I started reading Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble a few days ago. It’s slow going because she uses a lot of big words like juridical and ontological, which I search for in my mental dictionary but, if nothing comes up, move on. I ask you this: where’s the fun in a second read if you understand everything the first time? Yes. Exactly.
Anyhoo, as far as I’m aware, one of the more important ideas in the book that I will eventually read about once I’m out of the preface (*shamefaced*) is the notion of gender performativity. Kind of thus: looking like a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ is something we all have to keep up (by wearing the right clothes, having the right hairstyle, walking the right way, etc) to present a stable gender appearance. The clear-cut, binary heteronormativity of ‘male’ and ‘female’ is like a mental snuggie. It’s also why some people get so freaked out by folks who don’t fit in those two categories. They don’t seem to understand that playing with gender can be fun. Wheee!
(Now seems like an appropriate time to bring up Janelle Monae, who is having fun with gender and moonwalking whilst doing it.)
But like I said, I’m only in the preface. So how funny was it later to read in The Time Machine by H.G. Wells this paragraph (the Time Traveler has gone to year 802701 and muses on why everyone wears the same kind of robe, has the same haircut, and has the same ‘girlish rotundity of limb’):
“I felt that this close resemblance of the sexes was after all what one would expect; for the strength of a man and the softness of a woman, the institution of the family, and the differentiation of occupations are mere militant necessities of an age of physical force; where population is balanced and abundant, much childbearing becomes an evil rather than a blessing to the State; where violence come but rarely and off-spring are secure, there is less necessity– indeed there is no necessity– for an efficient family, and the specialization of the sexes with reference to their children’s needs disappears. We see some beginnings of this even in our own time, and in this future age it was complete.”
It caught my eye, of course, because of the disappearance of the binary gender we do so well in present-day America. It seems to me that the Time Traveler has hit upon the culturally-specific nature of gender. Is he a feminist before his time?
In other feminist news, Plan B (“a tale of love, revenge, and supervillainy”) is one of the few comics I’ve found so far that doesn’t objectify sexuality. Also, it’s hilarious. Also, it’s all online. I love it. You should, too.
PS- Happy Census Day! It’s way better than April Fools Day.