Hello class! This is it, the last class. Next time we meet, it is the final. How time flies!
Reading Response #3 was due this class, and late assignments are accepted but will be graded as late.
The Study Guide for the Final Exam was also handed out this class. Like with the Midterm, you will need to define vocabulary terms. Remember that for these, using your own words, write brief definitions of these terms as used in feminist theory. Be sure to link each term with one or two philosophers we have read since the midterm. All answers should be full sentences, and at least your answer should be more than one or two sentences.
The other part of the final is recognizing passages. You will be given a passage, an excerpt, from the readings. There most likely will be 6 you must choose out of 12. You will not be given the title or author, but instead, you must state who is the author of the piece while also describing what is being discussed. You are identifying the passage as well as explaining what is written.
A final exam review will be between 3pm and 5pm on Wednesday before the exam in the library. I will send out an email about this soon, but I will be available to go over terms as well as the philosophers.
Good luck studying! And, I just wanted to say, it has been a pleasure!
Week 16: Our last two philosophers will be Judith Butler and Judith “Jack” Halberstam. Both are key figures in contemporary philosophy, particularly queer theory.
So what is post-structuralism? Post-structuralism holds two ideas. First, it holds self as a singular/coherent entity as a construct. Second, the meaning the author intended is secondary to the meaning the reader perceives. It includes deconstruction and some psychoanalytic theories, and it is generally a denial of the validity of structuralism’s method of binary oppositions. It states that meanings and intellectual categories are shifting and unstable. Well-known post-structuralists include Derrida, Kristeva and Foucalt. And, now you ask, what is structuralism? Simply, it is the looking at systems as structures.
Judith Butler is the author of such works as Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death; Hegemony, Contingency, Universality; Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France; Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity; Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”; The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection; and Excitable Speech: Politics of the Performance. She has also written various essays, articles and contributions on philosophy, feminism and queer theory.
Butler is interested in the concept of ambivalence because she sees it as a site of subversion. She defines it as the slipping between the call of the law and its articulation, from which one can reveal the false claim to naturalness and originality of hegemonic norms. A subject can never fully be male or female, but is in a constant state of flux.
Her most famous and influential book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Butler argued that feminism made the mistake for using a women “we,” as if all women were a group with similar and common characteristics. This, Butler believed, continues to support the current binary structures, particular of gender. She also argued that hird options to gender binaries are still problematic.
Also notable is, what exactly is “gender trouble”?
Butler suggests that certain cultural configurations of gender have seized a hegemonic hold, and calls for subversive action in the present: ‘gender trouble’ – the mobilization, subversive confusion, and proliferation of genders, and therefore identities. This idea of identity as free-floating, as not connected to an ‘essence’, but instead to a performance, is one of the key ideas in queer theory. Seen in this way, our identities, gendered and otherwise, do not express some authentic inner ‘core’ self but are the dramatic effect (rather than the cause) of our performances. (EGS)
This idea above is central to our discussion of “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.” Butler is stating that gender is a continual performance that we all do. She does so by breaking down the acts that we do and revealing their performances.
In this essay, she discusses the constituting act, and how it pertains to her discussion of gender. A constituting act is a mental act or choice which amounts to the association of some significance with an object of experience. We associate a meaning with a sound or with some written symbol. Butler demonstrates that rather than humans being the subjects of their acts, that actually, they are the objects of their acts. It is our acts that define us/give us meaning. We are objects of this performance not innate to our gender, we can play with them.
Butler also, in her introduction, discusses illocutionary gestures. An illocutionary act is a speech act. It is speech that is an action, as well as a word. For instance, imperatives such as “Sit!” or “Stay!” are illocutionary acts. Another example is “I Do” to signify you are getting married. Or, even simply, “I promise.”
Overall, in “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution,” Butler discusses gender performance, which means that we all perform our gender. Through a stylized repetition of acts, we perform our gender and it becomes “naturalized” to us. But this is not the case, it is a role we play–it is not natural. There is no essence. There is no essence of gender or being. The way of speaking, acting, doing, dressing constitutes our identity.
Also, since the full title of this piece is “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” we must define what is phenomenology. Phenomenology is the study of how we experience objects in space, the study of “perception in space.” As Sara wonderfully noted, “phenomenology is a study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view, and feminist phenomenology is the study of the lived experience from beyond the gendered point of view. ”
She repeatedly points to reification, which is simply defined by making a conceptual idea concrete. The abstract idea as a concrete notion. This word is found in within her introduction, and it is importantly repeated in the following passage that sets up her article:
Through the conception of gender acts sketched above, I will try to show some ways in which reified and naturalized conceptions of gender might be understood as constituted and, hence, capable of being constituted differently. In opposition to theatrical or phenomenological models which take the gendered self to be prior to its acts, I will understand constituting acts not only as constituting the identity of the actor, but as constituting that identity as a compelling illusion, an object of belief. In the course of making my argument, I will draw from theatrical, anthropological, and philosophical discourses, but mainly phenomenology, to show that what is called gender identity is a performative accomplishment compelled by social sanction and taboo. In its very character as performative resides the possibility of contesting its reified status. (My emphasis)
This idea, that gender is not natural, or essential, but a performance, was and continues to be huge. It shifted philosophical and academic thought and theory.
Aside from being subject of internet memes, Judith Butler is a remarkable and beloved philosopher, one of the biggest names of this time. Amongst some great things she has done, aside from anti-Zionist efforts mentioned above, she has turn down the Berlin CSD Pride organizer’s Prize for Civil Courage because it did not support her political ideas or the positive queer movement. Delivered in German to the surprised but supportive crowd, Butler’s direct political remarks “rained on the parade of complacency” with her strong words against anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim racism that was apparently occurring amongst and supported by CSD organizers.
Just for fun, here is Angela Davis commenting about this.
Now onto Jack!
Judith “Jack” M. Halberstam is one of the leading voices in gender theory and queer studies. Jack was born on December 15, 1961. Halberstam has spoken little about her personal life. However in one interview, she describes her immediate paternal family history. Her father was a Czech Jew who was forced to flee from his home country in WWII and went to England as a refugee. His mother (Halberstam’s grandmother) was deported to a concentration camp where she died in 1942. Her history has influenced some of her research, as well as her own identity, which will be discussed below.
Jack is currently a Professor of English, Gender Studies and American Studies and Ethnicity, and Director of The Center for Feminist Research at USC, since 2004. He teaches courses in queer studies, gender theory, art, literature and film. Her areas of specialization include: cultural studies, queer theory, Visual Culture, Gothic literature and the horror film, postmodern culture, film and video, feminist theory, gender studies. She works with an emphasis on subcultures.
From 1991 to 2003, Halberstam was a Professor of Literature at UC San Diego. She has also been a Visiting Professor of Gender Studies at Harvard from 2005 to 2006. He has also received invitations to lecture on Gender Studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland.
Halberstam’s honors include receiving Compton-Noll Award for Best LGBT Essay, UCSD Humanities Center Fellowship, Awarded the Publisher’s Triangle Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Non-Fiction for Female Masculinity, REFLAGS Visiting Professor of Gay and Lesbian Studies at Yale University, and Draper Postdoctoral Fellow, Liberal Studies, NYU.
In terms of his education, Halberstam received her B.A., with Highest Honors in English, UC Berkeley in 1985. In 1989, she completes an M.A. in English Literature at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. She receives her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN as well in 1991. Jack’s dissertation focused on the confluence of homophobia and anti-semitism in the production of a monstrous other.
Halberstam is the author of Female Masculinity (1998), The Drag King Book (1999), Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (1995) and In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (2005). She was also a co-editor of Posthuman Bodies (1995). She published The Queer Art of Failure in August 2011.
Halberstam’s first book, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (1995), was a study of popular gothic cultures of the 19th and 20th centuries and it stretched from Frankenstein to contemporary horror film. Her 1998 book, Female Masculinity (1998), made a ground breaking argument about non-male masculinity and tracked the impact of female masculinity upon hegemonic genders. In In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (2005), described and theorized queer reconfigurations of time and space in relation to subcultural scenes and the emergence of transgender visibility, how time and space is conceptualized in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction.
She has another book coming out next year from Beacon Press titled Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal. According to the publishers, Halberstam, “using Lady Gaga as a guide—and with equal parts edge and wit—(s)he navigates the reader through a new vision of feminism that privileges gender and sexual fluidity, and invites us to envision a world in which gender is blurred and we all “go gaga.”’ This is part of her new ideas and examination on “silly culture,” and other forms of alternative knowledge. For instance, Lady Gaga and SpongeBob Square Pants can coexist with theorists and philosophers as producers of knowledge.
In her theoretical work, I found interesting that Halberstam does not find unity as an inherently desirable quality in a social group, arguing that consensus destroys subtleties. Jack was also one of the first to discuss on female masculinity, and her work on the subject refutes the notion that butch lesbians are just imitations of predominant masculinities and men and instead locates gender variance within a lively and dramatic staging of hybrid and minority genders.
S/he also is interested in the idea of failure as connected to gender and sexuality. Failure sometimes offers more creative, cooperative, and surprising ways of being in the world, even as it forces us to face the dark side of life, love, and libido. Below is a video of a discussion she held in San Francisco regarding her new book on Lady Gaga. She wants to point out the idea of failure as a positive thing. She quotes Quentin Crisp, whom you remember as Queen Elizabeth in Orlando: “If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.”
Something that Halberstam advocates is low theory. This is a means to be able to make high, high academic theory accessible. It is a mode of thinking and writing that operates at many different levels at once.
Low theory is derived from eccentric archives. It runs the risk of not being taken seriously. It entails a willingness to fail and to lose one’s way, to pursue difficult questions about complicity, and to find counterintuitive forms of resistance. Tacking back and forth between high theory and low theory, high culture and low culture, Halberstam looks for the unexpected and subversive in popular culture, avant-garde performance, and queer art. She pays particular attention to animated children’s films, revealing narratives filled with unexpected encounters between the childish, the transformative, and the queer. (From The Queer Art of Failure)
So, you may now be asking, what is queer? Halberstam defines queer “as non-hegemonic systems and logics of gender embodiment, sexual identifications and communities in relation to spatial and temporal activity.” S/he studies how people in these subcultures experience time and space in a mode that is significantly different from the time and space experienced by the heteronormative majority. I mentioned this in class, but did not speak much on it, but I will include it here now for your intellectual appetite.
Queer time emerges from a postmodern conception of the world and represents the departure from the heteronormative insistence on reproduction and the longevity it seemingly offers. Queer space refers to the production of places in which queer people interact and create new conceptions of queerness.
Interestingly, some critics view Halberstam’s work as reinforcing gender binaries. However, s/he argues that the goal of criticizing the gender binary is to observe existing categories, but also to add new and ignored categories to the whole. Halberstam understands the criticism, but suggests that her detractors use her acknowledgement of traditional gender identities to make such a claim.
Halberstam‘s “An Introduction to Female Masculinity from Female Masculinity – The Bathroom Problem” (1998), which we has read for class, presents to us a scenario to explain her arguments and considerations on gender. One of her main concerns in this work, and in other works, is the so-called “bathroom problem.” This issue is centered on spaces that are gender-policed, not necessarily violently, but still punishingly. The public bathroom has become the archetypal place of gender-policing. It exists as part of the gender structure, and perpetuates it, as well as structured by it. How does a butch, homosexual individual choose a bathroom? What about an transgender woman who still holds on to her masculine features? What are the dangers? What are the benefits? What of those who cannot fit into the flexible yet distinguishable gender of woman and man? Her studies examine the problematic associated with “passing” in these spaces.
Even the discussing of passing has various connotations. Passing is not always a goal, and passing also reinforces the very genders Halberstam (and Butler) deconstruct and re-articulate. Having a third gender for these non-normative is also not a solution, there needs to be multiple choices, unlimited ones, to be adequate.
To understand Halberstam, some important terms must be defined. We mention queer, but what about queer theory? The terms below include queer theory, gender queer, and gender variance, and these are highly useful for understanding Halberstam.
Queer theory: Beginning in the 1990s, queer theory challenges gender as part of essential self and a LGBT Studies’ close examination of socially constructed nature of sex acts and identities. It studies how sexual acts fall into normative or “deviant” categories. As mentioned, it came out of LGBT and feminist studies, allowing for wueer reading of texts and interpretations.
gender queer: It is being other than man/woman, either both or neither, of being outside binary.
gender variance: We are all gender variant, no one is the gender they think. It is a spectrum.
Next Week: Next week is the final. Please go over all the readings as well as your notes. Do not be afraid to research online or to use this site as a resource if you need more information on ideas covered. Good luck and see you Wednesday!
***Remember, A final exam review will be between 3pm and 5pm on Wednesday before the exam in the library. I will send out an email about this soon, but I will be available to go over terms as well as the philosophers.***