Contingent ontologies

Contingent ontologies Sex, gender and ‘woman’ in Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler

Stella sandford

a concerted critique of the sex/gender distinction has not mitigated this sense of historical importance, or even historical necessity. But developments in feminist theory – in particular the claims being made on behalf of various feminisms of difference – and the coming into being of queer theory have contributed to a certain relegation of the sex/gender distinction to the past. [3] Thus, while it is probably the case that a notion of gender, understood as a predominantly social category in opposition to the biological category of sex, is still the main theoretical tool in most feminist scholarship and in feminist-led discussions of social policy, the association of de Beauvoir with the sex/ gender distinction assigns The Second Sex the same fate as the distinction itself: historically important and interesting, the sex/gender distinction and The Second Sex are seen as being of only limited contemporary theoretical relevance.

This article attempts to locate the significance of The Second Sex in the here and now, rather than in the historical past. To this end, Judith Butlerʼs various readings of de Beauvoir can be seen as exemplary of a certain misreading. From an initially enthusiastic account of de Beauvoir, Butler has moved to an increasingly critical (but always ambiguous) position based on de Beauvoirʼs purported theoretical reliance on the sex/gender distinction. But what if there is no such distinction in The Second Sex? And what are the consequences of, and reasons for, Butlerʼs reading one into it? Following these questions through, The Second Sex may be read in such a way as to provide grounds for a critique of Butlerʼs own theoretical position on the ontological status of sex, gender and the body in her work of the Gender Trouble period, and shed light on what is, I will The pre-eminent place of Simone de Beauvoirʼs The Second Sex in the development of gender theory and feminist philosophy is undeniable. References to The Second Sex in historical and theoretical work in gender theory appear as if obligatory, not only because of the immense debt which many feminist scholars feel they owe de Beauvoir personally, but also because of the recognition that it was in great part The Second Sex that made gender theory itself possible. The use of the word ʻgenderʼ to refer to socio-cultural forms of identity, or to culturally and institutionally normative sets of rules governing patterns of behaviour, did not appear in English until the 1960s. No French word appears in The Second Sex which could neatly and unproblematically be translated as ʻgenderʼ with these particular meanings. Still, one sentence in The Second Sex is taken to be epochal: ʻOn ne naît pas femme: on le devientʼ; ʻOne is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.ʼ [1] That quotation is rarely continued. But de Beauvoir goes on: ʻNo biological, psychical, or economic fate determines the figure that the female human being presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine.ʼ On the one side, then, the human female, an apparently biological category; on the other, this biological category figured in society, a production of civilization described as ʻfeminineʼ. In other words, it would appear, the Anglophone sex/gender distinction avant la lettre. [2]

For some, it was the sex/gender distinction that allowed second-wave feminism to get off the ground, and few feminist scholars would disagree on the fact, if not the nature, of its historical importance. More recently, dating perhaps from the mid-1980s, argue, the radicalized form of ontology at work in her later writings.

Sex/gender: same difference

Although Butler usually refers to de Beauvoir as a sex/gender feminist (that is, a feminist who subscribes to the theoretical distinction between sex and gender), in an early essay from 1986, ʻVariations on Sex and Genderʼ, Butler offers a sympathetic reading of de Beauvoir as having already moved beyond the distinction. In a characteristic move, Butler isolates one sentence and meditates on its assumptions and contradictions before drawing out of it a conclusion which need not previously have been evident and which might, indeed, run counter to accepted interpretations. ʻOne is not born, but rather becomes, a womanʼ: at first sight this is, Butler says, a dislocation of gender from sex, a recognition that being born with a certain chromosomal or genital configuration does not dictate how these facts of biology, the fact of biological sex difference, will be interpreted in the human world and thus how oneʼs sex will be lived as gender – where gender is not a thing that I have or which I appropriate but a complex set of cultural norms and values in which I always already find myself and others situated. ʻBecomingʼ, Butler suggests, is best understood as something like ʻexistingʼ in the transitive sense: ʻNo longer understood as a product of cultural and psychic relations long past, gender is a contemporary way of organizing past and future cultural norms, an active style of living oneʼs body in the world.ʼ [4] In other words ʻgenderʼ is the cultural interpretation of ʻsexʼ, and ʻsexʼ (how one is born) does not determine this interpretation in any significant way, although this latter is the presumption of certain naturalistic and biologistic discourses which utilize the sex/gender distinction.

This appears to be consistent with de Beauvoirʼs more general assumption that biological givens are in themselves meaningless, and that ʻthe bodyʼ, therefore, is lived as always already culturally interpreted. But if this is the case, in what sense, Butler asks, is de Beauvoir justified in referring to the natural fact of sex at all?

If we accept the body as a cultural situation, then the notion of a natural body and, indeed, a natural ʻsexʼ seem increasingly suspect. The limits to gender, the range of possibilities for a lived interpretation of a sexually differentiated anatomy, seem less restricted by anatomy than by the weight of the cultural institutions that have conventionally interpreted anatomy. [5]

The natural body or a natural sex would in fact be cultural inscriptions, and hence not ʻnaturalʼ at all. Accordingly, de Beauvoirʼs theory, ostensibly premissed on a sex/gender distinction, would rather seem implicitly to ask, Butler says, ʻwhether sex was not gender all alongʼ. [6] And since it is Butlerʼs Foucauldian position that sex has no more ontological substantiality than gender, Butlerʼs essay would also seem implicitly to ask whether de Beauvoir was not Butler all along.

In the later work Bodies That Matter, Butlerʼs position is less sympathetic to de Beauvoir. Recent rethinkings of the concept of nature, Butler says, and in particular the revelation of the cultural history of this concept, have ʻcall[ed] into question the model of construction whereby the social unilaterally acts on the natural and invests it with its parameters and meanings.ʼ In so far as the ʻradical distinction between sex and gender has been crucial to the de Beauvoirian version of feminismʼ, and in so far as this distinction replicates the nature/culture distinction now under criticism, this version of feminism will also be called into question. [7] In fact, in an echo of her earlier essay, Butlerʼs suggestion is that the sex/gender distinction, in so far as the second term is the social construal of the first, calls itself into question. If gender is the cultural interpretation of sex, ʻwhat, if anything, is left of “sex” once it has assumed its social character of gender?ʼ [8]

The point may be illustrated with reference to de Beauvoir. The first chapter of Part I of The Second Sex, ʻThe Data [Les données] of Biologyʼ, is extraordinary reading for a feminist today. One reads, as elsewhere in The Second Sex, that ʻthe individuality of the female is opposed to the interests of the species; it is as if she were possessed by foreign forces – alienated.ʼ ʻFrom puberty to menopause woman is the theatre of a play that unfolds within her and in which she is not personally concerned.ʼ [9] Menstruation, in particular, is described in detail, and I give just a taste of it here:

Blood pressure rises … the pulse rate and often the temperature are increased, so that fever is frequent … swelling of the liver, retention of urea, and albuminuria; many subjects have … sore throat and difficulties with hearing and sight …, glandular instability brings on a pronounced nervous instability. The central nervous system is affected, with frequent headache, and the sympathetic system [digestion, growth, circulation etc.] is overactive; unconscious control through the central system is reduced, freeing convulsive reflexes and complexes and leading to a marked capriciousness of disposition. The woman is more emotional, more nervous, and more irritable than usual, and may manifest serious psychic disturbance. [10] This description of menstruation reads like the symptoms of a poisoning; one half expects de Beauvoir to conclude that it often leads to death. But there is a strategic element here. De Beauvoir seems to want to reveal every possible biological weakness in the female only so she can then declare that these ʻfactsʼ, which cannot be denied, have in themselves no significance. [11] The facts (givens, data; les données) of biology, she says, take on the values that the existent bestows upon them. [12] It is a short step, then, to the questioning of these ʻfactsʼ themselves, as de Beauvoir herself appears to acknowledge at the end of The Second Sex in the chapter on ʻThe Independent Womanʼ. ʻIt is difficult to determineʼ, she says, ʻto what extent womanʼs physical constitution handicaps her … I am convinced that the greater part of the discomforts and maladies that overburden woman are due to psychic causes, as gynaecologists, indeed, have told me.ʼ [13] The ʻfacts of biologyʼ, then, would emerge only as already culturally interpreted, such that one such fact, the fact of oneʼs sex, ʻnatural sexʼ, will turn out to have been gender all along.

Butlerʼs theoretical statement of this position, as outlined in the first chapter of Gender Trouble, is that ʻsexʼ, the presumption of binary sex difference, is an effect ʻof the apparatus of cultural construction designated by genderʼ. [14] Moreover, ʻsexʼ is an effect of gender that becomes reified in such a manner as to present itself precisely not as effect but as the cause of gender, as the more or less determining natural fact that works to stabilize, in the sense of justify and uphold, the very gender configurations from which it emerges. Sex then appears, Butler contends, as a substance, in the traditional philosophical sense of the word. A substance would be an abiding essence, the mark of a self-identity which would wholly determine what one ʻisʼ. In line with a certain Heideggerian tendency in postwar French philosophy, Butler then makes no distinction between this ʻmetaphysics of substanceʼ and the more general notion of an ontology. She speaks of ʻmenʼ and ʻwomenʼ as ʻostensible categories of ontologyʼ, and of the ʻvarious reifications of genderʼ that have constituted the ʻcontingent ontologiesʼ of (gender) identity. [15] Effectively, Butler opposes ʻontologyʼ to ʻeffectʼ, in the sense that an ontological understanding of gender identity is taken to be a falsely essentializing one, whereas a recognition of gender identity as effect is a recognition of its constructedness and of the possibility of its openness to change.

As the wording of these last remarks shows, it is, according to Butler, not just ʻsexʼ which becomes falsely ontologized, reified, substantialized, but ʻgenderʼ or ʻgender identityʼ too. Indeed Gender Trouble is described at one point as ʻa genealogy of gender ontologyʼ, or ʻan investigation that maps out the political parameters of [the] construction [of gender] in the mode of ontologyʼ. [16] Furthermore, Butlerʼs notion of ʻthe bodyʼ is analytically indistinguishable from that of sex or gender. ʻThe bodyʼ, she says (in inverted commas) is itself a construction: ʻBodies cannot be said to have a signifiable existence prior to the mark of their gender.ʼ This is a radicalized expression of the idea that there is no ʻnatural bodyʼ. The ontological status of the body is, accordingly, as contrived as that of gender or sex: ʻThat the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality.ʼ [17] In ʻVariations on Sex and Genderʼ Butler credits de Beauvoir with a theory in which sex was already gender, but only because she makes de Beauvoir already a Butlerian thinker. That essay is really (and why not?) a meditation on what it means for Butler to say that one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman; not what it means for de Beauvoir to have said this in the context of the other seven hundred or so pages of The Second Sex. In Gender Trouble Butlerʼs position on de Beauvoir is more ambiguous. To the extent that ʻthere is something right in Beauvoirʼs claim that one is not born, but rather becomes a womanʼ, Butler reads ʻwomanʼ as ʻa term in process, a becomingʼ; that she then immediately identifies with ʻgenderʼ, according to the sense in which she understands that word. This is even clearer later on, where the slippage between ʻwomanʼ and ʻgenderʼ is completely unmarked: ʻBeauvoir, of course, meant merely to suggest that the category of women is a variable cultural accomplishment, a set of meanings that are taken up within a cultural field, and that no one is born with a gender – gender is always acquired.ʼ [18] This theory implies, Butler says, radical consequences which de Beauvoir herself did not entertain; that is, it implies the disintegration of the sex/gender distinction, although de Beauvoir herself seems to Butler to retain it:

de Beauvoir was willing to affirm that one is born with a sex, as a sex, sexed, and that being sexed and being human are coextensive and simultaneous. … But sex does not cause gender, and gender cannot be understood to reflect or express sex; indeed for de Beauvoir sex is immutably factic, but gender acquired, and whereas sex cannot be changed – or so she thought – gender is the variable cultural construction of sex, the myriad and open possibilities of cultural meaning occasioned by a sexed body. [19]

By the time of Bodies That Matter, however, de Beauvoir has become for Butler not just any old sex/gender feminist, but the eponymous sex/gender feminist, in so far as she gives her name to a version of feminism – Beauvoirian feminism – that is more or less defined by its dependency on the distinction. [20]

Woman: the excluded middle

Yet is there a sex/gender distinction in The Second Sex and if not, what is there? The assumption that there is such a distinction comes from the interpretation and translation of certain terms into recognisable categories of second-wave Anglophone feminism. In The Second Sex one finds the words sexe (obviously), la femme or les femmes (woman, or women), la féminité (femininity, a noun), fémininʼ/féminine (an adjective) and la femelle, or les femelles (the female, or females), also femelle as an adjective, often with the word humaine – that is, in phrases such as ʻthe human femaleʼ. De Beauvoir will also often refer to the irreducible duality of sex difference, the undeniable fact that there are two sexes (even though, note, she is not unaware of the phenomenon of intersex21). It seems plausible, then, to interpret this sex difference, the fact of the division of human beings (and other animals) into mâle et femelle, as the ʻsexʼ of the sex/gender distinction. In the Introduction, in some very gratifyingly arch paragraphs, de Beauvoir mocks the idea that ʻfemininityʼ is in danger:

All agree in recognizing the fact that females exist in the human species; today, as always, they make up about one half of humanity. And yet we are told that femininity is in danger; we are exhorted to be women, remain women, become women. It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality which is femininity. [22]

Both the idea of ʻfemininityʼ, then, and the idea of ʻwomanʼ would seem to refer to something like ʻgenderʼ, in contradistinction to ʻthe femaleʼ as ʻsexʼ. ʻFemininityʼ as gender is perhaps obvious, but being a ʻwomanʼ less so to the Anglophone ear, which tends to associate this with sex. However, if ʻOne is not born, rather one becomes, a womanʼ, it must carry the signification of gender. One is born sexed female, then, and one becomes a woman, one becomes feminine, et voilà, the sex/gender distinction.

It is also the case, however, that for de Beauvoir women are said to be women ʻin virtue of their physiological structureʼ, [23] and she often enough speaks of the duality of the sexes in the same breath as men and women for it to be problematic to think of ʻwomanʼ wholly in terms of the English word ʻgenderʼ. And, one might point out, that while Simone de Beauvoir ʻbecameʼ a woman, Jean-Paul Sartre did not; nor without surgical and/or chemical intervention was he likely to. Becoming a woman, in 1949 at least, isnʼt something unconnected to being a female.

My suggestion is that the notion of ʻwomanʼ in The Second Sex is not simply translatable into the category of ʻgenderʼ, indeed that it cuts across or problematizes the traditional sex/gender distinction. [24] In the Anglophone world The Second Sex suffers from its reduction to one sentence: ʻOne is not born, but rather becomes, a womanʼ. Transposed into the idiom of post-1960sʼ Anglophone feminism, a feminism dominated at the theoretical level by sociology and political theory (which is no bad thing), the sentence no longer carries with it the philosophical position from which it arises. Her perspective is, de Beauvoir says, that of ʻexistentialist ethicsʼ, [25] and from this perspective what it is to be a woman is not assumed but investigated as a mode of being-in-the-world. What de Beauvoir takes to be distinctive about this approach is its attempt to grasp man, as she says, ʻin the total perspective of his existenceʼ. [26] The first part of The Second Sex deals critically with biologism, psychoanalysis and historical materialism precisely because each attempts to understand the human being, or the human female in particular, from a limited perspective. Without rejecting the insights of the biological sciences, of psychoanalysis and of historical materialism, their contributions to an understanding of the human being will, de Beauvoir says, be placed within the context of manʼs [sic] total existence; they will be considered as resting on an underlying ʻexistentialist foundation that alone enables us to understand in its unity that particular form of being which we call a human lifeʼ. [27]

Fifty years later, readers may well find the ideas of ʻa total perspectiveʼ and the ʻunityʼ of a life phantasmatic, utopian or worse. But let us not leap to conclusions. For the most basic existential assumption, which is the basis of the total perspective, is that any good definition of the human being is most importantly a purely formal statement of a condition or a structure that in fact resists all definitions which would be decided or closed: ʻwhen we have to do with a being whose nature is transcendent actionʼ, de Beauvoir says, ʻwe can never close the booksʼ. [28] As a human existent, there is no truth of what a woman is, because, de Beauvoir says, ʻan existent is nothing other than what he [sic] doesʼ. [29] There is no substantive content to any good definition of the human being, either masculine or feminine, because the human being is not defined by any essence.

The metaphysical presuppositions of this position are called ʻfreedomʼ and (its correlate) ʻfacticityʼ. What de Beauvoir often describes as the ʻambiguityʼ, sometimes even ʻtragic ambiguityʼ, [30] of human existence is the paradoxical relation between these two: being both free to make oneself what one is and yet factically bound in ways which impede this freedom (a position, note, which distinguishes her philosophically from Sartre). At the same time facticity is, if you like, the material upon which freedom works, the dependency according to which independence is defined. De Beauvoir says: ʻhumanity is something more than a mere species: it is a historical development; it is to be defined by the manner in which it deals with its natural, fixed characteristics, its facticity [elle se définit par la manière dont elle assume la facticité naturelle].ʼ31 The facticity of the body cannot be separated out from the situation in which that body is interpreted and lived, and the situation includes nonmaterial elements such as the dynamics of an erotic relation, ideological conditions and representations, and oneʼs ʻrelation to the worldʼ, [32] which might include moods and attitudes, for example. More specifically, it is the ʻtotal situationʼ which defines what it is to be a woman and, note, which appears to exclude certain human females from this definition. Reading an Anglophone sex/gender distinction into The Second Sex, however, Butler interprets de Beauvoirʼs continuing to speak of ʻthe facts of biologyʼ as the residue of a Cartesian dualism, in which talk of the ʻfactʼ of sex difference translates into the (illegitimate) positing of the metaphysical substance of ʻsexʼ, a positing which is contradicted or undermined by what is theoretically necessitated elsewhere. 33

Genre trouble

Butler seems to be compelled, then, to interpret de Beauvoir as at once consonant and dissonant with her own theory of gender. These interpretations always turn on de Beauvoirʼs relation – negative or positive – to the sex/gender distinction. When de Beauvoir is seen as having overcome the distinction – as recognizing that sex was gender all along – Butler approves. When, on the other hand, The Second Sex is read as based on or otherwise committed to some version of that distinction, Butler distances herself theoretically from it. The one reference to de Beauvoir in Bodies That Matter, for example, refers not to the woman or her work but to a genre named after her – ʻthe de Beauvoirian version of feminismʼ – to which the ʻradical distinction between sex and genderʼ is said to be ʻcrucialʼ. [34]

If, however, as I have suggested, there is no clean sex/gender distinction in The Second Sex, Butlerʼs insistence on reading it into the book needs to be explained. In one sense, it reveals that it is less de Beauvoir than Butler herself who cannot exorcise the ghost of this distinction, despite the radical implications of her own gender theory. Furthermore, its spectral presence in Butlerʼs text – even if only in the mode of its being disavowed – exerts a significant effect on what is, I would argue, the more important distinction in Gender Trouble between the ontological and the performative. Butler argues, recall, that ʻsexʼ, when posited as a prediscursive given, is to be understood as ʻthe effect of the apparatus of cultural construction designated by genderʼ. [35] ʻSexʼ, that is, is produced as an effect which dissembles its constructed status and masquerades as the ground upon which all constructions of gender are then built, as a foundational ontological category. As effect, however, sex (and also ʻthe bodyʼ) is precisely the effect of gender as performative, performative in the sense that the essence or identity that [it] otherwise purport[s] to express [that is, sex and ʻthe bodyʼ] are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means. That the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality. [36]

Thus, as sex will turn out to have been (the effect of) gender all along, so ontology will turn out to have been (the effect of) performativity.

Perhaps because of the dissolution of the sex/gender distinction in Gender Trouble, Butler will also refer to the restrictive fixity of gender categories as ʻostensible categories of ontologyʼ. [37] Here the phrase ʻgender categoriesʼ refers to what, in a previous sentence, Butler calls, in inverted commas, ʻmenʼ and ʻwomenʼ. Later on, as well, the idea of ʻgender as substanceʼ is equated with ʻthe viability of man and woman as nounsʼ. [38] In Gender Trouble the ʻconstructed character of sex and genderʼ is also expressed as the denial of the ʻbeingʼ of sex and gender: ʻThe presumption here is that the “being” of gender is an effect, an object of a genealogical investigation that maps out the political parameters of its [genderʼs] construction in the mode of ontology.ʼ ʻ[S]exʼ, Butler says, ʻwill be shown to be a performatively enacted signification (and hence not “to be”)ʼ. [39] As gender performatively constitutes as effect the identity which it is only mistakenly said to be, Butler opposes the ʻeffectʼ (of performativity) to ʻontologyʼ, but only in order to collapse this distinction in the same way as the sex/gender distinction was undone. An ʻeffectʼ is precisely an effect of signification, that is, an effect in and of a discursive epistemic field that remains open so long as it is not allowed to congeal into the false self-identity of an apparently ontological category. Ontology, Butler says, in the last paragraphs of Gender Trouble, is ʻnot a foundation, but a normative injunction that operates insidiously by installing itself into political discourse as its necessary groundʼ. Accordingly, Gender Trouble is not just ʻa genealogy of gender ontologyʼ, [40] but a genealogy of ontology itself – that is, an attempt to demonstrate that ontology was effect all along. The radical conclusion must be that ʻbeingʼ itself is an effect of discourse.

It is possible that the reason why Butler reaches this idealist conclusion has to do with the origins of the idea of the performative in the purely linguistic analyses of J.L. Austin. As the speech act is the model for all performative acts in Gender Trouble, Butler is led, or slips, from a semantic to an ontological nominalism, which, in its latter guise, entails the idealist conclusion. This actually plays itself out as a slippage between epistemological and ontological claims. The model of the performative speech act provides Butler with the idea that saying something is at the same time doing something, and this very quickly seems to become the idea that what naming or positing something does is to bring that thing into being. In a move akin to the nominalist claim that, for example, a posited universal has no (real) existence outside of or prior to its being named or posited, Butler seems to suggest that ʻsexʼ or ʻthe bodyʼ, posited as prediscursive, is in fact an effect of the discourse which posits it, or, as she also says, ʻdiscursive formation[s]ʼ.41 That which is posited as prediscursive, precisely because it is posited, in fact belongs to the order of discourse, and cannot be said to exist prior to or outside of it. Sex (ʻprediscursive anatomical facticityʼ [42] ) belongs in fact to the order of language and culture where gender is usually located; this is the sense, then, in which sex will turn out to have been gender all along.

If this argument works at all, it is as an epistemological claim about the knowability of certain things. In the most straightforward sense this means that the sex/gender distinction breaks down through its own epistemic absurdity. If sex is only known through its linguistic/cultural articulation as gender, it must be, in itself, unknowable. Gender is the transcendental condition for sex, and sex in itself, thought of as outside of, or prior to, these conditions, is a metaphysical presupposition akin to a noumenal object, something in which we no longer believe. At first sight, this looks like (and works successfully as) a form of Kantian transcendentalism which aims to dispel a certain dialectical illusion (specifically, the dialectical illusion of or stemming from the assumption of the metaphysical substantiality of ʻsexʼ). Butler herself would no doubt object to both the ʻepistemologicalʼ reading and the comparison with Kant. In Gender Trouble she makes a distinction between analyses in terms of epistemology and ʻsignifying practicesʼ. 43 The idea of ʻsignifying practicesʼ is taken to be one which refuses the subject/ object dichotomy on which ʻepistemologyʼ is said to be based. This is, however, a restricted understanding of epistemology which one need not necessarily follow. As well as the various contemporary epistemological discourses – feminist and otherwise – one could cite Kant (or at least a certain reading of Kantʼs notion of the transcendental unity of apperception) as an example which begins with a problematization of the subject/object dichotomy.

Accordingly, consider the following claim: ʻthe bodyʼ is itself a construction, as are the myriad ʻbodiesʼ that constitute the domain of gendered subjects. Bodies cannot be said to have a signifiable existence prior to the mark of their gender; the question then emerges: To what extent does the body come into being in and through the mark(s) of gender? [44]

If we take ʻsignifiable existenceʼ to mean something like ʻidentifiable essenceʼ, and ʻthe mark of genderʼ to be one of its transcendental conditions for knowability, then no noumenal essence is identifiable without these conditions, and as an epistemological claim this is not outrageous. As it stands it is something like the ontological agnosticism which Kant, when he is most ʻKantianʼ, tries to maintain with the ultimately ʻproblematicʼ status of the noumenon in the Critique of Pure Reason. ʻProblematic judgmentsʼ, Kant tells us, ʻare those in which affirmation or negation is taken as merely possible (optional)ʼ. The concept of the noumenon is similarly ʻproblematicʼ as, although its objective reality may not in any way be known, the concept is in itself not contradictory: ʻthe concept of a noumenon is problematic, that is, it is the representation of a thing of which we can neither say that it is possible nor that it is impossibleʼ. [45] Kant then associates the problematic concept with the quasi-necessity of the ʻas ifʼ, the ʻheuristic fictionsʼ of the concepts of reason, [46] the unthinkable unconditioned totality of conditions. It is not idle to wonder whether the notion of ʻmatterʼ, as deconstructed in Butlerʼs later work, may not enjoy the same status and the same conceptual quasi-necessity. This may be no more than the admission that ʻpureʼ epistemological discourses, free of any ontological assumptions, are not possible. Butlerʼs critique of Kant in Bodies That Matter would of course make her balk at this suggested connection. That critique, however, is based on the presumption of a distinction in Kant between the phenomenon and the noumenon where the latter is understood in its ʻpositiveʼ sense, [47] whereas Kant himself inclines more to the ʻnegativeʼ sense of the noumenon, as the above quotations show. ʻKantianʼ, then, is not necessarily a critical adjective (if you will pardon the pun), and epistemology need not be a demonized discourse. The theoretical problems arise, though, when Butler takes this (as I see it) epistemological thesis to dissolve the validity of any possible ontological claim, or, rather, violates a Kantian ontological agnosticism (which, nevertheless, doesnʼt deny the conceptual necessity of some sort of ontological assumption, even if it is ʻas ifʼ) by seeming to make negative ontological claims. Thus, despite the fact that the claim that the very being of the body – its ontological modality – is conditioned in and through the mark of gender is coherent and, to my mind, plausible, as an existential ontological claim, it is not one that Butler would allow, because for her ontology is a necessarily essentialist discourse.

De Beauvoirʼs thesis on the other hand, was from the very beginning not epistemological but existential. Her claim is not that ʻthe facts of biologyʼ are in themselves unknowable outside of the discursive limits of their performative articulation as, say, femininity, but that ʻthe facts of biologyʼ are only interesting to the human being in so far as they are lived or ʻexistedʼ in the total, concrete existential situation in which, and only in which, they are meaningful designations of the being of being-human. The important difference is that the being-always-already-interpreted of ʻthe facts of biologyʼ does not, for de Beauvoir, entail the dissolution of their ontological status, and this is because hers is precisely an existential – that is, a non-essentialist – ontology.

The dissolution of the sex/gender distinction – effectively, the dissolution of sex into gender – in Butlerʼs Gender Trouble parallels the dissolution of the ontology/performativity distinction – effectively, the dissolution of ontology into performativity – or the dissolution of ʻbeingʼ into ʻeffectʼ. The Second Sex, on the other hand, is inconceivable without de Beauvoirʼs continued attachment to a notion of ʻbeingʼ irreducible to epistemic or performative effect. And although Butler may interpret this as a residual essentialism, apparently manifested in the maintenance of the ʻsexʼ of the sex/gender distinction, for de Beauvoir herself there is no necessity for ʻbeingʼ to congeal into essence and pose itself as foundational. On the contrary, the whole argument of The Second Sex is the denial of this necessity and the exposure as false of all and any attempts to essentialize ʻbeingʼ when it is the being of being-human that is under consideration. In the Introduction to Book Two (mysteriously placed before Book One in the English translation) de Beauvoir says:

When I use the words woman or feminine I obviously refer to no archetype, no changeless essence whatever; the reader must understand the phrase ʻin the present state of education and customʼ after most of my statements. It is not our concern here to proclaim eternal verities, but rather to describe the common basis that underlies every individual feminine existence. [48] The Second Sex describes the being of being a woman, in so far as this mode of being is one that is prescribed by the total situation of certain human beings in the contingent, historical, socio-cultural circumstances of mid-twentieth-century Europe. The most obvious objection to this would be the observation that womenʼs lives are by no means homogenous, and that the idea of ʻbeing a womanʼ refers to a false unity of experience. But de Beauvoir would not disagree. De Beauvoirʼs whole point is that the injunction ʻto be women, remain women, become womenʼ is the attempt to impose an artificial essentiality on to the lives of human beings whose essence is, on the contrary, existence. For both de Beauvoir and Butler, then, it is the metaphysical substantialization of this mysterious thing, ʻwomanʼ or ʻfemininityʼ, that constitutes the object of critical investigation, with the aim of its dissolution in the name of a political project of social change.

In Butlerʼs Gender Trouble, however, the dissolution of false, essentializing ontologies collapses into the dissolution of ontology itself, even the dissolution of being itself. [49] Unwilling to entertain the idea of an existential ontology, which would be approached at the level of the ontic – at the level of beings – not essentially but existentially understood, Butler appears to be committed to a certain discursive idealism, despite herself. This is, of course, the standard worry in criticism of Gender Trouble, but it is one that Butler herself encourages with the implication that the being of the body, for example, is a discursive effect.Bodies That Matter, and especially the essay that gives the book its title, is framed as a response to these criticisms – superficially, an attempt to correct the ʻidealistʼ interpretation which goes hand in hand with a voluntarist (mis)understanding of gender as a kind of wardrobe of identities. Reading Bodies That Matter as continuous with the project of Gender Trouble, talk of the ʻdiscursive limits of “sex”ʼ (the subtitle of Bodies That Matter) would seem to refer to the limits of what is to count as a possible object of knowledge, a body that matters, within a certain epistemic frame: ʻTo claim that discourse is formative is not to claim that it originates, causes, or exhaustively composes that which it concedes [it is not, in other words, a constructivist idealism]; rather it is to claim that there is no reference to a pure body which is not at the same time a further formation of that body.ʼ That is, ʻthe constative claim is always to some degree performativeʼ, [50] which means that the constative claim is a continual re-creation of its objective referent through the structure of reiteration, and the sense in which (or how) that referent exists outside of or before its discursive articulation is at the very least problematized.

This ʻfurther formation of the bodyʼ is theorized in Bodies That Matter through the idea of ʻmaterializationʼ, a term which is meant to replace the more misleading ʻconstructionʼ used in Gender Trouble, and to cut across the philosophical dualism of materialism versus idealism. And although there is little overt or explicit sign of it in the text, what Butler then has to say about a certain ʻradical linguistic constructivismʼ [51] functions effectively as a critique of her earlier position. According to one implication of such a constructivism, she says, ʻsexʼ becomes a contrived premiss or a fiction and ʻgender does not presume a sex which it acts upon, but rather, gender produces the misnomer of a prediscursive “sex,” and the meaning of construction becomes that of linguistic monism, whereby everything is only and always languageʼ, [52] which is a pretty fair description of the account of ʻsexʼ in Gender Trouble. Bodies That Matter is, then, not so much a continuation as a significant revision of the position in Gender Trouble. In an interview conducted just prior to the publication of Bodies That Matter Butler comes closer to admitting this: ʻI think I overrode the category of sex too quickly in Gender Trouble. I try to reconsider it in Bodies That Matter[53]

Déjà vu/déjà lu?

This reconsideration is no simple reinstanciation of the ʻfactʼ of sex as an irreducible, biological given. Neither, however, is the ʻmaterializationʼ of sex to be understood as the conjuring up of a conceptual opposition out of nowhere, based on no physical body or physical differences. It is not meant, Butler says, to ʻdispute the materiality of the bodyʼ but to ʻestablish the normative conditions under which the materiality of the body is framed and formed, and, in particular, how it is formed through differential categories of sex.ʼ [54] ʻMaterializationʼ refers to the ways in which ʻregulatory normsʼ or ʻlanguageʼ ʻdelimitʼ, ʻcontourʼ, or even ʻschematizeʼ the body55 into the sedimented categories of sex, where these categories refer not only to the physical differences through which they materialize but also to the laws and presumptions (primarily heterosexuality) which they carry with them – heavy baggage.

Using a slightly different terminology one might say that the concept of ʻmaterializationʼ is an attempt to explain both that and how the physical characteristics of a body which in themselves have no significance come to be figured as significant: ʻI do not deny certain kinds of biological differences. But I always ask under what conditions, under what discursive and institutional conditions, do certain biological differences – and theyʼre not necessary ones, given the anomalous state of bodies in the world – become the salient characteristics of sex.ʼ [56] This position is also clearly stated in the preface to Bodies That Matter, where Butler acknowledges the commonsensical point that bodies live and die; eat and sleep; feel pain, pleasure; endure illness and violence; and these ʻfactsʼ, one might sceptically proclaim, cannot be dismissed as mere constructions. Surely there must be some kind of necessity that accompanies these primary and irrefutable experiences. And surely there is. But their irrefutability in no way implies what it might mean to affirm them and through what discursive means. [57]


It must be possible to concede and affirm an array of ʻmaterialitiesʼ that pertain to the body, that which is signified by the domains of biology, anatomy, physiology, hormonal and chemical composition, illness, age, weight, metabolism, life and death.

None of this can be denied. But the undeniability of these ʻmaterialitiesʼ in no way implies what it means to affirm them, indeed, what interpretative matrices condition, enable and limit that necessary affirmation. [58]

But havenʼt we been here before? In 1949, to be exact, when de Beauvoir claims,

Certainly these facts [of biology, these physical differences between men and women] canʼt be denied – but in themselves they have no significance [ils ne portent en eux-mêmes leur sens – they do not bear their meaning within themselves].… Once we adopt the human perspective, interpreting the body on a basis of existence, biology becomes an abstract science.… It is not as a body as such, but as a body subject to taboos, to laws, that the subject is conscious of himself and attains fulfilment … the facts of biology take on the values that the existent bestows upon them. [59]

Always already interpreted as this or that, affirmed as this or that through whatever discursive means, de Beauvoirʼs insistent ʻfacts of biologyʼ (the ʻfacticityʼ of the body) refer to something more like the materialization of the matter of bodies and bodies that matter. Accordingly, the ʻfacticityʼ of the body would be wrongly interpreted as one term in an ontological distinction that grounds an attachment to the ʻsexʼ of the sex/gender distinction. Could it be the case, then, that it was in fact Butler who was de Beauvoir all along?

Well, no. Although one may find at least one disparaging reference to ontology as ʻfixityʼ in Bodies That Matter, [60] the most significant difference between this and the earlier Gender Trouble is the acknowledgement of the necessity for the theorization of the ontological status of the body and/or sex, or the tacit acknowledgement of the need for a radicalized notion of ontology in general. Granted, Butler does not actually use the ʻoʼ word, but to what else is ʻmaterializationʼ meant to refer? Speaking again of the shift away from the earlier notion of ʻconstructionʼ, Butler says that she proposes, in its place, ʻa return to the notion of matter, not as site or surface, but as a process of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of boundary, fixity, and surface we call matterʼ. [61] As this shows, Butlerʼs revised position owes more to Aristotle or to Greek ontology more generally than to de Beauvoir. De Beauvoirʼs existential ontology is concerned only with the being of the being-human (that is why it is ʻexistentialʼ, after all), whereas Butlerʼs ʻmaterializationʼ would seem to refer to something like a non-dualistic, dynamic, historical ontology of human and non-human being, that which we call ʻmatterʼ. [62] Their differences notwithstanding, however, the idea of ʻmaterializationʼ would seem to acknowledge the de Beauvoirian point that ʻbeingʼ may be (indeed, must be) understood in other than the essentialist terms of the metaphysics of substance.

Reading retrospectively, something like this belated acknowledgement of the possibility of radicalized ontology may even be glimpsed in Gender Trouble. Indeed, this may even be the only coherent way of reading Gender Trouble. ʻThat the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its realityʼ:63 this claim may now be re-read as an assertion of the non-essentialist ontological status of the body as performative, as a social(ized), historical ontology of the body – that is, one which does not take its ʻbeingʼ as fixed or foundational but ʻin processʼ, an idea acknowledged, perhaps, in Butlerʼs earlier reference to ʻcontingent ontologiesʼ. [64] Elsewhere Butler speaks of Lacanʼs displacement of the (ontological) question ʻWhat is/has being?ʼ in favour of the allegedly ʻpre-ontologicalʼ question ʻHow is “being” instituted and allocated through the signifying practices of the paternal economy?ʼ [65] Her own words, however, suggest that the shift is not one from ontology to pre-ontology, but from essential to (something like) existential ontology – precisely from ʻWhat is/has being?ʼ to ʻHow is being?ʼ [66] And even then, if the ʻWhat is?ʼ question is determinately associated with essential ontology and nothing else – that is, if we are not allowed to ask the ʻWhat is?ʼ question – we are also compelled to see Heidegger (philosophical architect of the critique) and Butlerʼs more recent favourite, Aristotle, as nothing but metaphysicians of substance.

If the reason for the unhappy idealist implications of Butlerʼs Gender Trouble (the collapse of ontology into performativity) is based on the unwarranted presumption of the necessarily essentialist nature of any notion of ontology – and its association, therefore, with the ʻmetaphysics of substanceʼ – this metonymic slippage is recognized and addressed in Bodies That Matter with what is meant to be the resolutely nonor anti-idealist notion of ʻmaterializationʼ. If Butler seems increasingly unwilling to acknowledge de Beauvoir as a philosophical precursor to this project of radicalized ontology, this would be because of Butlerʼs allergy to the tainted word ʻontologyʼ (an allergy which we need not share), but also because her reading of a sex/gender distinction into The Second Sex positions ʻsexʼ as the (essential) ontological ground of gender, existentially (or, we might now add, performatively) understood, foreclosing the possibility of ontology as existential, or otherwise.

On the other hand, Butler clearly is able to think through the status of ʻsexʼ in a more radical way than de Beauvoir, who does, in the last instance, tend to assume binary sex difference as beyond dispute. [67] Drawing on a variety of theoretical resources – notably Foucault and Wittig – Butler is able to problematize the assumption of binary sex difference, or at least to begin to think about the ways in which the male/ female, man/woman distinction, as conceptual, is not an unproblematic, unmediated representation of what is, in an ahistorical or naively realist sense. [68] This may be one of the most challenging aspects of Butlerʼs work in Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter, but that does not relieve us of the responsibility of rising to it, especially if our identities and pleasures are not to be unnecessarily limited. The (ostensibly un-Butlerian) basis for Butlerʼs move beyond de Beauvoir here rests on a radicalized social and historical ontology. Metaphysical substantialization may very well be the illusion of an epistemic or performative effect, and sex may very well have been gender all along. But not all being is thus substantialized and there is no necessity to understand ʻbeingʼ in this way. Paradoxically, was this not what de Beauvoir was saying all along?


1. ^ Simone de Beauvoir, Le deuxième sexe [DS], Gallimard,

Paris, 1976, Vol. II, p. 13; The Second Sex [SS], trans.

H.M. Parshley, Picador, London, 1988, p. 295.

2. ^ Conceptually, of course, something like a sex/gender distinction was already operative in, for example, Mary Wollstonecraftʼs 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Penguin, London, 1987) and J.S. Millʼs 1869 essay ʻThe Subjection of Womenʼ (in Three Essays, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985). In both of these texts it is the detachment of the cultural attributes of ʻfemininityʼ from biological sex – the argument that actually existing ʻfemininityʼ is not predominantly determined by biology – that forms the basis for the critique of the prejudices of their peers. The sex/gender distinction is not, however, explicit; neither employs the word ʻgenderʼ, which, for both, would have had a primarily grammatical meaning.

It is interesting that Raymond Williamsʼs Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Fontana, London, 1983), first published in 1976, has no entry for ʻgenderʼ.

Under ʻsexʼ, however, he notes the turn to the use of ʻgenderʼ in the 1960s and quotes (p. 286) Gladstone in 1878 as a precursor: ʻAthene has nothing of sex except the gender, nothing of the woman except the form.ʼ

Even this, however, could be read as a reference to the grammatical meaning of the term, i.e. ʻsheʼ has nothing of the woman, but ʻsheʼ is still (grammatically) ʻsheʼ.

3. ^ Moira Gatens, ʻA Critique of the Sex/Gender Distinctionʼ (in Judith Allen and Paul Patton, eds, ʻBeyond Marxism? Interventions After Marxʼ, Intervention, no. 17, 1983), is perhaps the best-known challenge. Gatensʼs essay (reprinted in her Imaginary Bodies: Ethics, Power and Corporeality, Routledge, London and New York, 1996) makes a strong case for the dependence of the sex/gender distinction on a discredited (and implicitly rationalistic) body/mind dualism in which the body is mistakenly conceived as neutral and passive. However,

Gatensʼs alternative account of the ʻimaginary bodyʼ is undermined by the fact that it treats the notions of ʻsex differenceʼ and ʻsexual differenceʼ (psychoanalytically understood) as if they were the same thing.

4. ^ Judith Butler, ʻVariations on Sex and Gender: Beauvoir,

Wittig and Foucaultʼ, in Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla Cornell, eds, Feminism as Critique: Essays on the Politics of Gender in Late Capitalist Societies, Polity Press,

Cambridge, 1994, p. 131.

5. ^ Ibid., p. 134.

6. ^ Ibid. See also Butlerʼs Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge, London and New York, 1990, p. 8: ʻIf “the body is a situation”, as [de Beauvoir] claims, there is no recourse to a body that has not always already been interpreted by cultural meanings; hence, sex could not qualify as a prediscursive anatomical facticity. Indeed, sex, by definition, will be shown to have been gender all along.ʼ

7. ^ Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex, Routledge, London and New York, 1993, p. 4. In fact Butler was already signalling the move away from her previous position on de Beauvoir in Gender Trouble, where she says (p. 12) that ʻDespite my own previous efforts to argue to the contrary, it appears that de Beauvoir maintains the mind/body dualism, even as she proposes a synthesis of those terms.ʼ

8. ^ Bodies That Matter, p. 5.

9. ^ SS, pp. 57, 60; DS I, pp. 62, 64–5.

10. ^ SS, p. 61; DS I, p. 66–7.

11. ^ SS, p. 66; ʻces faits … ne portent pas en eux-mêmes leur sensʼ, DS I, p. 74.

12. ^ SS, p. 69; DS I, p. 76.

13. ^ SS, p. 706; DS II, p. 619.

14. ^ Gender Trouble, p. 7.

15. ^ Ibid., pp. viii, 33.

16. ^ Ibid., p. 32.

17. ^ Ibid., pp. 8, 136.

18. ^ Ibid., pp. 33, 111.

19. ^ Ibid., pp. 111–12.

20. ^ Bodies That Matter, p. 4. Note that this is the only reference to de Beauvoir in Bodies That Matter. Butler also discusses de Beauvoir in two other early essays: ʻGendering the Body: Beauvoirʼs Philosophical Contributionʼ, in Ann Garry and Marilyn Pearsall, eds, Women, Knowledge and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, Routledge, London and New York, 1992 (first published 1989); ʻSex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoirʼs Second Sexʼ, Yale French Studies, Simone de Beauvoir: Witness to a Century, no. 72, Winter 1986.

The argument in both of these essays is substantially the same as that of ʻVariations on Sex and Genderʼ. Both reaffirm de Beauvoir as a sex/gender feminist, primarily through an interpretation of the ʻOne is not born…ʼ quotation as an encapsulation of a theory of gender (acquisition), in which ʻwomanʼ is taken to be equivalent to ʻgenderʼ. Both also suggest that the theoretical possibility of questioning the alleged substantiality of the ʻsexʼ of the sex/gender distinction is opened up by, though not pursued in, de Beauvoirʼs work.

21. ^ See SS, p. 47; DS I, p. 50.

22. ^ SS, p. 13; DS I, p. 12.

23. ^ SS, p. 18; DS I, p. 18.

24. ^ In an unpublished paper, read at the Cinquantenaire du Deuxième sexe conference in Paris, January 1999 (ʻEmbodied Identity: Towards a Reinterpretation of Beauvoirʼs Anti-essentialismʼ), Annemie Halsema also denies that there is a sex/gender distinction in de Beauvoirʼs work, but argues this through an analysis of the idea of the body as situation (rather than, as here, through the notion of ʻwomanʼ). Sara Heinämaa, in ʻWhat is a Woman? Butler and de Beauvoir on the Foundations of Sexual Differenceʼ (Hypatia, vol. 12, no. 1, Winter 1997), similarly criticizes Butler for reading a sex/gender distinction into The Second Sex. According to Heinämaa, this leads Butler to interpret the book mistakenly as a theory of gender (acquisition). While I agree with Heinämaa on this, her reading differs from my own most significantly in her insistence on reading de Beauvoir primarily as a phenomenologist, The Second Sex offering a phenomenological description of sexual difference (see, for example, Heinämaa, p. 22).

25. ^ SS, p. 28; DS I, p. 31.

26. ^ SS, p. 91; DS I, p. 106.

27. ^ SS, p. 91; DS I, p. 105.

28. ^ SS, p. 66; DS I, p. 73.

29. ^ SS, p. 287; DS I, p. 410.

30. ^ See, for example, Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman, Citadel Press,

New York, 1991, p. 7; Pour une morale de lʼambiguïté, Gallimard, Paris, 1965, p. 10.

31. ^ SS, p. 725; DS II, p. 643.

32. ^ SS, p. 734/DS II, p. 654. See also SS, pp. 69, 391, 566, 608/DS I, p. 77, DS II, pp. 144, 426, 483; The Ethics of Ambiguity, p. 41: ʻthe body itself is not a brute fact. It expresses our relationship to the world, which is why it is an object of sympathy or repulsion and why, it determines no behaviourʼ (translation modified); Pour une morale de lʼambigüité, p. 60.

33. ^ Butler contends that de Beauvoirʼs analysis is clearly limited by a theory of embodiment which uncritically reproduces (what Butler takes to be) a Cartesian distinction between freedom and the body, or an ontological distinction between consciousness or mind and body (Gender Trouble, p. 12). Butler objects to this distinction in a general sense, but in relation to de Beauvoir also in particular because of the gendered history of the distinction, a history that de Beauvoir fails to question.

34. ^ Bodies That Matter, p. 4.

35. ^ Gender Trouble, p. 7.

36. ^ Ibid., p. 136.

37. ^ Ibid., p. viii.

38. ^ Ibid., p. 24.

39. ^ Ibid., pp. 32, 33.

40. ^ Ibid., pp. 148, 32.

41. ^ Ibid., p. 36.

42. ^ Ibid., p. 8.

43. ^ Ibid., p. 144.

44. ^ Ibid., p. 8.

45. ^ Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, London, 1990, p. 109 (A 74/5, B 100), p. 271 (A 254/B 310), p. 292 (A 286–7/ B 343).

46. ^ Ibid., p. 556 (A 681/B 709), p. 614 (A 771/B 799).

47. ^ See, for example, Bodies That Matter, p. 66. See also Gender Trouble, p. 38, where the idea of the pre-discursive ʻoutsideʼ – later (implicitly) associated with the Kantian noumena (Bodies That Matter, p. 11) – is called an ʻepistemic point of departureʼ. For an alternative reading of Butler as another sort of Kantian – one unable to escape the noumenal/phenomenal distinction – see Pheng Cheah, ʻMatteringʼ (review essay of Bodies That Matter and Elizabeth Groszʼs Volatile Bodies), Diacritics, vol. 26, no. 1, 1996 (available electronically:, pp. 116–18.

48. ^ SS, p. 31; DS II, p. 9.

49. ^ In The Phenomenal Woman: Feminist Metaphysics and the Patterns of Identity (Polity Press, Cambridge, 1998), You can buy these books at the following book shops: LONDON

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Christine Battersby argues a similar point, noting, for example, that Butler takes the inadequacies of a metaphysics of substance to undermine the credibility of any metaphysics (p. 104; see also p. 106). Battersby argues for a radicalized ontology which ʻdoes not deal with individualized substancesʼ (p. 13), in which the notion of ʻessenceʼ is (re)thought in relation to a non-Aristotelian tradition in Western philosophy (see, for example, pp. 28–35). Battersby also takes issue with Butlerʼs epistemological reading of Luce Irigaray, insisting instead on the (radicalized) ontological dimensions of her work (see, for example, pp. 100–102).

50. ^ Bodies That Matter, pp. 10, 11.

51. ^ Ibid., p. 5.

52. ^ Ibid., p. 6.

53. ^ ʻGender as Performance: An Interview [by Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal] with Judith Butlerʼ, Radical Philosophy 67, Summer 1994, pp. 32–3. See also Vikki Bell, ʻOn Speech, Race and Melancholia: An Interview with Judith Butlerʼ, Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 16, no. 2, April 1999, p. 164.

54. ^ Bodies That Matter, p. 17.

55. ^ See ʻGender as Performanceʼ, p. 32; Bodies That Matter, pp. 2, 15, 16, 22, 30, 33.

56. ^ ʻGender as Performanceʼ, p. 34.

57. ^ Bodies That Matter, p. xi.

58. ^ Ibid., pp. 66–7.

59. ^ SS, pp. 66–8, translation modified; DS, pp. 74–6: ʻce nʼest pas en tant que corps, cʼest en tant que corps assujetti à des tabous, à des lois, que le sujet prend conscience de lui-même et sʼaccomplit.ʼ

60. ^ Bodies That Matter, p. 29.

61. ^ Ibid., p. 9.

62. ^ On Butler and Greek ontology, and for an extremely good, critical review of Bodies That Matter in general, see Pheng Cheah, ʻMatteringʼ.

63. ^ Gender Trouble, p. 136.

64. ^ Ibid., p. 33.

65. ^ Ibid., p. 43.

66. ^ This latter formulation shows that the ʻexistentialʼ reading is at times almost impossible to distinguish from the phenomenological approach favoured by, for example,

Heinämaa (see note 24 above).

67. ^ And this despite the fact, as already cited, that even in 1949 de Beauvoir was not unaware of the phenomenon of ʻintersexʼ (SS, p. 47; DS I, p. 50).

68. ^ Monique Wittigʼs most influential text here would be ʻThe Category of Sexʼ (1976) in The Straight Mind and Other Essays, Beacon Press, Boston MA, 1998. At this point, no doubt, sceptics will be wanting to refer Butler, Wittig, et al. to the commonsensical and ʻobviousʼ biological notion of sex difference. Biologists, however – feminist and otherwise – are increasingly abandoning the absolute division of human beings into Κ and Λ, an absolute division which is in no way confirmed at the level of chromosomal configuration, for example.

No doubt we will be hearing more from the biologists in the future. For the time being, interested readers would do well to see Sara Heinämaa, ʻWoman – Nature,

Product, Style? Rethinking the Foundations of Feminist Philosophy of Scienceʼ, in L.H. Nelson and J. Nelson, eds, Feminism, Science, and the Philosophy of Science, Kluwer Academic, The Hague, 1996: ʻThe problem is to explain how physiological diversity adapts to a social dichotomyʼ (p. 297).

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