Weekly Post- Week 2 Readings (Butler, Pellegrini)

Please post your responses to the Butler & Pellegrini readings as comments.   Reminder- you must post before midnight on Sunday, January 29!

In at least 500 words, please address:

  1. How do these texts contribute to the larger questions of our course? Please be specific, raising points that will contribute to our class discussion.
  2. What is the main argument of each text, and what is at stake for the author in this argument?
  3. What is the central question or problem engaged by each text?
  4. Optional: You may share a cultural or aesthetic object with us that you find relevant to the week’s readings. Your description of the object does not count towards the 500-word minimum of your post.

8 thoughts on “Weekly Post- Week 2 Readings (Butler, Pellegrini)

  1. In her preface and introduction to Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler discusses the complex tensions between essentialism and constructivism in an effort to address concerns about the materiality of the body that emerged after the publication of her earlier work. Gender may be performative, critics argued, but how can Butler deny the material differences between the sexes? Can the material “fact” of the body be natural and essential if sex is constructed?

    Butler writes, “What constitutes the fixity of the body, its contours, its movements, will be fully material, but materiality will be rethought as the effect of power, as power’s most productive effect” (Butler 2). Here is an acknowledgement that material bodies exist, move, feel pain, etc., as well as an insistence that existing power structures create this materiality. Thus, the materiality of the body is not organically constituted, but is instead constituted “in the service of the consolidation of the heterosexual imperative” (Butler 2).*

    This theory is then developed to address other means by which bodies are shaped materially, such as through racial structures. Butler is careful to resist the elision of racism, homophobia, and misogyny, but attempts to understand how such regulatory regimes work to exclude certain bodies from achieving “racially articulated set of sexual norms” (Butler 18-20). The performative nature of sex and gender relies on continual reiterations of these norms in order for a body to be constructed as a body- or at least, one that matters. What, then, of bodies which exist outside these “racially articulated set of sexual norms”? Butler concerns herself with the ways in which bodies that exist in “abjection” serve to reinforce the heterosexual hegemony while at the same time challenging its very existence.

    Ann Pellegrini’s introduction to Performance Anxieties: Staging Psychoanalysis, Staging Race also addresses concerns about intersectional analyses of gender and sexuality. Pellegrini writes of the fields of feminism and psychoanalysis, “Both discourses have tended to emphasize sexual difference over and above every or… any other difference” (Pellegrini 3). Influenced by Butler’s thinking on citationality and performativity, Pellegrini argues that “race and and racial identity are historically contingent, socially constructed categories of knowledge and bodily experience” (Pellegrini 6). The goal here is not to deny the reality of living in a world where race is seen as a natural fact, nor is it to encourage colorblindness, but rather to question how racial identifications are imposed, to resist the notion that there is anything “natural” about the concept of race, and to study how racial identifications and disidentifications relate to subject formation.

    Like Butler, Pellegrini also concerns herself with the “outside”. She asks readers to consider the ways in which whiteness defines itself, “it is a self-identity that must always look anxiously outside for its confirmation…” (Pellegrini 7). Whiteness is defined by what it is not: blackness. As tends to be the case with binaries like male/female and black/white, such an understanding of race is ridiculous as it excludes any acknowledgement of people who are identified as neither white nor black or who may be both white and black. As Pellegrini discusses, this definition is also ridiculous because some people who may not be considered white would not have been considered white at another time in history. Thus, a similar conclusion is drawn here as in Butler’s intro: the insistence upon categorizing people as black or white is a means of upholding racial categories and white supremacy. In other words, racial and sexual binaries (or categories in general) produce bodies that matter, as well as bodies that do not. Pellegrini goes further, discussing the joys and perils of identification and “dreams of coalition” (Pellegrini 11). While the state of things makes it imperative that we identify with certain categories, be they racial or sexual, it is important to be aware of the insubstantiality of categories of race and gender, and of the agenda behind the imperative to uphold such categories.

    Finally, in Oedipus Reps: Woman as Sequel, Pellegrini comes to terms with Freudian thought that insists that desire functions thusly: men desire to be other men, and they desire to be with women. In this chapter, Pellegrini seeks to trouble the tension between being and being with, “I hope… to indicate that there is, finally, no place to draw the line between ‘sex’ and gender, identification and desire” (Pellegrini 157). As her main object of focus, Pellegrini looks at the films Pumping Iron and Pumping Iron II: The Women, which dramatically document the male and female bodybuilding competitions in the late 70s and early 80s. According to Pellegrini, both films (consciously or unconsciously) use strategies to insist that these competitions are strongly heterosexual in nature. In Pumping Iron, Arnold Schwarzenegger gets a leg up on Ferrigno by giving Ferrigno “fatherly advice”. Pellegrini reads this moment through the lens of the Oedipal cycle: the film insists upon this almost father-son relationship between the two so that the relationship will not read as sexual object-choice, but merely “hero-worship”.

    In Pumping Iron II, emphasis is placed upon competitor Lori Bowen’s fiancé, and how she builds her body to please her man and to help him pay afford better work. The film works hard to portray the female competitors as distinctly heterosexual. Then, Bev Francis, clearly the most muscular woman competing, loses a competition, ostensibly for being too muscular and therefore not feminine enough. All of this boils down to the question “Are only women mistaken for a man, or might manliness “itself” be the chronic condition of being mistaken for a man?” (Pellegrini 164). If Bev Francis can become less feminine by way of being too muscular, and Lou Ferrigno can become less effeminate (read: homosexual) by becoming as intensely musical as Schwarzenegger, then femininity is something that can be gained and lost in direct relation to the shape of one’s material body.

    *If there is any question about the ability of regulatory apparatuses to form and conform material bodies, Emily Martin’s The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles might prove convincing. To this day, almost everybody, from schoolchildren in health classes to researchers at Johns Hopkins, has understood the reproductive processes of “male” bodies to be active and sometimes even violent, while that of “female” bodies is seen as passive and weak. In describing the process during which an egg and a sperm first make contact, lab researchers Schatten and Schatten wrote that the sperm “harpoons” the egg with a filament propelled from the sperm’s head. “Why not call this “making a bridge” or “throwing out a line” rather than firing a harpoon? Harpoons pierce prey and injure or kill them, while this filament only sticks. And why not focus… on the stickiness of the egg, rather than the stickiness of the sperm?” (Martin 494).


  2. Malik Marshall

    In Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter, she is exploring the intersection of the materiality of the body and the performativity of gender. The former refers to the things about the body that are deemed important by society, and the latter refers to the ways in which people purposefully act in certain ways because of their gender. Early on, she admits that she doesn’t mean that gender is a performance in the sense of equipping and shedding it like clothes at the end of the day, but she insists that if there is no element of performance to gender, then the very agency we associate with gender is lost, especially in a society where gender roles are so regulated and enforced among youth. Reading this brings to mind two readings that I’ve done, Cheryl Harris’ Whiteness as Property, and James Baldwin’s “Here be Dragons or Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood.” Harris tells the story of her grandmother, who white passed for many years in the late 1800s for economic opportunity. She describes the process by which her grandmother came home each day, “laid aside her mask, and reentered herself.” (Harris 1711) I would be interested to see how racial passing and gender performativity intersect, and if there are more examples of times where gender performativity exists as a means of resisting oppression. Baldwin believes that the most complete form of all humans is found somewhere in between the genders male and female, and that part of the reason why black boys have such difficulty existing in America is because of a two-fold repression of both race and gender by white supremacy. Baldwin also echoes Butler’s worries about the performance of gender – how can anyone have any real agency with regards to their gender if simply existing means that their gender has been repressed since an early age? The last point from the reading that I want to highlight is her idea of “construction as a constitutive constraint.” This was a difficult point for me, but if I understand correctly the constitutive constraint is the construction that is so inherent and important to our way of life, that for it to not exist is for us to not be able to continue. When a certain construction of the body (like man and woman) becomes perceived as a constitutive constraint, what happens to those that fall outside of that? And can looking outside of that help us to mold the line itself to include more definitions?
    Ann Pelligrini’s introduction explores how psychoanalytical theory and feminist theory intersect, mainly with this idea of “difference.” She explains that, while it’s true that both are great at “undermining” harsh binaries like the gender binary, it is also true that they both fall into the same pitfall in the process. Namely, they often (especially with white feminism, which I was surprised to find out was a term in 1997 when this was written) prioritize the difference between the sexes as the most important difference, leaving other, often more relevant ones behind in pursuit of this. In “Oedipus Rex,” she recounts an experiment whose results show a handful of men are attracted to female bodybuilders, but almost no women are attracted to male ones. She explores how this can be true, given that heterosexuality often depends so strongly on the visual differences between men and women. Freud believed that the heterosexuality of these men remains intact because the woman’s muscles useful in lovemaking as much as they are a masculine trait. She resolves to grapple with his ideas not because of their timelessness, but because of her desire to use his methods to re-define the conversation about psychoanalysis, gender, and body-building.


  3. Judith Butler aims to deconstruct our concept of gender, dividing biological sex and socially constructed gender. I find the best way to understand this is through Butler’s examination of the “exasperated debate” surrounding constructivism, which asks questions concerning the role of language and linguistics in constructing gender, who creates that language, and who does the constructing. Butler answers these questions by breaking down the “I’ or subject, and who creates it. She says “subjected to gender, but subjectivated by gender, the ‘I’ neither precedes nor follows the process of this gendering, but emerges only within and as the matrix of gender relations themselves” (7, Butler). Her label for gender as matrix is undeniably fascinating. Gender is an incredibly loaded construct, and requires complex self-analysis during the entirety of a person’s life. Therefore, it is indeed a matrix! Gender incorporates how you view yourself, how others view you, how your parents raise you, how your friends see you, how your significant other views you, how your employer views you…

    In her introduction, Pellegrini aims to try to find the psychoanalysis in the constructions of race, gender and sexuality. I find the most intriguing part of Pellegrini’s introduction surrounds her goal to “extend the concepts of ‘performativity’ and ‘citationality’ to the experiences and ideas of ‘race” (Pellegrini). Although we have had such a small portion of Pellegrini’s discussion, I find it hard to truly level with Pellegrini regarding her argument is she does indeed compare it sex and gender. I feel that this argument could fail as culture is absent comparing to the concept of race. From my biracial experience, there is a cultural difference between black people and white people, and I feel that culture has nearly become imbedded in our biology, exemplary in things like dancing, displays of passion, and connections to emotion. Even though I may be generalizing my experience, I do not think that race performance theory and gender performance theory are entirely equitable.

    In Pellegrini’s chapter “Oedipus Reps,” Pellegrini describes the difference between male and female body builders, explaining that male projection of female body builders are merely a means to over-sexualize a “strong” woman, who in fact is subscribing to a male norm of body building.

    I think Emily Martin’s essay on sex cells has extreme relevance to important topics today surrounding female sex genitalia and the lack of comfortability surrounding that genitalia. Everything around us in New York seems to be a phallus, what with the thousands of skyscrapers. Simply put, penises have a ton of visibility, giving males more accessibility to comfort and orgasms, leaving out the necessity of orgasms for females. If even sperm are written about in better terms, females have a lot to fight for. On another note, I am interested in how far our society has to come so that all females and AFABs can feel comfortable with their own sex organs without them having to be labeled as feminine. This question comes from conversations I’ve been having regarding vaginal imagery at women’s marches… I am pro-vaginal imagery, however making the vagina not “feminine.” I feel that that may be hard to do at a Women’s March, but I feel that if females can FINALLY feel comfortable with their genitalia, it will open the door to much more progressivism in non-binary communities.


  4. Through her work Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler brings to light the concept that “sex” is generated through the reiteration of ideas and processes that are carried out upon certain bodies. Because this reiteration is necessary to materialize “sex”, bodies never really agree with the norm of their creation since it is forced upon them through moral pressure (Butler, 2). It isn’t a single act that defines the performativity of sex, but the “reiteration of a norm or set of norms” (12) that lead to the assignment of subjectivity and identification within a given sex. It is the concept of sex that governs the materialization of bodies, yet sex is also falsely built off of gender. This materialization and deemed legitimacy is heavily set within the standards of the heterosexual narrative. Sex becomes replaced by the social meanings it takes on therefore creating gender (5).

    Ann Pellegrini furthers Butler’s conversation on identity formation. In Performing Anxieties: Staging Psychoanalysis, Staging Race, Pellegrini draws to attention the effort that is put upon establishing differences, “where and when does this catalogue of identificatory markers end, if it does?” (Pellegrini, 2). It is suggested that instead of trying to make note of and document these differences in some order, it is better to think of them as “interarticulated”. This is made at an effort to discontinue prioritizing sexual difference above all other differences. Where Butler addresses viewing “sex” as natural leads to a passing of culture as nature, Pellegrini raises the same points regarding race, “race and racial identity are historically contingent, socially constructed categories of knowledge and bodily experience” (Pellegrini, 6). Like “sex”, “race” is utilized as a way to create confines and structure that allow for identity to be established. There are anxieties that are created in trying to construct these identities and cast them as wide reaching nets that can envelope what they search out to define under blanket statements. This can produce dissonance within identification/disidentification that only further promotes these anxieties.

    In Oedipus Reps: Women as Sequel, Pellegrini examines “the ways in which hypermasculinity blurs the lines between “man” and “woman,” original and sequel” (157). Pellegrini’s analysis portrays that the world of hypermasculinity and bodybuilding operate on a grounds of homogeneity. Both men and women competing in these competitions are after the same goal: to achieve an idealized self-image (160). Yet this “ideal” image is constructed after the “ideal” body of a man, regardless of the bodybuilding athlete’s sex. This in part is derived from a shift in location of phallic value, from a specific part of the body to the entire body itself. “The phallus is everywhere on the muscle-bound body, because every part of his or her body has been transformed into a phallus” (163). Through the lens of hypermasculinity there is almost a disregard of gender/sex difference, as the only value sought after in this sport is based on the matter of size.

    Emily Martin’s essay on The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles, addresses the way in which language utilized in scientific literature projects gender roles upon biological cells. Despite advances in research that disprove these projections, scientists continue to use language that upholds the view of the egg as being passive or predatory (when mentioned as active), while sperm is often portrayed as mission driven and powerful. Maintaining these kind of descriptions and projection culture onto biological processes is damaging towards redefining the roles and values of the male and female within our society.


  5. This week’s readings deal explicitly with facets of identification, specifically sex, gender, and sexuality. As discussed in class last week, the blurry line between the biological (the natural) and the social (the constructed), is something taken up in each piece. In Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler takes up the themes of essentialism versus constructionism to further her argument of the performativity of gender and its largely citational functioning. This practice of the cultural phenomena of gender (and sex) to reiterate themselves through their very existence is crucial to the understanding of how these systems have survived the test of historical time and how they have persisted in forming the relations we human beings conceptualize to this day. This system of sex/gender, one distinctly dichotomized into male and female, returns to what Foucault calls a “regulatory ideal,” a notion of flawed perfection that litigates what is known and unknown of the body, what matters and what doesn’t matter. The dangerous discourses created by science are naturalized by hiding their very means of constitution. This in turn also points to the very formation of subjectivity or personhood, one that is inherently sexed/gendered from the beginning; one does not enter the realm of the human unsexed/ungendered. “If gender is the social construction of sex, and if there is no access to this ‘sex’ except by means of its construction, then it appears not only that sex is absorbed by gender, but that ‘sex’ becomes something like a fiction, perhaps a fantasy, retroactively installed at a prelinguistic site to which there is no direct access,” (Butler 5).

    This power of citationality to imbue the biological with the cultural and vice versa is taken up in Anne Pellegrini’s Performance Anxieties Staging Psychoanalysis, Staging Race. Pellegrini extends this reiterative process to yet another identificatory classifier, race. In the same vein that gender is an ongoing rehearsal of itself, Pellegrini asserts that race performs yet again in a mess of language that ultimately erases its own ontology therefore legitimizing its continuity in the social, the cultural, the biological, and the political. Whiteness, one such example of this, also functions as sex/gender does by positing itself in the negative, as what it is not. What is left unexplained though in naturalized notions of seemingly material identity categories is “[i]f, as Diana Fuss remarks, ‘identification is never outside or prior to politics’ (1994, 39), neither is politics ever outside or prior to identification,” (Pellegrini 10). After taking a course in Gallatin on the intersections of science, race, and colonialism, it is incredibly disheartening to see the insistent, exclusionary forces of scientific discourse that ultimately limit bodies to a hegemony of heterosexuality that is simultaneously racialized. The actual system of race that we use and refer to today resulted largely from schools of thought following Western Enlightenment, Darwinism, and the natural science’s then obsession with hierarchized classification. The subsequent contemporary fixation on the materiality of races, which has been learned through the science’s perpetuation of these skewed categories, is exactly what operates on the related (but distinct) system known as sex/gender.

    Emily Martin’s critique of the heterosexualized accounts of human reproduction via the sperm/egg specifically calls this out. By investing a cultural narrative of active masculinity/passive femininity upon the sperm/egg respectively, the conflation of nature/nurture has been codified and subsumed by the biological itself to invisibilize its own production in the humanly-made field of the “natural” sciences. From the supposed autonomy of the sperm and the fragmentation of the egg to the rather comical archetype of the sperm and egg’s mating ritual or courtship, Martin stresses a great point. “That these stereotypes are now being written in at the level of the cell constitutes a powerful move to make them seem so natural as to be beyond alteration. The stereotypical imagery might also encourage people to imagine that what results from the interaction of egg and sperm—a fertilized egg—is the result of deliberate ‘human’ action at the cellular level,” (Martin 200).

    So while the subjectivity/personhood of one who lies outside the structure of sexual or racial norms is disavowed (i.e. the abjected person of color or transgender body) the molecular components of sperm and egg are venerated in discourse to the level of persons to legitimize the accepted construct of reproduction that has inevitably been formed by its historical contexts — contexts that are proved to be teeming with exclusionary and discriminatory ideologies, assertions, and subsequent bodily performances. Each of these texts challenges not the materiality of such bodily matters but rather the terms and conditions by which these matters have been taken up in human history. It is not until we can separate these matters of what is actually here on our bodies from what has been put onto our bodies that we can fully understand how to reformulate the notion of all human beings as equals.


  6. These readings from Pellegrini, Butler, and Martin evidence how gender is produced and enforced through performance. Pellegrini focuses on the ways in which gender inhabits the space of the psychological and the physical and where the performativity of the self is located. Looking at the world of competitive bodybuilding that emphasizes the physical makes the sociological roots of gender difference and sexuality alarmingly transparent. Pellegrini argues that the demarcation of gender identity, the body, and desire are blurred by the representations in Pumping Iron II: The Women and the work of body modification in the practice of bodybuilding, particularly when done by women. The hypermuscularity of female bodybuilders can be seen as a narcissistic object-choice that destabilizes the ‘natural’ markers of masculinity and femininity. The performance of masculinity by both men and women highlights the role bodies play in desire. The confluence of narcissistic object-choice and same-sex object choice is prominently featured in Pumping Iron as it reinforces heteronormative desire by the participants and Pellegrini argues that identification and desire are intrinsically linked and a process defined by uncertainty of if there exists a border between the two and where it lies.
    Martin describes how discursive interpretations of the sperm and the egg in relation to male and female bodies reinforces a bias against women, or at the very least, favors men. The similarity in reproduction narratives to capitalist production in Martin’s analysis is exemplified through the word choices that work to devalue female reproductive processes and use metaphors that compare female processes to economic failures to devalue women. “Far from being produced, as sperm are, [ova] merely sit on the shelf slowly degenerating and aging like overstocked inventory” (487). Martin’s interpretation of bias against female reproduction is built the tenets of economic enterprise and utilizes terms related to economics (“production”, “waste”, “stockpiling”) which is indicative of what kind of ‘value’ is being evaluated through the description of gendered, biological processes. Is the economic value of women what is being argued here? Is the easiest or most common way to understand value through production and labor? And furthermore, the following discussion of the meeting of the sperm and egg, what was referred to in the previous section as products are given agency through the metaphor of a knight and damsel which strays significantly from the industrial language used prior and imbues the sperm and egg with autonomy within the process of reproduction. Martin’s varied use of language and metaphor in her analysis showcases the ways in which scientists and textbook authors enact a gendering of biological processes that perpetuates misogyny and reinforces gendered expectations.
    The interaction between discursive practices and material realities is what Butler’s arguments are primarily concerned with. The introduction to Bodies That Matter focuses on how we differentiate sex and gender along the lines of biological, social, and cultural meanings and how this delineation is unsustainable. Her analysis of identity construction takes on no assumed positions and relates the ways of conceptualizing bodies, gender, and sex to subjectivity and modes of regulation. Attempting to link concepts to material realities of bodies, Butler deconstructs the presumed notions of biology, gender, subjectivity, and identity to understand how these ideologies are constructed and how they inform and regulate material bodies.


  7. This week’s readings all address the common themes of race and gender and their relationship to the way bodies move through space and time. The categories of race and gender have been used as ways to limit certain bodies movement throughout the social latter of society. Gender and race are constructed, but are constructions in which are forced upon us. In Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler explores in detail the level of which our bodies are the construction of society. Butler writes, “[t]hinking the body as constructed demands a rethinking of the meaning of construction itself. And if certain constructions appear constitutive, that is, have this character of being that “without which” we could not think at all, we might suggest that bodies only appear, only endure, only live within the productive constraints of certain highly gendered regulatory schemas” (Butler xi). We are constantly being regulated and judged by the gaze of society. Each of our performances is judged by our ability or inability to meet the standard that is set by society. Society has certain binaries associated with gender.

    Bodies That Matter discusses the ways in which these categories exist within language. Butler is a language fanatic and it carries over in her work. The world that we see is dictated and defined through our language. We in turn embody that through our bodies. We exhibit different labels based on how society sees us. The problem is, certain bodies have more value than others. The “bodies that matter” are the ones of privilege, while the other ones are left in the cold. The raced body and women’s bodies have been discriminated against in society: “How, then, might one alter the very terms that constitute the “necessary” domain of bodies through rendering unthinkable and unlivable another domain bodies, those that do not matter in the same way” (Butler xi). We have compartmentalized them as a method of control, but in doing so have limited their potential to just be. Butler writes, “Sex” is, thus, not simply what one has, or a static description of what one has, or a static description of what one is: it will be one of the norms by which the “one” becomes viable at all, that which qualifies a body for life within the domain of cultural intelligibility” (Butler 2).

    Ann Pellegrini’s work interconnects with Butler’s work perfectly. Pellegrini writes, “[l]ike gender and the categories it authorizes (“male” and “female” or in another and closely related scene, “man” and “wife”), race and racial identity are historically contingent, socially constructed categories of knowledge and bodily experience” (Pellegrini 6). The only way we know the world is through our own body. We can empathize with others, but we will never truly be able to see the world outside ourselves and through the eyes of another. Bodies are complex. They cannot be cut and as clearly defined as we want them to be. There needs to be room to grow and explore. Pellegrini writes, “race has signified different relations between the body and society, in-groups, and out-group, and self- and group identity. Or, to put the matter slightly differently, race has not always cut the same way as the boundaries keep moving” (Pellegrini 7). As I stated earlier, our lives have been compartmentalized. Our experience is viewed through a limited lens when we try to compartmentalize it. Gender, race, and sex are more complex than people like to think they are: “[m]arkers of the masculine and feminine are still readable; but they are no longer “absolute” positions” (Pellegrini 158). Each person’s relationship to these topics is unique, yet we try to make it as unified as we can. People get violent when their expectations do not line up with what is being presented to them. Take for example the woman body builder in the “Oedipus Reps” section of Pellegrini’s book. Pellegrini writes, “the “problem” is that she has too much, not too little of what the other “girls” have. Indeed, she has as much, if not more, as any (other) man” (Pellegrini 166). Because of this, the woman body builder is seen as an awkward middle ground. Even though she should have won for being the strongest there, because she was not “womanly enough” she was discriminated against. One commentator even stated, “[a] woman’s a woman, and I think she should look like one” (Pellegrini 166). We will never be able to progress as a society until we can see past the limitations that have been set for us and which we have embodied.

    In the text The Egg and the Sperm, Emily Martin writes about the ways in which these discriminatory conscriptions about gender carry over to all aspects of society including science. Western culture dictates the scientific realm as a place of fact and neutrality. However based upon Martin’s research, this is clearly not the case. Martin writes, “[n]one of these[scientific] texts express such intense enthusiasm for any female process. It is surely no accident that the “remarkable” process of making sperm involves precisely what, in the medical view menstruation does not: production of something deemed valuable” (Martin 487). She continues by saying the egg narrative is often told from the perspective of the “egg as damsel in distress, shielded only by her sacred garments; sperm as heroic warrior to the rescue—cannot be proved to be dictated by the biology of these events. While the “facts” of biology may not always be constructed in cultural terms, I would argue in this case they are” (Martin 491). This narrative is carried over directly from the societal realm. In society women are viewed as the people who need saving who are “weaker” than their male counter parts. By placing these stereotypes in this narrative of the sperm and the egg, it is causing another level of scrutiny. By painting the descriptions this way, it is not showing both of the parts as being equal, but instead glorifiying the privileged male associated parts. Martin writes that these narratives leave out the negatives of the male parts as well. The women have words such as “waste” associated with them while the man does not: “But the word “waste” implies excess, too much produced. Assuming two or three of the offspring, for every baby the woman produces, she wastes only around two hundred eggs. For every baby a man produces he wastes more than one trillion sperm” (Martin 489). Martin’s observations are a continuation of what Butler and Pellegrini are trying to say about categorizations. We are living in this world of stereotypes and categories. The gender of the woman body is once again being categorized and labeled as being a certain way and having certain expectations associated with it. In order to move through society, these categories of self need to be challenged and redefined. What is gender? What is a woman even? Why are these tight definitions of self being used as a regulation process and a system of control?


  8. This week’s readings started off with Judith Butler’s “Bodies That Matter”, laying a groundwork of definitions and contextual understandings on gender which pair nicely with the Pellegrini and Martin texts. All three center round the construction of gender and race as a limiting form of control, but Butler also acknowledges the necessity of gender construction as a full for of expression of self. The formations of both gender and sex by systemic regulation deny bodies which are unintelligible as bodies which do not matter, and this is cyclical. “If gender is the social construction of sex, and if there is no access to this ‘sex’ except by means of its construction, then it appears not only that sex is absorbed by gender, but that ‘sex’ becomes something like a fiction, perhaps a fantasy, retroactively installed at a prelinguistic site to which there is no direct access,” (Butler 5), sex cyclically being replaced by it’s common associations and assumptions, and yet also being overtaken and absorbed by our conceptualization of gender. Sex being such a signifier of humanness, “those objected beings who do not appear properly gendered; it is their very humanness that comes into question” (Butler 8). The taxonomizing of gender establishes bodies which are known (bodies that matter), and bodies which are disposable or deprioritized.
    Pellegrini’s chapter Performance Anxieties draws similar conclusions about the staging of race through the lens of historical psychoanalysis, and also Fanon’s concepts of indentification/disidentification. In Oedipus Reps, Pellegrini applies this study to bodybuilding, and the role of seen sexual difference in gender creating a stigmatization of the hyper muscular female form. As Butler notes, “regulatory norms materialize ‘sex’ and achieve this materialization through a forcible reiteration of those norms” (Butler 2), and a counter to those norms in any way would be to confuse “the phantasmic pulse of identification and desire on display” (Pellegrini 170).
    Emily Martin’s “The Egg and The Sperm” is avery cool read in conjunction with Butler’s idea of constructed gender because of it’s focus on the biological aspects of the human experiences and how even those are not free from associations or paradigms of gender binary. The language used historically and the lens that the female reproductive system is seen through, for example, or forever tainted by associations of those who wrote about and explained those systems. Our most basic understanding of biology, she argues, is entrenched in gendered language, and thereby the “facts” about biology we accept are inherently non-neutral. Further, she explains that the establishing personhood to cellular processes comes with it all of the possible pitfalls of personhood, creating bodies that matter and bodies that do not, assigning layers of performance to pre-life, to the most basic biological processes, skewing reality and also limiting our own possibilities of alternative social structure, starting with egg and sperm.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s