!! (Or so they are told to believe.)

Most women are afraid that sex is really going to hurt because they are usually told that it is going to hurt. It is dangerous to bombard women with this idea of sheer pain during sex because women can actually psych themselves out and convince themselves that it will hurt even more than it actually will. We can convince ourselves so much that we are neither mentally OR physically ready for sex!!! I believe that if a woman is knowledgeable of her own sexual needs before she has sex, it can be a more pleasurable experience for her. It still may not be the best sex the first time but it can always get better! It is very sad to me that sex can be a negative experience for many women and this should end.

Then Allen gets into the other women, the women that are in touch with their sexuality; the sluts and the...slags? She explained how women are still considered sluts if they are sexually active with more then one partner but men are the studs in the very same situation. First of all, I think we should get rid of these names completely because, of course, the women get the negative and demeaning names and men get the double standard. We should just call it sexuality and drop this immature name calling because it's unproductive.

In this section I was intrigued by the woman, Anna, who said she was called a slut when she cheated on someone. Part of me, was judging her and calling her a slut, but not because she has "legitimate women's sexual desire (2220" but because she blatantly cheated. She has every right to be sexual but does not have the right to potentially hurt others because of her cheating. (Don't we always get mad at men that are "cheating pigs"? This goes both ways.

I found myself relating directly to the women on page 223 who described their own sexual pleasures and desires. I am more of an actor in my sexuality and I am not ashamed of it, I like it. I also found it interesting that many women expressed their complete control in sexual activity. Most women felt most of the control on the topic of contraception which is a very important aspect of sexuality to be in control of. At the same time, there was an emphasis of women's "empowerment at an intellectual level" rather than in relationship practice (224.) Therefore there is still a disconnect with women and there sexuality.

Allen then gets into the men's side of things and talks to men that seem to be reinforcing the stereotypes that men are crude, sexually aggressive, sex crazed and always horny. In this section I was concerned about the style which she collected her data because she was interviewing groups of guys at the same time. I didn't think that was a very good way to do it because of the influence they would have on each other. Then, of course, I realized that it was part of her research technique and this helped her understand both genders more. I thought it was interesting when she explained the hegemonic masculinity, and the fact that many men recognize it and actually want to be seen as hyper-masculine.

She then described the men that were attempting to resist the dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality, the men that want love and companionship. In this section I found myself "oohing" and "awwing" every once in a while...and was kinda grossed out by my self. (This is where I am confused and conflicted by my own resistance of dominant discourses of (hetero) sexuality.) Allen found that men were more willing to talk about care and love if they knew it was a 'safe' research environment (227.) While women were more open when they knew they could trust the other women in the group. When people feel more comfortable they are more willing to open up about their sexual feelings, desires, and pleasures. This should be very helpful information for everyone, for sex educators, couples, individuals, etc. Creating a safe and comfortable environment in which to talk often softens the blow when talking about sex.

When Allen showed replies from people about qualities they looked for in relationships I was reminded of Hollway. Many people said they were looking for love and a close friendship, understanding, honesty, care, etc. Hollway explained that many people have fears of committing in relationships because it can make them feel very vulnerable. You show your partner that you love and care for them but also that you need them too. That is a scary thing to do sometimes, especially for men.

Overall, Louisa Allen discovered that our current dominant discourse of (hetero)sexuality is outdated (231.) We need to come up with new discourses that are all inclusive. We need new discourses that allow women to indulge in their sexuality without feeling shame. We need new discourses that allow men to feel free to commit themselves to one person, to love and care for another without feeling embarrassment. This article, as Allen stated, should offer "sexuality education insights into the ways in which some young people talk about their sexual selves (232.) We can have a new discourse on sexuality and we will erase negative associations of sex because sex is healthy and normal.